This was part of a Montana trip involving county high points for Shoshone (ID); Mineral; Ravalli; Granite; Deer Lodge; Beaverhead; Fremont (ID); and Madison. (Initially I had wanted to go after the remaining county high points in the Beartooths (having summited Granite Peak in 2018), but my body was providing some signs that I not provided myself sufficient recovery time this summer, so I kept this trip to day hikes/scrambles.)
After the mix-up on the roads to Quartz Benchmark's eastern approach, I spent the previous night grasping around in the dark for a good place to sleep. I happened upon Big Pine Campground, a free and lovely NFS site. This was still several hours from Trapper Peak, and due to a late night and a subsequent late morning, I did not set off from the trailhead until noon.
Trapper Peak is the closest I would get to the Bear Creek Fire (which was 70% contained by the time I was there), so I did not expect to see much amid the smoke. Still, I could see some surrounding peaks, and overhead the sun broke through a partly cloudy blue sky. It was already clearer than just 18 hours earlier when I was on Illinois Peak.
Within minutes of starting, I was surprised and disappointed to find myself breathing heavily and sweating profusely; this in spite of the fact that my pace was modest and the temperature was perfect. I attributed it to inadequate rest and recovery and the fact that I had started only a small handful of summits above 6000’ this year. Suffice to say it was fortuitous that I had bailed on Quartz Benchmark with a notion of making this a dual summit day; it appeared likely I would have to scale back my ambitious itinerary.
After the first couple miles I heard the echoes of thunder — hours before the forecast called for it. As it happened I was able to acquire a cell signal so I checked the forecast again: 40% chance starting at 4:00. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of hunkering down for hours, as I would rather do that than have to return. As I continued walking, I took note of every protected spot that caught my eye. But by the time I exited tree line, it had been a good 45 minutes since I had last heard thunder, and it was apparent that the dark clouds were passing to the east and south. Above me was an abundance of blue sky and sunlight, so I continued on, knowing I would never be 30 minutes at most from the relative shelter of treeline.
The elevation gain is relatively constant with few flat stretches and almost no loss. The trail is straightforward until the last 400-500 vertical feet — at least I found it to be so on the ascent (more in this below). Then there is some boulder-hopping past a couple false summits. A variety of cairns lead in different directions; on my part I tried to stick climber’s left of the ridge where the beaten path seemed more apparent.
The slowly clearing smoke offered breathtaking views of dozens of unnamed peaks to the north, as well as Sugarloaf, Como Peaks, and El Capitan.. To the south wildfire smoke and dark clouds precluded sighting much, though Bare Peak was clearly visible. (Bare Peak Northwest is ridiculously close to Trapper Peak, an objective I found difficult to pass up given the proximity. However I had designed my itinerary with other strategies in mind. Also Bare Peak Northwest is one of two summits required to complete Idaho County, and having a county only half-complete for some indeterminate period of time would be sufficient to drive me insane.) At the summit I found not one, but two benchmarks. I did not find a register, nor did I look very hard. The dark clouds blanketing the south were foreboding, so I lingered only briefly.
Sure enough, shortly into my descent, thunder once again echoed across the range. Not 100 vertical feet below the summit, I took note of some cairns marking THE trail, as it appeared far more well-traveled and marked by cairns than my ascent route. Had I taken this on my ascent, I likely would have saved a little time and energy, as this entailed far less boulder-hopping. But how did I lose the trail on my ascent? This question nagged at me, and I quickly realized that this was NOT the correct route, as the cairns led off down the fall line into a gully, well off the official trail. How many hikers have been led astray by this I cannot say, but judging by the extremely well-worn path, that number is not small. Whether these plentiful cairns are the handiwork of the well-intended and inept, teenage pranksters, or numbnut rock-stackers I cannot say (boy can I not wait until THAT fad goes the way of bear-bells and external-frame packs). At 9600’, I traced the contours back to the actual trail. On my part, I kicked over all remaining stacks I encountered. Clearly these wayward stacks are a potential danger of misleading, not to mention the added impact on the scant remaining plant life up there. Who knows, maybe I thwarted the clandestine gathering of a secret society. Anyway, be mindful of the route you take on both your ascent and descent. Kicking over any errant stacks you encounter is also helpful.
As I continued down into the trees, the echoes of thunder began to increase in frequency. I considered the fire under my ass well lit and kindled and I wasted no time hauling it on down to the trailhead. I never did see any lightning, but it was enough to get me going. It was not a bad thing -- no sooner than I returned to the trailhead than the skies opened up as I was taking off my daypack. Perfect timing. Up in 3 hours, down in 2:15.
I saw no signs of humanity from the moment I departed the highway to the moment I returned. The sole exception was the ORV parked on the shoulder 1/2-mile from the trailhead on my descent. I did not see the occupants, but as rain and pebble-sized hail were pouring down, I assume they were taking shelter somewhere nearby. Roads, by the way, are fine for all vehicles.
Had climbed Trapper via the standard trail when I was younger. The Gem Lake route has so much more to offer. The trailhead was shockingly packed on a Wednesday (guess MT is the new CO...), and a lot of folks were fishing at the trio of beautiful lakes. The Gem Lake gully was easy to find, but there was still a very large amount of snow on July 22. Ended up having to take the solidly Class 3 route up the left rim of the gully, was so fun! No snow on Baker Ridge descent.
Camped at the trailhead for July 4, substituted the usual fireworks display in town for a lightning storm. Summitted the next day. Several large snowfields to cross, with significant postholing. Snowshoes might have made things easier, though I'd have been carrying them most of the way.
Epic day of spring skiing down the NE couloir in perfect conditions!
Working in Missoula at the time. No prior hikes to build fitness. Was straight forward easy hike. Great views of course.
Could not have asked for better weather. The dog and I got to make first tracks through a fresh sheet of snow! Made the 'scramble' to the summit a bit more fun than I remember.
Got a late start after visiting gold bug hot springs in the mostning, only took a little less than 3 hours to get to the top from the trailhead.
camped at gem lake, took the gully to bag the high point of the bitterroots!
05/03/19 w/Paul Fotter. Gem Lake Gully route. Had to park the car about 5 miles from the TH. Camped between Middle and Gem Lakes. Great weather and snow conditions both days! Super fun and straightforward spring route.
Started with a bushwhack up to the trailhead, which added an extra mile and 1000 ft or so. Hit snow soon after that, no visibility but fun time at summit! Back down in the trees we descended in the sun.
Got to the trailhead chained up and then had to carry up the first 20 minutes or so, but then it was a good skin to the top. Amazing bluebird day with little wind so spent a long time up there with some friends.
Drivable to the trailhead, completely snow covered trail approximately 1 mile in. Bushwhacked to shoulder and traversed to summit. Amazing 2500' vert snowboard down the South Face.
Climbed some time in the early 90s.
Summitted at 1030 and had Amazing corn skiing all the way from the summit to gem lake, the coulior was really good.
Climbed after a job interview in Hamilton.
One of my first climbs and the view made it all worth it! Ascended via the normal route. The grey-sided mountains to the north provide a unique color contrast to most summit views here in Montana. I hope to go back someday soon via the Baker Lake/Gem route.
we managed to sneak this in between smoke and some rain showers. Very pretty area. We used the Gem Lake route also described in Cedron Jones Montana Peakbagging book. Very scenic route. The air had cleared enough to see a lot of the Bitterroot peaks. North Trapper looks pretty challenging.
Took the standard route and it was easy and straightforward. Great page.
First time up. I was kind of disappointed with the approach and then I saw the peak and the view. Absolutely stunning. Definitely plan on a winter summit.
Via Baker Lake approach. We had a little trouble finding a good line from Baker Lake to the ridge above. It took a little bushwhacking and scrambling but we finally gained the ridge. Very enjoyable hike the rest of the way to the summit.