Montana Mountain Project

It's been over a year since Sara and I settled in Montana and during that time I have become entranced by the variety of never-ending mountains in the Treasure State. Much of the latter half of the summer saw me summiting peaks in the Swan Range, Cabinet Range, Mission Range, Rattlesnake Mountains, Flathead Mountains, Pintlers, and of course, the Bitterroots. Each group of mountains has their own characteristic geology and different feel while hitting the trails, which prevents adventures from feeling repetitive.

The Bitterroots
When Sara and I first entered Montana it was on foot as part of our Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. We immediately fell in love with the biodiversity in Montana. Every time we left one range and hiked off to another, we were inspired by the expanse of rugged terrain that cried out for further exploration. Since moving to Montana, our sense of wonder for the breadth of terrain and biodiversity has not diminished. Lakes lie hidden everywhere here, fed by melting glaciers and snowpack, which can only be seen from up high. Herds of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk parade on the miles of alpine tundra. Each outing into the mountains has revealed another canyon, lake, creek, and peak.

Each time I journeyed into the mountains this summer I felt the pull to stay out longer and explore more. I began scheming. I wanted an excuse to explore the different ranges in Montana and experience the biological, geological, and historical differences between them. My scheming culminated in the Montana Mountain Project.

Great Northern in the Flathead Range
There are 64 mountain ranges in Montana (according to, each with a different high point, and a different story to tell. Many of the ranges lie in the Rocky Mountain corridor that makes up Western Montana and were created through a combination of sedimentation, uplift, and glacial carving. Over the last year I've run and hiked in a few of the ranges around Missoula and found incredible diversity in ruggedness and geologic appearance.

But Montana is big and not all the mountain ranges are found in the Western part of the state. Ranges like the Long Pines, the Bull Mountains, and Sweet Grass Hills lie far into the Eastern part of the state: a region I am unlikely to visit without proper motivation.

In order to give myself the incentive to experience mountains in all corners of my new state, I will summit each of the 64 high points of each mountain range in Montana before the end of 2020. Many of the peaks have trails, some require scrambles, some I can drive to the peak. All of them deserve to be experienced.

The Pintlers
Along with the physical experience of hiking, running, climbing, and potentially snowshoeing to the top of each peak, I hope to educate myself on the geologic formation, the diversity of biological populations, and cultural history of each range. After the 64th high point I hope I can truly call myself a Montanan.

As a freshly minted Montana resident, my geographical knowledge is markedly deficient when it comes to what exists beyond Bozeman, Whitefish, and Helena. I don't know why a French trapper thought the Cabinets look like cabinets, or why a huge landslide crack is forming in the Big Horns. I don't know how snowy the Big Snowies are, or how the Tobacco Roots got their name. But hopefully after this project I will know the answers to that, and many other questions.

I don't need an excuse to get into the mountains. I could just keep heading out on the trails each weekend as I've been doing. But by combining my trail running and hiking with outdoor education I will be able to bring a contemplative aspect to my mountain adventures.

Happy Trails,