Trapper Peak - Montana Mountain Project

From Missoula the first big mountain that people notice is Lolo (or at least the little guy, pt. 8694, just north of Lolo that blocks most of the actual mountain from Missoulians' view). Lolo is the gateway to the Bitterroots and since our first day in Missoula has seemed to be calling us up the valley for a variety of exploration.
The view from Baker Lake
Although I have gone up a few drainages and peaks between Missoula and Hamilton, the larger, craggier peaks to the south have eluded me. South of Hamilton the range appears to grow in size with multiple intimidating faces looming over the valley, almost trying to scare people from venture into Idaho. I can understand Lewis and Clarks' trepidation as they ventured downriver looking for a potential weakness to breach the wall of the range.

The Corps of Discovery ended up crossing the Bitterroots by what was known as the Northern Route over present day Lolo Pass. For some unknown reason they bypassed the Southern Route, which separates the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness from the Frank Church Wilderness. Today there is a long dirt road that crosses the Bitterroots over the Southern Route, just south of Trapper Peak. That road, the Nez Perce Road, is over 100 miles of remote dirt. It is recommended that drivers take an extra can of gas, extra tire, and allow around eight hours of drive time between Darby, MT and Elk City, ID.
Sitting on top
The road, built by the CCC in the 1930's, follows one of the old Nez Perce trails that crossed from Idaho to the buffalo hunting grounds in Montana (the other being the route of Lolo Pass), hence the name of the road. The route is also known as the Magruder Corridor, however, after the unfortunate Lloyd Magruder. In 1863 he was on his way back to Idaho with allegedly gold-filled bags when he was ambushed and killed (the site of the "Magruder Massacre" is accessible along the drive). His assassins we later hanged in the first legal hanging in Idaho.

Considering Magruder's fate, I was excited to not have gold in my backpack as we headed up Trapper Peak. Named in 1876 by a surveyor for the Anaconda Mining Company due to the great trapping in the area, the Peak appears quite formidable from the highway, but is actually easily accessible via the main trail, or from Baker Lake. We chose the Baker Lake route, simply because it passes a lake and has a less distinct trail.

The trail climbed steeply the first half mile or so before leveling slightly and traversing to Baker Lake where we first had the feeling of being in the mountains. The lake looks up at "East Trapper," as the point is known to locals, but the true summit remains hidden.

Jess admiring North Trapper Peak
We traversed the east side of the lake and headed south up a steep climbers trail to a ridgeline that paralleled Baker Creek heading straight for the mountain. The rest of the hike we had gorgeous views of the valley below, as well as the emerging peaks of mountains farther north in the Bitterroot.

When we popped out of the trees we noticed a cloud that made us nervous as we started had disappeared and it looked to be smooth sailing to the top. Picking our way across the rock strewn slope went smoothly and we soon found ourselves standing on the summit with incredible views.

I always feel lucky when the air is clear from a mountain top. Too often in Montana summer's smoke obscures the more distant ranges and visibility is restricted to the closer peaks. Unfortunately fire is a side-effect of living in an incredibly mountainous part of the country, since most mountains have some trees on them. Trapper itself was home to a massive fire in 1967 that scorched 16,600 acres. Fires are a habitual phenomenon in the Bitterroot, so a clear summer day is to be treasured.

From the top of 10,157' Trapper we could see the rest of the Bitterroots, the Sapphires, Pintlers, Beaverheads, Pioneers, Flint Creeks, John Longs, Rattlesnake, a bunch in Idaho that were calling to us, and quite a few shadowy peaks filling out the horizon. I don't know that I've been able to see so much after such a short hike (3-ish miles).

Between the Salish, Lewis and Clark, Magruder, and a series of trappers, Trapper Peak has witnessed more than its share of American history walk by in the last few centuries, but it when we were on top those thoughts vanished as we just sat and appreciated the view.
The vista from the summit