Tweedy Peak - Montana Mountain Project

On the top of Tweedy Mountain with Torrey in the background
Looking west from Dillon, the East Pioneers dominate the skyline with jagged ridgelines, two quite prominent peaks, and, at least every time I have driven by, swirling mist portending a storm hiding behind the mountains. The two peaks, Tweedy and Torrey are only a few feet different in elevation with Tweedy edging out Torrey at 11,154'

The Pioneers are divided into two ranges by the Pioneer Scenic Byway. The West Pioneers consist of rolling, heavily treed mountains, with just a few summits barely poking above treeline. The East Pioneers reach much higher elevations and were heavily glaciated, which makes them much more rugged and intimidating than their western neighbors. Both the East and West Pioneers are teeming with wildlife including the bear that stalked me on Stine Mountain, and potentially the last pure strain of Arctic Grayling (fish) in the lower 48.
Running through the first few golden meadows

At the end of July Sara, Cory Soulliard, and I met up at the Mono Creek Campground for an attempt at Tweedy Peak. With a spit of long awaited rain still dripping from our tent the following morning we set out up David Creek for the long approach to Torrey Lake.

Jacobson Meadow with the first glimpse of mountains
I rarely run into Missoulians who have spent much time in the Pioneers so when I spoke with customers at Runner's Edge who have climbed Tweedy or Torrey Peaks I tried to soak up all the details I could. Most suggested going in from the East side, and not attempting to climb both in the same day because the ridgeline between the two peaks involves a few 5th class pitches. So naturally we went in from the West side, and planned on attempting both peaks in the same day.

The approach up David Creek is gorgeous. Early on we ran by Jacobson Meadows as the early morning sun just hit the meadow creating greenish-orange light, the type of morning light that lets you know you're on an adventure. The first few miles climbed slowly and the running was pretty easy. We even continued a running stride most of the way up the canyon that funnels David Creek despite a few blowdowns and stream crossings. And then the trail ramped up sharply and our running ended for the next five or six hours.

Out of the trees on Tweedy
The David Creek Trail ends at Torrey Lake, which in mid-July is a gorgeous alpine lake surrounded by inspiring mountains, swampy boot-sucking moss, and a horde of (I hope not) malarial filled mosquitos. We paused briefly at the lake to plan a route up Tweedy and then hopefully up to Torrey - keep in mind we were approaching opposite the typically suggested routes - and then before we turned into mosquito meals we turned and began to climb up the western flank of Tweedy.

There are not a lot of trails in the East Pioneers. True there are gorgeous, sub-alpine routes like the one we followed up David Creek, but above treeline there is not much designated human foot traffic. The terrain is remarkably rugged up high with chunky rocks and spires blocking ridgeline travel, evidence of hardworking glacial activity.

Historically, gold and silver mining brought prospectors to the East Pioneers and even led to the development of Coolidge just south of the Mono Creek campground. Today Coolidge is one of four ghost towns in the East Pioneers, but between 1873, when the Elkhorn Mine was discovered, and 1930 Coolidge was a booming silver metropolis. So much silver was being brought out of the mine by the early 1920's that the building that housed the processing mill covered two acres. Silver that came out of the mine was shipped to the town of Divide via the last narrow gauge railroad built in the US before making its way to San Francisco to be shipped to Wales for conversion into useful metal. Prospects looked good for the town of Coolidge until in the late 1920's when a dam on the Wise River burst and wiped out part of the railway. When it was finally repaired in 1930 the price of metal had dropped to the point where continued operation cost too much and since then there has been very little human development in the East Pioneers.

Playground for mountain goats on Tweedy with Torrey in the background
As we ascended the steep western slope of Tweedy Peak I felt more remote than I have felt in similar mountain ranges. The Anaconda-Pintlers were visible over our left shoulders, one of our favorite ranges because of the solitude and beauty, but the East Pioneers felt even more isolated.

Once we reached treeline we began to pick our way through large boulders to the true west ridge of Tweedy. Although it looked toothy we hoped that we would be able to get on the top and clamber to the summit. Alas, this was not the case. What looked like small teeth from down below turned into giant fangs. To avoid this we traversed into the northern cirque, dropped a hundred feet or so and then climbed back up to a notch, hoping that this would be an easier path to the summit.

Working our way onto the North side of Tweedy
From the notch we could see that in our desire to create a loop rather than a series of out-and-backs we created a much more difficult day for ourselves. The eastern flank was much more gradual and promised much easier travel than everything else we had climbed. Now we know. We turned and scrambled the last few feet to the summit and ate lunch on the top of the Pioneers.

After lunch we descended the eastern flank and found a small couloir that led back to opposite side of the lake. The second half of our day was drastically different from our first. While our approach to Torrey Lake and the summit of Tweedy was sunny and clear, our time on the flank of Torrey was cloudy and ominous.

As soon as we left the lake and started up the steep boulder field it began to sprinkle. The clouds moving in from the west were darkening and we knew the chances of safely reaching the top of Torrey were slim. We would soon find out though that the weather wasn't really what would keep us from reaching the top, but the technical terrain.
Sara on the top of Tweedy with Torrey in the background

From the lake we picked a route on the edge of a boulder field and cascading cliff band. About halfway up the slope we could use a few snow fields to our advantage for a few hundred feet of easier travel. Above the snow the boulders ended and it looked like we could scramble up a field of small scree and dirt to a saddle. From there we would figure it out.

Cory employing the bear crawl method on Torrey
Getting above the snow fields was taxing, but not particularly challenging. Above the snow in the scree and dirt our progress became painstakingly slow. The steepness and loose nature of the rock made keeping momentum paramount. Every time I stopped moving I felt in danger of tipping backwards. I found an aggressive bear crawl to be the best bet for keeping balance.

We found the saddle we were aiming for was actually a notch. The south side of the notch was blocked by a 15 or 20 foot cliff face beyond our climbing ability. From the notch, though, we could see another cirque containing a gorgeous lake and then a nice slope leading up to the summit of Torrey. The only problem was gaining access to that slope involved descending another 1,000' before climbing again. With clouds and exhaustion moving in we opted to turn.

The steep part with Tweedy in the background
By this time the sprinkle turned into a light drizzle and everything was wet. Rocks became a bit more willing to move and we took turns descending the scree section to avoid knocking anything onto the person below us. Unfortunately, Sara did a great job of knocking a rock onto her own hand, which sliced completely through the fingernail on her little finger. Blood went everywhere.

At this point I was a ways below tucked behind a large boulder to avoid potential scree from Sara's travel, and Cory was stopped fifty feet above Sara to avoid sending rocks down on her. The only problem was Cory had the lone first aid kit. I quickly worked my way back up to Sara and Cory executed a perfect throw of the first aid kit that would land him on any MLB team and I was able to secure the fingernail in place.
Sara starting to descend in the rain

At this point we still had another 750-1,000' of steep, wet, and technical descending to get to the wrong side of the lake, and then a bushwhack around the water's edge to the trail before running the nine or 10 miles out David Creek. 12 challenging miles with a bleeding finger.

After carefully picking our way through rest of the scree, snowbank, and large boulders, we hit the flat lake section and were able to re-wrap Sara's finger to better stem the blood. From there she tucked her hand into her shoulder straps, a la Kilian Jornet at Hardrock, and we could run/walk the rest of the way out.

Even without reaching the summit of Torrey we managed nearly 26 miles with over 6,000' of climbing, most of which was off trail. Now I understand why people do not attempt both Tweedy and Torrey in the same day from the East side.

Cory walking it out
For those of you concerned, after driving to Dillon to pick up proper, dry first aid supplies and a night in the sterile conditions of Motel 6, Sara's fingernail made a full recovery and she is back running and climbing mountains.

Sara's finger after cleaning