Ridges and loops – Fall in the Spanish Peaks

Julia with Gallatin Peak behind, left

Julia with Gallatin Peak behind, left

Ahhh… a full-length Montana fall. We’ve had quite the autumn this year so Julia and I have been trying to squeeze in as much outside fun as possible during this impeccable weather window. While we have accomplished a lot of “done-in-a-day” recreation, backpacking has fallen off a bit this year due to a few large life events. Thankfully, this long fall season has allowed for us to play a little catch-up with the outdoors. Two free coinciding days recently yielded a most amazing, 20+ mile loop that is not too far from our back door. And with what has amounted to a quintessential Montana Indian summer, it has been hard not to get out to soak it in.

Morning gold along Thompson Lake

Morning gold along Thompson Lake

Julia soaking it up on Indian Ridge with the expansive Gallatin Valley behind

Julia soaking it up on Indian Ridge with the expansive Gallatin Valley behind

Ridgelines are high on the list of fun, as well as loop/lollipop hikes that allow one to traverse different ground nearly the entire trip. Time is sometimes of the essence, and bang for buck has become an increasing theme in our (and maybe your?) ever-evolving backcountry strategy. This particular loop held just what we were looking for – distance not too far or short, miles of ridgeline travel above and at timberline, high and wide alpine vistas, peaks to incorporate just off trail, a logical campsite midway at an alpine lake, and enough up/down to keep us working for it. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Summit chickens

Summit chickens

The aptly named, Summit Lake (Photo: Julia)

The aptly named, Summit Lake (Photo: Julia)

The loop begins and ends at S Fork Spanish Creek TH (N end of Madison range) and can be easily figured out from there with a topo, as it is the only true non-redundant loop. It is a great overnight trip, or would also be a great longer run for those so inclined. Overall length is in the low 20’s for mileage and ~5000′ for vert. Clockwise or counter is the only major remaining question. My vote is for a counter clockwise run, based on water availability and terrain selection. It could feasibly be done with just a handheld w/ inline filter if ran in this direction. It could almost be done without a filter, except for one important, and semi-suspect water source. As for backpacking it, we put in the longer mileage day and Indian Ridge first, and thought that this may be the preferred method to camp. But either direction would still be most pleasing.

Miles of this (Photo: J)

Miles of this (Photo: J)

Westward from Beacon Pt.

Westward from Beacon Pt.

Trailside company

Trailside company

Gear Highlights/Lowlights:

A cold, calm night on a bench sitting above the lake yielded, (go figure, yet again) significant condensation inside of our single walled/hybrid Big Sky International Mirage 2P shelter. You’d think we have had enough time over the three-plus years of use to just get rid of it, but no, we press on because of weight/space balance and the hopes for optimal conditions. We do have a double-walled Hilleberg for more serious weather but it is overkill for a lot of summer use here in the Montana Rockies. So along comes the Mirage 2P and then we end up cursing it about half of the time. And loving it the other half.

Big Sky Mirage 2P just waiting to accumulate condensation

Big Sky Mirage 2P just waiting to accumulate condensation

So, it may be time to rethink the 2P summer shelter situation come next year. We’ll have to leave that one for when the time comes though, so until next time folks. Winter is currently knocking on the door.

Blustery Bridger ridge run, the end of October

Blustery Bridger ridge run, the end of October

One Comment

  1. Reply
    samh October 28, 2014

    And only having to travel 15 miles from town to trailhead it is a perfect zone for a quick weekend getaway that many people in other locales would spent months dreaming about having the chance to visit. So perfect!

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