The Lowdown on High Elevation Adventure
Caterpy Ambassador Eric Kienle is known for hard core adventure. The Wild Florida 120 champ recently moved to the Northern Rocky region of Montana and gave us the lowdown on high elevation exploits.
Montana has a huge outdoor scene. From glacial mountains, to rolling hills and canyons, there is something for everyone. While I still have a vast amount to explore, what follows are some of my favorite trails so far.
Mt Sentinel is located directly behind the University of Montana. It is 1,800 feet of vertical gain in just less than 2 miles to the summit. Once you’re on top, there are a series of trails that can connect you to surrounding peaks and canyons. I would consider these trails moderate to advanced for difficulty.
Cherry Gulch is part of a section of trail called “Waterworks.” It is a gentle rolling set of foothills with wide open, golden fields, 360 degree views of the town below, and mountains in the distance. These trails are fairly simple with respect to technical foot placement. In addition to running, these trails are great for hiking with the dogs.
The Mo Z is one of the connecting trails to Mt Sentinel near the University of Montana. At nearly 4,400 feet in elevation, you can fly on this series of switchbacks that zig and zag along the face of this mountain. It’s rocky, technical single-track, but almost impossible for me to not run fast here.
Trapper Peak tops out at 10,157 feet above sea level. Trapper Peak is the largest mountain in the Bitterroot Valley and is located an hour and half south of Missoula. The main road leads to a 10 mile forest service road that takes an equal amount of time to drive. The trail to the top is immediately vertical; it’s basically straight up the entire time. You get a break when at the lake, but that’s not even half way up. From the lake, there’s a small bushwhack section where you follow cairns left by other hikers. The trail then leads to a ridgeline you’ll follow until you get to the top. The summit includes a slow moving scramble of hopping the loosely placed rocks in a boulder field. The view from the top is insane. This is the most difficult hike/ run I’ve done out here.
Grinnell Glacier is located hallway through the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. There’s a side trail that leads to the edge overlooking a glacier. The water below is more crystal blue than you can imagine. It’s steep to get here; loose and dusty, technical tracks lead you to a beautiful overlook. I highly recommend checking out Grinnell if you’re ever in Glacier National Park.
Baker Lake is located near the base of Trapper Peak in the Bitterroot Valley. The trail is about 3 miles out-and-back through a thickly covered evergreen forest. The hike is challenging, but just enough. Be patient, you get where you’re going eventually.
Highline Trail is one of the main highlights at Glacier National Park. It is a 15 mile point-to-point section traversing an unbelievably scenic landscape. It is common to see wildlife in Glacier, including: mountain goats, big-horned sheep, moose, elk, and bears. Carry bear spray at all times. The trail is beautiful and walks along exposed sections sweeping you through the heart of the park. Difficulty of this trail is moderate, and you will be out there for longer than you think. Plan accordingly.
Mt Oberlin is located at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. The trail takes you through meadows of wildflowers, walks you past the base of a waterfall, and up a small snowy section before making the final climb to the top. This trail even included a family of mountain goats to greet us towards the top. The last section of the summit is fairly difficult and requires hand over head climbing and scrambling. The view is the reward for all of your hard work, it’s well worth it.
All in all Montana is an amazingly scenic, and rugged place. You don't have to go far to get off the beaten path. If you're looking for adventure, you'll find it here.