Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gallatin Peak loop run

After a great day of wedding festivities, I spent Sunday running/scrambling a long loop in the Spanish peaks.  The inspiration for the route came from summer 2011, when I did the exact same route in reverse with my father and brother as an overnight backpack trip.
All smiles on Gallatin peak.
I left the car mid-morning, jogging at a casual pace up Spanish Creek.  I'm not sure if it was a longish run the previous morning, the midnight french fries, or lack of sleep the previous night, but all systems were feeling extremely sluggish, so I kept the pace reasonable.  Mirror lake came soon enough, and I was soon jogging up into the striking alpine of the Spanish peaks.  Keeping with the moderate pace mantra, I walked all the steep sections to the unique and striking Summit lake before dropping into Hellroaring creek.  After another fuel stop at the base of the peak, I cached the water bottles and food and scrambled the northwest face of Gallatin peak.  I kept the pace reasonable and steady, and made the climb in about 40 minutes.

Prologue:  Twice during the approach to Gallatin peak, I had to make wide deviations to pass unattended horses blocking the trail.  Not a big deal for me, but I think horse packers forget how their actions affect hikers, especially kids or folks who don't know the basic safety protocols around horses.    
Cruising around Mirror lake.
Summit lake, precariously perched on the divide between Spanish and Hellroaring creeks.
The classic view of Beehive and Lone mountains from Gallatin peak.
 The descent from Gallatin was fairly slow, and I had trouble finding my cached water bottle.  Soon enough, I was re-united with my gear and running down Hellroaring creek.  Anticipating a long dry slog out to the trailhead, I stopped and drank as much water as possible before heading up the dusty switchbacks to Beacon point.  Feeling the effort of the day, I walked about 2/3 of the climb to Beacon point, enjoying the upper ridgeline section of trail and shooing a pair of goats off the summit.  From Beacon point, I begain the long, elegant descent of Indian ridge.  I thought this section would pass quickly, but it turns out it is quite long - about 6 miles.  Without a map, I convinced myself that I had missed the Hellroaring trail junction, and almost struck out off trail back to the trailhead.  Fortunately, my wiser side won out, and I continued down the ridge, eventually arriving at the Indian ridge/Spanish creek junction in relief.  With 1/2 cup of water, 50 calories of GU and adequate energy reserves in the legs, I relaxed and just enjoyed the final 5-mile descent to the car.  Back at the car, water, banannas, and a cold soak in the creek rounded out the day.

Thoughts:  This is one of the best non-skiing days I have had in quite a while.  Although a slow place surely contributed, this was one of the few long runs I've gotten away with where my legs were not painfully hammered at the end.  I spent a lot of time keeping the comfort level high, soaking my shirt at least four times, and drinking and re-filling water frequently.  After running primarily for speed, it was a joy to simply be out in the mountains, moving at a reasonable pace and taking it all in.
Below Gallatin peak, ready to start the long grind up to Beacon point.
Following the faint trail off Beacon point.
Relieved to finally see the trail junction back to the car.
This is a great route, and would be doable for a strong hiking party in a 10-12 hour day.  Gallatin peak could be easily cut out for a long but beautiful 23-ish mile trail loop.  Gallatin peak is one of my all time favorite mountains, and my second favorite ski mountain in Montana (after Grey Wolf).  To my memory, this was my ninth Gallatin peak summit, and I can't wait to go back.  The summit register on Gallatin is gone - someone should pack a PVC summit register in sometime.  The Spanish peaks are a compact range, but they are rugged and striking, especially the Spanish/Mirror/Bear Basin/Thompson lake cirques.  The opportunities for high quailty loops like this are close to endless - I have quite a few in mind.

Mirror lake: 1.30
Base of Gallatin: 2.30
Gallatin summit: 3.05
Start Beacon point climb: 4.40
Leaving Beacon point: 5.30
Indian trail junction: 6.20
Car: 7.20

Total elevation gain (based on topo map):   7,800 vertical feet, not counting trail undulations
Total distance (approximate):  25 miles
Trip length: 7 hours, 20 minutes car to car
Accomplices: None
Put in/Take out:  Spanish Creek
Route: Up Spanish Creek to Mirror and Summit lakes, down into Hellroaring, up and down NW face of Gallatin, down Hellroaring creek, then up trail to Beacon point, down trail along Indian Ridge and out to Spanish creek trailhead.
Equipment of note:  No pack, so just shoes, an emergency shell, a camera, one 0.5L water bottle and lots of calories.
Sustinance:  About 8L of water (many refills) with 3 electrolyte tabs and about 1,500 calories of Hammer Gel and Perpetum.  One Pro Bar
Hazards:  Unattended horses
Booty?:  Yes, skin clip on the summit of Gallatin.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 8
Stoke factor:  9 (Note:  virtually impossible to exceed 9 if skis aren't involved)
Memories to suppress:  Inability to maintain a bright pace.  

1 comment:

  1. This is a great account with nice photos. It would inspire me to do it if I was capable (which I wouldn't know unless I tried it). Thanks!