Sunday, July 21, 2013

Swan Range - Pyramid pass ridge scrambling

On Leota peak, looking out to Crescent, Marshall, and Pyramid peaks (from right to left).
These are the prominent peaks visible from downtown Seeley Lake.
Having spent several days last summer running ridgelines in the central Swan, I returned this summer to explore the southern end of the range.  Instead of committing to a traverse, I concocted a somewhat contrived loop of sorts.  It was supposed to be hot, so I drove to the trailhead the night before, and set my alarm with intentions of starting at first light.

Or maybe a little before first light.  Heading out.
I bumbled around a bit without a headlamp on the 4-mile trail up to Pyramid pass.  It is hard to give a full effort before the sun rises, so I putted along, enjoying the dawn.  From the pass, I dropped over to Pyramid lake, then ran down the trail another mile or so before heading up through bear grass and downfall toward Crimson peak.  This south facing hillside is a scorcher later in the day, and I was glad to climb it while it was still in the shade.  I spooked a herd of 20 elk on the climb, and ended up chasing them for quite a while until they eventually ambled off to the east.  Gaining the ridge at Leota peak, I realized that I had left the trail too early, and Crimson peak was still way off to the east.  Not wanting to burn two hours going out and back, I cut my losses and continued with the traverse.  This was new country for me, and without a map I had a great adventure figuring out the route by intuition on the fly.  I also fully enjoyed the grand views east to the peaks of the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Bob Marshall sunrise.
Good view of the southern half of the Southern Swan traverse.
 I decided to go over Marshall mountain on the way to Crescent, which was great going up and horrid going down (lots of scrub brush and difficult downclimbing).  Soon enough I was back on track, and summited Crescent five hours into the day.  The traverse from Crescent to Pyramid was quite enjoyable, with nice ridgeline scrambling to Point 8,276, then a devious west side bypass before the standard ridgeline affair to Pyramid.  The descent from Pyramid was fast, and I was soon back at Pyramid lake.

On Pyramid, ready to head home.
I had some extra time, so I decided to scramble Devine peak from little Pyramid lake.  What looked like a quick jaunt up scree fields end up being a full loose-scree battle, but I fought valiantly on all fours all the way to the ridge.  The descent off the West face wasn't much better.  As a consolation prize, I went for a quick swim in little Pyramid lake before pushing hard on the 4-mile egress, returning to the car right at the 10-hour mark.
The west face/torture chamber of Divine peak.
It was a great day, but this route is a little contrived.  It would go more logically as an out and back from Pyramid to Crescent (and back), or as a traverse from Pyramid to Crescent, descending to the Morrell falls trailhead, or backtracking to Marshall and descending straight to the Pyramid Pass road.  Also, a traverse from Pyramid to Crescent, then around the head of upper Morrell creek to the Sunday Mountain trail looks engaging and reasonably high quality.  Speaking of quality, the ridgeline traversing was fun today, but it was nothing like the clean, spectacular knife edge ridges of the central Swan.  Also, the Bob is big and wild.
The route, according to Google maps.
The Pyramid lake hike itself was quite enjoyable, and it may be one of the most underrated short hikes or backpack trips in the Missoula area.

I walked past quite a bit of good looking ski terrain, especially the big obvious southwest facing avalanche paths.  Unfortunately, road access is poor in the winter, but nothing that couldn't be overcome with kicker skins or (gasp) a snowmobile.

In terms or strategy and performance, everything worked out well.  There is a lot of water along the way, and I drank somewhere around 7L, and consumed about 1,500 calories of GU and Perpetum.  Between the early start, soaking the shirt, and multiple stops to ice my legs with snow, the heat was a non-issue, and I was able to maintain a 2,000 vertical foot per hour climbing pace throughout the day.  By forgoing a few essentials like a jacket, map, sunscreen and bear spray, I was able to go sans pack, which makes running much more enjoyable.  For stats, the day was about 9,500 vertical feet, roughly 22 miles, and done in 10 hours 3 minutes car to car. 

1 comment:

  1. Brian - I could be wrong but it appears that you are unaware of the trail up to hoehn lake in the saddle between crescent and pt. 8276. Using this trail and the pyramid pass trail makes for a nice loop (approx. 14mi and 6k vert) of the 4 prominent peaks - crescent, pt. 8276/matt, marshall and pyramid. I prefer it in this direction because it is easier to climb rather than descend the cliffy, brushy W ridge of marshall.