Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canyon Peak North ridge

Looking back down Canyon Peak's narrow North ridge.
I am bad at saying no to attempts on aesthetic and creative routes in the mountains, especially with perfect weather and vibrant fall colors. The North ridge of Canyon peak is one of the only established easy local alpine rock routes, and it is nothing short of shameful that it has taken me this long to climb it. Plus, I was excited to make it a loop.  Aesthetic. Creative. Perfect weather, Fall colors. All check. Unfortunately I had a lingering cold going into the weekend. A wiser man would have perhaps opted out in favor of recovery. Not me. I drove down the Blodgett trailhead late Friday evening and settled in for a generous night of sleep.

I started the day at Blodgett and biked the 1.5 mile road back out to the Canyon Creek road junction. From there, I jogged the road to the trailhead, cutting switchbacks of course, then jogged and walked to a highpoint about a mile below Canyon lake. I still contest this is one of the longest 5-mile sections of trail anywhere. I roughly followed the route suggested by Michael Hoyt in his excellent Bitterroot hiking guidebook (much of his information is also on summitpost), climbing off trail up slabs and open forest to gain access to the headwaters of the basin. I'm not sure it was much faster than just taking the trail to Canyon lake, but it wasn't much slower.
Looking back down at golden larch and Canyon creek from the base of Canyon Peak.
Canyon peak. The North ridge is on the right skyline. It is not as steep as it looks.
The route up the North ridge was good. The climbing is all 4th class except one short dihedral, which went at easy 5th. It could probably be avoided. The ridge is also delightfully exposed. A recommended route for sure.
Golden larch and clean granite on the North ridge.
On the summit. The cord hanging out of the pack is tat that I found and hauled off the mountain.
From the summit, I looked around for an easy downclimb route, but ended up using my previous descent route down the southwest ridge (described below). There are few moves of easy but exposed 5th class downclimbing, which made the descent the climbing crux of the day. I dropped west off the ridge at the first shallow col, and worked down easy ledges, slabs, and talus all the way to High lake. From the lake and a water refill stop, I nosed my way down the High lake trail, which is a bit cryptic. Also, the map location is dead wrong. From the lake, the trail climbs to the east, crossing the low slabby outlet moraine like feature at a poorly defined saddle. There are a few cairns. The trail becomes a litle more defined, and cuts east to the base of the large west facing cliff wall and skirts the base of the wall. From there, the trail crosses a talus slope before dropping west down to the drainage bottom. Below treeline, the trail was flush with uncut downfall which slowed the pace, but the run down to Blodgett was still fun. The run out Blodgett was great. Plenty of miles to stretch the legs out, and lots of smooth trail interspersed with fast rocky sections to keep things interesting. I returned to the car feeling as good as could be expected, having enjoyed another fine fall day in the mountains. I think the day was around 5,500 vertical feet and it was done in almost exactly 6.5 hours trailhead to trailhead.
Cruising around High lake.
What passes for a trail in Montana. Don't worry, there are two visible cairns. 
Blodgett spires looking attractive during the run out.
Route tidbits

Canyon peak North ridge route: The route is intuitive.  Follow the path of least resistance, either on or just east of the crest.

Canyon peak descent: The easiest and safest descent is to bring a single rope and rappel straight south from one of several established rappel stations. From the base of the rappel, one should be able to scramble either over to High lake, or more commonly, back east to the normal return to Canyon creek (there is a notch/ramp way east of the peak). If you are not rappelling, descend the crest of the southwest ridge about 100 feet from the summit until it narrows to a point. Downclimb on the crest, using big lichen covered foot holds and two slopers on the crest. The moves are easy, but it is exposed. From the bottom of the step, downclimb a steep but easy chimney to the east. You should now be below the steep summit cliff band. From here, proceed with your descent route of choice, downclimbing easy 4th class steps as required.
Looking down the descent ridge. I stayed on the crest to the first visible white pinnacle.
The crux is getting down to the pinnacle.  I downclimbed a chimney in front of the pinnacle to the left (not visible).
Just remember, you are trying to get below the summit cliff band.
I also left the ridge at first visible shaded low point and headed west (right) down to High lake,

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