Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mission Traverse V.5

Nearing the halfway point of the traverse below the South face of McDonald peak.
I was fortunate to find time and energy between races for a long day in the mountains, and the Mission traverse was an easy choice. I still contend the Mission traverse is the finest long outing near Missoula.  I followed my previous route with only a few modifications, and it was delightful to spend a long day in familiar terrain, simply moving and enjoying the experience.

I ran the bike shuttle the previous evening, and was jogging from the canal at the bottom of the Ashley lake road at dawn.  The bushwack to Sheepshead was as slow, but I was mentally prepared. It isn't really that bad, just slow and long. Soon enough, I was on the enjoyable Southwest ridge of Sheepshead, which I followed easily to the summit. Something in my digestive system was a little off, but otherwise I arrived on the summit right on schedule, and in good spirits. The traverse to McDonald was quick and easy.  A brisk wind discouraged me from stopping on the summit, so I immediately started glissading the South face.  Aside from a few sections of steeper snow, I was able to carefully glissade or butt slide the entire way, descending 2,000 vertical feet in less than 10 minutes. I found a good water refill spot near the Ashley/Post divide and took a short break.  

Lots of downfall on the historic trail to Sheepshead.
In high spirits on McDonald.  Looking to Flattop and Kakashke.
Glissading on the South face of McDonald.
Instead of descending to Icefloe lake, I stayed high and climbed North Glacier peak via the North face and West ridge. This was my first time on the ridge, and I was pleased to find enjoyable 4th class climbing all the way to the summit. My stomach hit a low point on the traverse to the South summit, but a few cookies and a shot of gel were all it took to turn things around, and I ended up feeling great for the rest of the day.  I hit South Glacier several hours ahead of schedule and kept pushing to the Garden Wall. I took a full break, drying my shoes and socks and dining on grapefruit and jerkey. The climb to Mountaineer was quick using the west ledge bypass, as was the convoluted route to the Fissure glacier. I had plenty of time to hit Lowary, so I climbed it via the easy Southeast ridge, and made the quick jaunt out to East Saint Mary's. I was pleasantly fatigued by this point, but there was still enough pep in the legs to enjoy the long, steep trail run back down to the reservoir and car.  For stats, somewhere north of 11,000 vertical feet with difficulties to 4th class and bushwacking which never exceeds "Not too bad," done in 12 hours 1 minute.  Such a good outing.

The North face and West ridge of North Glacier peak. From the Ashley/Post creek divide,
I ascended the big snow ramp to near its terminus before scrambling 4th class rock to the visible West ridge.
Starting up the West ridge of North Glacier peak.  Fun exposed 4th class scrambling.

Lunch break on the Garden Wall.

Descending to the Fissure glacier, briefly wishing I had skis.

Classic Garden Wall view from South Glacier peak.


  1. Hey Brian, to get from Sheepshead to McDonald do you typically stay on the ridge or cross the McDonald Glacier and then up to the Peak? Curious what the fastest reasonable lime is. Thanks for posting all this great beta!

  2. From Sheepshead summit, descend east ridge to the Sheepshead/Mcdonald saddle. Leave the ridge and traverse steep North facing snow to the Northwest snowfield of McDonald, and take it to the summit. No tricks, that is the most intuitive route. For time, it really depends on how fast you are moving, and how far you are willing to drive up the Ashley lake road. I almost always park way down by the canal, and it takes something like 4 hours to summit sheepshead and another hour to get to McDonald. Plan on up to five hours from the upper Ashley lakes trailhead to summit Sheepshead, and up to two hours to continue out to McDonald.