Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rattlesnake - Mcleod Peak loop

My legs were screaming as I ran the final miles of the Rattlesnake corridor.  A poor recovery from racing, combined with pounding out a half marathon on the flat dirt road had taken its toll, and I still hadn't even caugh a glimpse of the peak.  I briefly considered turning around and just waking out. There was plenty of time as the miles slowly turned over, and I spent time contemplating how much of the wilderness experience is steeped exertion and discomfort. Fortunately, for many, the discomfort magnifies the experience. Wild. Raw. Beautiful. Uncompromising.  All good for the soul, and worth seeking out over and over.  As I passed into the Wilderness, immediately followed by a "Trail not maintained" sign, I couldn't help but smile and continue on.

The peaks of the Rattlesnake from Mcleod.  How many can you name?
Mcleod peak is the monarch of the Rattlesnake. It is also tucked way back from civilization, requiring an overnight for most parties.  Having stared at the peak for years, I finally decided to just go big and do the grand tour, running the fifteen miles up the Rattlesnake corridor, climbing the peak, then ridge traversing to the Stuart peak trail, summiting Mosquito and Stuart on the return trip.  In retrospect, this was too much too soon after racing last weekend, but oh well.

The run up the corridor was mind numbing.  Fortunately, the second "half" beyond the Franklin is short, and I hit the trail junction to Mcleod earlier than anticipated.  I followed a surprisingly passable old logging road for almost an hour before striking off to the west on game trails.  It is about two miles off trail to the base of Mcleod, and I simply followed the topography, eventually climbing through a beautiful series of argillite shelves and pocket lakes.  Mcleod was easily climbed on the south face on solid talus.
Typical terrain leading to Mcleod.
Talus on Mcleod.  It was actually quite friendly. 
Bad self portrait on Mcleod, with the Missions in the background.
Mcleod is on the edge of the restricted zone in the Salish Kootenai tribal wilderness, which gives it an appealing forbidden aura. I took a long break on the top to dry my shoes and socks and enjoy the majestic perch. The traverse from Mcleod to the Stuart trail was delightful. Rumors of difficult climbing on the gendarmes at the head of Finley creek were unfounded.  They were slow, but ended up being class 3 fun with some creative ledge scrambling on the east side of the ridge.  It only took two hours to reach the Stuart trail, which I followed for a scant half mile before striking off again for the summit of Mosquito. From Mosquito, I was surprised to make it to Stuart in less than an hour, and took another substantial break on the summit.

Looking back at the gendarmes.
Wildflowers, Glacier Lake, Mosquito peak from the descent off Sanders.
Typical section of the trial from Mosquito to Stuart.

The always rewarding view from Stuart.
The run out was longer than I would have liked.  My right foot hurt like a bugger the whole way, and I tripped on a root and took a spectacular spill.  Fortunately, the trail is perfectly runnable, so I let the legs spin and focused on enjoying the day. Soon enough, I was back in the land of mountain bikers, and a few miles later I was back at the car.
The route and a clear reminder of how awesome it is to have the Rattlesnake in our backyard.
Mcleod is a worthwile outing.  The peak is probably most easily climbed by biking up the corridor, then climbing from the Wilderness boundary on foot.  Done in this manner, it could be completed by a competent hiking party in a long day. The peak could also be climbed from Snowbowl and Murphy peak as a high quality out and back ridge scramble. Even though it is longer, my loop was was definitive and highly recommended.  Just be sure you have the running legs to comfortably stack a day of peak scrambling on top of 25 miles of trial running. I didn't on Saturday, and paid the price a little on the egress.  Less then 7,000 vertical feet but well over 35 miles and done in 10 hours, 5 minutes car to car at a moderately bright pace.

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