Hike to Lolo Peak (via the Sawback)

Lolo Peak, or at least what appears to be Lolo Peak, towers over Missoula.

But the actual summit is hidden behind a lower false summit. So the mystery of Lolo Peak grows. This hike to the summit was made more difficult by my awesome navigation skills, call me Magellan. I led us up the wrong ridge, so we created our own route that I dubbed the Sawback Route, which features slick rock, cliffs, and tons of exposure (how awesome is that?)

Total distance: 12.69 mi
Max elevation: 9127 ft
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The weather started out exactly what the weatherman said would not happen…0% chance of precipitation my ass! The drizzle was steady as we hiked through the first 4 miles to Carlton Ridge. From Vista Point, you get your first glimpses of Lolo Peak and Carlton Lake below. Now you lose nearly 500 vertical feet as you reach the earthen dam that creates Carlton Lake. The lake was merely a pothole as it was largely emptied of water.

From here, you would normally hike off-trail to the east to summit Lolo Peak. We, however, went south to the wrong saddle, and this is where things got interesting with the route. This portion of the ridge is rather cliffy and steep, and it took us nearly an hour to make a reasonable saddle before we were on the right ridge. This rest of the scramble to the summit is straight-forward, but the weather was worsening with strong winds and sleet. The temperatures dip to the low 40s at the top, so you can imagine that the stay up there was brief.

Lolo Peak was the last jewel of our Bitterroot Mountain Triple Crown along with Saint Mary Peak and Trapper Peak. We have bagged the three most climbed peaks in the range…so what should the next challenge?

Carlton Lake...or what remains of it

Carlton Lake…or what remains of it

Lolo Peak from the Sawback

Lolo Peak from the Sawback

The Saddle between the Sawback and the Peak

The Saddle between the Sawback and the Peak

Written by Radd Icenoggle

I am a native Montanan, who has spent a lifetime as an outdoors and wildlife enthusiast. I earned a degree in biology with an emphasis on habitat relations. During my studies, I had the great fortune to research and compose a thesis that explored the effects of slope aspect on...
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