Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trip Report: Point Six and Murphy Peak

Trailhead: Snowbowl Ski Area parking lot (~5,000')
High Points: 'Point 7500', 'Point Six' (7942') and 'Murphy Peak' (8167')
Total Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet
Duration: 3 hours 23 minutes (round trip)

I got onto the mountain around 8AM via Snowbowl Ski Area. Although there is an established trail to the top of the Ski Area (~ 4 miles), I opted for the most direct route to the top of Snowbowl. From the top of Snowbowl, point 7500, I would then head up to 'Point Six' and finally 'Murphy Peak' by way of the connecting ridge between the two (and then a reversal of the route).

Looking south/southwest from the top of Snowbowl
(parking lot lower left)
Departing at 7:55AM from the parking lot, I followed the 'Runout' run for the first 3/4 of a mile before taking a hard left up a steep glade run on the crest of the rib that marks the western edge of 'West Bowl'. The line provides a direct shot to the top of Snowbowl. By this route, I bushwhacked my way through knee high vegetation interspersed with beautiful coniferous trees. About 700 feet below the summit, lush undergrowth gave way to an expansive talus field - rocks roughly the size of basketballs or larger. What a treat! It provided, without exception, a stable, direct and swift passage to the top. Within a few minutes of discovering the talus 'super highway' I was on top of Snowbowl Ski Area. I was very pleased to see that the clock read 8:39AM, about 45 minutes from bottom to top.

From Snowbowl, I headed northeast via a ski run to the broad connecting ridge to Point Six. I opted for the most direct ridge road. A few minutes later I was standing amongst the radio towers and doppler radar that is Point Six. There I encountered a woman walking around the summit taking photos. She explained that she was with a crew that had driven up to Point Six to do some repair work on the HAM radio setup. We both made remarks about the beauty that surrounded us from our lofty perch above Missoula and the Rattlesnake Wilderness. I suggested that on the clearest day, Flathead Lake might be visible from this vista. Unsure of the veracity of this, she responded "maybe" and I concurred as I rethought the possibility of Flathead Lake actually being visible from this far south.

Looking north to Murphy Peak from Point Six
(Murphy Peak is the high point right of center)
After parting ways with the HAM radio enthusiast, I took a 1-2 minute break on the summit of 'Point Six' to mix an electrolyte drink mix and pull out a granola bar for the road. Feeling strong and fired up about the next objective, Murphy Peak, I dropped down the boulder field that defines the north shoulder of Point Six. Point Six and Murphy Peak are connected by a roughly two mile-long undulating ridge that dips down to 7500' with one prominent point on the ridge between the two named peaks. Amazingly, just above saddle between Point Six and the prominent ridge point ahead, a wilderness registration box materialized. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere with no real defined trail it was somewhat baffling. I quickly registered and followed what appeared to be more of a game trail than a manmade hiking trail. "Hey Bear! Hey Bear!" was my loud, audible mantra for the day (I did not so much as see bear scat). After about 1/2 mile I lost the game trail and headed for the crest of the ridge. Within a few minutes, I found myself on top of the prominent point that marks the halfway point between Point Six and Murphy Peak.

Self-portrait looking north on Murphy Peak
I let out a joyful 'Whoop!' as the next expanse of ridge opened up between myself and Murphy Peak's summit. The ridge narrowed and, at times, steepened amidst a jumbled mess of massive granite slabs. It looked super fun!

I quickly made my way down the ridge point to the final little saddle that marks the beginning of the summit cone of Murphy Peak. I stashed my trekking poles about 400 feet below the top as the ridge steepened and forced some quick and easy scrambling moves. A final move through a narrow slot in the rock gave way to the final talus field of Murphy Peak. Moments later I was standing on top with joy in my heart! The clock read 9:39AM, exactly one-hour after getting to the top of Snowbowl and 1 hour and 45 minutes from my car. I was extraordinarily pleased with this time, as I was aiming for something of a lung/quad-busting speed ascent.

I took a 3-5 minute break on top of Murphy Peak to rehydrate, take some food and electrolytes and snap some photos as well. It was so dang pretty up there! The panorama included a view of the Rattlesnake Wilderness, Missoula, the northside of Snowbowl, Point Six, the southern reaches of Arlee, the southern end of the Mission Mountains and the Grant Creek complex.

Hydrated and nourished, I donned my pack and began the long retrace of the connecting ridge back to the top of Point Six and down to the SnowBowl Ski Area. I did my darndest to retrace my line down Snowbowl. About 1/3 of the way down, I saw a mountain biker athwart my direct descent, enjoying a leisurely solo cruise in the mountains. Beautiful stuff. I regained the runout on the bottom 1/3 of the mountain and cruised on down to the parking lot. I arrived at my car at 11:18AM. Gosh, still morning! what a nice surprise.

Overall, this route goes down as one of my favorite local hikes. The connecting ridge between Point Six and Murphy Peak is pretty dang fun and the views from atop those two high points are spectacular.

Onward and upward,


Saturday, August 10, 2013

July in review and lessons learned

Photo of the month: Linds and I on the summit of Pikes Peak (07/06/2013)

Just the facts:

Total ascent: 36,500 vertical feet

Mountain summits: 

Mount Sentinel (11 summits)
Pikes Peak
Mount Deanstone
Mitten Mountain
Mount Jumbo

Now the fluff:

A note on vertical feet or elevation gain. I use vertical feet as my primary indicator of success in terms of this project. Vertical feet measures the distance from the base of something to the top of something "as the balloon rises". With mountains, we are talking base to summit. If you to climb a ladder vertically, straight through the middle of the mountain from base to summit, you would be tracking the vertical feet measurement. To give you a sense of scale, The Empire State Building rises an impressive 1,454 vertical feet. The average level of a home is ~10 vertical feet. That coffee, sitting on your table, comes in at about ~3 vertical feet (floor to tabletop). Mount Sentinel, the mountain I spend a bulk of my time training on, comes in at just under 2,000 vertical feet (1,950ish). Pikes Peak boasts about 7,800 vertical feet. Vertical feet simply gives you a vertical measure of two points and does not account for the elevation. 

July was a banner month. January was the last month that I hit 36,500 vertical feet of ascent or more (62,700 feet). I learned many lessons from January's efforts. The most important being that 60,000 feet a month or more is not tenable for my body or social life. Post-RA me simply isn't up to the task and post-Linds me simply doesn't want to throw myself headlong into a futile endeavor to the determent of our relationship. In February, I dropped steeply to 36,350 feet and continued dropping to the low 20,000s through May. By June, I was ramping back up to the 30-40,000 foot range, right where I want to be. 

Truth to tell, I am feeling really good. My mind continues to be my biggest enemy. Pre-RA, I had very little respect for the recovery needs of my body. In 2008, I ran, on average, 18 miles/day with a smile on my face (a little over 6000 miles for the year). I dismissed all aches and pains outright. Post-RA, I am hopeless when it comes to aches, pains, twangs, twinges, pops, cracks and creaking. When I feel a slight twinge in my knee when going from a seated to standing position or hear a pop in my shoulder when stretching, my tendency is to leap to the worst case scenario: it's over, there is a good chance I will never be able to walk or climb again. Honest, objective discernment over real or perceived problems with RA is, in my estimation, the single greatest challenge of dealing with the disease. It is amazing how emotional physical aches and pains can become. I have tons to learn in this area. "Remain calm! Don't panic!" These are my mantras in times of broken focus. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

Our brains are extremely powerful organs often controlling physical outputs - pain, illness - through thought inputs - worries, anxieties.

Prayer remains the greatest tool in working through these times: the very act of prayer calms and quiets the mind and allows for honest analysis and a sense of correctitude regarding the ultimate course of action. Linds has been alongside me as I rediscover my prayer life. Prayer, in my life, is an opportunity to acquiesce that many things lie out of my control and no amount of worry or misguided focus can change that. It is a time to cede control to a higher power (whatever that means to you) and say "I don't know what is happening, I don't have the answers and that is 'okay'!". And then move on: let go and let God (not sure who first said that, but it's a good one).

Onward and upward,