January 8, 2013

Breaking Trail to Sheep Mountain

Last Saturday the clouds lifted for the first time in what seems like an eternity and the bright blue sky hovered above the snow covered evergreens.  My coworker Chris Dundon and I headed up Sheep Mountain with snowshoes and his two year old black lab Apple.  When we hit the Woods Gulch trail I knew we were in for a special winter day.

Immediately it was evident that no one had been on trail 513 in quite some time.  Apple and I took turns breaking trail even though her little paws didn't help much.  We were able to hike the first several miles before having to strap on the old snowshoes.  Once the snowshoes were on, Apple would put her paws on the back of my snowshoes to float above the surface.  Whenever I lifted my foot I would almost topple over.  This awkward dance continued all the way to the top - bad Apple!

A thick, wet snow covered the entire length of the trail.  The snow powdered trees were huge and beautiful.  One of my favorite things about the backcountry is how small it makes you feel.   You never  forget that you are just a visitor here.  

The young pine trees bend under the weight of the heavy snow.  It reminds me of dolphins surfacing for air or curled fingers.   

I love watching the fight of light vs shadows as the sun sneaks through the trees and their branches.  

Absence of trees leads way to sneak peeks of Stuart Peak towering above the Rattlesnake Wilderness.  I have got to climb that mountain soon!

As you near the top of Sheep Mountain the canopy thins out and meadows take over.  We were the first ones to break the perfectly set winter scene.   Hated to disturb that beautiful setting but we had a mountain to summit.

After 11 miles of slow, quad thrashing slogging we arrived at the 7,646 ft summit of Sheep Mountain.  Chris and I refueled on almonds, chocolate and fruit leathers while Apple kept trying to eat my wooden snowshoes!  What a beautiful day and even more beautiful place.   The summit provides great views of the Bitterroot, Rattlesnake, Swan and Mission mountain ranges.  A great place to have lunch if your not in a rush.  My brother Dave Face-timed me as we hit the summit and was rewarded, with a 4-hr effort on our part, all from the comfort of his bed back at home in Cleveland...

After 15 min on the summit the warmth provide by burning calories was gone and Apple was getting antsy so we began our descent.  The way back always provides great views while you hike.  That is Squak (Ch-paa-qn) peak off in the distance to the West.  What a beautiful 8000ft snow-capped peak.

Low lying clouds were sweeping across the valley floor below us.  For a while there was a nice inversion keeping us warm and blocking the city.  The Bitterroot mountains are so impressive towering over the valley.  Amazing day for a hike, saw a lot of elk activity but no wildlife other than Apple.  Apple met some friends back at the trailhead and was zipping along the snow and ice like she hadn't just hiked in the mountains for the last 7 hours.  Good girl.

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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.