Attempted Summit of El Capitan - Montana, Bitterroot National Forrest

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GarrettM

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Nov 1, 2018
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In mid-August of this year, I made a trip to the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana to hike El Capitan. I set aside 8 days for this hike and planned to go slow and enjoy the scenery. I made it to Little Rock Creek Lake the first night and set up camp there.




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The next morning I set out to make it to the top of the valley, at the base of El Capitan. I crossed paths with some locals who helped lead the way. The trail past the lake becomes pretty difficult to follow and we lost it several times. We stayed high on the north ridge which proved to be the best method. I've heard some pretty negative things about taking the south ridge on the south side of Little Rock Creek. We already had a lot of bushwacking so I can't imagine how tough the south side is. We finally made it to the 'high lakes' which all three of them are unnamed.





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My original route is below. I planed on scaling a collier but there was a large ice pack in the pass that I had not seen in any previous photos posted my hikers. I now think that Montana received a higher amount of snow and was experiencing a cooler than usual summer, which attributed to left over ice. I have no ice experience, did not have a pick axe, and was carrying a pretty heavy pack with 8 days worth of food. After some deep thought, I decided not to attempt the climb.





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I crossed the valley and found a really great campsite on the north ridge. The view was amazing, it had flat ground, water, and even cell phone reception. Yes... cell phone reception. Here are the coordinates if you want to ever camp here. 46.019349,-114.376053

Here are some photos from this campsite, which I relaxed at for 2 1/2 days.




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Determined to get out of the valley, I made one last attempt to summit the ridge and actually found a way over! I had tried multiple times the day before so you can imagine how excited I was to get out of the valley I had planned on only spending half of my trip in. The views over the ridge were spectacular.




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Here's my morning view of El Capitan, shrouded in clouds. A storm rolled in soon after, forcing me to retreat back into the valley I had come up through.


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Here's a 40 min YouTube video of my whole trip if you want to check it out.
 

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Mike K

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Jul 6, 2012
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Wow! That's some beautiful country up there. I've always wanted to explore more of the ranges and wildernesses north of here (Utah). Thanks for sharing!
 

MikeM

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Nice! I'll have to watch the whole video when I have time, but the pics are great. Looks like your planned descent route on the south side is the way I went up last year. Nice to see pics from the north side, now I want to go check it out myself!
 

GarrettM

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Nov 1, 2018
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Nice! I'll have to watch the whole video when I have time, but the pics are great. Looks like your planned descent route on the south side is the way I went up last year. Nice to see pics from the north side, now I want to go check it out myself!
I remember getting your advice earlier this year about your experience on the south side. I was bummed to not make it over into Tin Cup valley but it was still an amazing trip. Very solid chance I’ll go back next year and take the same exact route you took when summiting El Cap.
 

Jackson

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Incredible shots. Those basins and lakes look wonderful. I'll have to check out the video later. The Bitterroots have been on my backburner for too long!
 

wsp_scott

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Beautiful scenery, hopefully I will get up there someday to see some of that in person
 

misSOULa

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Aug 20, 2016
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What time of the year was your trip? I did an overnight trip the first weekend of September and bagged El Cap, that snowfield in the couloir was finally small enough to bypass. I'm also curious how you found out about doing this trip? Being a local and actually grew up just a few miles from the Little Rock creek trailhead, El Cap isn't that well known of a mountain. It is definitely beautiful up there!
 

GarrettM

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Nov 1, 2018
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What time of the year was your trip? I did an overnight trip the first weekend of September and bagged El Cap, that snowfield in the couloir was finally small enough to bypass. I'm also curious how you found out about doing this trip? Being a local and actually grew up just a few miles from the Little Rock creek trailhead, El Cap isn't that well known of a mountain. It is definitely beautiful up there!
Hey Missoula - I arrived on August 16th and left a week later. The snowfield looked too intimating for me to make an attempt. Props to you for making it over. Glad to hear you were able to summit ! I guess because of the white color of the snow field, it looked impossibly steep. Plus, I have zero snow experience. Believe it or not, I found this place by Google Earth. I've gone on three hiking trips and I do the same thing each time. I fire up google and look for large blotches of green, for the national parks, and switch to satellite view and find an area that looks really cool. In the case of this trip, I found Kerlee Lake in satellite view. What struck me as interesting was the flat "plateau" Kerlee lake is on. It just looked unusual being 1,000 feet above Tin Cup Trail... Almost like an 'island' on the side of the mountain range , cut off from the surrounding area. From there I began noticing the surrounding area was full of awesome stuff (El Cap, case in point) so I booked a flight and a local guy from Missoula picked me up and dropped me off. I was blown away by Montana. I knew it was going to be amazing but I had no idea how incredible the mountain ranges are. There's a very good chance I'll return next year and summit El Cap via Tin Cup Trail. I know the elevation gain is more intense, especially just before Kerlee lake, but I shouldn't have to worry about snow.

I read Montana got hit with a lot of snow recently. How much snow did Missoula get ?
 

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