El Capitan, Bitterroot Mountains, MT 08.19.2018

MikeM

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Oct 12, 2015
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This is my first trip report here, hope you enjoy.

Last week a friend sent me a message asking if I could get out for a hike this weekend. We had been trying to hook up for a while, but family and work obligations kept getting in the way. As luck would have it, we were both free Sunday, so we decided to make the best of it.

Cory wanted to try and get out of the smoke that we've been having here locally, and he had heard that the Bitterroots weren't quite as smoky. So, we decided on a one-day summit of El Capitan, just West of Darby.

El Capital, 9,983', is the second tallest peak in the Bitterroots behind Trapper Peak just to the south. The "normal" route is a 16-18 mile bushwack from the North via the Little Rock Creek trailhead. We, instead, opted for a Southern approach, via Tin Cup Creek and Kerlee Lake. Unbeknownst to me, this route is closer to 30 miles roundtrip.

We met early in Anaconda and drove the two hours to the trailhead in the dark. We arrived about 4:30 and were on the trail by 5:00. We then spent the first hour and a half hiking by headlamp.
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Luckily, the sun came up right before we had to make our first stream crossing, otherwise this would've been a little tricky.

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The approach to the first trail junction was about 9 miles following Tin Cup Creek.

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That's when we found out we needed to somehow get across this:

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After a tricky stream crossing and some even trickier route finding, we finally found the user trail that would bring us to Goat and Kerlee lakes, where we might finally catch our first glimpse of El Cap. The trail has not been maintained in years (or ever, maybe?), so the going was tough. That, and the fact that it gained over 1,600' in less than a mile, made for tough two hours of hiking, but we finally got to Goat Lake around 10:00.

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From here, some more route finding got us to Kerlee Lake, where we stopped for lunch.


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The peak in the center of that picture is the Lonesome Bachelor, and El Cap sits just to the West. We wouldn't even catch our first glimpse of our goal until we could gain the pass to the left of the Lonesome Bach. We didn't take long for lunch, as we knew we needed to keep moving if we were going to make it in a day.

It didn't take long before we were above the lake looking back on our lunch spot.

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The next hour or so were spent negotiating large talus fields and trying to find the best way up to the long summit ridge. We finally made our way up a snow-filled gully and got our first view of the North side approach and could see the summit was another hour or so away.

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Finally, after about 9 hours and 15 miles of hiking, we crossed one last snow field and finally made the summit!

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After a lunch at the summit and a few texts home to let our families know we had made it and "all is well", we headed back down the trail about 2:30.

The hike out was fairly uneventful, other than the black bear we spooked about a mile from the trailhead. I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of him, and (fortunately) he was running pretty fast in the opposite direction. We finally made it back to the truck around 9:00, just as it was getting to be too dark to see without headlamps once again.

Total stats on the day were 30 miles roundtrip, and 16 hours of hiking. It was a great time, although I'm not sure I'd be willing to do another 30 mile day anytime soon!
 
Last edited:

Ben

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Sep 12, 2014
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hey, thanks for sharing. that summit view is pretty sweet.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
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Dec 31, 2017
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That is some serious mileage! But looks like you made it to the top of the world :) Thanks for sharing!
 

misSOULa

Onward and upward
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Aug 20, 2016
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This was something on my list this summer that unfortunately never got checked. I did get trapper peak done though!
 

MikeM

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Oct 12, 2015
Messages
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@misSOULa that was my first time in the Bitterroots, but would love to explore that area more next summer. How was Trapper Peak? Would like to make it over and do that one next.
 
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