This time was different. Previous years I had settled into a tent near the car at the viewpoint below Richmond Peak, a timbered ridge to the north and east of Seeley Lake, Montana. Time and again I had enjoyed the awesome view of the mighty wall of mountain ridge that rose up from the canyon below me, towering over all surroundings – the majestic Montana peak of Sunday Mountain. From the Richmond Peak vantage point the face of the peak, made up of bare slide zones, with a few ridges of trees and brush, appeared to rise almost straight up from the valley floor below. It was not a mountain wall that I would expect to yield a trail, a bit of a cliffhanger path that would lead to the summit.
Awakening that Saturday morning in August though, again at the Richmond Peak viewpoint, after a quick breakfast, I threw my pack on my back. I then hit the trail up the side of Richmond Peak across the canyon from Sunday Mountain. On a previous hike in the area I had found an unmarked trail that departed the mapped trail/abandoned logging road leading up the side of Richmond Peak. The unmarked trail crossed the saddle where the canyon rose to meet the ridge, and appeared to connect with the Sunday Mountain face, and then head upwards – at a sharp incline. I wasn’t certain where the trail would lead, but it sure gave the appearance of providing a possible access route to the top of Sunday Mountain.
With clear blue skies of an incredible Montana August day, the climb ahead would still be a cool one as the sun of the day was to the east behind the Sunday Mountain ridge. No question about it, this was also bear country – Grizzly bear country. The initial distance on this unmarked trail led off through dense, overgrown brush as it led across the saddle. What better place for them to be hanging out than in the dense brush I was working my way through.
Such a huge relief to make it past the dense brush, with no bear tales to write home about. Out into the open I was on the lower flanks of this mountain I had dreamt of tackling for years. As noted, the trail immediately took a sharp turn, upward in a steep climb. Then, veering off to the north across the face, a slightly leveler trek ensued as it angled upward across the face through wonderful fields of bear-grass mixed with a myriad of flowers in a rainbow of colors. It was almost beyond belief – trekking through chest high fields of flowers on the trail to Sunday Mountain.
The trail led across 2 or 3 avalanche draws filled with bear-grass, then doubled back, requiring scrambling up rock ledges, and again leading off across the draws. With another hour of scrambling the steep path, to my surprise I found myself working through a high mountain meadow area apparently home to a band of mountain sheep. My heart beat faster as I realized that this high meadow was tucked in directly below one of the summit cliffs outcroppings. Given the climb to that point, like my heart could beat much faster.
Another 20 minutes of scrambling, and at last, the summit ridge for Sunday Mountain was conquered. The view stretched before me down and back into Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. To get to the Sunday Mountain summit called for another half hour of scrambling, following the ridge up and up until I could go no further, the highest point on the mountain ridge.
What a sense of triumph! In all directions the ground dropped below me, to the east off into the vastness of the Bob Marshall Wilderness with a large expanse of Grizzly Basin directly below. To the west from this birds eye view, the steep drop off I had just come up opened out on an expansive view of the Swan Valley with the Mission Mountain Range lining the western horizon. Below me, drifting lazily on the breezes, an eagle circled looking for it’s afternoon snack. To the east from my perch at the top of my world, 2 or 3 snowbanks in the draws below me persistently held out for upcoming fall and winter reinforcements.
An absolutely spectacular find on the Swan Range. From that wonderful vantage point other primary access jumping off routes for the Bob Marshall Wilderness were visible up and down the Swan Range. To the north Holland Lake marked the trail system from there, and south Pyramid Peak marked the access routes over Pyramid Pass. The area – such a wonder, and now I knew there was another route into the Bob. Truth be known, even though the climb was, well…., a climb, it really didn’t take as long to make it to the Bob Marshall boundary as taking the other two primary routes.
Regardless, it was still a physically challenging journey that would lead to a host of aches and pains in this 50 something Montana explorer. It was certainly great to know that there was a cozy, comfortable base-camp set up in place with a hot shower when the hammering up the face and back was accomplished. Either direction from this incredible corner of Montana there were whole sets of quality motel accommodations with soft beds, hot showers or even a Jacuzzi to soak the tired muscles. Perfect base-camp lodgings were available either locally in the Seeley – Swan Valley, at the northern end in the Kalispell and Columbia Falls area, or at the southern end in the Missoula area The crowning touches to a truly stellar Montana mountain adventure.