Looming over the eastern edge of Missoula, the top of Mount Sentinel is the prime destination for panoramic views of The Garden City and its surrounding mountain ranges and river valleys. Rather than slog up the 11 switchbacks of the “M” Trail and another steep mile up the face of Mount Sentinel, the Crazy Canyon Trail offers a more wooded and secluded route up to the summit.
I recently made the climb up Crazy Canyon with my boyfriend, Pat, and our trusty guide, Brody, the golden retriever. We began our ascent from the trailhead, just over three miles up Pattee Canyon Road where we parked.
The trail was waterlogged from the rain we received a little earlier in the week, and it became even soggier as we began to gain elevation. The mountain run-off trickled down the middle of the path in an almost steady stream.
As I climbed higher up the trail I tried not to think about bears, trying to embody the brave, fearless hiker. But last July, a jogger on the Crazy Canyon trail had the bad luck of coming across a female black bear and her cubs. The bear chased her and slashed he across her left arm and chest, landing her at St, Pat’s Hospital. She survived with only scratches and bleeding, but I couldn’t help but creep cautiously up the trail, with visions of mama bear’s sharp, jagged fangs dripping with saliva.
There were a couple moments when we paused to listen for signs of wild animals, but we gradually picked up pace as we got more comfortable and the haunting scenarios slipped away.
Much of the trail was densely wooded. The typical route is to take the trail roads about two miles up the 5.5-mile trail, but due to some ingenious navigation techniques, we were soon climbing a strenuous path to the fork that divides the route to Mount Sentinel and the path toward Hellgate Canyon.
Once we began to emerge form the trees and caught glimpses of a view, I spotted white-capped Squaw Peak, on the western horizon and it encouraged me to push onward. The last mile was the most demanding and strenuous, the steep incline left my thighs burning, but it was a satisfactory burn—a reminder of conquest and accomplishment.
Regardless of the gray, overcast skies, the last steps to the top of Sentinel were humbling and awe-inspiring. Hiking up to the “M,” is a quintessential Missoula pastime for those that are just discovering the area’s beauty as well as those of us that have been here from our beginnings. However, for many, the “M” is their final destination, less than halfway up Mount Sentinel. The view from the top is far mor fulfilling and impressive.
To the North, Mount Jumbo rises just across Hellgate Canyon, and the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness stretch out below. To the South, Lolo Peak and the Bitterroot Mountains rise in all of their majestic glory. This day, the peaks were still liberally dusted with snow. The city of Missoula spread out below us to the West, and from such a remarkable view of the valley, I couldn’t help but reflect that Missoula may just be the gem that earned Montana the treasure state nickname.