Oh, Pioneers! 

A newbie backpack trip to Torrey Lake that would make Darwin proud

My original college major was animal behavior, but I gave that up and embarked on a circuitous path to a French-linguistics degree (long story) before settling on my personal training career in Missoula. Par for the course for this do-whatever-you-can-to-live-here town.

I like to think that personal training is a bit like animal behaviorism, as is life in general—only now, the animal I observe is Homo sapiens, including myself. Take, for example, the subspecies Long-ride-icus road-bikerus. It was with one of these spandex and windbreaker-clad groups atop carbon fiber bikes that I discovered the Pioneer Mountains and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Each pedal stroke on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway carried me deeper into the valley between the high, jagged eastern peaks and timbered, gently sloping West Pioneers. The paved two-lane road bisects the Wise River and Grasshopper Creek drainages, meandering past flowered meadows wet with streams, grassland ranges speckled with livestock, and thick lodgepole forests. The mountains captivated me—I knew I couldn't be satisfied with just one bike trip. I needed to get into them, on foot.

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Unfortunately, detailed information about hiking trails in the Pioneers proved difficult to find. The area seemed mostly undeveloped and under-explored (read: if you hike there, bring a topo map).

But after much research and many discussions with my boyfriend, Jason, and two friends, a late summer backpack finally came together. The four of us agreed on what looked to be a moderate 8.5-mile trek in the eastern range, from the Mono Creek campground to Torrey Lake, a lonely cirque with the promise of good fishing. We could possibly even try to summit one of the nearby peaks, 11,147-foot Torrey Mountain or 11,154-foot Tweedy.

I had unknowingly planned the trip, however, with the dreaded Amigos flake-ius. As is to be expected with this genus, my friends canceled a week before the trip, leaving Jason and I peeved at the prospect of going on a trip we'd pushed back to accommodate their schedules when we would have preferred leaving earlier in the summer.

click to enlarge Montana Headwall

The weather for the weekend was not promising—forecasters predicted late summer snowstorms. I growled and grumbled and muttered and hemmed and hawed. I'd done my fair share, and more, of the trapped-in-a-snow-cave-in-a-blizzard routine and its variations: the climb up a mountain in frigid temps and gale-force winds; the wet hikes; the hikes during a tornado through wet clay; the hypothermia; the miserable campsites. I'd belonged to the Mugs Stump school of thought—"If you wait for the weather, you won't do shit." The famed mountaineer didn't mince words.

But at this point I knew what I could handle—and what I wanted to handle. I felt like I'd earned the right to go outdoors in warm and dry and sunny (oh, please dear God, sunny!) conditions.

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