#100daysofwilderness / Day 29 / Overnight the Sweeney Creek Trail

SQS-sweeneycreek.jpg

Sometimes the best adventures are ones that come up spontaneously. On Sunday morning, we (my husband Samuel and our friend Vlad) decided to go on a quick overnighter in the Bitterroot Mountains. The Bitterroots are just south of Missoula and they're not well known to most people outside of Montana, but they're absolutely spectacular. You could probably explore them for a lifetime and still be enamored by their presence.

We went to the Sweeney Creek Trailhead, located about 45 minutes away from our home. The dirt road was bumpy but still doable even in a sedan (although we were in a large truck with big wheels and big everythings). The drive up gave me a huge expansive view of the Bitterroot valley, which was wow number one (of 1,843). 

We had most of our food and snacks on hand because of a recent snack splurge, and because PB&J sandwiches are my go-to for quick eats on the trail. The only thing I did stop to buy was a Good To-Go meal because that's been on my radar to try. (Side note: If you're looking for a quality meal, the Thai Curry was delicious! I can't wait to try their other flavors.) In fact, it was so good I didn't even get a picture because we were so focused on eating it. That's the nice thing about having all your gear; you can simply pack it up and go.

As a beginner, backpacking might feel like a huge event where you plan for weeks or months. It's going to feel like this big expedition. And it is. Those feelings are awesome and they should be savored. 

As you get more experience, it will feel easier and more like a lifestyle. The "wows" will still be with you, but it won't feel as daunting or unknown. You will develop a system, preferences, and style.

Anyway, I want to acknowledge that if you don't have all your gear, it would've been challenging to go on a spontaneous trip. If you don't have all your backpacking gear and you're reading this...your day will come. I'm determined to make this site more clear to help fill that gap. But back to the story. 

Going away for just one night can feel rejuvenating without feeling like you have to commit a ton of time. It's a great way to test out your gear, try new things, and maybe take nice luxuries. This time, I splurged and took my swell bottle with whole milk so I could have fresh cold milk with my coffee. OMG, it was so nice. (I wouldn't take that bottle on a longer trip, but I definitely wanted to endure the extra weight for this trip.)

I thought the hike one way was about 6 miles, but the GPS is telling us 7.5. Well, it doesn't matter really. It was a wonderful hike, definitely harder than I had expected. This is a case of not studying the topo map and the grade hard enough. I sort of got a sense of it without really looking, so got my but kicked when we started climbing climbing climbing. Lesson to be learned: Set your expectations. If you think a trip's going to be "eh, pretty easy," be warned that it may not. Know thy map; know thy self. 

Photo Credit: Samuel Mandell

Regardless of the hike being tougher, what energized me along the way were the spectacular views. I can't put it into words, but there were a lot of "wows" along the way. This is the effect of nature. We're silenced as in stand in awe, the moment asking us to just be present. These moments are rare these days aren't they?

Our other hurdle was the amount of snow we encountered near the end of the hike. The higher we got up in elevation, the more it felt like we were transported back into those winter days. Frozen lakes, snow, and dropping temps. The beauty of this circumstance is that we're presented with an opportunity to learn, adapt and overcome. Each time we can do this, we realize more and more how capable we are. 

Not a shabby place to fill up our water bottles.

We even found some morel mushrooms on the trail!

HIKE SPECS

THE WAY IN
Distance: 7.5 miles
Ascent: 2612ft
Descent: 1181ft

THE WAY OUT
Distance: 7.5 miles
Ascent: 1138ft
Descent: 2523ft (Ouch! My knees took a beating during all this downhill.)

ELEVATION MAP

DIRECTIONS

  • Check out the map here.
    1. From Missoula, take the Bitterroot Hwy (93) to Sweeney Creek Loop and turn (R)
    2. Veer (R) at Sweeney Creek Trail (1315) and drive up for 6 miles to the trailhead
    3. Park and the trailhead is obvious; it's the only one

WHAT TO TAKE

  • Check out my gear checklist here.  
  • It turned out to be pretty cold at night, dipping into the freezing temps. I was glad to have my warm down puffy jacket, long johns, and wool base layer.

THE CONCERN FACTOR FOR May 24-25, 2015

  • Bears: Didn't see any
  • Moose: None that we could see
  • Mosquitos: I think I saw one
  • Ticks: I got two on my back, one crawling and one grabbing on but its head wasn't in yet.
  • Water: Plenty of streams and eventually lakes
  • Creepy men: Didn't see any. Actually, there were a number of people on day hikes and many of them were women.
  • Elevation gain/loss: The descent can be tough on the knees. Be aware. 

This backpacking trip has a huge payoff for such a short distance. The views, the flowers, the diversity of terrain.....I highly recommend it to anyone interested in having a somewhat challenging (but very doable) overnighter near Missoula.