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Hiking Montana’s Lonely Mountains

Hidden deep in Montana's high country lies the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, a seldom-visited range of cool forests and skyscraping peaks.

We stop for lunch beside Johnson Lake. A few hikers pass by, the first in

2 days. Lounging on sun-splashed rocks, I ponder the odd anomaly of backpacking over a Labor Day weekend amid 10,000-foot peaks along the Continental Divide and encountering virtually no one.

Perhaps some higher hiking power long ago ordained that this majestic stretch of North America’s backbone should remain forever anonymous, largely beyond view of paved roads, guarded like a valued secret. Maybe this convolution of skyscraping peaks and mazelike valleys in the northern Rockies suffers only the most intrepid explorers. I can’t completely explain it. But I can enjoy it.

Lewis and Clark bemoaned their tribulations in crossing these mountains 200 years ago, but I firmly believe that if they were around today, they’d appreciate the fact that a few places like the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness remain.

Expedition Planner

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, MT

Getting there: Drive 90 minutes south from Missoula or an hour west from Anaconda. Access trailheads via US 93 from the west, MT 43 from the east and south, and MT 38 and MT 1 from the north.

Route: The wilderness area has 280 miles of trail, including a 45-mile stretch of the Continental Divide Trail. The author’s 4-day loop from the Carpp Creek trailhead followed the Carpp Creek and Hiline Trails to the CDT and returned via the Hiline and Carpp Lake Trails.

Guides: Both the USFS Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness map (1:50,000 scale; $6) and Hiking the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, by Mort Arkava (self-published, Corvallis, MT; $14.95) are available from local USFS offices (see Contact below).

Contact: Phillipsburg Ranger District, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, (406) 859-3211; www.fs.fed.us/r1/bdnf/.

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