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Hikers hit Cabinet high points

| September 8, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

A pair of Libby hikers has been using the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness as a personal benchmark, while working feverishly to generate interest in northwest Montana¹s best-kept secret.

After months of preparatory hiking, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks employees Jerry Brown and Cameron Sinclair used a blistering August day to summit three peaks in the Cabinets, while traversing the range.

³Last year I went up to Snowshoe Peak in October and had the idea that I wanted to do A Peak from there,² Sinclair said. ³I talked to Jerry about it and we added Bockman to the trip and made it a complete traverse from the eastern edge to the western trailheads.²

Sinclair, a member of the David Thompson Search and Rescue mountain unit and dive team, researched the plausibility of the arduous undertaking.

³I asked around the Search and Rescue guys to find out who had done all three peaks,² he said. ³A couple people have done all three, but not in one day. Some have done Snowshoe and A Peak in a day, but apparently not all three.²

From further prodding, the fisheries technician learned that the consensus among those questioned was that nobody since the 1970s had traversed the Cabinets from one end to the other by reaching the summits

³Touching the three highs was the key for us,² Sinclair said. ³We really wanted to do this to push ourselves and to promote the Cabinets.²

Preparing for the extended hike entailed spending countless hours on the trails earlier in the summer.

³I practiced by climbing 13 peaks this summer before the trip,² Sinclair said. ³I¹ve done a lot of the Cabinets as well as Mt. St. Helens and Triple Divide Peak in Glacier. We had to be in pretty good shape to do something like this.²

Brown, a fanatical hiker, was a perfect partner for Sinclair. During his years with the state agency as a wildlife biologist, the Cabinets had literally become Brown¹s stomping ground.

³Jerry is a hiking machine,² Sinclair said. ³We were asking other people if they wanted to go, but at the same time saying, ŒIf you want to go, we¹re not going to slow down for you.¹ So, nobody else went.²

Brown and Sinclair completed the 22-kilometer hike in 14 hours, beating their target time by several hours. The hikers set out from Leigh Lake trailhead at 5 a.m. and rolled into the North Fork trailhead at 7 p.m.

³When we got down to the North Fork trail, we¹d been walking over three miles an hour,² Sinclair said. ³We were going pretty quick.²

Setting out from Leigh Lake and heading up to Bockman was grueling, Sinclair said. The pair reached the peak at 8 a.m., achieving their first goal.

³After you get to Leigh Lake, there¹s no trail anymore, so it¹s just climbing over rocks and going up.²

³From Bockman we could see the other peaks, and I then picked out a route that I thought would be the safest. It probably wasn¹t the easiest, but it got us there.²

The zealous hikers reached Snowshoe Peak at 10 a.m., a remarkable time given the distance and terrain.

³It felt like we were running from Bockman to Snowshoe,² Sinclair said. ³We were calling Fish, Wildlife & Parks people at Kalispell and giving them our progress. You could hear them in the halls saying, ŒThey¹re at Snowshoe already?¹²

Four hours after leaving Snowshoe, Brown and Sinclair reached A Peak. The hikers were beginning to feel the physical strain of their conquest.

³It was brutal,² Sinclair said. ³It was like 120 degrees and you¹re walking across snow with the sun reflecting up in your face. That was literally the hottest day of the year.²

At the top of A Peak, a canister containing the names of people who had reached the peak revealed a decided time lapse. Brown and Sinclair added their names to 15 others, dating from 1992 to the present.

With all three peaks behind them, Brown and Sinclair made the final descent to the North Fork trailhead.

³The hardest part was A Peak by far,² Sinclair said. ³To get down on the west side it¹s all these big, cobbly boulders that you wipe out on when you step on them. Then we got to the bottom and it was all brush and extremely humid.²

Exhaustion was palpable after completing the trek, but the effect on Sinclair¹s body was surprisingly fleeting.

³Afterwards, I was probably more tired than I¹ve ever been after hiking,² Sinclair said. ³My quads were tight for a day or two, but surprisingly that was about it. This summer I¹m probably in my best hiking shape.²

Hiking in the Cabinets can be a catharsis. Sinclair, however, experienced a different side of the rugged wilderness area.

³It was great, but it was pretty grueling,² he said. ³Would I recommend it to everybody? No. If you¹re going to do it, make sure you spend months hiking before you go. I¹m glad I did all the peak-bagging before I attempted it.²