Saturday, January 7, 2012

The College "M" Trail, January 2012

The “M” is an icon and landmark that can be seen from just about any point in Bozeman, Montana. Today my partners and I ran/hiked up and somewhat down the trail. I remember when I first moved to Bozeman I hiked up the far right trail (goes straight up) and stopped at several, and I mean several spots to the top as I struggled for oxygen in the thin air. The second time I decided to do the regular route and I still huffed and puffed walking up the trail. Now almost 6 months into my life in Bozeman and I am running the entire trail, still huffing and puffing, but loving it.

The famous “M” has been around since 1915 when MSU (Montana State University) students created the 250 ft. behemoth on the southern slopes of Mount Baldy. Located just north of Bozeman in the Bridger Mountains, it is a dominant feature of the entire Gallatin Valley and is easily seen by travelers on I-90. The vertical elevation from trail head to the top of the M is approximately 850 ft. The elevation at the M is approximately 5,800 ft. Elevation at the trail head is approx 4,950 ft. The “M” is still being cared for each year by current MSU students. The picture below was taken next to the left leg of the "M" and is looking south over Bozeman to the Gallatin and Madison Mountain Ranges.

The spectacular views of Bozeman, The Spanish Peaks, The Gallatin Range, and Tobacco Root Mountains are well worth the effort. If you are new to the area I would suggest you start off on the basic route which is the trail to the left from the trail head. From there, simply follow the markers as you proceed. Once at the top you can relax on one of the benches provided and enjoy the view. If doing this hike in the winter, dress in layers, take water, and depending when you go you may need Yak-traks due to the ice and snow on the trail.

This trail also provides the southern “jump off” for the 30 mile (plus) ridge traverse of the Bridger Mountains. The trails are extensive and provide many back country opportunities as well as access to the 9500 ft peaks in the range such as Ross, Hardscrabble, Saddle, Naya Nuki, and Sacajawea. The parking area may be nearly full, but this does not mean the trail or the “M” will be crowded as many are through-hikers and back country peak-baggers.