Ch-paa-qn Peak

Publisher’s Note: Over the next few weeks Make It Missoula will be publishing the writings of University of Montana students enrolled in Nadia White’s autumn semester 2014 Adventure Writing class. Each student was assigned a Missoula area trail to explore and write about. Read more about Nadia White, this assignment, and the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Adventure Writing class. Enjoy!


Shuffling from anguish to enlightenment

The phone rings and rings, each chime pounding in my head. I groan, stretching my arm out, reaching for the source of my annoyance.  I flip it open, sit up, and blearily rub my eyes. An annoyed voice calls out. It’s my brother. I’m late. I glance over at the clock. The red numbers glare at me, crying out that it is 9:30 in the morning. We were supposed to meet to climb Ch-paa-qn Peak at 9. I fly off my bed, scrambling for my pants, and apologizing profusely to the voice on the other side of the connection. Within a couple of minutes I jump into my brother’s jeep, panting heavily, mentally checking that I remembered everything I meant to bring. After I nod that I am ready, my brother grins at me, I half-heartedly grin back, and we take off for the trailhead.

After getting lost at least seven times, we finally reach the trailhead. My head is still pounding. The day is cold, the wind is blowing, and the sky is a bleak grey.

“There’s no way we’re going to get any good pictures of the trail, today,” I think to myself.

I stayed up too late, slept poorly and am not looking forward to the hike. My brother’s chipper demeanor didn’t help my attitude, either. One step, two steps, three… The hike to the top of Ch-paa-qn Peak has begun.

Ch-paa-qn is a prominent peak in Lolo National Forest’s Ninemile district, 25 miles northwest of Missoula. As we follow the trail, I look around, trying to find any interesting details for entertaining photos or for an entry in my journal. There is nothing. Other than the wind and the crunching sound of our feet on the leaves in the path, there is no sound. No chipping squirrels, no scrambling spruce grouse, just complete and utter silence.

Around every turn, another set of fallen trees blocks the path. “Turn back,” they whisper to me. “Turn back.”

I jump over them, stopping for a picture or two, and trudge onward. My brother grimaces at the camera as he reviews the photos. The gloomy sky made sure there was no chance of a good shot for us.

We stop at a trail sign for food and drink. I shiver a little, and tighten my scarf around my face. I look up at the sign. The word “squaw” has been carved into between “Ch-paa-qn Peak” and the distance left to the end of the trailhead.



Ch-paa-qn  was formerly called “Squaw Peak,” but the inherently offensive nature of that name became the focus of a statewide effort to strike the word from the landscape.

In 2009, 76 places in Montana called “squaw” on the map were renamed. Squaw Creek in Powder River County became Two Moons Creek; Squaw Creek in Sanders County became Cheawalk Creek, from the Coeur d’Alene word “to peel bark off a tree;” and Squaw Peak in Missoula County was renamed Ch-paa-qn Peak, which means “shining peak,” in Salish.

It is not shining now and I drag myself to my feet and wait for my brother to get his equipment organized. We set off for the last bit to the top.

We eventually reach the end of the trail. All that lies between us and the peak of the mountain is a giant field of boulders. I grin at my brother. We’ve done this hike before and the scramble over these boulders is our favorite part. We slip over the first few boulders, surprised by a thin layer of ice. We adjust fairly easily, and quickly scramble over the rest of the boulders to the peak.

As we step over the last few layers of boulder it feels like a supernatural event: the clouds disappear, the wind fades away. A bleak, dreary, colorless, and cold day becomes sunny and warm. I walk over to the rock pile wind barrier, running my fingers over message upon message scrawled on the rocks. People from all over the world have summited this mountain. “Pride of Britain,” one of the rocks has written into it. Another one reads, “I hate this damn wind.”

I grin and lie back on the rocks, close my eyes, breathe in the clear, crisp air of the mountaintop. I lie there for a very long time, letting the newfound sunshine on me, feeling its warm fingertips caress my body. “Tor?” I call out to my brother, my eyes still closed.

“Yeah, Kian?” he replies. I hear him fiddling with his camera, trying to take advantage of the light readily available.

“I’m so glad that we came.”



Ch-paa-qn Peak (Trail #707)
Round Trip Length: 6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2,298 feet to the summit.
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Trail Surface: Packed dirt, with rocks and downed tree; rock scramble to the summit

A moderately difficult hike made more challenging by downed trees on the trail. It gets slightly more difficult if you wish to reach the summit, as you must clamber over large boulders to get there. The view is absolutely beautiful once you reach the summit, and it is very well worth the effort.

Directions to the trailhead: Take I-90 west from Missoula to Exit 82, Ninemile Road. Go approximately two miles, then turn north just before Ninemile House Restaurant. Go two miles to four-way junction. Proceed straight on Remount Road 476 for two miles, turn left on 5490 and follow the road for 1.5 miles, then turn west on 456. Continue for one mile, and then turn right on 2178. From there, it is approximately 6.5 miles to Ch-paa-qn peak trail #707.


Bertin SelfieKian Bertin is a freshman majoring in Human Biology at the University of Montana. He originally hails from the distant lands of Colstrip, Mont., but quite often has to explain where exactly Colstrip is. He enjoys running, biking, long walks on the beach, and lying in bed all day napping.