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Considering the views, not unlike the ones you'd find from the window seat of a descending airplane, Ward Mountain isn't popular, even though the trailhead sits just at the top of Roaring Lion Road outside Hamilton.

That's probably because it's fairly steep and a consistent slog, but that made it a good candidate for what I figured could be a boondoogle or a great day out. Unlike Trapper Peak or Ch-paa-qn, there are no boulder fields or other obstacles that would make things sketchy if we decided to hike up in early May, before the snow has melted out, and pack in snowshoes for the last half.

Some websites list the round-trip distance as eight miles. Ignore them, ignore them all, it absolutely is not. It's closer to 12.5, and you'll probably be glad that it's longer. The six-mile-plus hike up helps spread out the 4,850 feet of elevation gain (per Scott Steinberg's "Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness").

About two-and-a-half miles from the top, my friend and I landed on snow thick enough to strap on our snowshoes. As a co-worker pointed out, we benefited entirely from dumb luck: Someone had recently snowshoed to the top and left us a trail. If not for them, we would've had to wander on our own with an assist from Google Maps, or maybe just call it a day.

Whomever left these tracks wasn't into switchbacks, and so it was a relatively straight uphill grind that didn't cut the distance. My friend and I agreed, though, that in some ways it was preferable to the hike we took there late last June, when the heat made the final several miles a haul, the kind where you think about how staying inside an air-conditioned room watching Netflix would feel so decadent and wise. Instead of roasting heat, we were cruising on feet-deep snow with crisp, cold air and didn't even need to put on jackets until we hit the top.

The flattened peak, wide enough that there used to be a lookout, gives you room to wander around and explore different facets of the 360-degree views possible at 9,119 feet (per Peakbagger.com). The Bitterroots' craggy granite mountains would fit perfectly on the cover of a metal album, and the top of Ward is worth hanging around for an hour or more. With snow still blanketing all the adjacent ranges it makes for a higher-contrast view than June, when gray dominates the color scheme. If you're game to cut a trail on snowshoes or hope that there are tracks already there, it's a rewarding alternative to the summer vistas.

For directions, check out Steinberg's book or SummitPost.org.

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