Category Archives: Mountains

Mt Crosby (12, 449)

My last two summit attempts verged on being truly epic failures. The first one (Shepard) involved six hours of bushwhacking–in the deadfall and regrowth of an old pine forest that burned down in 1996. That didn’t go well. The second (Carter) was going great, till seven hundred feet below the summit, when we found a trio of hefty grizzlies hanging out between us and our objective.

Right now bears are up in the talus, eating the cutworm moths, and the chances of running into one are good. Crosby is pretty close to Carter, in an area known for its dense bear population, but Kristie and I decided to give it a go.

Kristie on Greybull Pass

Kristie on Greybull Pass with her head in the clouds

The trailhead for the Brown Basin trail is at the parking area for a crazy old ghost town named Kirwin. In days of yore, the town was home to over 200 people: wealth-seekers come to mine its silver and gold. In 1907 a vicious winter killed some unfortunate residents; the rest packed up and escaped when they could and the town has been abandoned ever since. The scars they left on the land are sadly quite visible.

The hike up from Kirwin to Greybull Pass is easy, though the trail is braided and disappears at random. We lost it a few times, but it didn’t really matter as the terrain is easy to navigate. We kept a keen eye on the ridges, watching for bears, but all we ever saw were a few old tracks.

Kristie coming up the summit ridge

Kristie on the summit ridge, just a speck of blue in the rugged landscape

Looking down into Brown Basin from the summit

Looking back down into Brown Basin from the summit

Our hero shot!

Our hero shot!

Getting to the summit involves an elevation gain of about 3300 feet. After reaching Greybull Pass, we hiked up Crosby on intermittent game trails. The terrain looks rough but it’s not too bad–as long as you’re braced to deal with a few false summits!

Kristie surveying the view

Kristie surveying the view

We enjoyed amazing views all the way back down

We enjoyed amazing views all the way back down

The hike down was spent enjoying the views and picking out new peaks to bag — Brown Basin is ringed with beautiful mountains. Cascade, Spar, Chief and Bald Mountains are all over 12,000 feet and Mt Sniffel needs to be climbed because of its beauty. I’m guessing the road will shut down soon as winter creeps into the hills, but next spring I’ll be back in search of some summits!

looking down over Sniffel and Spar and I few I haven't identified.

looking down over Sniffel and Spar and a few I haven’t identified.

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Taming the Giant: A Saga in the Absarokas

The summits I love are the ones that leave me bleeding — easy summits drift swiftly out of memory. Sleeping Giant didn’t tear (much) skin, but it turned me back four times before it yielded its summit. That alone made it a mountain worth remembering.

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I first scouted Sleepy G back in Feb ’13 — a foolish run at the ridge with dogs and no snowshoes. We gained about a thousand feet before hip-deep snow presented us with our limits. We tried to trick the dogs into breaking trail (by throwing sticks for them) but after a few tries, they said they were having none of it.

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I went back home and looked at the maps and decided that we’d been on the wrong ridge anyway. I decided to wait for better conditions but now Sleepy G had thrown out its challenge and the thought of it lodged in the back of my mind like a splinter.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

In September ’13, my friend Jarren and I made it to the summit of nearby Monument Mountain. I got a look at the Giant from there and saw there was no way to tackle it from the east. Sleeping Giant’s summit cliffs are the crumbling breccia typical of this area — volcanic choss that breaks off in your hands. I figured this would add some problems and I was right.

In October ’13, I went up with Jarren and another friend, Kristie, to take a run at the mountain from the west. We decided to go up Mormon Creek, mostly because of the pack trail in this drainage. We also felt that, by going this way, we could cut out some of what we feared would be a knife-edge ridge.

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The drawback of the Mormon Creek approach is that it adds a couple of miles and for most of those miles you’re stuck in the trees with no view. Sadly for us, the distance and trail-breaking proved to be too much and we turned around a thousand feet from the summit.

looking up at Sleeping Giant's cliffs from Mormon Creek

looking up at Sleeping Giant’s cliffs from Mormon Creek

So now I really had a bee in my bonnet and got cranky at the thought of having to wait till next year. Later that month, I made it up Hoyt Peak in Yellowstone and stood there staring at Sleepy G in the distance. It looked mean but doable. My climbing partner, Ed, was with me and he liked the look of it too, so I talked him into going up in December. He was moving away at the end of the month, so this was our last hurrah and the summit, if we got it, would have some extra meaning.

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

A blizzard rolled in on the day of our attempt but we were in the mood for some suffering and chose to ignore it. We zipped up our jackets and tackled the ridge west of Libby Creek.

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The conditions on this attempt gave new depth to the meaning of sufferfest. Brutal trail-breaking, 60 mph winds, blowing snow and temperatures down in the teens. I triggered an avalanche high on the ridge and the fracture line was inches away from my snowshoes. We finally decided things were way too dangerous and headed down in frozen-fingered defeat. (miss you, Ed!)

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I waited all winter and most of spring for the snow to melt. Finally the mountain was open again, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to give it a try. Then, in July, my friend Michelle agreed to go up, as long as I didn’t insist on tagging the summit. We called it a scouting trip, to check out summer conditions on the ridge above Libby.

Spring
The ridge was a different world in July — rich with flowers and gentle sunlight and — lo!– we found an intermittent elk trail.

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We got up a couple thousand feet and the face looked good but the sky was getting stormy. I had my eyes on what I thought was the summit (turns out it wasn’t) and it wouldn’t have taken much to stampede me up there. But we headed down.

Not the summit

Not the summit

Even though that didn’t technically count as a summit attempt, it left me feeling hungry for the mountain. I invited another friend and fellow peak-bagger, Tim, to give it a try with me and he said he was in and ready for some excitement. We set a date in August and hoped for good weather.

At the end of August, the day before my birthday, Tim and I went up to take a shot at it. The weather was awful when I left the house — big black storm clouds hanging down into the North Fork. I had checked the radar and it looked like it would pass so we drove up anyway.

When we got to our starting point, just west of Crossed Sabres ranch, the storm had given way to blue skies. T-Storms were forecast for late afternoon so I promised myself not to stop for too many pictures.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

We went up the ridge, enjoying spectacular views, and headed up the big face beneath the plateau. It went much better without deep snow to wallow in. We worked our way through a series of minor cliff bands and finally emerged above the face. There we consulted map, phone and GPS because it turned out the summit was not at all where I’d thought it was. We spent a few minutes getting things sorted out.

looking south across the plateau

looking south across the plateau

After figuring out that the the cliffs to our east did NOT lead to the summit, we hiked through a short stretch of timber and gained the plateau.

looking back down on the plateau

looking back down on the plateau

We hiked up and across the plateau and after a half mile or so, the summit revealed itself. There was the knife-edge ridge I’d been dreading — a true knife edge formed of rotten, unstable breccia. At that point, Tim declined to go further, which I respected, so I went on to see how far I could push by myself.

section of ridge

section of ridge

Maybe I pushed a little more than I should have, but the summit was so close and just too hard to give up. I took my time and moved with great care and in the end I managed to get away with it.

on the summit

on the summit

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking NW from the summit -- Sunlight Peak in the distance

looking NW from the summit — Sunlight Peak in the distance

I didn’t linger long on the summit — just savored that thrill of success and took a few pictures. It’s not the biggest peak around, or even the prettiest, but boy it felt good to stand up there on top of it! The sky, which had been building a threat, cleared up as I descended and we hiked down with no sign at all of those afternoon t-storms.

INTERESTED IN BAGGING THIS PEAK?
I recommend the ridge west of Libby Creek — beautiful views and minimal up and down. The overall elevation gain is about 4800 feet and the round-trip mileage is 10-11 miles. Start anywhere between the Wayfarer’s Chapel and the Crossed Sabres ranch and find the easiest way up onto the ridge. The ridge will take you to the base of the big face seen below.

Route

The face looks rough but it’s not too bad — take time to glass it and look for a break in the cliffs. With some careful route-finding, you’ll find your way through them and come out onto a huge grass plateau. Head straight up (north-ish) and across the plateau for about half a mile and at that point you should get a glimpse of the summit.

I will say that the ridge to the summit is true 3rd class, maybe 4th class if you don’t watch where you’re going. The consequences of falling would be serious. The breccia is extremely loose and rotten and can break out under your hands and feet without warning. If you’ve never dealt with rotten rock, this isn’t the place to start.

Having said that, you can choose not to do the traverse and still end up within 100 vertical feet of the summit. For lots of people, that’ll be close enough. You still get tons of fantastic views, a memorable hike and a very excellent workout.

The other option is to approach the summit via Mormon Creek. Follow the pack trail as far as it goes, then head cross-country past the headwaters of the creek. You’ll hike north past the summit. Tackle the ridge wherever it seems most accessible — you’ll have to gain about 1500 feet. From the crest of the ridge, traverse back south toward the summit. This way leaves you with less of a knife-edge to deal with but you’ll still find some sketchy sections near the top. Round-trip mileage this way is 15+ miles.

Metcalf Mountain: North Rib

NorthRib

The North Rib of Metcalf Mountain, in Montana’s Beartooths, is a wild and interesting climb on a serrated ridge. It’s a mix of 4th class scrambling and technical climbing, with several short pitches rated around 5.9.

Metcalf on the left, Spirit Mountain on the right

Metcalf on the left, Spirit Mountain in the center

At 11, 977 feet, Metcalf is the highest of the 11-ers in Montana. It also has one of the shortest and easiest approaches. A few miles on a rough but decent trail get you right to the base of this beautifully jagged mountain.

Frosty Lake, below Spirit Mountain

Frosty Lake seen from the saddle between Spirit and Metcalf

Notch

Easy scrambling at the base of the north ridge soon turns into roped climbing. Route-finding is tricky. At times it seemed that moving between the notches was the hardest part. This involved a fair bit of downclimbing, a couple of sketchy traverses and one short rappel. We found an old fixed nut above the rappel and went off that. We also found an old sling in the gully below but chose to just downclimb that section.

Anchors consisted mainly of slung horns. The rock quality was decent. Except when a piece below me broke off and set off a tremendous rock fall. Nothing like the hot smell of granite smashed hard against granite.

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The roped climbing had a bit of everything: cracks, slabs and a chimney. The chimney was more of a squeeze on the side of a chockstone. I left some skin in one of the cracks and called it the crux, but Matt thought it was easy. Guess things always depend on how big your hands are.

Crack

View of Moon Lake from near the top of Metcalf

View of Moon Lake from near the top of Metcalf

View of Spirit and Silver Run Mountains from the summit of Metcalf

View of Spirit and Silver Run Mountains from the summit of Metcalf

The weather in the Beartooths is notoriously changeable and violent. Since this is a somewhat committing route, an early start is advised! We were lucky to escape the storm in the picture above. If you do have to descend the route, it will be tedious and slow, but doable. From the summit, you can descend the Class 2 South Ridge

Interested In Climbing This Mountain?
The best way to reach Metcalf is from the Rock Creek trailhead, southwest of Red Lodge. You’ll go about a mile on the big, maintained trail, then cut off right through the trees on a much fainter path. This trail will take you close to Shelf Lake, if you can manage to follow it through several creek crossings, marshes and boulder fields. Even if you lose it, getting to the Shelf Lake area is easy.

Peakbaggers should check out the South Ridge route, which is a steep hike to the ridge, then an easy scramble over boulders to the summit. This is the route we descended. There’s no trail to the ridge so just pick the easiest path. You’ll be hiking up steep loose dirt and scree and might have to get around some snow. The boulders at the top could have some Class 3 moments.

Climbers will follow the trail to where it peters out below Shelf Lake, then hike the steep slope to the saddle between Spirit and Metcalf. Once you’re up there, try to take the line of least resistance. Endless variations on the route are possible and you could definitely get into harder climbing if you wanted to (or even if you didn’t want to). We took a 30m rope on this route and it was perfect.

Lonesome Mountain (11, 409)

I first glimpsed Lonesome Mountain on a hike of Beartooth Butte and was instantly smitten by the distinctively shaped summit.

My first sighting of Lonesome (looming in the background). Photo by Kathy Lichtendahl

My first view of Lonesome (looming in the background) in 2013. Photo by Kathy Lichtendahl

A year later, I returned with two adventurous friends to climb it. We braved bogs, creek crossings and some truly world-class mosquitoes to make our way up to the rocky 3rd class summit cap. Some easy 3rd classing led to the summit and rewarded us with sweeping spectacular views. What a great day!

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There were still snow patches here and there.

There were still snow patches here and there.

Fun on the rocks!

Enthusiastic partners are always a good thing!

Starting up the talus beneath the summit cap

Working up the talus beneath the summit cap

Summit Joy!

Summit Joy!

Interested In Doing This Hike?
We started at Beartooth Lake campgound and followed the trail northwest (along Beartooth Creek) for 2.5 miles before leaving it to go cross-country for another 3 miles to the summit. Lonesome Mountain is visible well before this point, so you just head toward it, picking the path of least resistance. There are lakes scattered throughout this area and you might have to walk around some of them. Lonesome Lake lies at the base of its namesake peak and we skirted it on the right. The last few hundred feet to the summit are easy 3rd class scrambling on big granite boulders. This approach takes you to the south face, which is the easiest.

We made a loop out of this hike and returned to the trailhead by bushwhacking down past Becker Lake and picking up the Beauty Lake trail. It was just under 6 miles to get out this way. We later learned there was a trail around the east side of Becker Lake (it’s not on NAD27 maps). Using it would have made things a lot easier!

The net elevation gain from trailhead to summit was just under 2500 feet. However, there were lots of ups and downs on this hike and I think our total elevation gain was much higher.

Other options are to start from Island Lake (longer but I hear it’s less boggy) or from the Clay Butte Lookout.

Lonesome Lake is visible in the picture. There are many options, but skirting it on the east side worked for us.

Lonesome Lake is visible in the picture. There are many options, but skirting it on the east side worked for us.

Crampons On, Crampons Off: The Koven on Mt. Owen

dawn on the Teton Glacier

dawn on the Teton Glacier

The Koven Couloir is a long, varied route on the east face of Mt Owen which, at 12,928 feet, is the second-highest peak in the Teton Range. The Koven mixes steep snow, scrambling and low 5th class rock into a full-strength adventure that’ll have your thumbs sore from buckling and unbuckling crampons. And just getting to the base of this beautiful route is a workout.

The journey up the Koven begins at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, which is also the starting point of many routes up the Grand. A well-traveled trail switchbacks up 3,000 feet, leading to a pair of alpine lakes. Three camping permits are available for Surprise Lake and some climbers choose to base there. That would make for a very very long summit day.

The Grand seen from Surprise Lake

Disappointment Peak and Mt Owen seen from Surprise Lake

After passing Surprise Lake, the trail continues about another quarter mile to Amphitheatre Lake. At that point, the official trail ends and most hikers don’t go any farther. However, a steep climber’s trail continues up a couple hundred feet to the saddle overlooking Glacier Gulch. We followed it as it descended into the gulch and traversed the north face of Disappointment Peak.

Hiking up to the Teton Glacier

Hiking up to the Teton Glacier

Hard snow and an ugly boulder field had to be dealt with (the trail fades out by this point), then we put our heads down and climbed the crumbling moraine. After that, things eased up for a traverse of the relatively flat Teton Glacier. We set up camp there. The next day we headed up the Koven just before dawn.
camp on the Teton Glacier


Buttress

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The route starts on a buttress between two waterfalls and this part could be 4th class or up to mid-5th, depending on how it’s tackled. We weren’t sure what to expect, so we roped up at the bottom and Bill went up the hardest way possible (not on purpose).

After clearing the buttress, we got into the couloir (crampons on) and found unexpectedly hard, icy snow. It was nothing like the perfect snow we found in the Whitetail Couloir last month. Since a slip in the Koven would have been catastrophic, we stayed roped up. After several hundred feet of steep, lung-busting snow, we escaped onto the 4th class ledges and did some scrambling (crampons off). Near the top of the couloir, we were forced back onto the snow, which was very steep at that point (crampons on). It was so steep, in fact, that we belayed it.


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Ridge

We climbed out of the couloir onto a steepish ridge. We hiked the ridge and then climbed steep, runneled snow to the base of a deep black chimney. It had warmed up by then and a waterfall was pouring down the chimney. No choice but to climb through it and I have no pics of that part as it just generally sucked too hard. But I will note that it was crampons off again, though I saw scratch marks on the rock from others who hadn’t bothered.


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Once out of the chimney, we did a short stretch of scrambling to gain a snow bench. Crampons back on. We traversed the snow bench all the way around to where the ridge connects Mt. Owen to the Grand. Halfway across, we had to scramble a melted-out rock rib. Crampons off. We stopped to melt snow and take a short break, then eased back onto snow (crampons on). We climbed a long steep snow slope to the cliffs, then tried to figure out how to climb the summit block. Crampons off.

After a couple of false starts, we located and climbed what may or may not have been the crux chimney. It was supposed to be 5.4 but felt considerably harder. That might have been because we were climbing it in boots and kept banging our heads on our packs when we tried to look up.

Above the chimney, we got lost for a while, but eventually found a scramble that went all the way around to the west side of the mountain. As I was creeping along some ledges, trying to figure out a way to to the top, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of sunlight coming through a deep cleft beside me. Aha! The third and final chimney. (Or so we hoped).

Chimney
Bill went up first and gave me a belay and I was thrilled to poke my head out of the chimney and find myself pulling up onto the summit. There was Teewinot way below us and the north face of the Grand looming above. I tried to do a woohoo but ran out of breath. The summit is just shy of 13,000 feet.

Teewinot
Since the hour was late and the wind was a-rippin’, we took a few shots and immediately started down. We scrambled and rappelled back to the top of the snow slope, only to find it a slippery, scary mess. Once again, a slip would have been catastrophic (ie. fatal), so we downclimbed with pickets for protection.

Traverse
As you might expect, the descent was long and varied: slippery snow, a soaking in the waterfall chimney, and lots of tangled ropes as we tried to rappel. We got back to the tent looking a little bit wild-eyed, but totally stoked that we’d made it to the summit. With its variety of challenges and spectacular views, this was a climb we’ll probably never forget!

GEAR I LOVED
Once again, my OR Cirque Pants outdid themselves, protecting me (twice) from the chimney waterfall, drying fast and taking a lot of abuse. I already reviewed these pants in detail here.

I was mostly pleased with my Salewa Rapace GTX boots, which did equally well front-pointing up hard snow and climbing low 5th class rock. I’ll review these boots more thoroughly in a separate post.

Alpine Spankings

I decided that the first day of summer would be the perfect time to launch my new blog. But then I tackled a long hike instead and my pager went off and tangled me up in a SAR mission. So the third day of summer will have to do instead.

I’m caught, as usual, between a trailhead and a time crunch, because tomorrow we’re heading out into the Beartooth Mountains. We’re going for a second attempt on Whitetail Peak — a mountain that thoroughly spanked us several years ago. Last time, we made our attempt in July, hoping for a technical ice-climb, and we got ice alright, but not the kind we wanted. Much of the route was melted out and it turned into a rockfall bowling alley as we climbed.

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We ended up bailing — a series of frightening rappels — and right at the bottom, a rock slammed into my back. It was big enough to knock me down and break the skin through several layers of clothes. Bill thought it had killed me.

It hadn’t, of course, and I managed to stagger to camp, bruised and half-blind from a fine glaze of sand in my eyes. I was shocked that the mountain had almost taken me down. I couldn’t shake that feeling I’d had when I saw the rock coming and knew I couldn’t dodge it. Those are the moments that change you in tangible ways, that leave you a scar of fear, or a twist of gratitude.

Still, we had to admit defeat and it was certainly bitter. We’d carried in way too much gear for the route, not knowing what we were up against, and our aching shoulders and hips were all we took home. It was a long hike out.

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So tomorrow we’re heading in again, with smaller packs and a better sense of the mountain. The forecast looks good and I believe the snow is stable.

But I might be wrong. The mountain might kick us off again, with or without a rock to the back of the shoulder. We might come back feeling small and stupid, having to tell our friends we failed again.

But that’s okay. For one thing, they’re pretty well used to our epic failures and, for another, it’s the failures that make the best memories. The mountains that are easily climbed are not the ones we remember–it’s the ones we have to go back for that tell our story. Remember that time? With a nod and a grin and a shiver.

WhitetailApproach

You haven’t really failed till you stop trying, right? That’s what we tell ourselves. This time we’ll be fitter and braver and smarter. OK, probably not too much braver, but maybe a little bit smarter?

Wish us luck!