Lonesome Mountain

Alex and I had one more day to kill in Montana before flying back to Ohio, so at the last minute we decided to explore a different corner of the state. Up until the day before, we had been planning to use Sunday to climb Sphinx Mountain in the Madison Range near Big Sky. Instead, we drove 4+ hours to the Beartooth Range just south of Red Lodge.

We set off around 6:30 AM, and reached the road to the Spirit Mountain trailhead around 10:30 AM. Unfortunately, the last 7 miles was a very rough dirt road…a little too rough to attempt with the rental car. We’d known this might be a possibility based on internet reports, so had already printed maps for our Plan B: Lonesome Mountain. This required another short (but scenic) drive over Beartooth Pass to the Wyoming side of the range. (The mountain itself is located a few hundred yards north of the Montana border, but most of the approach is in Wyoming).

Beartooth Pass

We set out from the Beartooth Lake trailhead and made good time for the first few miles on well established trails. We eventually had to leave the trail and travel another couple miles across open country to the foot of Lonesome Mountain.

View toward Lonesome Mountain, just before leaving the trail

The landscape was pretty amazing; the only real downside was the mosquitoes.

Mountain terrain; view to the west

Climbing the south ramp of Lonesome Mountain

As with Wilson Peak a couple days before, most of the climb was straightforward class 2 rock-hopping.

Panoramic shot from the foot of Lonesome Mountain

We scrambled up a few light class 3 sections, but even most of these are probably avoidable with enough patience and careful route-finding.

Easy scrambling

We made the summit 3 hours 4 minutes after leaving the trailhead, although it definitely felt longer.

Topping out at the summit

After a short rest on the summit, we retraced our steps back to the trail, then opted for a slightly longer return trip by continuing east on the main trail – eventually looping back to the trailhead at Beartooth Lake. In terms of scenery this was probably a top 3 climb for me, personally.

Total distance was 12.6 miles, with 3042′ of elevation gain. It took us 6 hours 24 minutes including stops.

Published in: on August 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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Wilson Peak, Montana

On our second day in Montana, Alex and I decided to tackle a slightly more ambitious climb. When conference ended around noon, we drove a short distance from Big Sky to the Dudley Creek trailhead and spent most of the rest of the day climbing Wilson Peak (10,705′).

The peak itself is one of the more prominent high points on the skyline, seen from Big Sky resort:

Wilson Peak, seen from Big Sky

The first 5 miles is a gradual uphill climb – on a well maintained trail – to Dudley Lake.

A couple miles up the trail

Ascending the trail to Dudley Lake

This 5 mile stretch gains ~2800 vertical feet, leaving another 1.25 miles and ~1500 vertical feet of off-trail climbing. The climb itself is mostly easy class 2, with the exception of a 50-60 foot summit block requiring a few class 3 moves.

Climbing up from Dudley Lake (seen below)

Alex standing on a ridge, just below the summit

One of the class 3 sections

More class 3

We reached the summit in a little under 4 hours. We spent 20 minutes or so taking pictures and eating some snacks, before we decided to start heading for the car.

Summit Panorama

There were several ominous storms on the horizon, along with the occasional rumble of distant thunder, but fortunately we never had to deal with more than a few light sprinkles or rain on the return trip.


The entire round trip took 6:41, including rest stops. Total vertical gain was 4578′. Total distance was 12.5 miles.

Published in: on August 1, 2017 at 1:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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Bighorn Peak, Yellowstone NP

Last week I attended the National Conference on Wilderness Medicine in Big Sky, Montana, along with four other ER residents from my program. During our free time, Alex and I took advantage of the opportunity to squeeze in some hiking.

Picture with Jordan Spieth

As a side note, we ended up sharing a flight with Jordan Spieth from Dallas to Bozeman, so we got to meet him and get some pictures. He’d just won the British Open a few days before, but was flying in coach with his family, then stood in line with us at Budget to rent a car.

Our conference sessions took place mostly during the mornings, so the first afternoon Alex and I drove down to the edge of Yellowstone NP to hike to the top of Bighorn Peak (9,930′), just north of the Wyoming border.

Bull Moose

A couple miles into the hike, I looked up to our right and spotted two bull moose. They kept a close eye on us for a few minutes, then wandered off into the trees. I turned to Alex and said, “You know, the last time I ran into a bull moose this close, Allison and I saw two grizzlies just a few minutes later…so keep your eyes peeled.” (Here’s the LINK, from 2012)

Almost exactly five minutes later, I looked up again and saw a bear.

There’s a bear over there

Of course we hadn’t brought bear spray (not allowed in carry-on bags), but fortunately he didn’t get aggressive with us. Just stared us down for 30 seconds ago, then climbed up onto a fallen tree and slowly moved away.

We didn’t see much more wildlife after that, and managed to reach the summit 20 minutes or so before a thunderstorm rolled in. This gave us just enough time to jog back downhill and under tree cover.

Standing atop Bighorn Peak

The total round trip distance ended up at 12.2 miles, with 3,178′ elevation gain.

Published in: on August 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Backpacking in Two Medicine

After two days of intense hiking and climbing, we decided to scale things back by taking a short two-day backpacking trip to Upper Two Medicine Lake.

Allison en route to Upper Two Medicine Lake

Hiking on the Dawson Pass trail

Within the first half mile of our trip, we encountered a ranger posting something to a tree – “Danger: A mountain lion has been frequenting this area. Travel in pairs.” Maybe we should have realized this was a sign…because next thing we knew we passed a snake on the side of a trail, and further on another snake actually shot out of the tall grass across Allison’s feet (much to her dismay).  We reached our backcountry campsite without further incident around 5:00pm, leaving us with plenty of time to cook dinner and set up camp.

Our campsite

The downside to arriving early? We finished eating with plenty of daylight left, resulting in a bedtime of 9 PM strictly because we were bored and it looked like it was going to start raining. And it did rain most of the night. When we left the next morning, we were treated to cool temperatures and a light drizzle for the hike back to (lower) Two Medicine Lake.

Breaking camp

The wildlife was out in force for our return trip. Less than a mile down the trail, we spotted a bull moose.  Fortunately, he was busy munching his breakfast and didn’t seem interested in charging two hikers. We were prepared for the worst, having read a sign the previous day warning hikers to run around a tree if a moose charged. (The idea of playing ring-around-the-tree with a moose is an amusing one, you have to admit).  Anyway, after posing a moment for pictures, it wandered further into the underbrush and we moved on.

The moose

Only ten minutes or so after our moose encounter, we heard something large crashing through the woods to our left. Moments later, two juvenile bears darted onto the trail about 50-60 feet in front of us. They were each about 4-5 feet tall (standing upright) and maybe 150-200lbs.

Next thing we knew, both of the bears came galloping down the trail directly toward Allison and myself.  Obviously, neither of us were interested in playing fetch with these two playful bears in the event momma grizzly decided to show up.

“Oh crap.” –Allison

“Whoa! Uh…BEAR BEAR BEAR!!!” –Matt

I think that finally got their attention. Both bears slid to a stop, stood up on their hind legs, stared at us for a few seconds, then turned and ran off in the other direction.

That dark spot? One of the bears

By the time I had my camera out, they were pretty well hidden by the trees and shrubbery.

After waiting another 10-15 minutes, we continued down the trail. We’d now seen 3 large mammals within ten minutes; apparently the mountain lion decided not to show.

Crossing a footbridge

Two Medicine Lake, viewed from the parking lot

We finally arrived back at our car around noon, opting to get an early start on our way to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Published in: on August 18, 2012 at 7:31 am  Comments (6)  

Swiftcurrent Mountain and Iceberg Peak

Well it was bound to happen at some point, as Matt and I tend to be quite ambitious when planning hikes.  And today was the day; for the first time in Matt and I’s hiking trips together, we bit off more than we could chew.

We decided to try a double summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain and Iceberg Peak in Glacier National Park in the same day.  We left the Loop trailhead around 9 AM (unfortunately, we had to get a backcountry pass for our backpacking trip in the morning or we could have left earlier).  From there we hiked about 4.2 miles to Granite Park Chalet, gaining somewhere around 2,000 feet elevation along the way.  We had some excitement on the way up, discovering fresh bear tracks along quite a bit of the trail as we ascended.

Bear track along the Loop Trail (or someone with really wide feet wearing Vibram FiveFingers?)

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the bear seemed to have left the premises earlier in the morning. We ate lunch off the trail near the chalet before continuing toward Swiftcurrent Mountain, which is another 3.2 miles of hiking with around 3,000 additional feet of elevation gain.

Granite Park Chalet – a primitive hotel in the mountains

After having reached the summit of two mountains the previous day, my legs were a little tired, and I think I had to ask Matt to stop and rest briefly at about every other switchback on the way up.  I nicknamed Matt the mountain goat on this ascent, as he kept going and going just like the mountain goats on the mountains around us (if you have never seen a mountain goat on a mountain, they are FAST and very agile on the cliffs; trying to get close pictures of those guys was more than a challenge even though we startled more than one on our hike).

Hiking along the switchbacks on Swiftcurrent Mountain

At the summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain, a small lookout tower still stands as a private residence to Alex and Liz (according to the sign posted on the door).  We tried to figure out what they did, living on top of the mountain, but while we could see a man working inside, no other information was given.  However, who could blame them for living there. The views from the summit are breathtaking – 360 degrees around Glacier National Park. While Matt took pictures, I (and my tired legs) rested on the rocks and took in the view.  After Matt had paced around for a while, I asked him if he wasn’t at least a little tired? (I mean most people are after gaining 5,000 feet elevation change in less than 8 miles) Matt’s reply, “No, I feel great – my legs, my knees, my lungs – everything feels great.”  Me: “Wanna share?”

As close as one can come to Nepal…without leaving the U.S. of A.

The lakes along Swiftcurrent Pass

When we had reached the summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain, I had quickly realized that we were not going to get over to Iceberg Peak from the summit, as the sheer cliff drop-offs made that an impossibility without ropes.

Surveying the ridge connecting Swiftcurrent Mountain to Iceberg Peak

Iceberg Peak in the distance, with the ridge we need to cross in the foreground

However, I had recalled that the directions we had read said that you could cross over from the lower slopes of the mountain on game trails.  So as we descended we watched for a place that we might be able to cut over.  We quickly found what we were looking for and began scree skiing (okay, not really – but scree running perhaps) along the side of the mountain to the saddle that connected Swiftcurrent with Iceberg Peak.

Scree “skiing”

Scree running

The scree ended after a short while, and most of the saddle consisted of scrambling over rock and just hiking around the ridgeline.

Matt planning our route

As mentioned earlier, the goats were out and about. One group was walking across a snow bank, and we managed to get a picture of a few of them.

Mountain goats

Since we were unable to walk across the snow bank, we skirted around it instead.

Matt skirting a snowbank

Daylight was really catching up to us at this point, as were the amount of food and water we were carrying.  Additionally, Iceberg Peak itself is very steep, with steep cliffs on either side of our approach.

Looking over at Iceberg Peak

After having made it to the southern part of Iceberg Peak, (almost 3 miles from Swiftcurrent Mountain) we decided to turn back for safety.  We were both a little disappointed that we hadn’t been able to reach the summit, but had a lot of fun all the same just hiking on top of the world between the peaks.  As Matt says it, “this is how hiking should be, just making your own trail up a mountain, for views that are absolutely amazing.”

Looking back at Swiftcurrent Mountain (far left) from our turnaround point below Iceberg Peak

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm  Comments (3)  

Summiting Cataract and Piegan Mountains

We arrived in Glacier National Park early on August 12, following Going-to-the-Sun Road to the Siyeh Bend trailhead. Our original plan was to make the 9 mile hike to Piegan Pass and back, with an additional scramble to the summit of Cataract Mountain. No point in wearing ourselves out so early in the trip, we figured.

On our initial climb, we were treated to excellent views of Piegan Mountain – a 9,220’ peak rising 3,377’ above our tiny Honda Fit back at the trailhead. The massive Piegan Glacier – responsible for carving a crater into the top of the mountain – was also visible.

Piegan Mountain and Piegan Glacier

Pollock Mountain (L), Garden Wall (C), and Cataract Mountain (R)

We stopped for a short lunch at Piegan Pass, then began our energetic scramble to the summit of Cataract Mountain.

Allison attacking the climb

Iceberg Peak – tomorrow’s destination – is visible in the distance (far right)

Although considerably smaller than many of the surrounding peaks, Cataract Mountain offered terrific views into the surrounding valleys.

Sheer cliffs line the northern face of Cataract Mountain

Allison explores the ridge along Cataract’s summit

It was only around 1:00pm when we arrived back at Piegan Pass, and I think Allison was starting to pick up on some of the subtle hints I’d been dropping over the previous hour.

“Check out that glacier on Piegan Mountain! It would be pretty cool to see it up close.”

“One of those hikers I talked to earlier really carried on about the view from the top of Piegan Mountain.”

“It looks like there might be a non-technical route over there on the west side.”

Beginning the ascent of Piegan Mountain (on left; mostly off-screen)

As you can see from the above picture…she caved.

Searching for the best route

After 40-50 minutes of gradual (but grueling) climbing, we reached the saddle connecting Piegan Mountain to neighboring Pollock Mountain. From here we were faced with a very steep approach to the summit, guarded by towering cliffs to the north and fields of loose scree to the south.

Allison shows off her bouldering skills

This final section involved some steep scrambles – interspersed with brief free climbs and lots of route-finding.

Looking down on Piegan Glacier (seen from below in picture #1)

We reached the summit of Piegan Mountain after a little blood, a lot of sweat, and…well…not really any tears to speak of. The view was well worth the effort.

A rock cairn atop Piagan Mountain; Pollock Mountain (L), the Garden Wall (L-C), and Mt. Gould (C) are visible in the background

View from the summit – looking south

The descent was mostly uneventful, aside from my close encounter with a mountain goat. We came face-to-face as I inched my way along a ledge, and very nearly startled each other over the side of the mountain.

Returning to Piegan Pass; Cataract Moutain visible in the background

FYI: I probably won’t be able to post this for several days, but I’m writing from our campsite in St. Mary’s. We’re turning in early. The plan for tomorrow is to tackle Iceberg Peak via Swiftcurrent Pass.

Published in: on August 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Comments (7)