From Bass Lake, Bass Peak appears imposing as it rises toward the sky from the southwest edge of the lake; however, only from the dam-end of the lake can the actual summit be seen, and then just barely. Point 8752 blocks views of the summit from most all other spots near the lake, something which is also true for anyone climbing the northeast ridge toward the summit.
Interestingly enough, when one studies a topographic map of the area, it appears staying on the crest of the northeast ridge from the saddle south of Bass Lake would be the easiest way to reach the summit. That turns out not to be true because the ridge-crest between Point 8752 and the summit is a series of arêtes formed by long-gone glaciers. Though the best route does generally follow the northeast ridge, it does not stay on the crest for the entire distance.
From US HWY 93, turn west onto Bass Creek Road which is about 4 miles south of Florence, MT.
Go about 2.5 miles to the Charles Waters Memorial Campground. Go through (or around) the campground to where the pavement ends west end of the campground. There is parking here for the Bass Creek Trailhead.
An outhouse is available nearby in the campground.
Bass Creek is named for D. C. Bass, who settled on the creek in 1864. He built the first irrigation ditch in Montana and operated on of the first two sawmills in the state. The mill was on Kootenai Creek (once named Mill Creek). The lake - dammed in 1898 - was named for the creek.
Area Restrictions (Red tape)At about 2.5 miles from the trailhead you pass into an official wilderness area, The Selway-Bitterroot. All wilderness rules and regulations apply.
CampingIn addition to the Charles Waters Memorial Campground, there are a couple of spots between the trailhead and the lake where people have established camps in the past. However, better spots are at the lake, the best (by far) being near the southern end of the lake.
Approach – Trailhead to a Camp at the South End of Bass Lake
Staying close to the creek as it meanders in a westerly direction, the trail reaches a junction in about 2.75 miles (46.58291 N / 114.19676 W – elevation 4,660’). Take the signed trail to the right (north). The other (left) trail follows the old roadbed and soon fords the stream. It now appears to be used mainly by stock animals.
Continue on this rather new section of trail and its many switchbacks which allow for a more gradual incline than did the old road.
Approximately 4.3 miles from the trailhead (46.58465 N / 114.21911 W – elevation 5,650’), the trail rejoins the old roadbed. Pay close attention to this junction. Although it is signed, it is quite easily missed during the return trip. Remember its location.
As the trail continues its track to the west-northwest, it passes through virgin stands of timber before allowing better views of the surrounding mountains and ridges when it gets closer to the lake.
Progressing on a long traverse along the south side of Saint Joseph Peak, those on the trail are offered great views of a large meadow and the high country surrounding the cirque which contains Bass Lake and the falls issuing from its outlet.
Just under eight miles from the trailhead, the trail finally climbs to a spot slightly above and north of the damn. From this spot one gets the first views of Bass Lake.
The trail continues around the north side of the lake before turning southwest to approximately follow the shoreline of the lake.
Note: At the northern-most point of the trail is a junction (46.59554 N / 114.29161 W – elevation 7,067’) with the no-longer-maintained trail which goes north over the pass and along the South Fork of Lolo Creek. This old trail to the pass is used to reach the saddle below Stormy Joe.
Campsites are available at several places between the trail and the lake as it advances around the lake. However, the best are near the south end of the lake, almost 9 miles from the trailhead. I strongly suggest hiking the extra distance to reach the these sites. You won’t be sorry.
Climbers’ Route – Base Camp to the Summit
Follow the trail over a few switchbacks and through a thickly wooded section as it climbs to the open meadows near the pass. Just before the highpoint of the pass (46.58289 N / 114,29916 W – elevation 7,222’), leave the trail to your right (west-northwest) and begin hiking up the slab-granite slope, staying close to the crest as you climb.
When you reach an elevation of 7,550 feet, change your direction to the southwest and head for a small grass-filled gully just above a section of slabs. (This gully is not the only route one could use to continue ascending this section of the ridge, but it is probably the easiest – Class 2.) Climb the west-leading gully to its apex.
From the top of the gully continue to the southwest up the ridge-crest until you reach a point just below some cliff-bands which are exposed along the southeast side of the ridge on your left (46.58206 N / 114.31038 W – elevation 8,250’).
Leave the crest of the ridge and traverse over talus, scree, and Beargrass along the southeast side of the ridge. I found it best to stay fairly high and close to the bottom edge of the cliff-bands during the initial portion of the traverse.
As you pass below Point 8752 on the ridge, you get a better look at the summit area and the east face of Bass Peak. On the ridge (to your right) is a series of crags, none of which are the actual summit. Do not be tempted to follow any of the gullies which ascend to the arêtes on the crest as they all require sections of technical climbing.
As you continue your traverse, study the east face of Bass Peak’s south ridge. It quickly becomes apparent that the easier climbs to the crest are farther to the south, your left. However there is a series of small ledges fairly close to the summit area (right side of the face but not too near the arêtes) which allow a Class 3 climb to the ridge-crest. If you feel comfortable, go for the ledges and the shorter climb up the ridge. If not, move farther to the left (south) along the peak’s south ridge and gain the ridge-crest with a Class 2 climb.
Once on the crest, turn right (northwest) and hike to the summit. There are two highpoints on the east-west summit area. The summit is on the east end of the ridge even though both highpoints appear to have the same elevations.
Descend by reversing this route to your base-camp at the lake and on to the trailhead.
When To GoAlthough some hardy souls do make it to the summit of Bass Peak during the winter, the best time to go is after the snow has melted off the trail and the lake has thawed.
A short portion of this route traverses along the south side of Bass Peak's steep avalanche-prone east ridge just before it reaches the east face. It's best to stay away from this route during times of avalanche danger!
Essential GearA person overflowing with energy can make it from the trialhead (and back) to the summit in one day, and will only need the standard hiking gear plus plenty to eat and drink. The rest of us will require camping gear, too.