According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Imp is defined as a mischievous child or a small demon. How or why this mountain received such a name is a mystery and quite misleading – the peak itself is a moderately difficult scramble at most.
Imp Peak lies in the Madison range of Southwest Montana near the burgeoning community of Big Sky (know locally as Pig Sty by long-time MT residents) and the area, especially Hilgard basin to the south, is a popular summer destination with hikers, outfitters and horsemen. Don’t expect many other climbers on Imp and a register does not exist. In fact, we happily saw no sign of human impact aside from the trail headed up to the lake. Head a few miles to the south into the Hilgard basin and you will decidedly run into more folks.
The hike from Alp lake takes you up a pleasant alpine meadow, through a few minor boulder and talus fields to the South ridge at which point you will encounter a 300-400 vertical feet of easy scrambling below and on the West side of the ridge before you reach the summit. See the South ridge route description for more detail. From the top, views unfold of the Madison range, Gallatin range, Bridgers, Tobacco Root mountains, the Gravelly range, Pioneer Mountains, the Mountains of Yellowstone National Park and on a clear day, the Grand Teton would be visible.
There is some confusion as to the actual summit. The USGS map indicates that the West summit (the one I climbed) is higher at 11,202’, although the East summit looks from most every angle to be at least as high or higher which may be due in part to its more prominent point. Without a level, it is impossible to know. We were driven off the Mountain by weather before we had the opportunity to attempt the East summit. The last portion of the East summit does appear to be significantly more difficult that the easy scrambling on the South ridge required to reach the West summit.
More information regarding the height of Imp Peak: According to Thomas Turiano in his new book, Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, the East summit of Imp is indeed higher than the West. No actual elevation was mentioned. Turiano's book is new, very detailed, not yet listed on Amazon.com, and well worth the read (although he does not include maps) . Turian covers more than 100 peaks in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. I bought my copy at Borders in Bozeman.
From the Bozeman area, take U.S. highway 191 south past the Big Sky turnoff until you reach Taylor Fork Road (#134). From West Yellowstone travel approximately 31 miles North on U.S. 191 until you reach Taylor Fork Rd. (#134). Follow this improved gravel road West for approximately 10-11 miles, past the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch and landing strip. The first 6 miles or so is improved gravel (and plowed in the winter), beyond that you will most likely encounter deep ruts in the road and a high-clearance vehicle may be advisable depending on the year. An obvious dirt parking lot, just before the road crosses the creek for the second time, marks the trailhead. (Don’t expect to be able to get to the trail head until early to mid-May)
The trail itself isn’t obvious at first (#17). Avoid the road that travels up the hillside on the East side of the valley. After you cross the creek (using the bridge or walking through the creek, you will find the trail marked with brown trail markers. ¼ mile past the trailhead merge left onto the Lightning Creek Trail (trail# 7)which you will follow South for 2.5 miles passing through a private ranch. At this point head Southwest up the Alp creek trail (trail #158) through Sedge Meadows. The trail beyond Sedge Meadows is easily lost, but generally speaking continue Southwest up the drainage until you reach Alp lake. The distance from the trailhead to Alp lake is approximately 7 miles and, in general, is an easy hike.
Along the trail you will pass a memorial to a young man who enjoyed these woods and an interesting “washout” in the Alp Creek drainage.
Another approach to IMP peak would be from the Wolf Creek drainage although I believe that the access to this trail is limited and by permission only.
Imp Peak is located in the Gallatin National Forest. We’re lucky enough not to worry about parking tickets or permits around here, just don’t park in a landowners’ driveway.
Do beware of private property postings and no trespassing signs as landowners don’t take a liking to strangers. Note that anywhere in Montana, if you encounter an unsigned fence post painted bright orange and you have some desire to travel on the other side of the fence, resist this desire. Dating back to the 80’s when the stream access law was passed in Montana, private landowners who disagreed with this new law and wanted to keep fishermen and hunters out, painted their fence posts orange both in protest to the new law and to keep you and me out. Please, respect their rights. You can learn more here
On the trail headed up the Lightning creek drainage you will encounter a private ranch that allows access through the property. All they ask is that you stay on the trail.
A good part of the hike, including the area in direct vicinity to Imp Peak is within the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. Remember, no Hang Gliding in the wilderness!
When To Climb
The best time of year to climb in Southwest Montana is from June through September, however, conditions permitting, you may be able to climb well into November without difficulty. Expect significant amounts of lingering snow in the late spring and early summer depending on that year’s snow pack. With that said, it is apt to snow any time during the year so be prepared for the worst – Bozeman received over 7 inches of snow in June 2001.
Climbing this mountain in the winter would be difficult mainly because of access. In the winter and early spring, the Taylor Fork road is normally open only for few miles up the valley from U.S. 191, causing one to embark on an exceedingly long approach.
Camping is available in numerous locations including at designated camp sites (a nominal fee applies) in the Gallatin Canyon on Highway 191, for free in the Taylor Fork valley and near various other marked and unmarked forest service roads originating from Highway 191.
Once on the trail the camping opportunities at Alp Lake are superb and there is a beautiful place called Sedge Meadow on Alp Creek that would provide nice camping. This is a pristine area, I’m sure you’ll agree we should keep it that way.
The fishing at Alp Lake appeared to be non-existent in my one trip to the area. Alp Creek holds a few small fish and Taylor Fork Creek holds nice amounts of average sized Rainbows, Cutthroats, Whitefish and the occasional Brown trout.
This area is inhabited by both Grizzly and Black bears. If you are not familiar with the safety precautions of hiking in Ursus arctos (that’s Grizzz to you and me) country visit the FAQ section of this site.
Finally, if you have scaled or have photos of this mountain, please contribute (unfortunately, my photos aren’t very descriptive).
As typical for any mountain range in the Rockies, afternoon summer thunderstorms sweep in quickly and often without warning so be prepared for electric storms.
Contact the Gallatin National Forest for trail conditions: (406) 587-6701
Barrel Mountaineering (800.779.7364) in Bozeman may know more about the actual peak conditions.
A weather forecast can be found here.
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