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Koch Mountain
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Koch Mountain

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Koch Mountain

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Montana, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.07728°N / 114.36579°W

Object Title: Koch Mountain

GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map

County: Ravalli

Activities: Mountaineering, Scrambling

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Elevation: 9072 ft / 2765 m

 

Page By: thephotohiker

Created/Edited: Jul 28, 2010 / Apr 29, 2011

Object ID: 642858

Hits: 3690 

Page Score: 91.65%  - 36 Votes 

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Overview

You can get a good look at Koch Mountain during a climb to Como Point (summit at upper left)

Koch Mountain is located west-northwest of Lake Como and a good distance from any trailhead. Although it can be ascended directly from the south and the Rock Creek Trail, the best routes approach from the east using the much gentler slopes of the east ridge.

It's amazing how many of those who have lived in the Bitterroot Valley all their lives have never heard of Koch Mountain, much less recognize its prominence from the valley floor. Most climbers from this area in western Montana - a group which we like to think is more aware of the surroundings - are not aware of this peak and its wonderful climbing opportunities.

This book about Elers
is a great read
Because of its location, this is a mountain that almost no one visits. Too bad. If climbers knew more about the man after whom this peak was named, Elers Koch, they just might be more inclined to visit its summit.

Elers Koch grew up on the Montana frontier during the late 1800s. After earning his master's degree in forestry from Yale University in 1903, he joined the newly established Bureau of Forestry, which later became the U.S. Forest Service.

In addition to being an innovator in the management of forests and fire-control, plus an outspoken wilderness advocate, Koch was a highly skilled mountaineer. He was part of the first team to successfully reach the summit of Granite Peak, Montana's highest point.

Koch was a forester for forty years (1903-1943). His team built the first Forest Service telephone line in Montana in 1907 – it reached 20 miles up the West Fork to Alta. After being assigned to the Bitterroot Forest, his first major trail project was building a trail along the summit of the Bitterroot Mountains which forms the divide between Idaho and Montana.

Without the work of Elers and the men of his era, the trail system in the Bitterroots, much of which is still in use today, would probably not exist. The easier access those trails give to the backcountry and summits of the Bitterroots is certainly something for which all of us who enjoy the Wilderness should be thankful.


The Forest Supervisor and His Wife in the Field (Western Montana)
Elers Koch
Gerda Koch

It should be noted that Elers had a father, Peter, who was important (or at least famous) enough to have a peak named after him, Koch Peak in the Madison Range, Montana.

Getting There

Koch Mountain is accessed from an unofficial Koch Mountain Trailhead north of Lake Como.

On US Highway 93, go about 12 miles south of Hamilton, MT, and turn right (west) onto Lake Como Road. Follow the road to a marked junction. Stay right (west) at, following the sign for the swimming area.

Go past the parking lot for swimmers and turn right (northwest) onto FR 5621.

Drive uphill on FR 5621 until you see a gated road on the left, about .6 miles. This road is closed to vehicle traffic from September 1st to June 15th to provide secure habitat for big game animals.

Turn left (southwest) onto FR 5623, a well-maintained gravel road, and follow it all the way to its end. Approximately 3.7 miles from the gate.

There is a large parking area at this unofficial trailhead.

The road to the trailhead is closed part of the year

Area Restrictions (Red tape)

The big parking area at the trailhead
Koch Mountain is in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the routes to the summit pass into wilderness about 2.8 miles from the trailhead. All rules and regulations apply. In my opinion, the best behavior is to always act like you’re in official Wilderness and behave accordingly. Be a good citizen of the earth!

Camping

There are a couple of campgrounds near Lake Como. They’re probably the best places to camp.

Although I don’t advise it, you could set up a camp on high ground near the streams that drain the hanging valley you pass through about 3.5 miles in - South Ridge Route and the East Ridge Routes.

Another place to camp would be at the unnamed lake in the cirque southwest and below Koch’s summit. It would take a supreme effort to carry camping gear to that cirque, but if you can do it, go for it.

The Routes

The following routes share an approach on the mountain’s east ridge. The shared portion of the routes is described first.

Few can accurately anticipate everything that will be seen while climbing a mountain
Fern-Leaved Candytuff
Young Red-Tailed Hawk

Although some views can be predicted - like this one while looking south from Koch's east ridge

Approach – Trailhead to Diversion of Routes at 7,750’

This is an off-trail approach. There is no official trail even partway to the summit of Koch Mountain.

From the large parking area at the end of the road, follow the obvious but abandoned roadbed as it heads first northwest then begins a slow curve to the southwest.

At approximately .3 miles from the trailhead, head uphill to the east on the trail which follows an old firebreak. Still obvious, this firebreak has a very obvious trail following it through what would otherwise be dense brush and forest re-growth. This trail is being kept open by wild animals, mostly ungulates.

Pass Point 6488 on your right (north) as you hike uphill
Continue on the trail as it heads west-northwest.

Approximately 2.1 miles from the trailhead, when the trail reaches an elevation near 7,015’ it takes a slow turn to the west-southwest. As it passes over a slightly wet and grassy meadow, the trail becomes indistinct and almost impossible to follow. Just keep heading uphill to the west-southwest.

When you reach an elevation of 7,300’ traverse across the ridge while keeping your elevation as constant as possible.

Note: About 2.8 miles from the trailhead you enter official wilderness (46.0684 N / 114.31771 W – elevation 7,330’). This is also the place where you would begin following the East Ridge Alternate Route if that is the way you choose to climb this mountain.

At 3.1 miles from the trailhead, you will reach the top edge of a sharp drop into a hanging valley. There is a trail down the drop to the floor of the valley , but if you can’t find it, just find a route-of-descent which suits you. The trial disappears as it crosses the valley floor or, I should say it disintegrates into multiple trails. Lots of Mountain Goats live in the area of Koch Mountain. Their trails are seemingly everywhere – use them when you can!

The best line of travel across the floor of this hanging valley is not in a straight line; however, you do want to end upon the valley’s west edge just south of a small pond. If you do a good job of keeping a westerly line, you will end up in the correct place.

A slabby area just before dropping into the hanging valley

The western edge of the valley is quite steep. Traverse up the slope and out of the hanging valley. Once on the ridge, follow the crest west-northwest.

This approach ends when you reach an elevation of 7,750’ on the ridge-crest.


South Ridge Route

Of these three routes, this is the more strenuous and lengthy. One thing this track has to offer the others do not, is a visit to the unnamed and beautiful tarn located in the upper portion of a cirque southwest of the summit. If you plan to ascend using one route and descend by another, use this route for your ascent.

Climbers' Route – 7,750’ to the Summit

When you reach an elevation of 7,750’, leave the ridge-crest and begin a westerly climbing traverse along the left (south) side of the ridge. Don’t attempt to gain lots of elevation during your traverse, rather climb just enough so that when you reach the bowl southeast of Point 8526 you’ll be at a good elevation to circumnavigate the bowl and reach the south ridge of Point 8526 at a point which will allow you to gain its crest at an elevation around 8,000’.

Trailhead to Summit
Route Type – Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Effort Required – Very Strenuous
Summit Elevation – 9,072’
Elevation Gain – 5,556’ (round trip)
Distance – 12.7 Miles (round trip)
Point 8526
Once on the crest, traverse to the west along the left (south) side of the ridge. At this point you will be traveling toward the top edge of a sharp drop or cliff. The down-climb of the cliff is quite easy just below an elevation of 7,600’. Elevations above that take the down-climb into technical territory. As you traverse toward the drop, make a gradual descent to an elevation of 7,600.

When you reach the top edge of the drop, find a route-of-descent which suits you.

From the bottom of the drop, you can clearly see the south ridge of Koch Mountain to the north-northwest. Though it’s possible to reach the summit by performing a climbing traverse along the right (east) side of the ridge, the much easier and more scenic route is west of the ridge.

Head west, then northwest across the flats directly toward Koch’s south ridge. As you near the bottom of the ridge traverse along the left (west) side of the ridge, staying on the flatter portion of the hanging valley as much as possible to ease your path. There is a small section of cliffs at 8,200’ which are most easily navigated near the right (east) end.

There is a small and beautifully untouched tarn in the depression just above the cliffs. A wonderful place to camp (if you have the strength and stamina to carry camping gear up here), it’s also a great place to have a quick bite before a final push to the summit.

From the unnamed tarn, the summit is obvious to the north-northeast. There is no “best” line up the talus slope for the final 800’; however, I’ve found it a good idea to always look for the least amount of incline over the talus and took that line as I gained elevation.

There are a few outcrops just below the summit which must be circumvented if you want to keep your climb below Class 4. I preferred to go around the left (west) side of the outcrops, though it is possible to go around the other way if you want to expend more effort.

Descend by reversing this route, or if you enjoy seeing different terrain, use one of the East Ridge Routes.

A beautiful tarn
just below the summit


East Ridge Route

A shorter route to the summit, this one offers some of the best views of the summit during the approach. Route-finding is a little more difficult on this route than that required during the South Ridge Route, but not by much. This route includes an especially fun traverse on cliff ledges across the upper portion of the east ridge.

Climbers' Route – 7,750’ to the Summit

Above 7,750’ stay as close to the crest of the ridge as possible as you follow it to the west toward Point 8526.

As you near the highpoint and the transition to the ridge leading north, look for a good track which you can traverse to the northwest without climbing all the way to Point 8526. With careful route-finding you should be able to find an acceptable path for a traverse, though if you’re not careful you’ll end up side-hilling on loose scree. Ascending most of the way to the highpoint before turning northwest will avoid any possibility of slipping and sliding on scree.

Trailhead to Summit
Route Type – Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Effort Required – Very Strenuous
Summit Elevation – 9,072’
Elevation Gain – 4,968’ (round trip)
Distance – 11.6 Miles (round trip)
Koch's Summit Area
Once on the ridge follow it first northwest then north as it makes a gradual turn. Koch’s dramatic summit and east ridge are visible to the northwest.

Continue up the ridge toward the rounded and right-most highpoint.

Doing a traverse close to the left (southwest) side of the highpoint makes more sense than climbing directly over the rock outcrops.

After passing the outcrops climb closer to (or on) the ridge-crest and follow the ridge as it turns almost due west.

The ridge will again be blocked by rock outcrops (46.07773 N / 114.36224 W – elevation 8,570’). Leave the ridge to the left (south) when you reach the blockage and traverse just below the outcrops staying as high as seems sensible.

After gaining a couple of hundred feet by the traverse, you will reach a series of small ledges across the south face of the ridge and through a section of cliffs (46.07801 N / 114.36382 W – elevation 8,785’). These ledges are adequately wide to lessen the exposure to falling considerably, thereby keeping climbing along this section of the route in the Class 3 range – most of the way it’s actually Class 2. Continue along the ledges to Koch’s south ridge.

When the ledges end – slightly after passing the last and west-most rock outcrop – perform a climbing traverse northwest up the south ridge to the summit block.

Descend by reversing this route, using the Alternate East Ridge Route, or by using the South Ridge Route if you want to visit the beautiful tarn below the summit.

Route Below the Gendarmes


East Ridge Alternate Route

The shortest of the routes to the summit, this route offers some of the best views of the summit during the approach. Route-finding on this path is the most difficult of the three routes, but only by a little. This route includes the fun traverse on cliff ledges across the upper portion of the east ridge – great fun!

Climbers’ Route – 7,330’ to the Summit

At 7,330’ (46,06841 N / 114.41771 N) change your direction of travel from west to northwest toward a saddle on the ridge leading to Point 8250.

This section is mostly open woods which makes for easy uphill hiking.

When you reach the saddle, follow the ridge to the northwest. You will soon run into numerous rock outcrops. The best line of travel is a traverse along the southwest side of the ridge but still close to the ridge-crest. There will be time when you have to down-climb to avoid climbing above the Class 3 range, but you should be able to minimize those with careful route-finding.

Trailhead to Summit
Route Type – Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Effort Required – Very Strenuous
Summit Elevation – 9,072’
Elevation Gain – 5,098’ (round trip)
Distance – 11.3 Miles (round trip)
Koch's Summit from the Alternate Route
There is no need to climb over Point 8250. A traverse along its southwest side makes more sense. Once past Point 8250, the ridge-crest broadens and the rock outcrops disappear as the ridge turns almost directly west and is joined by a wide buttress meeting it from the north.

Continue hiking along the ridge to the west to the point where it joins another wide buttress rising to meet Koch Mountain from the south (46.07618 N / 114.35396 W – elevation 8,430’).

Under normal (summer) conditions, continue up the ridge-crest to the top of the buttress – your line of travel will be toward the southwest if you stay on or close to the ridge-crest. If however, you attempt this route in late spring or early summer, there will be a well-consolidated snowfield blocking your path up the ridge-crest. If you’re carrying an ice axe and crampons, proceed directly up the crest. Otherwise, you’re going to have to do a little down-climbing to find a safe path around the snowfield – it’s too steep to take a chance on without the proper equipment because its lower edges end it rock which is likely to break you body if you slide into it.

Once on the ridge (or buttress, if you wish) follow it first northwest then north as it makes a gradual turn. Koch’s dramatic summit and east ridge are visible to northwest.

Note: It’s difficult to know which formations to call buttresses and which to call ridges when talking about Koch Mountain – there are so many of each. Until more people have climbed this mountain and a “standard” of sorts has emerged, referring to the different ridges as ridges or buttresses is a crap shoot.

Continue on the ridge toward the rounded and right-most highpoint.

Doing a traverse close to the left (southwest) side of the highpoint makes more sense than climbing directly over the rock outcrops.

After passing the outcrops climb closer to (or on) the ridge-crest and follow the ridge as it turns almost due west.

The ridge will again be blocked by rock outcrops (46.07773 N / 114.36224 W – elevation 8,570’). Leave the ridge to the left (south) when you reach the blockage and traverse just below the outcrops staying as high as seems sensible.

After gaining a couple of hundred feet by the traverse, you will reach a series of small ledges across the south face of the ridge and through a section of cliffs (46.07801 N / 114.36382 W – elevation 8,785’). These ledges are adequately wide to lessen the exposure to falling considerably, thereby keeping climbing along this section of the route in the Class 3 range – most of the way it’s actually Class 2. Continue along the ledges to Koch’s south ridge.

When the ledges end – slightly after passing the last and west-most rock outcrop – perform a climbing traverse northwest up the south ridge to the summit block.

Descend by reversing this route, using the Alternate East Ridge Route, or by using the South Ridge Route if you want to visit the beautiful tarn below the summit.

Newly Formed Cones
on an Alpine Larch

Koch Mountain in Morning Light (summit at upper left)

When To Go

I’d advise against climbing this summit anytime the gate on the access road is locked. Traveling to and from the gate adds an additional 7.4 miles to an already long round trip. Of course, when there is snow on the route, a person could always use skis and set up a camp on the snow somewhere along the route. But, there are several places along these routes which are prone to avalanche. I suggest forgetting about attempting this summit on snow unless you like to live dangerously or maybe have a death wish!

Southeast view from the summit of Koch Mountaint

Essential Gear

Most of the time only standard hiking gear along with plenty of water and food is required to complete a trip to this summit. However, if there is well-consolidated snow on the routes, you’re likely to need an ice axe and crampons.

The South Ridge Route is especially problematic on snow, even if well consolidated. There are many places on this route where the climbing is quite steep and even with the proper equipment, may be dangerous. I do not recommend that route on snow.

The ledges along and below the upper portion of the ridge-crest for both East Ridge Routes must be mostly free of snow to make them passable. Since those ledges are south facing, that usually occurs by late spring, but certainly not always.

Your best bet is to view Koch Mountain’s south side from another highpoint south of this summit to make absolutely sure of the snow conditions before attempting any climbing over snow. The ridge to Como Point is a good place to get such a view.

Point 8713 along the South Ridge Route
Alpine Phlox

Gendarmes guarding the summit
Last pitch of the South Ridge Route

Route Statistics

Summit – 9,072’

Gain – 5,556’, 4,968’, & 5,098’
(rt – south, east, & east alternate ridges)

Distance – 12.7, 11.6, & 11.3 Miles
(rt – south, east, & east alternate ridges)



Alpine Larch
Lichen and Stump

Images