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Mill Point
Mountain/Rock

Mill Point

 
Mill Point

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Montana, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.29020°N / 114.278°W

Object Title: Mill Point

County: Ravalli

Activities: Mountaineering, Scrambling, Skiing

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Elevation: 8467 ft / 2581 m

 

Page By: thephotohiker

Created/Edited: Jul 22, 2010 / Nov 2, 2010

Object ID: 640624

Hits: 2490 

Page Score: 83.1%  - 16 Votes 

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Overview

During a climb of Sheafman Point one gets a terrific look at Mill Point (middle) and the other highpoints on Printz Ridge

Situated just north of Hamilton, Montana, and almost due west of Corvallis, Mill Point is the most-visited high-point on Printz Ridge. That is not the same thing as saying it is an often-visited summit, because it’s not. Many live their entire lives in the Bitterroot Valley, looking at this distinctive highpoint – the eastern-most summit on the ridge visible from about anywhere in the Bitterroot Valley between Stevensville and Grantsdale – but never consider climbing it.

On the south side of this peak are massive spires and cliff-faces that are among the most sought-after by Montana's rock climbers. Peering upward at the granite formations from the Blodgett Creek Trail is almost enough to inspire anyone to try rock climbing. At the very least, viewing these granite monsters makes one wonder what it would be like to ascend there airy heights.

Printz Ridge is bordered on the south by Blodgett Creek and the north by Mill Creek . For over a century these two drainages have been used by trappers and hunters to gain access to the Bitterroot Mountains. For almost that long, the ranchers of the valley have used the creeks and lakes flowing from these long east-west canyons to water their crops and stock.

Both Mill (and especially) Blodgett Canyons contain many exotic granite formations which attract rock climbers from all over the world. Many of the south-facing spires in both canyons have numerous well-established routes which are attempted almost year-round. Blodgett Canyon is home to three of the most popular – Flathead Buttress, Shoshone Spire, and the Nez Perce Spire.

Flathead Buttress, Shoshone Spire, & Nez Perce Buttress - where "The Best Climbers" test their skills

Mill Point (left) in Winter


Printz Ridge was named for Fred Printz, a guide and packer who operated a sawmill in the area.


Blodgett Creek and Canyon are named for Joseph Blodgett who was a packer in the Bitterroot Valley in 1862, this according to the journals and letters of Major John Owen. Blodgett later settled along the creek. The previous name was George Red Crow Creek, a Nez Perce who lived along the creek.


Although it is possible to access Mill Point and the summits other which populate the eastern end of Printz Ridge from the Mill Creek Drainage (the north), I believe the best routes begin from Blodgett Canyon.


Danger: There are a multiple chutes on the south side of Mill Point, some of which reach all the way from the top to the bottom of the south face. However, many of the chutes descend only part way from the top of the face and end at the top edge of very tall shear cliffs. Unless you’re extremely familiar with this mountain, do not under any circumstance descend into a chute you have not previously ascended, all the way from the bottom. People have died trying – they were too tired and wanted a shorter route to the trailhead, they were “exploring”, they ran out of food or water and had to get down fast, it started to rain – the list goes on. Stay off that list!


Black-Tipped Senecio
Fireweed and Charcoal

Parking at the Blodgett Creek Trailhead

Getting There

The routes to Mill Point begin from the Blodgett Creek Trailhead.

In Hamilton, Mt, drive west on Main Street (out of the downtown area) until you reach the bridge over the Bitterroot River.

Just past (west of) the bridge, turn right (north) onto Ricketts Road and drive for .5 mile.
At the intersection (3-way stop), turn left (west) onto Blodgett Camp Road.

Stay right at the intersection with FS 735 in about 2.5 miles.

Continue for about 1.5 miles to the combined Blodgett Creek Campground and Trailhead.

On your left is parking for a couple of dozen vehicles, stock handling facilities, and an outhouse. This is the trailhead for Blodgett Creek and Canyon.

Going past first the parking lot takes you across a bridge and to the Blodgett Creek Campground and a second parking lot (on your right).


Area Restrictions (Red tape)

The following routes except for the goal – the summit is in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness – are in the Bitterroot National Forest. Be sure to abide by the current rules and regulations. 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

The best camping for these routes is in the developed campground at the trailhead.

Unless you’re training for an expedition, trying to carry camping or other nonessential gear to the summit is just plain nuts! Having said that, there is a small lake – Tag Alger – near the summit. Supposedly it has good fishing, but I haven’t confirmed that. If you insist on camping up high, you could always schlep your gear to a spot near the lake. But be warned. The east face of this mountain suffered severe damage from the wildfires of 2000. There are plenty of dead trees which have fallen and lie ready to snag your equipment as you climb. The less you carry the better.

A wolf pack often visits this summit
Foot Prints
Scat


The Routes

East Face Route

This route to the summit of Mill Point from the Blodgett Creek Campground Trailhead is mostly Class 2. The track goes up through the cliff-bands on the south side of the east ridge before continuing up the east face. The shortcut uses two weaknesses in the cliff-bands – a short open chimney and a long wide meandering gully – to reach the ridge. The chimney requires Class 3 climbing, the gully, Class 2+. Finding these two weakness is the crux of the route and requires good route-finding skills. If you don’t possess such skills DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ROUTE unless you’re with someone who either knows the route or has the route-finding skills you lack.

Trailhead to Summit
Route Type – Hike & Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Effort Required – Moderately Strenuous
Summit Elevation – 8,467’
Elevation Gain – 4,713’ (round trip)
Distance – 7.7 Miles (round trip)

Approach – Trailhead to Base of the Cliff-Bands

The route through through the chimney and cliff-bands
From the Blodgett Creek Trailhead, follow the road west then south across a bridge toward the campground. From the east side of the day-use parking lot (designated for use by those wishing to picnic), head directly east on the well-defined trail.

As you walk, look sharp for an ill-defined climbers’ trail heading left (north) toward the cliff face and the climbing areas frequented by local technical climbers. This side trail is about 100’ after passing the Walk-In Camp Site. The climbers’ trail will take you around the north end of a fence which would otherwise block your progress to the east.

Follow the trail – very faint in places – as it progresses up along the base of the cliffs over talus fields, small grassy areas, and through clumps of brush and trees. If you lose the trail, keep heading east, staying as close to the cliff base as you can.

Route up the Chimney
 
 





















Climbers’ Route – Base of the Cliff-Bands to the Summit

Typical burned area from the wildfires of 2000
 

About .3 mile from the trailhead and an elevation of 4,545’ (46.27114 N/ 114.23633 W) you will reach the base of an open chimney (in climbing terms, almost a dihedral). This chimney is quite short in height (no more than 35’) and has an abundance of hand-holds and foot-placements available. In other words, it’s a very easy Class 3 climb.

From the top of the chimney continue east and up on a nice wide grassy ledge. In a hundred yards or so on your left (north) you will see a gully cutting upward through the cliff-bands. This gully is your path to the top of the cliffs. Climb upward mostly on grass. Mostly Class 2, there are a couple spots of Class 2+ climbing required over short sections of boulders and talus.

The ridge-crest is reached at an elevation of 5,110’ (46.27282N / 114.23612 W). Turn to the west and, staying fairly close to the top of the cliffs, begin hiking up the east face of Mill Point.

Warning: During the descent this chute can be difficult to spot – I’ve missed it myself at the end of a hard day on the ridge, and I know where it is. Your best bet is to mark the top of the chute in some way – a bright orange piece of survey tape would work nicely – then remove your mark during the descent.

From an elevation of 5,500’ to around 6,500’ your track will be mostly northwest in direction before it swings almost directly west and it passes above the top of the Prow Chute.

The ridge-crest slowly turns to the northwest and reaches Point 7172 before turning to the north-northwest. Continue along that line to Point 7648, then turn northwest and stay along the crest of the ridge, which, by now, is more rounded.

At about 7,800’ you will pass near a few nice rounded outcrops of granite above Tag Alder Lake. For a look at the lake, walk a few feet northeast and peer over the edge.

The are on the east ridge just above Tag Alder Lake

Note: If you’re nutty enough to carry camping gear up here, this is the place to begin looking for a campsite, either on the ridge or down to the northeast near the lake.

Continue through the open woods of Whitebark Pine and Larch by turning west and following the broad crest of the ridge to the summit, a little over 600’ above.

Descend by reversing this route or use the Prow Chute to return to the trailhead.

A lunch break on the summit with Mill Point West in the background



Prow Chute Route

I like this route because it introduces a bit of Class 3 climbing in the chute and adds outstanding vistas of the surrounding mountains and rock formations. And, by the time you’ve exited the top of the chute, most of the deadfall and weeds along the East Face Route have been bypassed.

Trailhead to Summit
Route Type – Hike & Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Effort Required – Strenuous
Summit Elevation – 8,467’
Elevation Gain – 4,434’ (round trip)
Distance – 6.1 Miles (round trip)

Approach – Trailhead to Base of the Prow

Approaching the Prow Chute
There is a climbers’ trail around the north side of the campground which goes to an area west of the campground which is frequented by rock climbers. Access this trail by going directly north from the campgrounds potable water source.

Once on the trail follow it west from behind campsite 3. The trail quickly grows indistinct as it approaches a large field of talus. When you reach the talus travel directly towards the base of the conically-shaped spire just west of The Prow.
The Talus Fan at the bottom of the Prow Chute
 












Climbers’ Route – Base of the Chute to the Summit

The Prow (right) and Mill Point's Summit (left)
Once well onto the talus fan at the base of The Prow, gradually turn to the north and begin climbing up the throat of the gully.


Almost the entire chute is filled with a mix of stable talus and boulders. No particular line is better than another, so pick a line and begin climbing due north. There are some pretty impressive rock formations along both sides of the chute. When you periodically stop to catch your breath, take a moment to check them out. And don’t forget to look back the way you came to view the upper side of The Prow.


Note: The last time I was in this chute (2008) a couple of young Peregrine falcons were following their parent around and around – squawking all the while – no doubt begging for food like the young of every species.

Looking down the Prow Chute
 
You’ll be very near the top of the chute before you run out of rock and have to proceed on a mix of scree and patchy grass. When you reach this spot, turn to the northwest and climb through the widely-spaced trees (and out of the chute) to the crest of the ridge around 6,300’ (46.27993 N / 114.25283 W). You may be interested to know that the climb in the chute, though less than a mile long, gains about 2,000’ in elevation.

When you exit the chute, turn almost directly toward the west and work your way along the crest of the ridge. From this point on, stay close to the ridge-crest (on your left) to keep your travel as easy as possible. If you go too far right, you’ll end up in a thickly forested area full of deadfall. An added advantage to staying left is that the views into Blodgett Canyon and the south are superb.

The ridge-crest slowly turns to the northwest and reaches Point 7172 (46.28209 N / 114.26223 W) before turning to the north-northwest. Continue along that line to Point 7648 (46.28971 N / 114.26737 W), then turn northwest and stay along the crest of the ridge, which, by now, is more rounded.

The last pitch below the summit

At about 7,800’ (46.29088 N / 114.27097 W) you will pass near a few nice rounded outcrops of granite above Tag Alder Lake. For a look at the lake, walk a few feet northeast and peer over the edge.

Note: If you’re nutty enough to carry camping gear up here, this is the place to begin looking for a campsite, either on the ridge or down to the northeast near the lake.

Continue through the open woods of Whitebark Pine and Larch by turning west and following the broad crest of the ridge to the summit, a little over 600’ above.

Descend by reversing this route or use the East Face Route to return to the trailhead.



During an approach from Mill Point West you get an entirely different perspective of Mill Point (left)


Mill Point (center left) and Printz Ridge from the valley floor during winter



When To Go

People climb to the summit of Mill Point all year long. During the winter it’s a favorite of a some of the area’s back-country skiers – skins required.

I don’t recommend using the Prow Chute Route while there is snow in the chute. It’s a southern exposure which has been known to produce avalanches. And, once the snow begins to melt, you’re likely to post-hole through the snow into boulders and talus – hard on the shins!

The shorter chute of the East Face Route melts out much earlier and is a better choice when there is still snow on this mountain.

If you just have to climb this peak while the chutes hold snow, trudge east from the parking lot through underbrush to the base of the east face, before turning west to ascend the east face. This adds about one mile to the East Face Route.

Descending the Prow Chute
Tansy Aster

Essential Gear

During summer ascents, only standard hiking gear is required to climb this peak. Keep in mind that although these are a comparatively short routes (by Bitterroot standards), it takes plenty of energy to reach this summit. Carry plenty of food and water. You’re going to need them both!

Mill Point's summit during the climb
Taking a break during the climb

Route Statistics

Summit – 8,467’

Gain – 4,713’ or 4,434’
(rt – east face or prow chute)

Distance – 7.7 or 6.1 miles
(rt – east face or prow chute)



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