Latitude & Longitude – 46.25318 N / 114.35193 W
Elevation – 9,042’
Route Type – Scramble
Class Level – Class 3
Gain – 4,183’
Distance – 5.7 miles (one way)
Length of Time Required to Complete the Route – One Day
All but invisible from the floor of the Bitterroot Valley, North Canyon Peak sits at the western end of Romney Ridge, the division between the drainages of Canyon Creek (to the south) and Blodgett Creek (to the north).
The rock arete which forms the north ridge of the peak lies between two high cirques, both draining into Blodgett Creek. The cirque to the west, extends south beyond North Canyon Peak and Canyon Peak and contains High Lake, a spot frequented by adventuresome backpackers.
North Canyon Peak’s south ridge is an extremely narrow arete which connects to Canyon Peak. Halfway between the summit of North Canyon Peak and the saddle of this ridge is a highpoint supported by a buttress rising from the cirque to the east. The gendarmes guarding the ridge-crest of this north-south connecting ridge, especially those near the highpoint, force any peak-to-peak climb off of the ridge and into the cirque or into the realm of Class 5 climbing.
Though all but invisible on any topo map, there is a small grassy almost-level area just east of the buttress supporting the ridge between Canyon and North Canyon Peaks. Fed most of the year by a small spring higher in the cirque, it is home to one of the nicest camping areas in the Bitterroot Mountains. Though it requires a long day to reach, I highly recommend it.
Getting ThereCanyon Creek Trailhead
Go west on Main Street in Hamilton, MT. As you leave town you will cross a bridge over the Bitterroot River.
Immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right (north) onto Rickets Road.
In about a half mile you will come to an intersection. Turn left (west) onto Blodgett Camp Road.
Drive on Blodgett Camp Road (it will shortly turn to gravel) for about 2.5 miles where you will reach a clearly marked intersection.
Turn left (west) onto the gravel road which dead-ends at the Canyon Creek Trailhead in another couple of miles.
There is ample parking at the trailhead, and, since the spring of 2006, there is also an outhouse.
Area Restrictions (Red tape)
You pass into official Wilderness about 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Keep in mind that you must abide by Wilderness rules and regulations while in the area.
CampingThere are few if any camping spots along the Canyon Creek Trail. Several sites are along the north and west sides of Canyon Lake and in the cirque above and to the northwest of Wyant Lake. The camp sites near the lakes are the ones you should use if you plan to climb several of the peaks surrounding the high cirque of the Canyon Creek Drainage.
If you plan to only climb North Canyon Peak but want to camp in order to cut down your daily mileage, the best camp sites in the entire drainage are in the cirque just below (southeast of) North Canyon Peak.
The East Ridge Route
Approach – Canyon Creek Trailhead to Ridge-Crest
Begin hiking west along the Canyon Creek Trail as it follows the creek upstream through fairly thick woods. Receiving only moderate use by local hikers to reach Canyon Lake, the trail is not always in a perfect state of repair. But, as of this writing it’s in pretty good condition with little deadfall blocking the way; however the footing is poor in places as the trail winds its way over exposed tree roots and rocks.
Initially there is little to see other than an occasional glimpse (through the trees) of rocky spires high on the canyon walls. At around 3.25 miles from the trailhead, the track begins to traverse up the north canyon wall using a series of rather steep switchbacks. This is the first place which allows good views of the surroundings.
Reaching its apex above Canyon Falls at just over 7,400’ (4 miles from the trailhead), the trail begins to descend toward Canyon Lake. At this point the Climbers’ Route to North Canyon Peak begins.
Climbers’ Route – Apex of Canyon Creek Trail to Summit
Just after the trail begins to descend, it enters an open grassy area with a small ridge of slab granite rising on the right (west). Climb onto this ridge and follow its crest to the west.
As you traverse west below Point 8685 on the crest of Romney Ridge, you will pass through patches of open woods interspersed with areas of slabs and talus.
Do not get too high on the ridge as you begin to curve west-northwest and toward the Romney Ridge saddle at 7,960’. Staying low makes the climbing easier with a minimum of side-hilling.
Once you near the Romney Ridge saddle, begin hiking directly west across the grassy depression or gully. There is no need to go all the way to the saddle unless you want to look into the Blodgett Creek Drainage.
After crossing the gully, continue in a westerly direction over slabs. To your right (north) you will see an obvious transition between the slab granite and the talus and boulders spilling from the ridge above. Stay high on the slabs but off of the talus as you travel west toward the summit. The footing is better and the going much easier.
At some point North Canyon Peak will come into view. Do not go directly toward it, rather aim just to the right (north) of the buttress supporting the highpoint on the Canyon Peaks connecting ridge. This is slightly left (south) of North Canyon Peak.
Once you reach the grassy area below (southeast) of North Canyon Peak and just north of the base of the connecting ridge’s supporting buttress, turn northwest and begin climbing toward the summit.
As you climb you pass first over slab granite, then onto boulders and talus. The area is very open, and, unless weather conditions are bad, visibility of the peak is excellent. Pick your own line toward the summit.
As you near the actual base of the summit, the incline will increase but not much. You will enter an area with widely-spaced trees. Pick your way upward through these trees, avoiding their gear-grabbing branches whenever you can.
The last few feet of the route to the summit requires Class 3 climbing up and over boulders but is not difficult or exposed.
The summit area is small, so I wouldn’t advise dancing or performing handstands on windy days, even for the most adventuresome. On calm days, be my guest!
Note: Another route to North Canyon Peak, one which most people use, stays on the Canyon Creak Trail much longer - in fact past Canyon Lake. That route requires much more bushwhacking than this route. Besides giving back elevation already gained, that route does not gain elevation as gradually as this one. For those reasons, and because the views are better on this route, I prefer the East Ridge Route for reaching the summit of North Canyon Peak.
When To Go
North Canyon Peak can be reached with this route at any time of the year. However, there are some areas along the route where avalanches are possible. Keep that in mind when avalanche conditions are present and act accordingly.
Essential gearFor the most part only sturdy hiking boots are required for this route. But if you plan to use it when snow is present, you’ll want skis or snowshoes. To climb the last section of the route to reach the summit, you will need an ice axe and probably crampons.
Although the last section (of the climb) just below the summit is not particularly steep, it is south-facing and the snow will likely be hard and/or icy during most of the winter and early-spring seasons. A slip could leave you badly injured. Have the proper equipment and know how to use it.
Album of Additional Pictures