If you enjoy vast stretches of remote and spectacular wilderness, long rugged approaches, scrambling on loose and difficult terrain, and solitude, a trip to the North Absaroka Wilderness to climb Trout Peak should be high on your list of things to do. Very few people venture up into the high peaks in this area, where grizzly bears are abundant and summits can be miles from the nearest trail. If you decide to make the trip to climb this mountain, you will never forget the stunning beauty and variety that is found in the forests, high plateaus and meadows, streams and waterfalls, snowfields and glaciers, and steep mountain faces that make this such a special place.
Trout Peak is the monarch of the Northern Absaroka Range; together with its massive east summit, a separate ranked peak known locally as Robbers Roost, the pair is an easily recognizable landmark that can be seen from any direction over great distances. With an elevation of 12,244 feet, Trout Peak is the highest mountain in the range and has a prominence of 3,704 feet, making it the fifth most prominent peak in Wyoming.
There are three options for approaching this mountain, the shortest of which is 12 miles one way; it is possible to climb this peak in a very long day by traveling fast and light, but most people will take two days to complete the trip. A shorter route (the original ascent route) to the mountain starts from the Palisades in Rattlesnake Canyon on the southwest side of Rattlesnake Mountain, but this whole area is private property and there is no public access to the Shoshone National Forest through this area. The different approaches also make for some nice options for traversing the peak, which my climbing partner and I did in August 2009, climbing by the Spout Springs route and descending by the Jim Creek route. No matter which way you take to reach the peak, this is a grueling climb; weather is your worst enemy here, as the exposed ridges make it very difficult (if not impossible) to escape one of the quickly developing thunderstorms that are so common in this range.
While it goes without saying that Trout Peak was probably first climbed by Native Americans many centuries ago, the first recorded ascent of Trout Peak was made on August 24, 1893 by geologists Arnold Hague and Thomas Jaggar. The two men had been living on trout for about six weeks, and after Jaggar shot a deer on the 23rd, the two men were energized enough to make the climb from Rattlesnake Pass the following day. Topographer Frank Tweedy climbed the peak later the same year and noted the name Trout Peak on his Crandall quadrangle. The summit benchmark was placed in 1950 via a climb using the Spout Springs approach. According to Tom Turiano, author of Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone and source of the information above, it is not known which party named the peak, or if the name dates back before the climbs.
The summit of Trout Peak is at the apex of three ridges, all of which are options for climbing the mountain. The north and east ridges form a bowl, where the headwaters of an unnamed creek are located. The east summit, Robbers Roost, is a sharp spine of rock points along the east ridge just over one mile from the main summit. The southwest ridge extends for one and a half miles to Peak 12,132, while the north ridge drops four miles into the Dead Indian Creek drainage. The mountain's steep west face drops over 2,000 feet in less than a mile into the bottom of another bowl, while the face to the southeast slopes gently down to the thickly forested headwaters of Trout Creek.
There is a small summit register placed in 2005 that shows about a half-dozen ascents in the last five years. There is a Nepalese rupee that was placed in the register by Tom Sewell in 2007 with instructions that it is to remain on Trout Peak.
Summit ViewsThe summit views include a breathtaking array of peaks and ranges on all sides. To the west, the rocky summit of Dead Indian Peak is just visible behind Peak 12,237, which sits close by on the other side of the drainage. Many peaks in Yellowstone Park are visible along the skyline in the distant west. The easily recognizable forms of Pilot and Index peaks can be seen to the northwest, while the rugged peaks of the Beartooth Range, including Granite Peak in Montana, dominate the northern horizon behind the smaller peaks in Sunlight Basin. Pat O'Hara and Rattlesnake mountains are in located to the east behind Robbers Roost, and Buffalo Bill Reservoir can be seen to the southeast. The entire 30-mile length of Carter Mountain fills up the view to the distant south, and Wapiti Ridge, the highest mountain in the Southwest Absarokas, can be seen in front of it to the right. The large plateau on top of Peak 12,132 is immediately in front of you to the south; the view to the southwest is the most impressive part of the summit panorama, as the steep northeast face of Peak 12,132 descends abruptly into a beautiful bowl surrounded by jagged and forbidding rock spires and buttes that are vertical on all sides.
Approach from Spout Springs
This is objectively the easiest approach to Trout Peak if you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance. While the distance to the peak is about the same as with the Jim Creek approach, the total elevation gain is about 2,300 feet less and all but one mile of the hike is on a trail. The final climb to the summit is a little harder from the north side, but the hardest section is short with minimal exposure.
Take Highway 120 north out of Cody, Wyoming for about 8.0 miles and turn left on County Road 7UH, which is also known as Monument Hill Road. A forbidding sign warns drivers to "Travel at your own risk," but the road is in good shape for about 11 miles. At the point where the road almost reaches the saddle between Rattlesnake Mountain to the left and Pat O'Hara Mountain to the right, there is an intersection of sorts with an closed and gated road continuing straight (obviously unused for a long time), a gated road going left, and an open road (Red Grade Road) between them. Here there no less than seven or eight convoluted and misleading signs that attempt to explain the roads, including one at the front that states that travel beyond this point is allowed only with a wood-cutting permit and that there is no public land access. After careful research with the Forest Service, my climbing partner and I learned that this sign applies only to the road that continues left through the gate onto the BLM land on top of Rattlesnake. The Red Grade Road is open to the public and accesses the National Forest through an easement over private property; at this point the road becomes more difficult to travel, and 4WD is necessary in many places. The road crosses into the National Forest after 1.7 miles, and you will need to turn right at 2.3 miles and left at 2.7 miles from the beginning of Red Grade Road. After about 2.0 more miles take the right fork to reach the end of the road, which is gated to vehicle travel near Spout Springs.
Continue on the road on foot to the crest of the ridge just southwest of Pat O'Hara Mountain and follow the two-track trail along the ridge. According to Turiano's book Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone, this is known as the Damnation Trail, but there were two signs along the path that called it the Trout Peak Trail. This trail generally follows the ridge and goes up and down in a few spots as it tracks around and through several forested areas. When you reach the obvious pass on the northeast ridge at 9800 feet (marked with a rock cairn and a faded, unreadable sign) after about 7.0 miles, there are two options from which to choose.
The easiest way is to follow the trail for another 5.0 miles into the bowl on the northeast side of the mountain and up onto the north ridge. From here head due south until you reach the 200-foot summit block, which requires some scrambling to ascend. While it is probably possible to keep it at Class 2+ with some good route-finding, it is much more fun and straightforward to head straight up on Class 3 (or even Class 4) terrain.
The second option is to leave the trail at the pass and head straight up the ridge. After reaching the first flat area, keep heading up, but start to bear right towards the knob on top of the ridge to your right. From here, continue along the ridge up and over Robbers Roost (several Class 2+ and 3 sections) to the saddle just east of Trout Peak. A climb straight up the east face looks to be a very difficult Class 4 climb on loose, unreliable rock interspersed with slippery dirt and scree slopes. The easiest way from here is probably to traverse to the left to reach the gentle south slopes of the peak, but it is also possible to traverse to the right under the first rock band on very sketchy and unstable ground. While taking this ridge to the summit cuts a mile off of the approach, the fact that it is off-trail with constant side-hilling, scrambling, and route-finding makes it a very slow climb. This route should only be attempted with very good weather and if you are comfortable on dicey ground where a slip could result in serious injury or worse.
The total distance from Spout Springs to the summit of Trout Peak is between 11.5 and 13 miles, depending on which summit option you choose; the total elevation gain is around 4,000 feet, which includes the ups and downs of the trail.
Approach from the Jim Creek Trailhead
The Jim Creek Trailhead is located near the town of Wapiti, Wyoming, and accesses the Shoshone National Forest and the North Absaroka Wilderness from the south. The drive to the trailhead is much shorter and easier than the drive to Spout Springs, but it still requires high clearance and 4WD for a short section of the road. The hike and climb is more strenuous, as over half of the trip is off-trail and there is a lot more elevation gain.
Travel west from Cody, Wyoming on Highway 16 for 18 miles. Turn right on County Road 6GV and stay on the main 2.5 miles, keeping left at the fork. At the point where the county road ends, the road gets worse and continues for another half mile to the trailhead; there is a closed gate that you have to drive through to get into the National Forest.
Hike to the trees on the trail through the sage brush and begin ascending the Jim Creek drainage. Stay left at the fork; after several miles, the forest begins to show signs of the Gunbarrel fire of 2008, and by the time you reach the waterfall, you are passing through nothing but dead trees. After four easy stream crossings, the trail leaves the forest and enters the enormous meadows north of Jim Mountain.
After the trail fades, continue to the top of the meadow and look for a game trail that descends into the drainage that contains the East Fork of Big Creek. This gigantic bowl is bordered on either side by spectacular cliffs and is full of wildflowers in the summer; there is no sign of human presence, and in fact, no established trails enter this valley from any side. Follow the creek to its headwaters and ascend the headwall at the end of the valley, keeping to the right of the large glacier as you make your way up.
After reaching the plateau above 11,000 feet, the views become stunning as Trout Peak and Robbers Roost finally become visible away to the north. Head northwest to the narrow ridge that reaches over to Peak 12,132, crossing two easy notches on the ridge before you reach the plateau with the benchmark at 12,051 marked "Crag" on the topo map. The route along the ridge connecting this peak to Trout Peak is now obvious; look for the large gendarme to the right and cross above it and down onto the side slopes on the southeast side of the ridge. The route from here to the mountain involves travel over scree and talus of varying degrees of looseness, as well as some scrambling over the various bands of rock that jut out from the ridge. Once on the mountain, walk the easy slopes on the south side of Trout Peak to the top.
The total distance for the Jim Creek approach to Trout Peak is 12 miles on Class 1 and Class 2 terrain with over 6,300 feet of total elevation gain.
Approach from Dead Indian MeadowsIf you do not have a car that is capable of reaching Spout Springs or the Jim Creek Trailhead, the Dead Indian Meadows approach is an option. This trail leads through part of the stunning Sunlight Basin and is a beautiful hike, but it is considerably longer than the other two approaches.
Travel about 17 miles north of Cody on Highway 120 and turn left on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. After ascending to the pass, the road heads down the other side into the valley; the Dead Indian Campground is located immediately at the bottom of the switchbacks. Follow the trail south into the Dead Indian Meadows and turn left at one of the forks to gain the ridge and join the Trout Peak (or Damnation) Trail. From here, follow one of the routes described above in the Spout Springs approach.
The total distance to Trout Peak via the Dead Indian Meadows approach is about 21 miles with over 6200 feet of elevation gain.
Red TapeThere are no access fees for the Shoshone National Forest or the North Absaroka Wilderness. The roads to the Jim Creek TH and Spout Springs both have easements across private property, so be sure to stay on the road until you pass the forest boundary on either road. Read this page for more information regarding rules and regulations in the North Absaroka Wilderness.
This area has one of the most dense populations of grizzly bears found anywhere, and if you make this climb without seeing dozens of tracks and overturned rocks, you probably weren't looking hard enough! These bears go everywhere, including very high up; some of the tracks I saw were above 12,000 feet. Be sure to carry bear spray, and carrying an extra can might be a wise idea. Proper food storage rules apply to overnight stays in the Wilderness.
CampingCamping is not allowed within 50 feet of established trails in the North Absaroka Wilderness. There are generally a few snowbanks that linger throughout the year on Trout Peak that can be used as water sources, but be aware that if these are gone in the late summer, you may be thousands of feet above the nearest water source. Bring bear containers or rope to suspend your food off of rock ledges during the night; always practice Leave No Trace ethics when hiking and camping in this area.
External LinksInformation on the North Absaroka Wilderness: