Submitted by a JESSEB
OverviewThis aptly named peak is the fourth highest mountain in Montana. Its name comes from the narrow but prominent snow and ice filled couloir (50° sustained) that extends down from its summit for over 2000 feet into the West Rock Creek valley on the North side of the mountain.
Whitetail has the stereotypical mountain form, and from a distance (especially when viewed from the North) can appear quite intimidating. The easiest route up the mountain is no more than an extended class 3 scramble however, with perhaps one class four move directly above the Whitetail Couloir notch near the summit. Due to its proximity to the Sundance trail, Whitetail attracts a fair share of visitors and is a popular summer destination for local weekend climbers.
From the summit of Whitetail one can get a sense of the power of the glaciers that carved the Beartooths into their present form. Permanent snowfields still cling to the base of Castle Mountain at the head of West Rock Creek valley three miles to the West. Filling the valley floor below are the rock strewn glacial moraines which make this approach to Castle Mountain so formidable. Three miles to the south across another U-shaped valley one has a fantastic view of Beartooth Mountain itself, and towards the south and west extends a fantastic ridgeline that includes Medicine and Sky Pilot Mountains.
Getting ThereWhitetail Peak is located in the Beartooth range of South-Central Mountana. Access to the mountain is via the Sundass Pass trail. Two trailheads exist, and hiking from one to the other makes for an enjoyable 2-3 day trip (if you have two vehicles or don't mind hitchhiking).
WEST FORK ROCK CREEK TRAILHEAD
From the south side of Red Lodge Montana, turn West off of highway 212 and follow the road heading WSW across the plain and into the Rock Creek Valley. Follow the valley for 15-16 miles to the end of the road. This is the Trailhead leading up the West Fork of Rock Creek. The Rock Creek valley is popular for fishing, and several good camping areas can be found along the road leading from Red Lodge to the trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the path leading along the North side of the West Fork. After 7.5 miles you will reach tree line and a sturdy bridge across to the South side of Rock Creek. From here the trail climbs up a long series of switchbacks to reach Sundance Pass after an additional 1.5 miles.
LAKE FORK TRAILHEAD
From the south side of Red Lodge, Montana, follow highway 212 South for approximately 11 miles. Before passing Black Pyramid Mountain, turn right onto the well-maintained road which leads past several cabins and into the Lake Fork Valley. Follow this road for 2 miles to the trailhead. A footbridge crosses Lake Fork Creek just beyond the end of the road to join the trail on the Creek's south side. This trail follows the Lake Fork, passing by September Morn Lake near tree line after 8.0 miles. Sundance pass is another 2.0 miles from September Morn Lake.
Red TapeWhitetail Peak is located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Custer National Forest, Beartooth Ranger District. No fees are required to climb or camp. You are "requested" to check in with the Beartooth Ranger Station in Red Lodge or call (406) 446-2103 before climbing or camping (although most people do not bother). You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood. No mechanized vehicles are allowed in the wilderness area.
When To ClimbSummer climbing season is short in Montana. Late July through early September are the months that are most snow-free. However, expect some snow on the mountain any time of the year. Expect any type of weather any time of the year. Violent thunderstorms are a common daily occurance. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Storms develop very fast and tend to come from the south or west.
Whitetail can be climbed in the winter from highway 212. The road up the lake fork valley is closed approximately 0.5 miles from highway 212 in the winter. You are advised to contact the Beartooth Ranger Station at (406) 446-2103 for the latest conditions and road closure information.
CampingCamping is allowed anywhere within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. You are "requested" to check in with the Beartooth Ranger Station in Red Lodge or call (406) 446-2103 before camping (although most people do not bother). You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood.
Most parties choose to climb Whitetail in two days, camping on either the SE side of Sundass Pass near September Morn Lake, or on the NW side in the bottom of the West Rock Creek valley. Remember, Leave No Trace, and as always in bear country, hang your food well away from camp at night.
Mountain ConditionsCall the Beartooth Ranger Station at (406) 446-2103 for the latest mountain conditions.
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