Beartooth Mountain is located in South-Central Montana, and is the namesake of the mountain range in which it resides. It is not, however, the highest peak in the Beartooth Mountains, where all of Montana's 27 ranked peaks over 12,000 feet reside. Beartooth Mountain comes in at number 12.
Beartooth Mountain is one of the harder Montana 12er summits. The easiest route entails a long and tiring approach up the Black Canyon Drainage from the Lake Fork of Rock Creek Valley. The Black Canyon Drainage is largely covered by glacial moraine beyond Black Canyon Lake, which makes for a challenging approach. From the valley floor, ascend the SE facing slopes leading towards the saddle between Beartooth Mountain and Peak 12,000+ (aka. Avalanche Mountain) on the West side of Beartooth's flat summit. These slopes are snow covered for much of the year, which may help you to forget the difficult approach. From the saddle, head right (NE) to Beartooth mountain's summit plateau (Class 2). The highest point is at the extreme SE edge.
Bears Tooth Spire - Overview
Beartooth Mountain, the Beartooth Mountain Range, and 23 other features in this area are labeled "Beartooth", all taken from the name of this conspicuous spire the Crow Indians called Na Pet Say - the "Bears Tooth". Bears Tooth spire rises from the East Ridge of Beartooth Mountain and is visible from the scenic Beartooth highway leading from Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park. Another Bears Tooth can be found in Wyoming's Fremont County, although it is not nearly as impressive as Montana's famous landmark.
Mountaineers with aspirations to climb Bears Tooth should be warned that it is no small feat. Bears Tooth has seen very little climbing activity for such a prominent feature, perhaps only a couple of ascents per year. Much of this can be attributed to the arduousness of the approach, but also to the difficulty and hazard of the climb itself. Many climbers admit that the hardest, most tedious, and most dangerous part of the ascent is just reaching the base of the spire. From the canyon upstream of Black Canyon Lake, ascend steep slopes and precarious boulders into the amphitheater below the enormous east wall of Beartooth Mountain. Scramble diagonally from lower left to upper right over exposed and slick slabs covered with granite grit. To climb the west arête, one must climb three pitches to gain the notch between the main mountain and the spire. The first two leads traverse across the wall below the notch from a fixed piton and the final pitch climbs straight over 5.8 loose rock. The west arête contains four pitches of 5.9 climbing in steep cracks and overhangs. To climb the more popular east arête, continue traversing diagonally across exposed sandy ledges and rope up for a 5.6 unprotected slab traverse across the south face of the spire. The east arête entails four pitches on excellent rock trending on the north side of the arête. The crux 5.8 layback near the top dramatically overhangs the Beartooth Glacier Basin.
The easiest approach to Beartooth Mountain leads up the Black Canyon Drainage from the Lake Fork Valley. No trails lead to the summit, so use your imagination.
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, with the massive Hellroaring Plateau above you on the left hand side of the valley (home of Mount Rearguard). Where the trail again crosses the Lake Fork at approximately 5 miles (the next footbridge), turn left into the Black Canyon Drainage. Follow this drainage across Black Canyon Lake and past the south face of Beartooth Mountain across the glacial moraine. A brief description of one possible route from the valley floor is provided in the Overview section above.
Beartooth Mountain 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 in the back country (although most people do not bother). You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood. No mechanized vehicles are allowed off-road in the wilderness area.
When To Climb
Summer 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 occurrence. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Storms develop very fast and tend to come from the south or west.
Beartooth Mountain can be climbed in the winter from the Black Canyon drainage. The road up the Lake Fork valley is closed with a gate approximately 0.5 miles from highway 212 in the winter. Note that Peak 12000+ is known as Avalanche Peak for a reason, and the slopes leading to the col between this peak and Beartooth Mountain are highly susceptible to avalanching. A large cornice sometimes builds at the top of these slopes due to prevailing westerly winds.
You are advised to contact the Beartooth Ranger Station at (406) 446-2103 for the latest snow pack conditions and road closure information.
Camping 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 in the back-country (although most people do not bother). You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood.
No car-camping areas are available in the Lake Fork Drainage.
Call the Beartooth Ranger Station at (406) 446-2103 for latest mountain conditions.