Some interesting, or maybe not so interesting, facts about Cutoff Mountain:
* Although almost all of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, all of Cutoff Mountain, a Yellowstone peak, is in Montana.
* Almost all of the mountain is within the park, but the summit itself is not. The summit is within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The eastern, and lower, summit is within the park, and one can find an old sign marking the boundary there. When the park boundaries were drawn, the summit of this mountain was "cut off," hence the name. Even though the sheer cliffs on all but the southwest side of the mountain suggest the name very well, they are not the reason for it.
* Despite being in Montana, Cutoff Mountain is not part of the Montana Absarokas
. Rather, it is part of the Northern Absaroka Range
, which is mostly in Wyoming. In fact, writes Thomas Turiano in Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone
, Cutoff Mountain is "the abrupt northern edge of the Absaroka Mountains" (Turiano does not consider the Montana Absarokas as part of the Absarokas but rather as part of the Beartooth Mountains
* Like the peaks at the southern end of the Absarokas, Cutoff Mountain is composed of breccia
, a volcanic conglomerate. Unlike
the peaks at the southern end of the range, Cutoff Mountain has breccia that is surprisingly solid and trustworthy, though no one should be getting any ideas that it is like granite.
Cutoff is a beautiful mountain with great routes, and it is in an exceptionally spectacular setting, between the wild and scenic valleys of Pebble Creek and Slough Creek. Many bighorn sheep and mountain goats make the mountain their home, and it is a good home, being virtually inaccessible to predators such as grizzly bears and wolves except from Bliss Pass. Even from the pass, predators would have to negotiate tricky terrain to access the upper reaches of the mountain.
Be on the lookout for petrified wood as well, but don't take any with you (it's illegal to do so).
The summit has a cairn but no register, which is surprising since a biology student named Nathan Varley left one in 1991 and periodically checked it to learn about climbers' observations of wildlife. Between 1991 and 2001, about 100 people from at least 30 climbing parties reached the summit (source: Select Peaks
), making it fairly popular for an Absaroka summit. But that's Yellowstone country for you, where a peak that sees ten climbers per year can be considered "fairly popular."
Views from the top are amazing, taking in the Beartooths, including Granite Peak, Montana's highest; the Northern Absarokas, including iconic Pilot Peak; and the distant Gallatins, including Electric Peak, the range's highest.
Climbing Cutoff Mountain is no casual matter. The standard route, via Bliss Pass, is 10.5 miles to the summit (not the 13 miles Turiano gives). Trailhead-to-summit elevation gain is 3400', but the true total elevation gain to the summit is closer to 4300, and the round-trip gain is about 5200' (this is based on map study and an analysis of GPS tracks). Class 3 terrain is unavoidable, and Class 4 climbing is possible.
A shorter route of about 7 miles (to the summit), with around 3800' of elevation gain to the summit and 4200' in all, exists on the southeastern face. While I recommend this route to experienced climbers, I do not recommend it to people newer to the game, as it requires bushwhacking through a burn area and sustained Class 3/4 climbing up cliffs.
Either route also requires at least two stream crossings, which could be difficult in early summer.
The shortest route is actually under five miles to the top and approaches from the west, but it is impractical for the public. The route leaves from the Silver Tip Ranch and follows Cutoff Creek. This route is open to the public, but one first must hike over 10 miles along Slough Creek Road to the ranch; the road is not even open to bikes.
Attached route pages detail the first two routes, both of which originate at the Warm Creek parking area 1.2 mi inside Yellowstone from the northeast entrance.
1.2 mi from the northeast entrance, park at the Warm Springs parking area, which is on the north side of the road. This is the eastern end of the Pebble Creek Trail.
The other end of the Pebble Creek Trail is at the Pebble Creek Campground some 10 miles southwest of Warm Springs. This approach avoids the significant climb and drop that the other approach involves, shaving 800' of elevation gain from the route, but it also adds three round-trip miles to the standard route; it might add even more to the route up the southeastern face.
Starting from Slough Creek Campground is also an option, but that route is even longer and really should only be considered if climbing Cutoff is part of a longer backpacking trip.
The entrance fee for Yellowstone is $25 and covers you for a week.
Reminder: It is illegal to remove human or natural artifacts from the park. This includes antlers, as signs at the park entrance indicate.
Bliss Pass and the valley of Pebble Creek are prime grizzly territory. Make noise, carry pepper spray and have it accessible at all times, and know how to behave around the bears.
There is a lot of good moose habitat around Pebble Creek. Some people consider a cow moose around her calf more dangerous than a grizzly bear. Do not underestimate these large, powerful animals.
Camping and Lodging
People climbing the peak in a day can camp at Slough Creek or Pebble Creek Campground; Pebble Creek is by far the closer to Warm Springs. Sites at both campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
There is lodging about 28 miles west at Roosevelt Lodge; check Xanterra.com for details and reservations. Just outside the Northeast Entrance, there are lodging options in Silver Gate (less than a mile from the park) and Cooke City (five miles from the park).
There are backcountry campsites along Pebble Creek Trail, and many people would probably prefer to make Cutoff part of a backpacking excursion instead of taking on the 21-mile (round-trip) standard route in a single day.
External LinksBackcountry Trip Planner for Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park--
official NPS site with details about camping, regulations, etc.
Xanterra-- lodging information, online reservations.
Lodging in Silver Gate