This was part of a Montana trip involving county high points for Shoshone (ID); Mineral; Ravalli; Granite; Deer Lodge; Beaverhead; Fremont (ID); and Madison. (Initially I had wanted to go after the remaining county high points in the Beartooths (having summited Granite Peak in 2018), but my body was providing some signs that I not provided myself sufficient recovery time this summer, so I kept this trip to day hikes/scrambles.)
The road in is fine for all vehicles, just a bit rough in spots. It appears that there is stricter enforcement regarding sleeping at the trailhead, as there is plenty of signage stating that camping is only allowed in designated areas. These designated areas are only big enough for one party, and there are few of them. Most were taken as I drove in, but I did find an unoccupied spot just 1.5 miles from the trailhead.
As I was finishing the last of my supper, a dualie towing a large camper rolled past and stopped. One guy got out and walked up while the driver headed on up the road. They were two bowhunters looking to claim a spot in advance of opening weekend, and the guy asked me if I would mind if they parked their trailer alongside my ride. (I had not set up a tent or anything as I sleep in the back of my ride on these trips for efficiency’s sake.) I obliged, and only afterward learned they were not planning on staying the night; they just wanted to put down the trailer so as to claim a spot. I cannot say I love that practice as it cuts other folks out, but I also did not want to return to deflated tires at the trailhead, so whatever. As it was, I spent the next while talking to this guy as he waited for his buddy to return with the trailer, having had to turn around at the end of the road. He was a nice guy, and it was interesting hearing about the Montana hunting scene, but this was longer than I cared to visit, as I was ready to crawl into the sack. When his buddy finally returned, he was sans trailer. Apparently he found an unoccupied spot farther up the road, so they were set. Fine by me; I just wanted to go to bed. Even as I lied down, two other trucks stopped at my site over the next couple hours, likely deliberating whether to ask a similar question or not disturb me. Thankfully both settled on the latter. I am not sure if it is like this all the time, or if this is just bowhunting season.
In the morning I drove to the trailhead, where only a USFS truck and a large pickup camper were parked.
The trail to Avalanche Lake is in good shape. It took me 2.5 hours to get to the lake.
Once at Avy Lake, I followed a trail along its southern shore until it faded away at the base of a gully. I made my way up this short gully, and at the top I came across a tent set up on a ledge. It appeared I might have company today, but I counted on the fact that this party likely had a 2-3 hour start on me and would probably be down from the class 3/4 section by the time I got there.
From here I relied heavily upon Adam Helman’s trip report on the CoHP site; this report proved invaluable to me.
After the gully, I took some light bushwhacking toward the ridge that one must go up and over, working my way generally toward its west side where the grassier slopes make for a bit of an easier ascent. Others have clearly taken this same bushwhacking route through the trees.
I did not emerge from the trees — and thus was unable to get a sense of where I was with relation to the ridge — until 9600’. Here I took a lengthy break to remedy an obvious electrolyte deficit while I eyed potential routes up to the ridge. It appeared to me that I had gone too far west from Avy Lake, as the most optimal route to my eyes was farther to the east. I selected a line with the least talus and the most grass. To be sure, the grass did not completely mitigate the loose stuff.
By the time I topped out on the ridge, it had been FIVE HOURS since I left the trailhead. This was due to my bonk and subsequent long break. (All of the efforts from the previous week clearly were adding up.). I did a mental and a physical check-in and prepared myself for a longer day than anticipated, likely finishing in the dark.
The greater mental blow was delivered by my first look at Hilgard. The summit block did appear formidable, but the distance between the ridge and its base seemed impossibly long. It would be a wait and see how it goes situation.
It took me a little bit to identify a suitable descent down from the ridge, and I found the most ideal line to be on its eastern end. From here it was a nasty mess of talus and scree, and keeping my feet was a considerable challenge. Once at the base, it was a distance of boulder-hopping through the old glacial bed. This took some time, but soon enough I found more solid ground leading to Lake Eglise. Here I found Helman’s assessment of “cleaner” water than Avy Lake to be woefully inaccurate; at least in late summer, the lake was reduced to a couple of silty puddles with no outlet. I decided to wait to filter water at the lake at the base of the summit block.
From Lake Eglise it was more routefinding, but I was generally able to avoid boulder-hopping as I made my way to the base of the summit block. A slight walk out of the way got me to the nearby unnamed lake, where I was rewarded with much cleaner water. It took me an hour to get here from the top of the ridge, putting me closer to my anticipated timeline and leaving me feeling much better about continuing to the summit. I took over 30 minutes here, filtering water and eyeballing the summit. Part of the reason for this longer break was the gusts of wind that swept in. I waited a bit to see if they would die down like all others that day. They did not, so I resigned myself to summiting in higher winds. I could not be certain which gully was the one referred to in Helman's report. (I later realized I could have printed the pictures from Helman’s report and it would have helped considerably, but I am ever and always reticent to reduce the sense of adventure.)
As I made my way up the boulders, I stopped every so often to see if a new and closer vantage might yield the most obvious gully, but it never did. When I arrived the base of one gully — also thankfully sheltered from the wind — it seemed well-traveled. But this did not mean much, so I traversed back and forth to the two adjacent gullies. My first option seeming the most viable, I took it up. This involves low-angle scrambling, and most of the time I did not need to use my hands.
Sure enough, the gully deposited me on a ledge where it continued up at a steeper angle. I traversed this ledge climber’s right, where it brought me to another gully, but en route, no class 3/4 moves presented themselves moving up the rib. Hmm. I looked down this gully and realized, perhaps THIS was the one at the base of the route. I continued climber’s right around the ledge, and...A-HA! On the rib above and climber’s right was a pyramidical cairn. This was the first cairn I had seen all day, and I was quite surprised it was unquestionably the same one from Helman’s ascent 10 years earlier. While I had ascended the “wrong” gully, it still got me to where I needed to be. I made my way up and around some low-grade slabs to the cairn.
Looking up from the cairn, only two possibilities seemed obvious. To climber’s left was a gully, but I had recalled from Helman’s report that ascending a gully from the cairn had taken him to the middle tower — not the summit. To climber’s right was a dihedral with easy and huge holds. This deposited me on a low-grade slope of loose rock, after which I ascended another short dihedral. I did spot a second smaller cairn up here, but I forget whether it was after the first dihedral or the second shorter one. From here I could finally see the summit tower. Then another slope, then another short dihedral. I realized atop this last dihedral I could have taken a slightly easier route, but no matter. Once at the base of the summit block, that fierce damn wind assaulted me from the west. It was a short scramble to the summit. From the unnamed lake it took me an hour almost exactly. I found neither a register nor a benchmark, and I only stayed at the summit just long enough to update my wife via text and take a couple pics; the wind made hanging out unbearable. My total time from the car at this point was 7:45 — I have no doubt fresher bodies could cut this time considerably (including my own).
Never on this route did I face more than 20-30 feet of exposure — except near the very summit, where I saw 40-50 feet for a brief move. Nor was the climbing difficult. In fact, the crux may well have been trying to avoid the invasive thistle growing out of some of the cracks. Keep in mind this is coming from a self-defined lousy rock climber. If you are reading this, Hilgard is likely well within your abilities.
I found the descent to be very easy, as I just had to follow the trail of red spray-paint I used to mark my ascent. (Just kidding...) The downclimbing went by quickly enough, and then I just had to head down the tedious loose boulders and talus. I bypassed the unnamed lake this time and headed directly for that miserable scree-filled ascent up to the ridge.
Once at its base, I stood there trying to conjure up some solid route to the top. But there were really only two choices: loose and hellish, and slightly less loose and hellish. I opted for the latter, picking a more-or-less direct sidehilling trajectory aiming for the ridge’s eastern end. Just about the only way for me to stay on my feet and avoid downward motion was to bear-crawl. After a deceptively short period I noticed a short gully just 50 feet above me. I had made faster progress than expected, but I was also eager to elude this misery. Virtually everything moved in that gully upon being touched, but it was short.
From the top of the ridge I took a direct line to the east end of Avy Lake. I would not call this descent suited for plunge-stepping so much as ski glissading, as it alternates between loose dirt and talus-covered scree. There are thistles hiding under it all, so gaiters may be worth bringing, even for the short distance. For my part this descent only lasted 400 vertical feet or so, as I departed this section to maintain my bearing. This entailed boulder-hopping for about 500 or more vertical feet; it is possible I might have saved time by just glissading farther down. In any case the boulders did not take long, and I was back to the trees. The forest is thin enough here I never had to bushwhack, and I was able to take a direct line back to the trail. I’d almost wished I had taken this route up, but given it entailed all that boulder-hopping and it would have negated the efficiency of ascending the grassy slopes toward the west end of the ridge, I question whether it would have saved me much time. Once back at the trail I stopped to empty my boots of pebbles and thorns from the glissade.
It took me 5.5 hours to return to the car from the summit, including breaks. Notably, my distance from summit to car was 1.5 miles shorter than vice versa. I finished the last 2-3 miles in the dark. A long day.
I never did see the occupant(s) is that tent, so either they pursued another objective or they were fishing or chilling.
Great summit. Smoke wasn't bad at all the day we summited, but pretty bad the following day on our way out of Avalanche Lake; I guess we're just lucky. East ridge and gully was fun and not nearly as intimidating as it looks from afar; assuming you find the correct path. Wind was low so I opted for the 5.2ish(?) knife ridge just South of the summit; Awesome!
Climbed from camp at Avalanche Lake. Lots of loose dirt and rubble on the north side of the ridge you have to go up and over. About halfway up the summit scramble, the few exposed moves to cross back into the gully were spooky, with loose dirt right above that area as well. Otherwise I found the scrambling and routefinding to be pretty reasonable. Very heavy smoke with limited views but still a great outing.
Route in followed west fork Beaver Creek. Great views from the summit of course.
Route out past Ramona Lake. Lots of bear signs including beaten paths along some of the creeks. As a solo hiker I would not go back.
Camped above Avalanche Lake the night before, then climbed Hilgard the next morning. Went to the wrong saddle, but ended up with a fun ridge walk before dropping down into the talus hell-basin. Excellent and challenging scramble up the summit block via the east ridge/face. Trip Report
Amazing hike from route up TR.222 from Avalanche Lake. Coming back up the 10,400 ft ridge from Hilgard Basin proved to be a bit more difficult than anticipated (especially after summiting this beast), but it was all sooo worth it. A very remote area, but we coincidentally ran into another hiker who summited within 10 minutes of us. Not sure how to 'class' any of the moves toward the top other than 'probably should have at least brought a rope'. Overall, a difficult ~18 mile day, and we did find an alternative route than is described on the main page that was more north of the traditional route.
Climbed this via Avalanche Lake. A massive snow year led to all snow past about 8500 feet (aka glorious traveling in the high country). It was a super fun climb and would recommend going while there is snow cover to avoid miles of boulders and scree.
My friend James and I departed Bozeman around 11 am, took the Beaver Creek 222 trail and camped near a pond at treeline Just below the notch which separates the 2 basins around 8:30 PM. Next day we left camp late around 9 am and ultimately climbed via the east ridge. But had but much trouble finding the proper route. Finally found it. The 3 or 4 moves traversing over the gully was indeed a bit scary due to exposure. But, the 5.2 slab traverse was much easier than I had anticipated. Do plenty of hand tapping as there are a few loose rocks.
Trying to be a weekend warrior meant attempting the hike in after a regular work day on a Friday night. Trying to triangulate peaks via headlamp after having lost the trail in snow was not a good start. Camped at the lake. Hiked up the bowl over Avalanche Lake and hike 5 lesser 10K peaks the next AM, saw Hilgard, but was too far away from the summit (hiked up the wrong side of the bowl) by the time we realized it. Pinnacles look intimidating and next effort will be done with more safety gear
Fantastic day in the mountains, no one but us out there. Some scary moments up high, but well worth it for the view from the top.
What a great mountain! Exciting scrambling with gutwrenching exposure on the traverse just below the summit. This mountain is very remote - from any direction, it is one of the roughest approaches in MT.
Attempt on E Ridge from Avalanche Lake. Returned home with nothing more to brag about than respect from two hunters for having had spent several nights in brutal conditions.