At 12,080+ feet, Mystic Mountain stands proudly amongst the giants of the Beartooth Range of Montana. Even though it is a ranking 12,000 foot peak, Mystic Mountain sees very few visitors due to its remote location lying over 15 miles from the nearest wilderness access point. Many people will recognize this peak however, as it lies just to the West of Montana's highest mountain, Granite Peak. As with most of the big peaks of the Beartooths, there are no trails or beaten routes to the summit. Most parties will take multiple days to climb this peak, beginning with a trek up the West Rosebud drainage which is the same access point used to approach Granite Peak. Many of Montana's Highest Peaks can be seen from the summit of Mystic Mountain, including Granite Peak to the East, along with Glacier Peak and Mount Villard to the South. West Granite Peak is also easily seen directly across the Upper Storm Lakes basin.
Like many of the Beartooth 12ers, the summit is a large, flat plateau with steep aspects surrounding it. The original Beartooth uplift was nothing more than a high elevation plateau composed of granitic and metamorphic basement rocks. The work of large alpine glaciers carved out the large, U-shaped valleys leaving steep cliffs leading up from broad valley floors to the top of the vast plateaus. Mystic is no exception with various routes to the summit area. All require long treks and off trail scrambling for long distances. Even the most prudent rock-hoppers will tire after the many miles of talus hiking required to top this remote peak. Also note that the USGS incorrectly lists the elevation of this peak as 12,063'. It clearly lies above the 12,080 foot contour, giving it an official height of 12,080+
West Rosebud Trailhead
The West Rosebud Trailhead is located approximately 80 miles southwest of Billings. To reach the trailhead, take the Columbus exit from Interstate 90, and take Montana Highway 78 through Absaroka and turn west (right) toward Fishtail (approximately 17 miles from Columbus). From Fishtail, drive west and south for 1 mile and turn south (left) on West Rosebud Road. Follow this paved road for 6.6 miles until reaching a fork in the road and a large brown Forest Service sign. The sign will indicate West Rosebud Lake Road #2072. Turn left here and follow the dirt road for 14.4 miles until reaching the trailhead at the end of the road past the Emerald Lake Campground. The trailhead has toilet facilities, and a large parking area. Please obey the posted private property signs and do not drive beyond the trailhead parking area.
From the West Rosebud Trailhead at 6,600 feet, hike a quarter-mile up the restricted road to a wooden arch bridge over the large pipeline. Cross and continue to the footbridge crossing West Rosebud River at 6,910 feet and follow the trail as it climbs up the south side of the valley and begins switch-backing through a large talus field. Pass a section where the trail was blasted out of the cliffs and reach a small notch at 7,820 feet with the first views of Mystic Lake, 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Descend 120 feet to the lake shore and continue 0.3 mile along the south shore to the signed junction with the Phantom Creek/Froze-to-Death Plateau trail which takes off to the left at a small meadow. Continue another 2.4 miles past this junction to the footbridge over Huckleberry Creek and turn left on a boot path right after this bridge. Climb up through sparse forest for 1 mile to Huckleberry Lake at 8,370 feet. The trail isn't too hard to follow as it stays to the west (right) side of the creek. Walk around the west side of Huckleberry Lake where the trail becomes more difficult to follow. The lake isn't much more than a marshy swamp really and doesn't offer any good campsites. At the south side of the lake, pick up the trail again and continue for another mile to Princess Lake at 9,100 feet where the best camping and fishing is found. It's a 15 mile round-trip hike (7.5 miles one way) to Princess Lake from the trailhead.
North Ridge - Class 2
From the north end of Princess Lake where most people camp, locate the trail heading around the west (right) side of the lake. Note that it doesn't stay right along the lake shore, but rather about 30 feet above. Reach a large waterfall coming down from the Snowball Lakes (not to be confused with the waterfall draining Cold Pond) and scramble up large boulders along the right side of the falls. Cairns mark the easiest path to the top of the falls where you will see the steep north slopes of Mystic Mountain (shown in the primary photo above). Get here shortly after sunrise for an awesome alpenglow view! It's a 500 foot ascent from Princess Lake to the first Snowball Lake at 9,600 feet. Continue around each of these small tarns until you reach the upper (4th) Snowball Lake at 9,780 feet and hike around its left side aiming for a steep talus slope to the south. Just above and left you will see the 10,875 foot Storm Spire. This tower has a great 5.9, six pitch route on its northeast ridge but that's to be described on a different page. Hike up the steep talus and head up a narrow but obvious gully at 10,150 feet. This 170 foot gully (Class 2+) takes you through an otherwise difficult slabby area and to the talus above. Continue right to the base of Storm Spires' west face at a 10,560 foot saddle. Continue south and angle slightly to the right to another small saddle at 10,720 feet staying above and west of Lower Storm Lake.
From this saddle, climb up a narrow, black colored gully off to the right for 400 feet and emerge onto a very broad, scree/talus field and ascend 600 more feet to the north ridge, reaching it at 11,700 feet. Walk south along the ridge for 1 mile to the summit, avoiding any difficulties in the first half-mile by staying to the left (east) side of the ridge (Class 2+). You can also stay on the ridge crest the entire time to make it Class 3. The second half is easy hiking on a broad plateau. The summit is marked by a large cairn and the views of Glacier Peak and Mount Villard are awe inspiring. The round trip distance from Princess Lake to the summit and back is 8.3 miles.
Follow the same approach to the 10,560 foot saddle at the base of Storm Spire. Instead of veering right though, descend due south for 120 feet to Lower Storm Lake and round it's far western corner. Veer left around the buttress and reach the east corner of Upper Storm Lake at 10,600 feet. Hike south, along its east side of the upper lake and continue past the small, upper most tarn. Here, you will notice a permanent snowfield on a northeast facing slope leading steeply to the broad saddle between Mystic Mountain and Point 11,908. Climb this slope which will start as steep talus later in the summer. This first 700 feet are the steepest. Transition onto the snow which starting point will depend on the time of year. Climb 40-45 degree snow to the southwest which takes you to the 11,600 foot saddle. The final 500 feet ascends very large talus up the southeast side of the peak.
This fun route traverses around the entire Storm Lakes drainage and summits three ranked peaks, two of which are 12ers. This route uses the north ridge and southeast ridge routes of Mystic Mountain and the west slopes route on Granite West Peak. I will describe the loop in the counter-clockwise direction (Mystic Mountain first) however it can be done either way. Use the same approach described above and ascend Mystic Mountain via the North Ridge route. From the summit, descend to the southeast down the large talus to the broad 11,600 foot saddle between Mystic and Point 11,908. This is the same as the final 500 feet of the SE slopes route described just above. If weather is coming in, you can descend the snow/talus down the SE slopes back to Storm Lakes although this is a difficult descent with steep snow so use caution.
From the saddle, begin ascending Point 11,908 on the ridge (Class 2). It's best to head over the summit as traversing around either its north or south side is more effort than it's worth. From the summit, descend south slightly, and continue southeast along the ridge crest until you reach a very narrow section on the ridge. Drop to the south (right) side on a series of ledges to 11,775 feet and traverse below the narrow spot at the base of the cliff. Continue on a descending traverse on talus strewn ledges to a small rib at 11,700 feet (Class 3). Hike around this rib on a great ledge and continue traversing for a quarter mile and climb back to the crest just before a series of towers at 11,590. Cross to the north side briefly and scramble around the first tower, then cross back to the south side and below the remaining towers to the low saddle between Mystic and Granite West at 11,500 feet (Class 3), one mile from from the summit of Mystic Mountain. From here you have two options. If weather is closing in, you can turn left and descend north on talus down the drainage and reach upper Storm Lake after 3/4 mile and continue back to Storm Spire and back the way you came. The other option is to ascend the Southwest Ridge of Granite West and descend the west slopes back to Upper Storm Lake. See the link for a description of these routes. The entire loop traverse is 11 miles from Princess Lake and it's 2.4 miles from the summit of Mystic Mountain to the summit of Granite West.
RED: Huckleberry Creek/Princess Lake Approach and North Ridge - Class 2
BLUE: Southeast Slopes Route - Class 2+ and Moderate Snow
LIGHT GREEN: Aero Lakes Approach
PURPLE: Mystic to Granite West (Storm Lakes) Traverse - Class 3
ORANGE: Granite West Peak West Slopes Route - Class 2
Camping is allowed anywhere within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Great camping can be found all along Mystic Lake, and at Princess Lake, where the best camping and fishing can be found. In winter, you can camp where ever you feel is safe from avalanche danger and wind. There is no red tape as the mountain lies in a wilderness. Always remember to leave no trace and pack out everything you pack in. Feel free to contact the Beartooth Ranger Station in Red Lodge, Montana at (406) 446-2103 where they can tell you about any fire bans, wildlife concerns and snow conditions.
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 during the summer. Get an early start to avoid afternoon storms. They develop very fast and tend to come from the south or west.