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.)
I stayed at Racetrack Campground the night prior, a lovely and free NFS site. There is a water pump to top off your containers.
It took me an inordinate amount of time to reach the “trailhead" from the campground, as FR 8507 is not marked, at least not by its number. I lost a frustrating chunk of the morning to venturing up and down ranchers’ roads ending at gates or just fading away into the tall grass. I had almost resigned myself to writing Powell off and heading down to West Goat Peak to salvage what I could of the day when, tracing back to the highway, just to the west of the prison ranch, I noticed the nondescript turn. The single-lane road veers off to the right and uphill. The sign, rusted and slightly faded, reads “Dempsey CR 7.” Shortly after you turn onto this road a red sign reads “No camping on prison property.”
These roads are fine for all vehicles. Once you turn onto the forest road, it is single-lane and it does get progressively rougher. I encountered some ruts, but they can be avoided and would only leave the lowest of riders high-centered. From my scant notes on Powell I had taken over the past couple years, I had somewhere read that 4wd is an absolute necessity. It is not. I suspect this note came from a time when people were still driving much closer to Elliot Lakes, past what is now the more common starting point. Driving up that old road that is now a trail, I cannot recommend in any vehicle that is not an ORV (and they do appear to venture up here). There is plenty of space to camp at the “trailhead” if you so desire.
Based on previous reports, it seems a couple options are available from this starting point. One can follow the old road up toward Elliot Lakes and start bushwhacking from Lower Elliot Lake. Conversely, one can depart the road much earlier and bear generally northwest to the summit. The latter involves a much longer bushwhack, which is mitigated if routing through the open area marked on USGS maps as Marble Park. For my part the dilemma was simple: my distaste for inefficient minimal elevation gain versus my aversion to bushwhacking. I opted for the longer bushwhack.
At .6 miles, I took the right fork, trending toward the mountain. I had intended to start my bushwhack earlier, prior to any road junctions, and I had passed up several options up to this point. So shortly after this junction, I took the first faint trail into the woods that presented itself. This faded in and out and required stepping over deadfall, but it appeared to have been a road at one time. Sure enough, a short distance in, I encountered an old cabin foundation, aged stacks of firewood, and even an old horse collar. The forest and deadfall have for the most part reclaimed it.
A cursory exploration uphill from the cabin yielded no apparent path to my eyes, so I aimed my bushwhack directly up toward the first clearing. This was relatively easy and only lasted 100-200 vertical feet. The clearing is steep and grassy but footing was easy to find. About 3/4 of the way up the clearing to the next swath of trees, I encountered a faint cowpath traversing off to the left. Figuring this to be the more efficient route to Marble Park and reducing the bushwhack, I followed it. After a short period I decided I would rather gain some elevation on a short bushwhack so I beared up into the trees — and just 100 feet into the trees, I could not believe it. A very apparent footpath presented itself, leading to Marble Park. This path was so apparent — wide and tall enough for travel by horseback — that I began to wonder if this were not now the preferred route to summit Powell.
Once at the base of Marble Park, I started encountering cow pies, and as I entered the clearing, I identified about 20 head of cattle on the grassy slopes above . So perhaps that path is known to ranchers, if not hikers. Nevertheless I was grateful for it.
I walked directly uphill through Marble Park, earning no more than the passing notice of the cattle once they realized my presence did not signify dinner. It occurred to me that these cattle may be under the see of the prison ranch, and I kept my eyes peeled for orange jumpsuits. At the top of Marble Park I picked small seeds from my socks and the interior of my boots. Gaiters could come in handy here, but the distance is pretty short. To the south I could already see the Anaconda smelter stack, whose observation area I had visited the day prior. It is an impressive feat of engineering, but I am grateful it is no longer spewing smoke into the atmosphere; the Bear Creek fire was providing enough smoke for the day (even though the air was the clearest it had been to this point on my trip).
Not 200-300 yards into the next bushwhacking section, I encountered *another* trail — not as established as the previous one, but clearly used by humans. I started following it, but I quickly realized that this path traces the contours opposite the direction I intended to go. I reverted to my initial plan to head directly for the wider contours just above 8400’. The bushwhacking is really not that difficult through here, as the greatest obstacles are deadfall that is easily stepped over and around. I was grateful for the respite of the shade, and for the first time on this entire trip I established a satisfactory rhythm. Above 8400’ I was able to follow the occasional game trail that led in my intended direction. At about 8500’ I traced the contours around the short bump. Once around the bump I directed myself uphill. Above 8900’ the trees thin considerably; 100-200 vertical feet later, all remaining trees abruptly give way to alpine tundra.
Finally at 9100’ I set my face toward the summit, taking a more or less straight path even as I hit scattered boulders at 9400’. My total ascent time was just under 4 hours. I first tagged the north bump which offers a great look at the crater below. At the true summit I found a benchmark and a tall stack of rocks — as well as a large full-circle bivy — but no register. I found a perfectly ergonomically-fitted boulder to recline on as I gazed at the glistening Caruthers, Martin, and Elliot Lakes below.
After 30 minutes on the summit, just as I started descending, I came across a register vertically mounted on a boulder. Interesting setup. Judging by the register, the most recent visitors were 6 days prior, and they drove up to Elliot Lakes. But I rarely sign the things, even though I know I probably should.
From the summit I made what is for me an unconventional decision regarding to sticking to what I know. I abandoned my now-familiar ascent route, succumbing to my curiosity regarding the condition of the Elliot Lakes Route. Also I was running low on water and, as expected, my ascent route offered no sources whatsoever. In spite of all this, I was confident that once I hit the old road just below Elliot Lakes, I would easily be able to match my ascent time.
Once below the boulders, descending the soft scree is quite pleasant — and it is solid enough that I do not think ascending it would be too tedious. This was short-lived at any rate, as it does not take long to hit the treeline. Until 8400’, I found I was able to traverse in and out of a clearing in pursuit of terrain that was most hospitable to my joints. This too is a tall order, as this was the steepest grade I encountered all day. Given the longer and relatively gentle road approach, this did not come as a surprise -- that elevation has to be gained somewhere. At this point I found the bushwhacking to be no more difficult than along my ascent route. At 8000’, I found myself slightly cliffed out atop some boulders, though it only required me to down-scramble about 50 feet. Then at 7800’, I arrived at a clearing of massive house-sized boulders. I picked a route to descend, but based on the black lichen in all directions, few people have been here.
Quite contrary to my intentions, I came to a tributary of Dempsey Creek BEFORE reaching the road. My mistake was obvious: rather than roughly follow the contours trending down from the last clearing, I had allowed myself to be led down the fall line. I was easily able to find a suitable crossing, and my response was tempered by the idyllic falls and the fact that I was now able to filter water. From the stream it was 300 yards and a vertical ascent of 150’ of very thick bushwhacking. The distance was shorter than my intended route, but the effort was probably greater.
As a result of all of this, it took me just over two hours to reach the old road from the summit. Yet I think it is extremely likely there is a more established path in this direction that I very easily could have missed, given the number of register entries and the fact that some are driving up to Elliot Lakes and ascending from there. Such as it is, never on my descent until I hit the road did I encounter an apparent path or obvious signs of human activity.
About 3/4 mile from my vehicle, I heard a couple ORVs tooling up the road, so I started walking slightly in the trees to give them a wide berth. Early evening on a Friday, it made sense folks would be heading up. Clearly they were not expecting to see anyone, because as soon as the front driver caught a glimpse of me, he yelped and nearly swerved into a tree. We both got a pretty good kick out of that. Both drivers killed their engines and we visited for a good 15 minutes. They had a hell of a lot of stuff lashed down on the backs of those things, cold beers in hand. While I have difficulty just hanging out in the wilderness, and I do not love those loud engines, it sure looked like fun. Maybe in another life, or when my body tells me I am done climbing mountains. These were the first and only people I saw all day since leaving the campground in the morning.
Even with my slow descent from summit to road, I still matched my ascent time almost exactly, for a total time of 8.5 hours including breaks. However, if I’d descended my ascent route, I likely would have returned an hour or so earlier. Either way you go, the elevation gain of 3900’ will be the same, albeit a negligible bit higher if taking the road due to some inconsequential ups and downs.
Even in the COVID era, O’Bella in Anaconda happily accepted my money in exchange for a dressed-up mac & cheese (to-go, of course). Their Anaconda DID want some, it turns out.
Nice day hike, bushwhack wasn't bad at all and it was easy to avoid the cliffy section. The flowers in the tableland were super fragrant, I wish I could have bottled that smell!
Started the day with my dog (Allie) at the 2wd TH. We actually cut up through "Marble-Park' (See USGS Topo Maps). Pretty painless bush-waking to the South plateau. The summit is also fairly painless. NOTE: if you've put in the effort to make it to the summit, consider walking the ridge over and summiting Deerlodge mt. The ridge is epic and the views looking back at Mt. Powell and "The Crater" are unbelievable (best part of the hike really). If you do walk the ridge and decided to summit Deerlodge you have two options: 1) make it a loop (from what I hear its about 14 miles in total and some gnarly bush-waking), or 2) make it an in-and-out.... Trust me, you want to do it as an in-and-out... It's about 7.5 miles to summit of Deerlodge so in total its only a mile longer than the loop option and if you do it as in in-and-out YOU GET TO WALK THE RIGDE AGAIN!!! With Mt. Powell and 'The Crater' in site the whole way back to the S. plateau.
A friend and I approached Mount Powell from the State Prison Road/Dempsey Creek FS Road as described on this page. Once we arrived at the 2WD trailhead, my Tacoma was able to continue onward all the way to Bohn Lake. I feel that Summitpost readers should take note that the road is getting much more narrow and the boulders along this road (beyond the 2WD trailhead) are large! This section is now mostly used by ATV/UTV riders and an occasional Jeep or other high-clearance, small wheelbase vehicle. Anyway, we stopped driving at Bohn Lake and began our walk along the road. We chose to leave the road at 46.321999, -112.972283. We then ascended a steep, tree-covered bowl which takes you to the long, south-stretching scree field on the South face of Powell. From the scree field on up to the summit, it's a lovely ridge walk which includes a broad plateau covered in wildflowers and cushion plants just before the final summit push. Enjoy!
Started from the "2WD TH". The road beyond that is very rough and only suited for ATV's. Enjoyable hike up the road to where I branched off and made my way to the top. From the road I headed north up a drainage before gaining a ridge that lead up to a plateau south of the summit. Everything opens up from there and it is an easy 1000' to the top. Great views of The Crater and out towards Deer Lodge Mountain from the summit. The day before on 7/6 I did Mount Edith.
Spot on directions up Mount Powell. On my decent I made the mistake of following too close to the drainage which was a pain because of the thick brush, but overall a great hike.
A pleasant hike, especially after you get onto the plateau. Neat views of the many surrounding mountain lakes and the Anaconda smelter.
I took the northern route on this one up Tincup Joe Creek, I think? The road up Elk Ridge to the trailhead is not marked, but pretty easy to find with a map. Probably want a truck to get up the road, but it is pretty scenic up on the open meadows of the ridge. The trail up to Martin Lake is in great shape, easy and pleasant, with great views as well. Also walked the crater rim to Deer Lodge Mountain and that is excellent! I would now like to do the Dempsey route and catch some fish up at those lakes, too! Seems like maybe the Dempsey route is used most often from what I hear, but I definitely recommend the northern route as an alternative.