Twin-summited Old Baldy (the western summit is the higher one) is one of the monarchs of the Sawtooth Range, a subrange of the Rocky Mountain Front, which rises suddenly and dramatically from the western end of the Great Plains in north-central Montana. Set back two ridge systems behind the front line of peaks in the range, the peak is hard to see from roads except from afar, but it is a dominating sight on the skyline when seen from almost any other peak in the area. Lower only than nearby Rocky Mountain, which also happens to be the highpoint of the entire Bob Marshall Wilderness, and situated on the border of the official wilderness area, Old Baldy provides a commanding view over some of the wildest and most spectacular mountain country in the United States.
Old Baldy, like most other peaks in the Rocky Mountain Front, is a limestone “reef” formed when an upthrust belt of rock pushed over another belt of rock. This creates spectacular ridge systems and escarpments sometimes more than 20 miles long, and it is characteristic of the peaks to present a sheer face on one side and a long, moderately inclined face on the other. This means that although the peaks look technical-only from certain angles, almost every one of them can be climbed by routes that get no harder than Class 3. Old Baldy is no exception. Do not, though, expect a leisurely walk-up, for you most certainly will not get that. Out here, come prepared for scrambling and scree, and wear boots that can take a beating.
East (lower) summit
There are three logical routes to use for climbing Old Baldy. The first approaches from the north via Route Creek Pass. The second approaches from the east and then ascends the south side of the mountain. The third approaches from the south via a saddle west of Our Lake. Of the three, the second is the shortest, but all of it is off-trail travel.
Here is a brief overview of the three routes for those not interested in the extended details of an actual route page, though there are attached route pages for all three:
North Ridge via Route Creek Pass--
From the trailhead, the trail climbs 5.5 miles to Route Creek Pass, gaining about 2100’. From the pass, the north ridge and the summit are completely visible, and it is just a matter of getting up on the ridge and reaching the summit, which entails a trip of about 1.5 mi and an elevation gain of 1900’. With care, climbers will face nothing more difficult than Class 2+ conditions.
Eastern Approach/South Side Route--
From just north of the Our Lake/Headquarters Creek Pass trailhead, follow a drainage west until it breaks out of the tree and the landscape opens up. Then follow a ridge and attain either the eastern (lower) peak of Old Baldy or the saddle between the two peaks. With care, this route can be kept at Class 2. To the top, it is about 3 miles with around 3400' of elevation gain.
South Ridge via Our Lake--
Hike 3 miles to Our Lake and then about another mile west to a saddle at 7800’, climbing a total of about 3000’. Then scramble north about 1.5 mi to the peak, going over (and descending, costing you about 650’ each way) Point 8466 (you can stay below and west of this summit, reducing the elevation loss and regain). This route can feature Class 4 or harder terrain but does not have to be any harder than Class 3.
Climbing groups with more than one car can arrange an excellent tour of Old Baldy by pairing the northern route with one of the others, an outing of up to about 12.5 miles. Without a second car, though, climbers face 16 road miles between trailheads. Alternatively, one could pair the southern and eastern routes for variety and have only a very short road hike between the starting and ending points.
About five miles north of Choteau, look for a west-heading road with signs indicating fishing and access to the Teton Pass Winter Sports Area. Take this road. 17 miles along, a road will branch left, cross the river, and become gravel. DO NOT take this road. Instead, stay straight (a sign will say you are on 144); the road will soon turn to gravel (well-maintained and probably passable even to a Corvette), enter the mountains, and take you through some gorgeous mountain scenery that almost no one outside Montana knows is there. The Cave Mountain Recreation Area is about 5.5 miles from the fork. Turn there and follow signs to the Middle Fork Teton (Route Creek Pass) Trailhead.
To reach the Our Lake trailhead, go left at the fork at 17 miles. Drive 10 miles to the road’s end and the trailhead.
You are in bear country and one of the best places in the world to encounter grizzlies. Know proper techniques for food storage, and know how to behave if you encounter any bear. Carrying pepper spray is a good idea, but make sure you have tested it and know how to use it. Above all, don't do anything stupid to or around the bears. Don't become a statistic and/or one of those idiots responsible for yet another dead bear.
Camping and Lodging
There is a campground at Cave Mountain Recreation Area; the fee is $6 per night. There are water pumps there, but I have never stayed there and do not know if they work. Less than a mile from the Our Lake Trailhead is another small Forest Service campground, Mill Falls. You can also backpack in, sleep in your car at the trailhead, or use a dispersed camping site nearby (free, and fewer flies).
You could also stay at a motel in Choteau. It should take you 45-60 minutes to drive from there to the trailhead.
Some Views from the Mountain