Old Stormy

Page Type
Montana, United States, North America
Mountaineering, Scrambling
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
8203 ft / 2500 m
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Old Stormy
Created On: Jul 7, 2010
Last Edited On: Nov 2, 2010



Viewed from Ranger Point, Old Stormy (right) just looks like a bump on Ranger Peak's east ridge

How this remote highpoint received its name is unknown to me, though I suspect it’s related to its apparent prominence to those heading south on the pack trail – now abandoned – which runs along the South Fork of Storm Creek (in Idaho) toward Stormy Pass. No doubt Stormy Pass was also named because of its geographic relationship to Storm Creek.

Though not an especially lofty highpoint, this peak’s name and placement above an only-recently abandoned pass suggest an historical significance. To many that is not reason enough to expend any effort to reach its summit; however I should not be counted among those so inclined, as one of the reasons I climb in the Bitterroots is because, in subtle ways that activity yields information about the history of the area, human and otherwise.

A small waterfalls on Big Creek
Base-Camp near the dam on Big Creek Lakes

If you're not a "fitness god", reaching this summit will be a multi-day affair. Camping by the very picturesque and remote Big Creek Lakes for a day or two only enhances the experience of reaching this wilderness summit.

The trial to Big Creek Lakes is heavily used by area horsemen and women, especially during weekends. In fact, the local chapter of the Back-Country Horsemen do a lot of work (annually) on this and other Bitterroot stock trails to keep them in good condition. Thanks!

Getting There

These Class 4 crags guard the ridge
between Ranger Peak and Old Stormy
The Big Creek Trailhead provides the easiest access to this summit.

From the Stevensville turnoff on Hwy 93, drive south for 5.5 miles to Big Creek Road. (This junction, with its flashing yellow light, is also known as Bell Crossing.)

Turn right (west) onto the gravel Big Creek Road, then follow the signs to the Big Creek trailhead, approximately 4.5 miles from Hwy 93.

Less than a half mile from Hwy 93, the road makes a couple of 90 degree turns (right then left – north then west) before continuing for another mile where it reaches FR 738.

Proceed northwest on FR 738, then, at about three miles from Hwy 93, the road crosses the old Curlew Mine (open-pit) before continuing to a junction.

At the junction, bear to the right (northwest) and follow the road a short distance to its end.

The trailhead has an outhouse, several picnic tables, and lots of room for parking.

Area Restrictions (Red tape)

Just under 1.5 miles from the trailhead you pass into an official wilderness area, The Selway-Bitterroot. All wilderness rules and regulations apply.


There is no camping at the trailhead for this route. However, there are some truly superb sites at Big Creek Lakes, both near the dam and along the western shore.

There are also established campsites 5 miles in along the trail at "Teepee Rock."

Although the trail-side sites are more than adequate, I highly recommend camping at the lakes.

The Route

The easiest route begins along the trail along the west side of Big Creek Lakes and enters the upper portion of the cirque before ascending the south face to reach the summit. There is some serious bushwhacking at the beginning of the off-trail section of the track, but it doesn’t last unbearably long. Climbing is no more difficult than Class 2+.

Trailhead to Base-Camp
Route Type – Hike
Class Level – Class 1
Effort Required – Moderate
Elevation of Lake – 5,865’’
Elevation Gain – 3,303’ (rt - base-camp at Big Creek Lakes)
Distance – 17.4 Miles (rt - base-camp at Big Creek Lakes)
Base-Camp to Summit
Route Type – Scramble
Class Level – Class 2+
Effort Required – Moderate
Summit Elevation – 8,203’
Elevation Gain – 2,520’ (rt - base-camp at Big Creek Lakes)
Distance – 4.5 Miles (rt - base-camp at Big Creek Lakes)

Approach – Trailhead to a Camp Near the Dam on Big Creek Lakes

Looking down Ranger Peak's east ridge at Old Stormy
From the trailhead proceed along the trail as it heads west into the canyon, basically following Big Creek. The trail crosses a pack bridge about 1.5 miles form the trailhead, then crosses Saint Mary Creek around 3 miles in.

Just over 5 miles from the trailhead, the trail passes Teepee Rock, a huge boulder on the right (north) side of the trail (46.48957 N / 114. 30458 W – elevation 4,890’). There are several campsites in this area.

Over the next couple of miles the trail uses rustic log bridges to cross a mountain stream, Beaver Creek, and Big Creek.

The track forks at the South Big Creek Trail (46.48683 N / 114.34842 W – elevation 5,500’), 7.9 miles from the trailhead. Some may find it interesting that this pack trail leading south to South Fork Lake, was cleared during 2009 for the first time in ten years.

The view of Ranger Peak from Old Stormy's summit

Less than one mile after the trail junction, the track finally reaches the outlet of Big Creek Lakes.

There are several nice campsites close to the dam end of the lakes; however, the best sites are farther down the west side of the lake near a small peninsula. But, because there is a small grassy meadow close by – perfect for grazing livestock – these camping spots are almost always occupied by stock users.

Climbers’ Route – Base Camp to the Summit

Sky Pilot during the ascent

Beginning from the area of the dam on Big Creek Lakes – the most likely place you’ll be able to find an empty campsite – head northwest then west on the trail around the north end of the lake.

Just where the trail turns to the south (46.49673 N / 114.36621 W – elevation 5,950’), go off-trail and bushwhack your way uphill through the foliage and over sections of slab-granite. There is no “perfect” way through this section of the route. Everyone has to pick a line and just “go for it.”:

Eventually you will break out of the thick brush and foliage and enter an area of grass and groves of trees, somewhere around an elevation of 6,600’. You will also be in the neighborhood of the stream which drains this cirque.

Keep hiking upward to the west. Do not follow the stream as it curves to the south and away from your desired destination.

Around an elevation of 7,150’ you will enter a marshy area. Look to the north and study the south face of Old Stormy. Because you’re so close to the face, it’s difficult to discern the actual summit; however to the right (east) of the summit the ridge is very craggy, while to the left (west) the ridge appears much smoother. You may also be able to distinguish a small saddle just left (west) of the summit. This saddle is what you want to aim for while climbing the face.

Pick a line up through the talus, scree, and Beargrass and begin climbing northward toward the crest of the ridge. You may find it easier to complete this 1,000’ climb if you incorporate small switchbacks as you proceed, moving upward along small ledges and animal trails as you go. Mountain Goats live in this area and they’re quite good at finding the easiest routes up and down slopes. If you’re lucky, you’ll periodically run across their trails. Use them.

Once you reach the saddle, turn right (east) and hike uphill the short distance to the summit. Though small, one of the more interesting summit cairns in the Bitterroots is there to greet you.

Descend by reversing this route to the lakes and on to the trailhead.

Creeping Oregon Grape with Fruit
Seed-Heads of the Pasque flower

When To Go

It’s possible to visit this summit at any time of the year. But the best time is during the summer and fall. I especially like to go late in the season after the mosquitoes and other biting bugs have mostly disappeared.

Essential Gear

Other than standard hiking gear, nothing special is required to reach this summit. However, it is much more enjoyable to camp near the Big Creek Lakes and make this a multi-day outing. In fact, your best bet is to include ascents of Ranger Point and Ranger Peak and turn it into a three-day affair.

The view from near the south end of Big Creek Lakes

Route Statistics

Summit – 8,203’

Gain – 5,823’
(total round trip)

Distance – 21.9 miles
(total round trip)