Sitting very close to the north side of Bass Lake, this is one of the Bitterroot peaks with a summit above 9,000 feet – amazingly it was never “officially” named. Until that is remedied sometime in the future, we’ll make do with the moniker provided by a few local climbers, Stormy Joe – it does seam to roll off the tongue more easily than “Point 9003.”
Almost 800 feet above the saddle on the ridge connecting this peak to Saint Joseph, the loftiness of this mountain’s summit provides spectacular views, not only of the Bass Creek Drainage, but most of the surrounding wilderness.
The area around Bass Lake is very popular with weekend backpackers and trout fishermen. The lake sits in a lush and extremely beautiful wilderness cirque surrounded by many peaks over 8,500'. Stormy Joe is just one of those peaks. For an adventuresome climber, spending a few days camped by the lake while making attempts at the surrounding summits, could hardly be beat.
From US HWY 93, turn west onto Bass Creek Road which is about 4 miles south of Florence, MT.
Go about 2.5 miles to the Charles Waters Memorial Campground. Go through (or around) the campground to where the pavement ends west end of the campground. There is parking here for the Bass Creek Trailhead.
An outhouse is available nearby in the campground.
Bass Creek is named for D. C. Bass, who settled on the creek in 1864. He built the first irrigation ditch in Montana and operated on of the first two sawmills in the state. The mill was on Kootenai Creek (once named Mill Creek). The lake - dammed in 1898 - was named for the creek.
Area Restrictions (Red tape)At about 2.5 miles from the trailhead you pass into an official wilderness area, The Selway-Bitterroot. All wilderness rules and regulations apply.
CampingIn addition to the Charles Waters Memorial Campground, there are a couple of spots between the trailhead and the lake where people have established camps in the past. However, better spots are at the lake, the best (by far) being near the southern end of the lake.
Approach – Trailhead to a Camp at the South End of Bass Lake
The trail leaves from the west end of the Charles Waters Memorial Campground and heads west on a gradual incline for a short distance before turning to follow Bass Creek to the northwest.
Staying close to the creek as it meanders in a westerly direction, the trail reaches a junction in about 2.75 miles (46.58291 N / 114.19676 W – elevation 4,660’). Take the signed trail to the right (north). The other (left) trail follows the old roadbed and soon fords the stream. It now appears to be used mainly by stock animals.
Continue on this rather new section of trail and its many switchbacks which allow for a more gradual incline than did the old road.
Approximately 4.3 miles from the trailhead (46.58465 N / 114.21911 W – elevation 5,650’), the trail rejoins the old roadbed. Pay close attention to this junction. Although it is signed, it is quite easily missed during the return trip. Remember its location.
As the trail continues its track to the west-northwest, it passes through virgin stands of timber before allowing better views of the surrounding mountains and ridges when it gets closer to the lake.
Progressing on a long traverse along the south side of Saint Joseph Peak, those on the trail are offered great views of a large meadow and the high country surrounding the cirque which contains Bass Lake and the falls issuing from its outlet.
Just under eight miles from the trailhead, the trail finally climbs to a spot slightly above and north of the damn. From this spot one gets the first views of Bass Lake.
The trail continues around the north side of the lake before turning southwest to approximately follow the shoreline of the lake.
At the northern-most point of the trail is a junction (46.59554 N / 114.29161 W – elevation 7,067’) with the no-longer-maintained trail which goes north over the pass and along the South Fork of Lolo Creek. This old trail to the pass is used to reach the saddle below Stormy Joe.
Campsites are available at several places between the trail and the lake as it advances around the lake. However, the best are near the south end of the lake, almost 9 miles from the trailhead. I strongly suggest hiking the extra distance to reach the these sites. You won’t be sorry.
Climbers’ Route – Base Camp to the Summit
From a base-camp near the south end of Bass Lake, hike along the Bass Creek Trail as it proceeds first north then northeast.
Just before the trail begins to swing to the southeast, at the northern-most point of the trail, is the junction (46.59554 N / 114.29161 W – elevation 7,067’) with the no-longer-maintained trail over the pass and to the saddle on the west ridge of Stormy Joe.
Head north up the old trail – kept open and in pretty good shape by back-country through-hikers – as it switches back and forth up to the saddle.
Once on the ridge-crest, head northeast up the ridge.
I found that staying just left (northwest) of the crest close to the saddle allowed for more simple climbing than the right (southeast) side or than staying on the ridge-crest. The exact path you take to the summit is up to you; however, if you attempt to stay right on the ridge-crest during your climb, it requires at least Class 3 climbing. Meandering from one side to the other, as conditions require, will keep climbing difficulty to Class 2+.
Descend by reversing this route to your point of beginning.
When To GoAlthough some hardy souls do make it to the summit of Stormy Joe during the winter, the best time to go is after the snow has melted off the trail and the lake has thawed. The lake is full of cut-throat trout -- they attack the presentations of fly fishermen (and women), more readily than those dropped through the ice!
Essential GearA person overflowing with energy can make it from the trialhead (and back) to the summit in one day, and will only need the standard hiking gear plus plenty to eat and drink. The rest of us will require camping gear, too.