Hyalite Canyon Thru-Hike | September 8th & 9th

In the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in some amazing places that I will always appreciate. Although it’s coming to an end, my time in Montana, unsurprisingly, has been no exception. The beauty of this place, along with the abundance of open public space, makes it difficult to part with. These last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on the highlights of my time spent here but also, all of the things I wasn’t able to get to.

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            One of these things was a good ole fashion thru-hike. September is possibly my favorite month for hiking and camping anyway, so I pitched the idea to Dan who was immediately in. After spending so much of our winter and summer in Hyalite Canyon, it only seemed right that we hike around there one last time. We picked out a neat little route that would take us on a roughly 16-18 mile journey over Mount Blackmore, right by Alex Lowe Peak, and finally following Cottonwood Creek all the way to the South Cottonwood Canyon Trailhead. After taking a relaxing morning and dropping off my car at the finish, we arrived at the trailhead of Mount Blackmore around noon. If I could pick one trail I’ve become very familiar with in Montana, it’s the trail up to Mount Blackmore. It’s a welcoming trail surrounded by lichen covered trees and gentle creeks. Having spent so much time on this trail in the snow, it’s always a trip seeing the lines we would ski in the winter without any snow on them. During our planning, Dan and I purposely left it fairly open-ended. We had a route picked out which would bring us close to some potentially serious objectives but we wanted to play it by ear and see what we were up for once we got there.

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            Eventually, we were approaching the saddle that separated Mount Blackmore and Elephant Mountain. We were making good time and while our path took us over the saddle and into the next valley, we had agreed that Blackmore was too close to not summit. I hadn’t been on top during the summer and it would have been Dan’s first time up there altogether. However, the weather had other plans and almost immediately after we dropped our packs to head for the summit, a clap of thunder echoed from over Elephant. Before we could say anything there was another boom of thunder and we were out of there and into the valley where we would camp for the night.

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            Of course, once we got into the valley, about 2,000 vertical feet below Blackmore, the little bit of rain there was had cleared and there was no more thunder. We were still feeling optimistic though. The extra time we had allowed us to find an ideal campsite. It was almost overwhelming; each spot we came across was better than the last. Finally, we found a small pond with tons of open, level ground at the base of one of the peaks. I went for a dip, set up camp then ate some freeze-dried meals, a personal favorite.

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             In the morning, still unsure with what we wanted to do with our day besides hike out, we took a late morning and weighed our options. Since we didn’t have a chance to summit Blackmore, we were eyeing Alex Lowe Peak across the valley. There’s no official trial to the summit or any route we could spot that wouldn’t include any potentially sketchy scrambling. As we broke camp and started hiking, we stuck to our laissez faire approach and continued to say, “let’s stop there and see what we think” all the way to the base of the mountain.

            Upon reaching the base we dropped our packs and took a look at the ridge leading to the summit and figured that if we could get there then the summit would be cake. The only issue, was actually getting there. As we got closer made it clear there still wasn’t any real easy way up, but it definitely wasn’t impossible so we figured what the hell. We began to walk up the steep slope and before long we were basically crawling. We also made sure to not follow each other at any point since what we were scrambling up was merely loose rocks and dust with some grass in between.

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             I’d be lying if I said the last portion of the climb wasn’t sketchy. Not because of any steep pitch or exposure, but again because everything was loose and sliding or breaking off when we climbed up it. Each step or hold we reached for had to undergo a quick test to see if it could even hold our weight. More often than we’d like, the rock would pop out and tumble down the slope.

            Despite some sketchy rock, we made our way up to the top of the ridge and looking ahead didn’t look any worse than what we just came up so we kept going. To our surprise, we hit the summit in less than five minutes from there. Sitting at the top was a cairn with some wheathered Himalayan prayer flags secured around it, which we assumed was to commemorate the peak’s namesake, Alex Lowe. After being on this mountain in both the winter and the summer, it’s hard to think of many others that have such a fitting name. It only makes sense that such a remote peak with no easy way up it has been named after one of the greatest mountaineers who ever lived.

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             Now that we had bagged a peak, Dan and I were feeling even more satisfied with our trip. Not only did we now have to make our way down the sketchy loose rock we just came up, but we also had to hike about 12 miles back to my car at the other trailhead. The way down proved to be less scary than we had thought and only 45 minutes after summiting we were back at our bags and heading down the canyon.

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             One of my favorite aspects of Montana is the incredible diversity of its geography within such small areas. On our walk back to the trailhead we walked through alpine meadows, lush forests, and dry grasslands, all while occasionally crossing over creek that we watched expand from our campsite as more tributaries emptied into it from the high peaks above us.

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             While I still have some things I never got around to doing out here, this last adventure was the perfect thing to end on. Besides, having adventures left undone means I’ll have to come back for them someday.

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