Ascent of Ajax Peak on 2019-08-03

Climber: Eric Higginbotham

Others in Party:Kendal Higginbotham
Date:Saturday, August 3, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:ATV
Peak:Ajax Peak
    Elevation:10028 ft / 3056 m

Ascent Trip Report

For a short hike, getting to Ajax Peak from Ajax Lake is pretty spectacular. If you want all the fun of hiking a peak but don't want to trudge through miles of forest to get to the final ascent, this is the peak for you. It's got the continental divide, two states, some easy bouldering, beautiful lakes, and great vistas of the Beaverheads and of at least three county highpoints. We used Montanaboy's excellent directions from his summitpost page to get to Ajax Lake. A word of caution regardng the last four miles of road into Ajax Lake. It gets narrow and a little rocky in places and there is a bridge out across a small creek. A four wheel drive vehicle is recommended or at least a high clearance vehicle. When you are a half mile from Ajax Lake the road leaves the creek bottom and narrows. This section of road is not recommended for full sized vehicles. If you have a midsized truck, like a Nissan frontier you could make it, but it would be better to park down at the creek and walk the last half mile up to the lake. Lots of side by sides and fourwheeler run the rough road into the lake so be careful on the road. We brought a four wheeler and unloaded at the half mile to go point and rode it up to the lake. Ajax Peak stares down at you from the lake and our route to the top resembled a giant V. We made our way around the northside of the lake then slowly gained elevation until we were at about 9,100 feet. We headed to a lttle pothole of water so Dori the dog could get a drink so we didn't have to share any of our water with her. The pothole was still full of snow but there was water around the edges. We looked to the southeast at the unnamed peak and the Ajax mine and thought about the men that moil for gold when the true gold is the incredible country. At the pothole there is a faint game trail that runs south, southwest to the top of the southeast ridge of Ajax Peak. Our trail crossed a small snowfield, and I believe this is the spot where Hank Williams Jr. fell while hiking Ajax Peak in 1975. I've included more information on his fall at the bottom. Once you ridge the ridge you are greeted with a view of Idaho and great cell service. I hopped back and forth across the watershed divide shouting, Montana, Idaho, until my daughter shoved me to the dirt saying, "We don't tolerate that kinda goofiness in Montana." (yes total Simpsons reference) We followed the ridge to the north losing just a touch of elevation into a saddle. All that remained was 600 feet of elevation gain on small boulders to the top. This part, although it looked intimidating when we first gained the ridge, was mastered easily using the safe and slow method, hike ten steps, stop, pick out your next ten steps, then hike ten more steps, repeat. The last ten yards to the summit the ridge narrowed to a dozen feet wide to add to the excitement and then we were there, a mere 1.39 miles from where we started and about 1,600 feet of elevation higher. To the east we spied Sawtooth and Tweedy Mountain. To the north and slightly east we could make out West Goat and Warren Peak. We tried but couldn't see Trappers Peak to the northwest. A fun hike, all the reward but not a grueling effort. We rested on top for about a half an hour then made our way slowly back down to the pothole. From the pothole we followed the game trail over to an unnamed lake then on to Albino Lake. We then went down through the old burn to the turnaround at Ajax Lake encountering a beautiful five point mule deer buck still in velvet along the way. Each time we have been to the lake we have seen other people fishing, but never have we seen anyone actually catch a fish, so while we have seen fish jump on the lake, the fishing doesn't appear to be great.
More on Hank. In August 1975 Hank Williams Jr. fell while climbing Ajax Peak. After scouring numerous old articles and watching several old interviews with Hank I have pieced together the following. Many news reports state that Hank and his companions, Dick and his son, were on Ajax Peak looking for goats. That may be true but in one interview Hank stated that they had been to the summit of Ajax peak and were on their way back down when he fell. Hank said they were crossing a snowfield and he slipped and plunged down the snowfield for about 500 feet. He struck a rock with his head, crushing his face and exposing his brain. This is why after the fall, Hank has a beard, hat, and sunglasses, to hide the scars. Since the game trail that traverses from the pothole to the southeast ridge of Ajax crosses a snowfield at around 9,100 feet of elevation that puts you about five to six hundred feet above Ajax Lake. I think this is the most likely spot of the fall. When we hiked Ajax this snowfield was almost all melted, but maybe in 1975 there was more snow. Dick reached Hank, wrapped his head in a shirt,left his son with Hank and went for help. The son stayed with Hank and kept him awake by talking to him non stop for three hours and Hank credits this with him not letting himself go and dying. A friend who knows the son, said he was told that Dick wrecked his jeep while driving out to Wisdom for help. Eventually Dick met a Forest Service employee with a radio and they got a helicopter to go in to pick up Hank. Hank was flown, first by helicopter then by plane, to a hospital in Missoula Montana.
Montanaboy, the author of the Ajax Peak summitpost page, died while hiking, combined that with Hank's fall on Ajax and I wanted to include the story as cautionary tale for all of us that enjoy hiking. So please no comments on Hank's politics, let's focus on doing our best to be safe while hiking.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Ajax Peak from Ajax Lake (2019-08-03). Photo by Eric Higginbotham.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1795 ft / 546 m
    Extra Gain:147 ft / 44 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2.8 mi / 4.5 km
    Route:Southeast ridge
    Trailhead:Ajax Lake  8527 ft / 2599 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Clear, Sunny, with 8 mph breeze
Ascent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 54 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Eric Higginbotham
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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