Ascent of Wilson Peak on 2015-08-14

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, August 14, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Wilson Peak
    Elevation:10705 ft / 3262 m

Ascent Trip Report

This peak falls into the somewhat unusual combo of a rugged Western US county high point requiring major effort, but that is also a relatively unknown low-prominence peak. For these reasons, a climb of Wilson Peak will usually offer remarkable solitude, despite being immediately adjacent the bustling Big Sky/Lone Peak resort area. I can't think of many others outside of hard-core county highpointers who would do this climb.

The Dudley Creek trailhead is a short but slightly scary drive (a little bit of clearance will help) on a narrow road that climbs up from US 191 on a dangerous switchback and then goes up through forest to a small parking area on the right. Private homes on the road ahead prohibit further vehicle access. I stared hiking at 8:35 AM, a pretty late start given the clouds that were building. I had to hike the road for a half mile, past houses, and the actual trail began off to the left, just before the driveway of the last house.

The trail was very well maintained and easy hiking for about 4 miles, crossing Dudley Creek and its tributaries a few times. There is one steep uphill stretch before a traverse took me to small, pretty Dudley Lake. This would be a pleasant destination for hikers, but probably more effort than most would do for the scenery. I took a rest there at about 11 AM.

I decided to do a traverse of Wilson Peak, up the south ridge and down the northeast ridge. There are no trails above Dudley Lake, but the going is mostly easy in the upper bowls of the valley, over meadow, marsh, open forest, and talus. I hiked up to a lake basin below a col in the south ridge, and grunted up 400' of steep meadow and rock to the ridge pretty easily. However, the south ridge was a bit more than I bargained for. Lots of bumps and gendarmes blocked progress, and a good amount of class 3 scrambling was needed to surmount them or go around them. There was always an option to lose hundreds of feet on sketchy gravel and talus to circumvent the gendarmes, but I invariably chose to stay high and take my chances with scrambling on the solid rock.

The last tower on the south ridge, just before the final summit slope, required a steep downclimb that might have been class 4 on steep slabs. The weather had been deteriorating a bit, and heavy clouds were building overhead. I was happy to climb up the loose talus of the final summit pyramid and make the top at 12:35 PM, almost exactly 4 hours after leaving the car.

The summit was very pointy and offered great views of Lone Peak and the surrounding area. There was no register. I started to have a snack but then it started raining lightly and the wind picked up. So I quickly left, intent on finding a quicker and easier way down. First I retraced my steps down towards the south ridge, but very soon I hooked across the SE face of the summit area and sidehilled on gentle terrain towards the NE ridge.

I never heard thunder but it was very ominous out, with dark clouds, strong wind, and intermittent rain, so I avoided the ridge and traversed a while and then headed downhill. My route was not the best, I had to cross some areas of gravel on slippery hardpan and climb down loose scree, but it worked out OK. With better weather I would recommend staying on the crest of the ridge for best footing.

I made it to the grassy meadows of the Dudley Lake valley and easily made my way back to the lake itself, where I had my postponed summit lunch. Then it was a two hour grind (2:05 to 4:05 PM) down the pleasant trail back to the car. I saw no one all day above US 191. Most hikers will want to ascend and descend the NE ridge of the peak, the S ridge is definitely more alpine in nature.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The rugged south ridge of Wilson Peak, Montana features some class 3 scrambling over gendarmes (2015-08-14).
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4495 ft / 1370 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4495 ft / 1369 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.9 mi / 20.8 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3+
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Windy, Overcast
Light rain, threatening
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4495 ft / 1370 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4345 ft / 1324 m; Extra: 150 ft / 45m
    Loss on way in:150 ft / 45 m
    Distance:6.6 mi / 10.6 km
    Route:S Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Dudley Creek TH  6360 ft / 1938 m
    Time:4 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4345 ft / 1324 m
    Distance:6.3 mi / 10.2 km
    Route:E Ridge Slopes
    End Trailhead:6360 ft / 1938 m
    Time:3 Hours 20 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
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.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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