Ascent of High Peak on 2016-06-12

Climber: Eric Higginbotham

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, June 12, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:High Peak
    Elevation:8540 ft / 2602 m

Ascent Trip Report

High Peak and Casey Peak aren't as dramatic or sexy as some of the other peaks I've climbed. They're more like the girl next-door peaks. They are in some pretty country and their lower elevation means when the prom queen peaks are still covered in snow you can get in a great hike on these peaks. To get to the peaks let's start at Boulder Montana and head north on Interstate 15 and take exit 187 at Montana City. At the end of the off ramp, zero out your trip odometer, all driving distances are from this point in space. Keep in mind these distances are from my old ford truck with bald tires and treat them as guidelines. Turn right onto MT518 then after only 0.19 miles turn right onto Johns Street. Stay on this road and at the bottom of the hill cross a small bridge at 0.68 miles. Now the road is called McClellan Creek Rd. Continue on this road as it winds through the suburbs known as Montana City. At 2.9 miles the pavement ends and at 3.8 miles you enter National Forest. At 4.3 miles turn right onto Strawberry Lookout Road. At 5.9 miles the road forks, keep to the left on the lower fork as the upper fork goes to Strawberry Mountain lookout. At 8.3 miles turn left onto Forest Service Road 4014. Don't let the rough start to this road scare you, it gets better. I've seen many Subaru's and horse trailers at the trailhead. At 9.0 miles, turn right into the parking area for the Willard Creek trailhead. This is a good time to make some jokes about the movie Apocalypse Now as you decide where to park and unload your gear.
From here follow the Willard Creek trail for three quarters of a mile, most of which is along an old road. The trail will start downhill, make sure to keep to the trail on your left. The main trail is on the north side of Willard Creek. This section of the trail even has little metal mile markers posted along it in tenths of miles. Follow Willard Creek trail until in drops into the McClellan Creek drainage, approximately 1.95 miles from the trailhead. Here you will find some picnic tables placed here by the Forest Service. I guess for people to pause and admire what happens when you fail to put out a wildfire. This drainage burned about 25 years ago and there is a lot of burned tree downfall and in other places very tight stands of lodgepole pine. A few words of caution about this drainage, this is where I go to bear hunt, so while there isn't supposed to be any grizzlies in this area, there are black bear. Also, there are snakes along the creek, including rattlesnakes, and it is the tick capital of Montana. My personal records are 1 bear, 3 snakes (1 rattlesnake), and 7 ticks. Although I didn't discover the ticks until I was home sitting on my couch. I also had a gentleman who hunts elk in the drainage in the autumn tell me about seeing mountain lion tracks following his footprints in the snow when returning back to his campsite. So bring lots of bug dope to keep the ticks away, your favorite bear deterrent, and watch where you step.
From the picnic tables find a down log to cross the creek, there are several ,so pick one to fit your level of skill. Across the creek is the junction with McClellan Creek trail. Turn right, heading south along the creek, and at 2.5 miles from the trailhead you reach where Casey Mountain trail splits off from McClellan Creek Trail. Those interested in just climbing Casey Peak can turn left here, heading east, and follow the trail to Casey Mountain. Both McClellan Creek trail and Casey Peak trail are very well maintained, done mostly by those people with horse trailers at the trailhead, so please give all equestrians the right of way.
For my trip I chose to climb High Peak first, so I continued on up McClellan Creek Trail until roughly 46°25'20.60"N, 111°51'35.82"W about 3.27 miles from the trailhead. At this point, I encountered two middle-aged schoolteachers from local elementary school. They informed me they were studying the mating rituals of the sub-alpine tweety bird. They suggested that if I came back to their tent they would give me a demonstration but I explained I had a mountain to climb.
So, from the coordinates listed above head east up the ridge towards High Peak. There is no trail again until you reach Casey Peak. Route finding through the downed logs, thick birch, and lodgepole can be a little challenging at times but just when you think it's getting too thick, it will open up for some easy walking. Stay on this ridge until you reach High Peak about 4.9 miles from the trailhead. There are two summits on High Peak, when I was there the snow had drifted between the two points and was actually higher than either of the open rocky points. High Peak offers great views of Crow Peak (Jefferson MT County Highpoint) and Elkhorn Peak to the south. I had read somewhere that High Peak and Casey Peak were the third and fourth highest peaks in the Elkhorn Mountains, so imagine my surprise when I spotted a peak about 200 feet higher elevation than High Peak to the southeast. I guess I have another peak to climb next year.
From High Peak, head northeast along the saddle over to Casey Peak, about 1.75 miles. This saddle has lots of downed trees to wind your way around and an easy hike up to the top of Casey Peak, this involves a loss and gain of about 600 feet of elevation. Casey Peak has outrageous views of the Helena Valley to the north and Canyon Ferry Reservoir to the east. There is also the remains of a fire lookout. The dog and I hunkered down to watch a lonely thunderhead float above Canyon Ferry Reservoir and split a can of sardines and crackers. When you're done with the view, head west down the ridge starting at the old lookout. Willard Creek should be directly below. The trail will switch back down the side of the mountain gradually shifting around the mountain until you're heading north. Just when you think you're on the wrong trail, you will connect with the Montgomery Park trail. Turn left, heading east again until you drop off Casey Peak and join the McClellan Creek Trail. Finally, you have looped back onto your original route and it is only 2.5 miles to the truck and about 400 feet of elevation gain to get to the trailhead. See the attached GPS track of the trip. Good luck and have fun on these girl next-door peaks.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Going up the west ridge of High Peak (2016-06-12). Photo by Eric Higginbotham.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3328 ft / 1014 m
    Total Elevation Loss:444 ft / 135 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Mostly Sunny but cool
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3328 ft / 1014 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2884 ft / 879 m; Extra: 444 ft / 135m
    Loss on way in:444 ft / 135 m
    Distance:5.2 mi / 8.3 km
    Route:Willard Creek Trail, McClellan Creek Trail, west r
    Start Trailhead:Willard Creek Trailhead  5656 ft / 1723 m
    Time:3 Hours 57 Minutes
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: High then Casey Peak

Complete Trip Sequence:
1High Peak2016-06-123328 ft / 1014 m
2Casey Peak2016-06-121202 ft / 366 m
Total Trip Gain: 4530 ft / 1380 m    Total Trip Loss: 4540 ft / 1383 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Eric Higginbotham
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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