Ascent of Northwest Peak on 2016-08-16

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Northwest Peak
    Elevation:7705 ft / 2348 m

Ascent Trip Report

Not counting peaks with roads to the summit, Northwest Peak is quite possibly the easiest hike among the top 100 peaks in the 48 contiguous US states by prominence. A well-maintained 2.3 mile trail gains only 1600 feet to the scenic, open, talus-field summit with wide-ranging views.

However, when I visited in August 2016, the trailhead was unsigned and hard to find--I drove by it twice, the first time because my guidebook said it was at 6300 feet (real elevation is 6120 feet) and the second time because the trail can't be seen well when driving downhill. The third time I spied a tiny white "Pack it in, pack it out" sign on a post, the only signage. The parking area is a wide spot in the road on the other side. Use my GPS waypoint in the attached track to find this trailhead.

This corner of Montana is isolated and remote. I encountered a couple people in my search for the trailhead, but neither a friendly Chinese camper in a Jeep near Hawkins Lake, nor a guy and his wife in a pickup, had ever heard of Northwest Peak, despite several signs on the long access road pointing to the "Northwest Peak Scenic Area".

There is an old forest cabin on the summit that local volunteers keep tidied up and repaired, and it is apparently open to the public for sleeping or other uses. A logbook inside indicates that about 1 or 2 parties per week make it up there in summer, amazingly few considering the short trail access. Many of the entries are from through-hikers on the "Pacific Northwest Trail" (PNT), a relatively new addition to America's roster of long-distance footpaths.

My Benchmark atlas said that Road 338 (Pete Creek Road) was paved for 10 miles starting from Route 508, so I was disappointed when it started out as gravel. But after a few miles, oddly, it does turn to pavement for a good long stretch. Still, the trailhead is a long drive from anywhere. I know from experience that past the unsigned trailhead that the road deteriorates quite a bit. If you start going downhill, you have gone too far.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Lookout cabin on the talus of Northwest Peak (2016-08-16).
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1585 ft / 483 m
    Round-Trip Distance:4.6 mi / 7.4 km
    Route:Northwest Peak Tr
    Trailhead:NF 338  6120 ft / 1865 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Clear
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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