Madison County Highpoint Trip Report

Dates: July 8-9, 2001
Author: Ken Jones

Drive (Garns, Piney, Red Butte): Sorry, no mileage here. I got turned around some on the way in, and almost got washed away on the way out, so I didn't take any decent notes. These directions are from the map. I came from the north (you could also drive from the south, via the Kelly Mountain, Jefferson county HP, trailhead). I followed the road heading south from SR 33 down Canyon Creek (Canyon Creek Road in DeLorme, FR 218 on the Targhee National Forest map). There are several forks - use a map.

In Section 25 of T5N, R42E the route actually turns back to the north before heading west and south again. When the road enters the national forest, you have about 3 more miles of FR 218 before reaching the unsigned but major fork on the left of FR 226, which you will take. Follow it to its end at a trailhead (complete with restroom). There were sections of FR 218 just north of the national forest which were very muddy and slippery when I drove back out in a downpour. I wished at the time for 4WD, but didn't have it. I made it, carefully.

Hike: This is a long hike, and would not be the choice of routes if you wanted only Garns or only Piney. But it's the best way to Red Butte, and I think the best way to do all three together. The trails shown on the topo have been converted and/or rerouted to ATV trails. Generally speaking, the routes shown on the topo are there, but in places the route has been modified to make it less steep. The ATV trails are generally well maintained (if I'd had an ATV I'd have used it, and saved a lot of wear and tear on my body).

Leave the trailhead (east side of Section 13, near Moody Swamp, on the map) heading easterly. This piece is more circuitous and more northerly than shown on the map. In about a mile, reach a junction. Turn left (signed) down Hilton Creek. A right turn here will lead to Red Butte; this description returns that way. In something less than a mile go right (this is sooner than mapped) on a good trail up over the ridge that comes north from Red Butte. Follow the trail down into Thousand Springs Valley and across to the saddle northeast of Temple Peak. Here, an unmapped ATV trail heads north and east on a gradual climb to Blacktail Pass (the trail skips the drop to Castle Lake).

From Blacktail Pass follow the good ATV trail down to Blacktail Creek. Turn right at a "T" and head toward Piney Pass. Just before the pass, go left on a trail up Garns Mountain. This trail is somewhat lower quality than what you have traveled so far. At the top, you will have to leave the trail for a couple of hundred yards to reach the actual summit. The highest rock is an estimated 3 feet higher than the benchmark, which is mapped at 9016 feet. This gives an estimated high point elevation of 9019 feet.

Return to the last fork, and continue to near Piney Pass. Here, you'll leave the well-maintained ATV trails and pick up foot and cattle trails until you get back to Blacktail Pass. Go south to point 7960 and head west on the ridge to near point 8160+. I cut a steep corner here to pick up the trail again, and followed it to the saddle (7760+ feet) north of Piney Peak. From here, it's a steep scramble, mostly through open woods and meadows, to the open rocky summit. The Targhee NF map gives an elevation for Piney Peak of 9019 feet, which matches my best estimate for Garns Mountain. And I couldn't tell which was higher by sighting.

Return down to the saddle and follow the trail back to the north and then west-northwest along the ridge to Blacktail Pass. It gets obscure in spots, but mostly stays on or near the ridge. From Blacktail Pass, continue westerly to the western end of Thousand Springs Valley. From here the map shows a trail up Red Butte, but it is not maintained and is badly eroded. It would be a tough climb if it were wet, but wasn't too bad while dry. Haul yourself up to the summit of the butte. I think the highest point is the middle one with the marked elevation (8168 feet), but it's not very hard to get the other two while you're there. In fact, the (ATV) trail back to the car goes over the western one. Again, this trail is not quite as mapped, but if you follow it you will return to the junction at the top of Hilton Creek, about a mile from the car.

Estimated round trip was 4,700 feet of gain in 19 miles.