Jefferson County Highpoint Trip Report

Crow Peak (9,420 feet)

Date: May 18, 2007
Author: Jim Perkins

From Helena, MT, take I-15 South about 27 miles to the Boulder/Hwy 69 exit (MM 164). Stay on Hwy 69 South for about 7.4 miles to the green sign for "Elkhorn 12 miles", just past MM 32. Turn left, cross the river, and stay on Lower Valley Road to Elkhorn Road for about 8 miles to the Deer Lodge National Forest sign. (Note that FR 258 = Elkhorn Road. Follow signs to the Elkhorns.) Proceed another 3.6 miles to the town of Elkhorn. Take some ghost town photos here. Way Cool!

At this point, there are a few choices for an approach. My personal opinion? I would not recommend Trail 75 to Crow Peak if you are interested in bagging both Crow and Elkhorn, as this trail takes a guy way, way, way to the East of both peaks. This is experience speaking. I instead recommend following "Iron Mine/Muskrat Creek Trail #72".

For Trail #75 and an East Approach, drive to the Elkhorn Cemetery but stay to the left of the cemetery road and go back on the narrow road a few miles, as far as the creek. (Or farther if you have an ATV!) Park under the trees here at the creek, hike across the creek, which maybe dry in the summer/fall, and you will see a small, square sign - "Crow Peak, Trail #75" and a larger, brown, NF sign - "Leslie Lake TH - 3, Jct Glenwood Lake Trail #131 - 4". The trail is an old mining road that’s fairly steep but well-defined.

I cut off the road at around three miles at the next sign for Trail #131 and, after battling rotten snow (and casting dispersions at Mr. Worth’s write up) made the ridge. (By the way, I’m not sure where this mining road ends.)

I had started at around 4 pm and it was now 6 with dark coming around 9:30. And, I still had about 1.5 to 2 miles to go to make Crow with plenty of snow in the way. So, I went retro to return the next day. (My apologies to Mr. Worth are forthcoming. Please keep reading.)

The following day, I decided to approach from the West, which makes much more sense when you look carefully at the map. Therefore, I drove to the big, multidirectional sign at the north end of "town" and turned left toward the Iron Mine/Muskrat Creek Trail #72. I proceeded 0.2 mile to the Trail #72 turn off, went another 0.6 mile up this marginal road for a 2WD to the NF sign for Trail #72: "Iron Mine - 3 miles, Jct Muskrat #72 - 4 miles", then another 0.3 mile and parked as that ended my comfort level with the Impala. Good luck going too much farther than this.

The West Approach also started on an old, somewhat steep, mining road. You will pass one, small boulder field strewn with DARK-colored boulders and then a 2nd, larger, LIGHT-colored boulder field at about 1.35 miles from the NF sign for Trail #72. (REMEMBER THIS BOULDER FIELD!) At a little over 2 miles, I slipped into my snowshoes. At about 2.5 miles, I began to retract everything I had said about Mr. Worth the day before. (Forgive me, Tim!)

And, when I sunk waist deep into more rotten snow and I could not free my left snowshoe for almost three minutes, I really started asking for forgiveness. For future reference, one’s body heat actually turns the rotten, soft snow to ice within seconds and tenaciously encapsulates the unfortunate body part. Shoveling out around the stuck extremity, removing the snowshoe, amputation, 9-1-1, ... are all considerations. Thankfully, shoveling and staying calm worked this time.

Having finally extricated myself, I went down hill to the FS green Dodge, Ranger truck and cabin, and pretty much conceded, as in quit, to cash it in. "Too much rotten snow, not enough daylight, so much energy expended, whah, whaah, whaaah!" And then, the epiphany.

As I looked uphill from here I saw a green strip between the trees. I challenged myself to at least go until I ran out of obvious green. I also realized that, if I removed my shoes, I could bull through the steep trees much easier, albeit a little crunchy. And, after about 30 minutes, I was in steep scree/talus and loving it! Loving it more than encapsulating snow, that’s for sure!

From here, I made Elkhorn, then whahed some more as I saw Crow 1.25 miles farther with a 500 foot or so elevation loss and regain. And with more snow I might add! Anyway, made Crow after 3 hours and 26 minutes of hard work. Got back to Elkhorn and went straight down left through the scree, replete with cairns, to the beautiful grassy meadow, a veritable Elysian Field. WOW, did that feel good, even though I was completely breaking my rule of always following my waypoints back down!

Then, at the far SW end of the meadow, I started about a mile trek through a series of honking big boulders. (Reminded me of Katahdin in Maine.) And, as though the Lord wanted to remind me that he always hears my prayers, I popped out back on the Trail #72 at the LIGHT-colored boulder field! And, it was the easiest down: no deadfall, fun bouldering, minimal snow, not too steep, and I was back at the car from Crow’s Peak in 2 hours, 31 minutes. SWEEEEEEEET! (Your love is overwhelming toward me, Father!)

In summary, Trail #75 - Crow Peak (East Approach) and the Iron Mine Trail (West Approach) are probably the same amount of roundtrip miles and elevation gain. Both drives to the trailhead are equally straight forward with similar road conditions. The Iron Mine Trail is more difficult with snow, in my opinion, to make the summit. However, the West approach gets you two peaks. But, if you take the LIGHT-colored boulder field on the way up ...