Madison County Highpoint Trip Report

Hilgard Peak (11,316 ft)

Date: August 11, 2007
Author: Jim Perkins

Directions to Trailhead: From I-90, take X-256 (Highway 359) or X-278 (Highway 2) and connect with Highway 278 south toward Yellowstone Park. Donít confuse the Beaver Creek Campground with the Beaver Creek Road. Beaver Creek Road is about two miles east of the campround. Beaver Creek Road is good dirt for 3.2 miles to the #222 Trailhead to Avalanche Lake. I guess if you pass the small cabin, then you have gone 0.25 mile too far. The parking area was obvious in the daylight.

Take the Avalanche Lake Trail five miles to the Lake. This is a friendly trail with mild gain to the Lake. Lots of shade for the return trip. Just before you reach the Lake, you will cross a marsh bridge and stream. Look upstream and slightly to your right (about 2 oíclock) and you will see the North Ridge you want. The spot you want has the "fine grind" rock at the top, not the boulders. I took the grassiest section I could find that put me at the top of this North ridge. Thereís also a trail on the north side of the lake that fades out after about a half mile from the main trail.

Once you ridge out, look for the farthest peak to the northeast and thatís the distinct Hilgard Peak at 11,310 feet. By the way, there is an excellent picture of Hilgard here. Now, the fun begins as you drop 500 feet into a boulder field and crest two more minor ridges. I took different ways up and down, so I donít think thereís a wrong answer as long as you keep the prime objective in your sights. Remember to avoid loose stuff on the way up and enjoy it on the way down.

Once I got to Eglise Lake, which you wonít see until itís an afterthought, I saw a mountain goat wave and shout to me, "Hey, Dude, come on up. The viewís great!" I guess it could have been the altitude. Anyway, I made the base of the East Ridge, unloaded my pack non-essentials (basically everything except my camera, water, and toothbrush) and started the last 300 feet. I found that putting up cairns every 25 feet or so took my mind off the difficulty of this Class 4 "scramble". I ended up staying in the gully for the most part and ended up at the summit about 5.5 hours after leaving the car.

Trip Stats: Elevation gain was 4,370 feet, plus another 1,000 feet for the 500- foot drop-in and regain. I would put the distance at 15.5 miles roundtrip. I timed out at 10.5 hours total, not counting time at the top and a high mountain pond skinny dip! Refreshing!

Hilgard from this approach is like a Mini-Mount Whitney via the Mountaineers Route, with boulder fields and lakes and multiple ridges and a difficult final section to the summit. Just a lot tougher to get lost at Hilgard with a lot less difficult mileage and only 300 feet of Class 4 versus 2,000 feet of Class 3 and 4 at Whitney. Like Whitney, Hilgard is a very beautiful place that a normal person without a burr in his drawers might really enjoy spending some time in.

In my humble opinion, Hilgard is NOT more difficult than Snowshoe Peak in the Cabinets. The "technical" section on Hilgard was a bit more challenging than the same scramble on Snowshoe and you didnít have to lose 500 feet at Snowshoe and Hilgard is higher, more miles and more elevation gain but that center section at Snowshoe and the percentage gain and the crampons count for something.