Sanders County Highpoint Trip Report

Snowshoe Peak

Date: July 23, 2005
Author: Ben Knorr

The weather was nice near Troy Montana but I wasn't feeling optimistic about Snowshoe Peak. The reports I've read about class 4 climbing had my stomach jumping around all morning. I tried to find a viable route from the northwest of the mountain but wasn't able to get in contact with a knowledgeable ranger in time for my trip. I started from Leigh Lake (pronounced LEE) and had a pessimistic feeling of summiting all the way.

I reached a junction on the trail at a waterfall. Even though I knew I should turn right, I turned right but still in the wrong direction. I failed to see the trail switchback and instead I followed a very steep scramble trail-looking route up the hillside. Eventually, I was heading up hard class three rocks, so I stopped to evaluate my situation. Immediately I saw the trail going up the hillside that forked to the left, across the stream. I backtracked and followed the left trail up the hillside. Eventually, I looked back up to where I was at in the first place and saw the obvious trail that I had missed. Again, I backtracked to the waterfall and took the correct trail that I should've done in the first place. So, for the record, it is just a steep trail that one takes to Leigh Lake. It never crosses the creek and stays on the north side of it.

Once reaching the lake, one sees the massive glacial cirque that makes up the entire area. Snowshoe Peak is visible high above the slopes to the right of the lake. Almost a quarter mile past the first meeting with the lake, on use trails, I entered the first gully and headed up on its east side. At about 5560 feet, I crossed the gully and headed up the hillside towards the second gully. Apparently the route is supposed to go to 6600 feet in the east side of the second gully, then cross west and traverse almost a quarter mile to another gully that leads up through the cliffs and tops out on the ridge. I stopped before finding the crossing of the second gully. I felt that I wasn't going to make it to the top with enough time to make the next day's highpoint and I wasn't entirely sure if I would be comfortable enough to continue solo with the exposure that I was going to see on the ridge heading northeast from Snowshoe peak. So I took pictures of the views, of the goats, and hung out for a while in the meadow.

On the way down, I met back up with the faint use trail at 5560 feet in the first gully and made it all the way back to the waterfall crossing, where I spoke with an experienced Cabinet mountain group, then onto the trailhead. Many huckleberries were found along the trail below the waterfall. At the crossing, I talked with a group that had done Snowshoe from the other side and they provided some tips. While the Leigh Lake side is shorter so therefore easier for some, it is also on more exposed rocks, with more intense scrambling. Bob calls it hard class 3, and the description describes it as class 4. The guy I talked to referred to an alleged 10 foot section with nothing but room for your feet and over a thousand feet of air below. He summited the year before from the northwest side via Snowshoe Lake. While he said there was scrambling of some headwalls along the route, it wasn't major exposure. He brought his two dogs with him, which might say something of the route. He did stress that it was a bushwhack for some of the route (how much I didn't ask) and that it was a multiple-day backpack affair.

The Leigh Lake route goes through the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area and it is supposed to be a major grizzly bear habitat. The group I spoke with had bear spray and said that on average with them and the people they knew, every other trip up there nets a sighting at some point. I had a bear bell which irritated me greatly but gave me a sense of security. I never thought that it might just sound like a dinner bell for them.

Approximate mileages From southbound US 2 past Libby, MT:

0.0 Bear right onto Bear Creek # 228.
3.1 Veer right onto dirt road, sign reading "Cherry Creek , Leigh Lake 132, FS 867, Snowshoe Mine".
3.8 Cherry Creek 867
4.7 bridge over Cherry Creek
6.6 Veer right onto 4766. This is a little rougher, but cars are OK.
9.4 trailhead