Climbing
Trad climbing, Snow/glacier/ice route, Non
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade II
Elevation Gain
5,200.00 ft (1,584.96 m)
Distance
15.00 mi (24.14 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Canyon Peak is a seldom climbed adventurous alpine route deep in the Bitterroot Range of Montana. It’s a perfect objective for those who are looking to practice their alpine climbing skills, with a reasonable approach, lots of great opportunities for route-finding and scrambling, an airy and aesthetic ridge, and a lake to swim in afterwards.

In general, the Bitterroot Range doesn’t get much attention except by locals, but this route is about as good as it gets and deserves more traffic.

At the same time, this climb requires a broad skillset and a lot of experience. There are few sections of low 5th class on the North ridge and a ton of third and fourth class travel with big exposure. At the same time, protection can be tricky to find.

The descent is also serious. Since this peak gets climbed rarely, you need to be ready to figure out your own rappel and leave your own slings. And in early season, you’ll be transitioning onto and off steep snow with big consequences. Don’t underestimate this trip.

If you have the skillset to pull this route off, it’ll be a standout trip. Do not attempt it if you’re not an established alpine climber.

 

A disclaimer on this description and track - this off-trail line was traveled on a single day with certain conditions. The route described is a reasonable way to move through this terrain, and the description below mentions some of the hazards found during the trip. However, conditions may be significantly different when you visit this area. The advice in this trip report is not meant to be followed perfectly - you will need to adapt the route for the conditions you find and for your party’s abilities.

 

The Basics

  • Seasonality/Snow: This route will generally be dry from July to September. It’s a lot of fun earlier season, but expect snow on the climb and steep snow on the descent.

  • Route Add-ons/Alternatives:

    • You can descend off the west side of the peak to High Lake and exit via Blodgett if you want to make a big off-trail loop.

    • You can also ascend the SE Ridge of Canyon, most agree the N Ridge is more aesthetic.

  • Number of Days: This goes in a single day, though there’s gorgeous camping at Canyon Lake if you want an overnight.

  • Navigation: Bring a map and/or a GPS, it can get a bit tricky out there.

  • Gear:

    • Good gear for scrambling and moving fast in the mountains.

    • Rope/Rack: 

      • Rope: Unless you’re soloing fifth-class terrain, you’ll feel better with a rope. A 60m is a good length for the rappels, any shorter and you’d have a hard time.

      • Rack: A small rack helps keep this route feeling safe. You’ll probably want a set of nuts and a single rack (maybe doubles in smaller pieces).

      • Rapping gear: This is a rarely traveled adventure route. Bring slings/cord to leave for your descent.

    • You’ll want an ice axe and traction (microspikes/crampons) if it’s still early season.

 

Note on LNT

This is an alpine route in a rarely traveled area (Bitterroot Range) that has a complex history between climbers and land managers. You shouldn’t be attempting this route unless you have a lot of outdoor experience, so you know the drill. Make sure you’re following best practices for wilderness travel: clean up after yourself, cut and carry out old rap gear, and be respectful. Prove that climbers deserve access to these vulnerable areas by your actions.

If you want to learn more, or support groups supporting climbing access in the area, donate to or volunteer with the Western Montana Climbers Coalition, which works closely with the Access Fund.

 

The Route

The Approach

You’ll begin at the Blodgett Overlook Trailhead. Head up the Canyon Creek Trail. It’ll be a slow climb for the first three miles before it breaks right and climbs 1200’ in a mile. The trail can be tough to follow in this section so use a GPS to avoid tromping all over the alpine. The views will begin opening up as you near Canyon Lake. From the dam, you’ll see Canyon Peak on the right looking far away. There are several beautiful campsites on the north side of the lake.

Travel the open northern side of Canyon Lake onto large slabs and traverse to the col. As you near the col, the North Ridge of Canyon Peak will look increasingly exciting!

 

The Climb

Get your scrambling gear together and head onto the North ridge, where you’ll enjoy high-quality scrambling on good rock. Begin on the ridge proper and head up, linking together grassy slopes and featured faces. The lower section of the route is fun scrambling, but after a few hundred feet, the terrain gets more serious. Trend climber’s left if things get blank on the arete, and rope up when you’re feeling it. Pro can be a bit tricky to find.

You’ll reach a block that looks like the summit but isn’t yet. Climb on top and follow the ridge, scrambling above huge dropoffs to east and west. The summit is only a few exposed moves away. Enjoy the huge views of the Bitterroot Range!

 

The Descent

There are many different ways to descend. 

Option 1: Some will traverse north, across the summit ridge, and rappel several pitches down the east face. If you’re planning on descending this way, scout your descent on the ascent. In early season, this will land you on very steep snow. Be prepared to make a snow anchor. From here, rejoin your approach route and descend back to the car.

Option 2: You can also scramble south off the summit and rappel a single pitch. This will leave you on steep snow (in early season) or talus. From here, travel southeast, staying south of the jagged ridgeline. After half a mile, you’ll pop through a weakness in the ridgeline and drop back into the Canyon Lake valley. Continue northeast toward Canyon Lake, where you can head back to the slabs and open terrain on the northern side of the lake or push your way through the southern side of the lake and cross the dam. From here, rejoin the trail and descend back to the car.

On your drive out toward Hamilton make sure you check the rearview mirror, you’ll get a perfect view of Canyon Peak, now 5k’ feet above you!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Incredible remote scrambling adventure. Beautiful views.

Cons

Tricky descent.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Trailhead Elevation

5,000.00 ft (1,524.00 m)

Highest point

9,154.00 ft (2,790.14 m)

Features

Big vistas
Wildlife

Access

Vehicle

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Primary aspect

North facing

Class / Rating

5.4

Drinking water

Unfrozen water

Location

Nearby Adventures

Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

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