Ascent of Mount Douglas on 2011-08-07

Climber: Roger Roots

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, August 7, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Douglas
    Elevation:11282 ft / 3438 m

Ascent Trip Report

This one was brutal. I took off on Saturday afternoon from Memenogish Church Camp/Hawley Creek Trailhead expecting a 24-hour ascent/descent. I figured to camp in the open air at some mid-level plateau and then summit and return to the trailhead the next day. I ended up in a 48-hour ordeal with two nights in a sleeping bag, multiple minor cuts and bruises and some mild blisters.
It must be emphasized that there is no realistically simple trail or path to Mount Douglas. It is unapproachable without extensive bushwhacking. The "Hawley Creek" trail, which takes off from near the Memenogish Church camp on the Boulder River Road, goes up Hawley Creek only a couple miles or so. Then it continues sharply northward toward a high elevation plateau far to the north of Mount Douglas. This fact necessitated that I start bushwhacking early in the hike, first by trying to make my way sideways from the established trail across what I thought was a ridgeline that would ultimately wind around to the summit. This path proved untravelable, and I dropped back down through steep talus into the EXTREMELY DENSE thicket of forest that surrounds Hawley Creek. I finally found a fairly level place to sleep as the sun went down.
One major mistake was not packing a map or a GPS. I was actually wrong about precisely which mountain around me was Mount Douglas. I initially thought the mountain directly across Hawley Creek was Mount Douglas. (In fact, that mountain is "Hawley Mountain".) on the morning of Day 2, I crossed Hawley Creek and began a STEEP ascent of Mount Hawley (which I thought was Mount Douglas at that time)with a full pack. On at least one occasion, I was actually rock climbing without gear, and one slip would have sent me hurtling to my death. Upon reaching the ridgeline above, I looked around and realized that the mountain ridge I was standing on could not be Mount Douglas, because it was significantly lower than the obviously higher mountains around it. (Had I known that I was on Hawley Mountain, 10,092, I would have scrambled over to the summit and formally "bagged" it, as I have a goal of climbing every named Montana peak over 10,000 feet; I now find that I must revisit this same peak someday).
Having expended a great deal of energy, I realized that Mount Douglas lay a distance away, and that I had actually been traveling in the wrong direction since breakfast. Moreover, I needed to redescend down the the creek, cross back over to the north side where I had camped the night before, and then scramble back up toward the northwest for a climb of several thousand vertical feet.
It took me most of Day 2 to scramble up Mount Douglas, and a brief thunderstorm made me seek solace under a large boulder. I summited at around 7:00 p.m. and signed the register as rain and hail pelted down. I was the first climber to summit Mount Douglas in 2011. The register contained the names of no more than a few dozen people who had made the summit since the early 1980s. This mountain is truly a rarely-climbed gem in the Beartooth range. I must say that the vistas were spectacular in every direction, even through the rainstorm.
My goal at that time was to rush back to the trailhead before dark. This turned out to be entirely unrealistic.
I scrambled back down the steep boulders, scree and talus toward Hawley Creek. I note that a climber died on Mount Douglas during the '90s after a large boulder rolled over on him while he was standing or walking on it. It is easy to see how this could happen, as rocks gave away and rolled out from under me on dozens of occasions as I scrambled down the mountainside.
After getting back to the treeline, I found that my troubles had only begun. As the sun was sinking, I was madly crashing through the THICK forest of fur and spruce that blankets the Hawley Creek drainage. There is not so much as a trail or a meadow of any kind, and much of my travel was impeded by horizontal and diagonal deadfall in every direction. I pondered the possibility of a night descent to the trailhead with a headlamp, but wisely decided to camp (on Sunday night) against a large tree halfway down the side of Mount Douglas.
I woke at 7ish, and started breaking through the trees immediately. Again, there were no trails to speak of for something like FIVE MILES. Applying the theory that animals tend to move parallel to streams, I went all the way down to the Creek and managed to follow a few game trails for as much as 20 or 30 paces or so. The truth, however, is that this thicket of woods is so dense that very few large game animals seem to frequent this area. (Even a deer would have difficulty moving through this forest.) On one occasion, I grew so weary of hurdling deadfall that I tried to simply wade down the middle of the Creek in my sneakers. Log jams made this option untenable.
It was necessary to backtrack and try to find alternative routes through the trees on dozens of occasions. My rate of movement was very slow. Cuts and bruises appeared on my arms and legs and my face was constantly blinded by spiderwebs. I finally made contact with the maintained "Hawley Creek Trail" at around 1:00 p.m. MONDAY. It had been a six hour ordeal of bushwacking just to move about 5 miles. I finally passed two hikers near the Boulder River. It had been almost 48 hours without encountering a single human being or even a sign or a human being (with the exception of the summit register). This area is truly one of the most remote and least climbed mountain areas in the United States. This fact is remarkable, given that Mount Douglas is the highest point in Sweet Grass County and one of the most important summits in the Beartooth Range.
I made it back to my car, battered and bruised, at around 2:00 p.m. on Day 3.
My advice: If I were to do Mount Douglas again, I would try the long route offered by the plateau north of the mountain, and would AVOID THE TRAIL-LESS HAWLEY CREEK DRAINAGE ENTIRELY. Take a GPS and a map.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Bushwhack, Scramble
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:1 Days 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:1 Days 

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