Ascent of Mount Wood on 2012-08-06

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Edward Earl
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, August 6, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Wood
    Elevation:12660 ft / 3858 m

Ascent Trip Report

Three expeditions of county highpointers had visited Mount Wood before us: Bob Packard in 1997, Tim Worth in 2003, and Adam Helman/Jim Perkins in 2008. All of them used the north approach from the Benbow Mine Road and the “Golf Course”. However, three guidebooks (Caffrey’s “Climbers Guide to Montana”, Turiano’s “Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone”, and Jones’s “Peakbagging Montana”) all recommend a south approach from Mystic Lake. Edward Earl and I decided to try this south route for our trip. It had more elevation gain than the north route, but was supposedly simpler and easier, avoiding dangerous talus slopes and excessive elevation loss.

We started hiking at 12:15 PM on Sunday, August 5th from the West Rosebud Trailhead (6560 feet) and hiked the popular and well maintained trail to Mystic Lake, thronged with weekend dayhikers and fishermen. This trail takes three miles to gain a pass about 150 feet above the lake (nice views) and drops to the lakeshore. We shortly passed a trail heading left uphill to Froze-to-Death Plateau and Granite Peak (we both had done that one already) and continued on the excellent trail along the south shore of Mystic Lake. The trail did gain and lose 200 feet during the 2 miles along the lake, but the trail was still in excellent shape and was easy hiking.

At the isthmus between Mystic and Island lakes a trail forks right to a large logjam. Although enormous and consisting of three sections, it is easily crossed to the north shore of Island Lake, which has nice campsites in flat, open forest. We wanted a higher camp, though, so we set off NE into the forest, offering easy going with no brush. The guidebooks suggested that the best way up towards Mount Wood was on the east side of the big creek draining Wood’s south cirque, so we angled towards it and found it to be too fast and wide to ford. So we bushwhacked uphill in the riverside vegetation looking for a crossing, deciding against some sketchy logs and rocks. Finally we found a set of four sturdy logs that provided an easy and safe route across, marking it with our GPS for the return trip.

Once across we headed steeply uphill in pine forest and gained the minor but noticeable ridge that paralleled the creek on the east. The forest was mostly open and easy, and the main issue was the steep dirt slopes and kicking steps in the soft soil. Once on the crest of the ridge, though, we had a good natural route to follow. There were some cairns, too. The steep section lasted about 1000 feet, and at about 9000 feet elevation the angle moderated and the forest started thinning out. After a long traverse of an area of boulder fields mixed with forest and meadow we aimed for the 9600 foot level, where good campsites supposedly could be found.

The guidebook was right and we set up camp at 9600 feet, in a pleasant grassy meadow not far from the brook as it passed through a boulder field. The approach had taken about 5.5 hours.

On Monday August 6th we awoke at 6 AM and were hiking by 7 AM. From camp we headed northeast, heading for the broad SE ridge of Mount Wood. The terrain was all above-treeline talus and grass that was sometimes a bit steep but sometimes a broad flat terrace. In general it was easy going over pleasant terrain. We gained elevation efficiently over this ground and after making a large arc-shaped path reached the large flat area at 11,800 feet south of Wood. From there a short descent (including crossing a 10-foot section of snowbank) led us down to Lake 11780.

From there we hiked past the west end of the lake and then started uphill towards the dome-shaped higher east summit of Wood 900 feet above. The slope here was a mixture of loose talus and bigger, more stable blocks that we used, even though they offered steeper climbing than the shallow scree/talus gullies. By Montana standards this was not bad at all—I found the big car-sized rocks made for easy and safe class 3 scrambling.

Our route took us right to the main East Summit, universally regarded as the high point despite the name location on the USGS map. We arrived at 10:30 AM and rested a while here, but a cold wind was blowing and the day had turned overcast, with mare’s tales of rain falling on Granite Peak across the valley. We signed the register (seeing entries from Turiano, Worth, Helman, and Perkins—this peak gets maybe 3-5 ascents per year), had a quick snack, and then headed across to also tag the west peak.

I led us on a high traverse below and south of the crags west of the east peak, forcing some tricky quasi-class 4 moves that might be avoided by dropping down lower. At the 12,500 foot saddle between the peaks we left our packs and started up the south ridge of the west peak (labeled Mount Wood on the USGS map). We were blocked by a gendarme, though, and had to make a tricky downclimb to the east before an easy ramp led up to the West Peak (no register). The best route to the West Peak stays on a low traverse of loose rock on the peaks east face.

We didn’t stay long on top of the West Peak and headed back to our packs, taking our high route to avoid the loose talus of the low route. From the col, we decided to avoid the drop to Lake 11780 and the short climb up the other side by following the crest of the south ridge around the top of a snowfield to the flat area at 11,800 feet. This was OK, with some minor scrambling to get down, but probably a bit harder than the scree running down to the lake.

Once at the flat area it was easy going back to camp over the broad slopes of the ridge and then the steep slopes on the SW side of the ridge. I was worried about the weather and would not have been surprised by rain, but it stayed dry and we neither saw or heard any lightning or thunder.

We rested and took down camp for an hour, from about 1 to 2 PM, and then headed downhill using the GPS track from yesterday, all without incident. The steep forest descent was a bit tricky but not too bad, and the main issue was staying on route, since descending a ridge on the wrong vector can easily lead to large errors downslope. We thought about crossing the creek down by the lakeshore, where it might be wider and shallower, but our logs worked well and we used them. That would have been out of the way, too.

At the campsites just before the logjam we saw the first other humans we had seen since leaving that spot almost 24 hours previously, and then we hiked out the 5+ miles of trail to the car, arriving at about 6:30 PM.

Overall, this was a relatively easy and trouble-free route, by the standards of the Beartooths or other major Montana ranges. The crux is probably the stream crossing and steep forest bushwhacking, or perhaps the talus/boulder climb to the summit, but none of it was nasty or disheartening. It certainly makes sense as an alternative to the north approach.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6450 ft / 1965 m
    Total Elevation Loss:510 ft / 154 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10.7 mi / 17.2 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6450 ft / 1965 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 6100 ft / 1859 m; Extra: 350 ft / 106m
    Loss on way in:350 ft / 106 m
    Distance:10.5 mi / 16.9 km
    Route:SE Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Mystic Lake TH  6560 ft / 1999 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:160 ft / 48 m
    Distance:0.2 mi / 0.3 km
    End Trailhead:Mt. Wood Col  12500 ft / 3810 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2012 - Mount Wood (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Mount Wood2012-08-06 a6450 ft / 1966 m
2Mount Wood-West Peak2012-08-06 b499 ft / 152 m
Total Trip Gain: 6949 ft / 2118 m    Total Trip Loss: 6949 ft / 2118 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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