Black Mountain - Montana Mountain Project

View from Dana Spring
When I began the Montana Mountain Project I knew that not all the peaks would be spectacular mountain vistas. Black Mountain is the first of those that can be described as non-spectacular. Still, the highest point in the Nevada Mountain Range has a rich history and still offers occasional unobstructed views of the Flint Creek Range to the south.

The Nevada Mountain Range sits just west of Helena and south of the Lewis and Clark Range/Scapegoat Wilderness. Although it is surrounded by high, alpine mountains, the range itself is entirely forested and does not break above treeline. We accessed the Continental Divide Trail, which runs just shy of the summit, by driving up Ophir Creek to the cow tank that is Dana Spring.

Although much of the Nevada Mountains are shaped by ranching today, the mountains were overrun by gold prospectors in the last half of the 1800s and first half of the 1900s. Placer deposits found in Ophir Creek yielded between $3.5 and $5 million in gold between 1865 and 1875.1 Between 1934 and 1935 a Yuba connected bucket dredge operated in the creek bottom with little result, but the tailings from that are still visible during the drive up to the Continental Divide.

Just before the summit plateau
Some attempt was made at lode mining in the area as well, but did not yield nearly as many ounces as the placer mining, of which the year of dredging accounted for a sizable portion. Through 1959 the minimum gold output through lode mining was 8,250 ounces while placer mining accounted for 180,000 ounces.

A few miles south of Dana Spring the largest gold nugget in Montana history was found in Deadwood Gulch by Ed Risson on the Mckay Claim.2 At the time the nugget was worth $3280 (just over $57,000 today). Ultimately this justifies me continuing to stare at the ground and kicking rocks, without the need for a pick, at least in the Nevada Range.

We did not find any gold, nuggets or otherwise, on our three mile hike to the top of Black Mountain. A sea of vaccinium scoparium, also known as grouse berries, grouse-whortle berries, or little-leaf huckleberries, almost made up for the lack of gold, however.

A forested summit
The Continental Divide Trail this section is really a rocky ATV trail. There is little switchbacking, and a lot of straight uphill walking. When Sara and I hiked through this section two years ago as we thru-hiked the CDT we were both having a rough day, so it was nice to be able to pass back through the area while feeling better.

The summit of Black Mountain is on the west side of a 1/4 mile gradual table top. Since it's forested views are limited to one direction at a time, but in that one direction visibility is far. From the side we hiked we could see the tops of the Flint Creek Range and the Pintlers peaking out from behind.

Although forested and lacking the magnificent, rugged views of neighboring ranges, the Nevada Mountains have a more inward looking beauty. Rocky creeks, caves, the Continental Divide, and plenty of history make this range worth returning to.

1 "Powell County Montana Mine Production," Western Mining History, last modified July 16, 2009. Accessed August 17th, 2016."Abandoned Mines," Department of Environmental Quality, Accessed August 17th, 2016.