West Goat Peak - Montana Mountain Project

Looking at East and West Goat Peak
Along the entire length of the Continental Divide Trail, one of Sara's and my favorite sections was the few days through the Anaconda Range. This small mountain range hosts numerous large elk herds, high alpine lakes, and miles of incredible ridgeline above treeline. Since the range runs along the Continental Divide the elevation is relatively high for Montana so there are numerous peaks above 10,000', including West Goat Peak, the high point of the Anaconda Range.

There is a wonderfully maintained network of trails that criss-cross the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, which provides many possible routes to get to West Goat Peak. While no trail goes to the summit, there are a few options that would have put us close. With the time allotted we had to pass on the 30 mile approach and opted for a longer drive, overnight camp, and a shorter loop (just under 20 miles) that we could complete in a relaxed day.

According to Michal Punke in Fir and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, the term 'Anaconda' entered central Montana lexicon with a silver mining claim entered by Michael Hickey. Ultimately Marcus Daly would by the claim for $30,000, turn it into millions of dollars, and transform Butte and the surrounding area while he did it.

At the foot of the Anaconda range lies the town of Anaconda, which is a legacy of the mining days of Marcus Daly. From I-90 a passenger can gaze out the window at the looming 10,000' mountains, and still see the 585 foot smelter stack soaring into the sky from the town. The stack, which remains the largest free standing masonry structure in the world, was built by Daly in 1919 as part of his immense mining enterprise. The town itself was built by Daly in his ever expanding copper operations (he switched to copper once the silver played out) and he originally wanted Anaconda to be called 'Copperopolis.' Daly also bid for the Montana state capital to be moved to Anaconda, but his plans were foiled by his longtime rival, William Andrews Clark.

Ridge to the summit
Today Anaconda is a town trying to escape its mining history. Well-manicured downtown houses sit next to boarded up shacks left over from the mining boom. Empty business line main street. Half of Anaconda appears to be on the way to ghost town status, but the other half is putting energy into revitalizing the community. Outdoor recreation opportunities abound in the vicinity with Discovery Ski Area, Georgetown Lake, and a golf course nearby. Of course being at the foot of the Anaconda mountains provides plenty of recreational opportunities as well, such as run/hiking up West Goat Peak.

For this adventure Sara and I went with Mike Foote and Katie Rogotzke, and Cory Soulliard and Marisa Sowles, all friends from various running events/races in the Missoula area. We knew Mike and Katie were up for running just about anything, and Cory and Marisa were great enough to put their trust in our hands for a first time adventure together; we just hoped to not get lost.

Sara and Marisa working around a boulder
Once again we consulted the handy Peakbagging Montana book and used the access point from Fishtrap Peak. A late evening drive from Missoula put our caravan on dirt roads on the east side of the range well after the sun went down. I was going through my usual direction self-doubt on the drive, but fortunately the trailhead appeared where the map said it should. After a few minutes watching the Perseid Meteor Shower we settled down for the evening.

Early the next morning we started up the chilly trail, startled a few cows encroaching into the wilderness boundary, and quickly made it the four miles up Fishtrap Creek to where we ventured into the unknown (which really just means reading topo lines with no blogpost beta to back up my route choice). Our route took us steeply uphill where we could no longer run and walking presented a challenge. I alternated between hands on knees power hiking and pulling on trees for leverage. Because of the steep grade we quickly gained enough elevation to see peaks on the other side of Fishtrap Creek that filled out the Continental Divide and we could look down Fishtrap Creek all the way to the Big Hole Valley miles away.

The Big Hole Valley, from which the gorgeous Big Hole River flows, is surrounded by high, alpine mountains. The Anacondas, the Beaverheads, and the West Pioneers offer many options for mountain gazing from the valley floor. The Big Hole National Battlefield is located at the foot of the Anacondas, just west of Wisdom, and reminds visitors that not long ago mountains weren't necessarily prized for recreation, but presented difficult obstacles for travel.

Cory and Marisa nearing the summit
In 1877 the US 7th Army Regiment attacked a fleeing band of Nez Perce in the Big Hole Valley. This two day battle, which was the largest in what has become known as the Nez Perce war, took place about six weeks after the Nez Perce were forced off their traditional homelands on the east side of the Bitterroots. Lead by Chief Joseph, they attempted to reach Canada instead of moving to a reservation. The Nez Perce encampment is one of the places where the US Army caught up with them. A pre-dawn raid of the Nez Perce left just under 100 Nez Perce men, women, and children dead as well as 28 US Army men, making the battle in the Big Hole the most deadly in the Nez Perce War. Today a visitor can still see a few gun ramparts dug into the northwest hillside, but otherwise little remains of the battle to tarnish the view of the river and snow capped mountains.

From our vantage on the side of West Goat Peak we couldn't quite see the corner of the Big Hole Valley where the battle occurred, but the views were still spectacular, and got better with every step we gained in elevation. After negotiating a couple small bouldery rock bands and gaining a couple thousand feet of climbing we popped out onto a gradual ridge that provided our first view of the summit.
Atop West Goat Peak

The approach looked pretty straight forward, and was. Although the ridge narrowed in places to the width of a few boulders, nothing was too technical and simply involved working our way up large talus. Traveling north along the ridge we paralleled the Continental Divide on our left. West and East Pintler Peaks were visible to our rear, and Warren Peak loomed enticingly across the valley from us. Sara and I remembered hiking through that section from Rainbow Lake to Warren Lake as part of our CDT adventure a few years ago, but it was nice to see the range from a different perspective.

We hit the summit at 10,793' and realized we had picked an incredible day to be up in the mountains. Clear visibility provided views of the Bitterroots, Sapphires, John Longs, a host of ranges in Idaho, the Beaverheads, East and West Pioneers, Highlands, Flint Creeks, Garnets, Rattlesnake, Missions, Lewis and Clark Range, Nevadas, and distant Tobacco Routes. At this point I started to realize that although Montana is a huge state, the views from mountain ranges make it seem smaller and more connected. Sara and I realized our perspective of distance had changed a little while hiking the CDT, after 3,000 miles on foot anything seems close, but I experienced it again on the top of West Goat Peak. I could see and identify many of the mountains I had gone up earlier in the summer, and many I planned on attempting later.
Mike and Katie running above Lost Lakes

After some food and pictures on the summit we ventured off the summit due east to East Goat Peak. East Goat Peak is nearly 400' lower but apparently takes the brunt of the wind coming up out of the Big Hole Valley. Compared to the summit of West Goat, this next summit was a wind tunnel. We lingered mere seconds before quickly descending to the two Lost Lakes below us.

The sun was out, so Sara and I decided to jump in the first lake, followed closely by Cory. Swimming wasn't really an option because the sun had done little to counteract the snow still melting into the water. We quickly abandoned plans to stay in the water and clambered out to dry land. Then went up and jumped in the colder second lake just to make sure it was also cold. It was. Lost Lakes are incredible for their views of the East and West Goat Peak, as well as the infinity-pool quality of the lower one. A hundred foot drop out of the lower lake provides lakeside vistas of the East Fork of Fishtrap Creek.

Last scramble back to trails
We followed the creek down the steep drop, came across a herd of elk, then met up with a trail we followed down to the road near camp. The run out was relaxing and capped off a great day with friends. I especially enjoyed the last mile on the dirt road, not because of the road, but because I could look across at group of friends willing to run some crazy, unknown loop with us. We were all a bit tired after 18 miles and 6,000' of climbing, but completely satisfied with an adventurous day up high.

Montana Mountain Project Peak 9/64