Bangtail Unnamed High Point - Montana Mountain Project

The Bangtail Divide Trail
My original intention of running the Bangtail Divide 38k in July was to attempt to visit the high-point  of the Bangtail Divide mid-race. That did not pan out and post-race I was too exhausted to climb more than a couple stairs, so Unnamed Point 7982 eluded me then.

I went back to the Bangtails (named for a style of cutting horse tails) in August and camped at the base of Battle Ridge the evening after my run in the Tobacco Roots. I planned on an early excursion the next morning to the top of the Bangtail Divide so I could be back to Bozeman in time to meet my brother who was doing a whirlwind trip of Montana. 

The Bangtail Divide, like the Nevada Mountains, is not one of the stereotypical, high-alpine, boulder strewn behemoths that inspire mountaineers and photographers. Roads criss-cross this small, rolling range and I was able to drive up to within a mile of the summit, carefully avoiding a black bear along the way. 

Panorama from the top of the high point. Difficult to tell it's a high point.
What makes this range spectacular is the Bangtail Divide Trail. Most popular as a mountain bike route, but also good for running, the roughly 23 mile trail traverses the length of the range and offers excellent views of the neighboring Bridgers and Crazy Mountains. The trail itself is flowy and engaging enough that one forgets to compare the Bangtail to its high altitude neighbors. 

I parked on the shoulder of the dirt road and cut uphill through the trees hoping to hit the Bangtail Divide Trail. If I had read the map correctly the cross-country travel would be less than 1/4 mile from where I parked. Within 100 yards I stumbled onto the well manicured path and headed up the trail towards the high point. 

Sunlight was just hitting the tops of the trees as I ran up the switchbacks in the cool morning air. Perhaps because of the earlier bear sighting, I felt like I was being watched by furry creatures the first few minutes and kept my head on a swivel. Part of me wanted to see something else cool, but the other part of me felt that that morning the 'something else' would be eating me. I was okay with not seeing any other creatures.

On top with the Bridgers over my shoulder
Soon enough I started to see sunlight and blue sky around the base of uphill trees: clear indications that I was nearing the top of the climb. The trail also began to level a little. Based on my foggy mid-race memory of the trail, I needed to cut straight uphill at some point to reach the summit. From the last switchback I made a beeline for the blue sky above me and popped out five minutes later on the summit of the Bangtail Divide.

In reality it was just the highest point on what appeared to be a grassy plateau. I remembered racing through here during the Bangtail 38k, but not really noticing the point I was now standing on. It reminded me of central Arizona, near my grandparents house in Chino Valley: a wide expanse of browning grass, with promise of mountain adventures on the horizon. In Chino Valley there are views of Granite Mountain, in the Bangtails the eyes fall on the Bridger Range.

The Bridgers were positively glowing in the morning light that day, and even the grassy plain that fell away to the East looked idyllic, especially when two coyotes darted across and disappeared down the rocky slope into the trees. I had to laugh at how off my memory of the trail was from the race. Cross country travel was not necessary to reach the summit as the Bangtail Trail ran 100 yards from the summit and remnants of a two-track road connected the summit to the trail. The little bump of the summit was actually a few feet higher than natural as well due to the bulldozer scrapings of a mineral testing site. To get off the top I simply jogged along the faint path back to the trail.
The grasslands stretching toward the South and East

The journey back to the car should have only been 15 minutes, but I spent an extra half hour foraging raspberries from a trailside bush. Despite having low expectations for this small range, and it being an incredibly short day car-to-car, I managed to emerge pleased with my morning jaunt, and have some bonus toppings for my morning oatmeal.