Pine Creek Lake – Absaroka Wilderness

When I lived in Northwest Montana in and around Glacier National Park I became interested in attaining the summits of mountains. The idea of bagging a peak was as new to me as the mountains around me. During my childhood in Minnesota my brother and I certainly did our share of exploring but no hills were high enough to be called summits. I claimed a half or full dozen of peaks within the boundary of Glacier and then in a somewhat anticlimactic move, found myself in a day job in Duluth, MN. Duluth is like a mountain town – – just without the mountains. There are lots of hardcore outdoor enthusiasts there including some local hardmen even now in the 21st century putting up FAs on some tough, but small rock.

A new career called and I headed back out to the mountains, this time in Southwest Montana where the list of peaks to climb is nearly endless. The Bridger, Crazy, Tobacco Root, Madison, Gallatin, Abaroka, Beartooth ranges are all within one hundred miles, and the list goes on. Having set my sights on Ross Peak in the Bridger Range before even arriving in Bozeman I quickly set out to attain that in my second week here. Next my perusing of the pages at Summit Post put me in a mindset of the Absaroka Range and particularly Black Mountain.

Thursday Night – For those weekend warriors it is important to spend the week previous to your trips planning routes, attaining maps, checking off gear lists and preparing food. I had all taken preparations made by Thursday evening and my pack and trekking poles were readied by the door of my room.

Friday Afternoon – Out of work, back home and into the Subaru for the fifty mile drive to the Pine Creek Lake trailhead. I arrived by 18:30 and made the thousands-of-feet-over-five-miles-climb along a nice Forest Circus trail to Pine Creek Lake wherein to find the place to myself. Downing a canned-pint of a local Montana-brewed scotch-style ale I nestled into my quilt by about 22:00.

Saturday Morning – I awoke to my alarm at 05:45 for a semi-alpine start at Black. The weather was to be hot so I wanted to make the climb before too much sun was shining over the peaks to the East. I climbed and made the summit by 08:30 (read trip log at Summit Post). My plan was to follow the peaks ridge around the Pine Creek valley, summit McKnight Mountain and drop Eastward to McKnight Lakes and then a trail-less descent Northwest-ward the next day to the trailed South Fork Deep Creek trailhead. I was quickly thwarted by fear and rationale by some nasty exposure on the knife edge ridge off the East flank of Black Mountain.

Saturday Afternoon – Rather than risk life and limb on the alpine ridges I re-traced my steps down Black Mountain and headed off cross-country through the wilds of the Pine Creek drainage. I made my way across the mid-elevations and climbed again to the saddle between the ridges I was on previously and McKnight Mountain. I could look downard onto McKnight Lakes but seeing no obvious, safe route downward I opted instead to stay in the Pine Creek drainage. I wandered all over it, climbing and descending some 3,500 feet that day eventually settling on a nice campsite on the East side of the lake.

Saturday Evening – The lake was anything but mine that night as six other sets of backpackers showed up to camp. I joined one group, a father and his two sons at their campfire that evening for good conversation and a gorgeous sunset before heading back to my tarp for a cold slumber. Temperatures were hovering around 40 deg. F by 04:00. I was pushing my superultralight setup that night and awoke to do warming sit-ups a number of times before the sun shone.

Sunday Morning – Awake at 06:30, packed and down to the car in time to catch biscuits and gravy at a little joint with good, fresh, organic coffee. Home before the afternoon for relaxing, reading and enjoying my new home in Bozeman.