Montana - Mt Cowen - Northeast AreteDate:
The Cowen Cirque is a small pocket of some fantastic rock in the middle of the Absarokas, and the Northeast Arete goes up a sharp ridge to the highest point of the massif. The route is easily seen from Paradise Valley as you drive to the trailhead, but disappears for most of the approach until you're right on top of it.
We drove from Bozeman Friday morning and climbed a few single pitch routes in Mill Creek, a crag only a short drive from the trailhead. After a lunch at the trailhead, we hiked up to Elbow Lake, reaching the lake just after the sun went below the ridge, preventing me from jumping in the lake. After going to bed early we got an alpine start and hiked up the creek on the east side of the lake. This creek flows up to another small lake and alpine meadows under the impressive east faces of Eenie, Meenie, Minnie and Moe. Grassy ledges then led up to a pass which we descended next to snowfield to the base of the Northeast Arete. We were able to avoid much of the snow by staying on the side and in the moat so trail runners were sufficient, but crampons/axe could be useful earlier in the season.South side of Eenie from Elbow LakeEenie, Minnie, Miney and Moe from the eastFirst glimpse of the northeast arete from the passMoe is the large peak in the center, Cowen is the rightmost peakA view of the full ridge. A gully leads to the notch a bit left of the lowest point. The tower on the right is Thunder Dome and is supposed to have some good routes
A final approach gully then led to the base of the real climbing. We pitched out one rope length, then climbed in three simul pitches. The climbing was a blast, moving fast through mostly 4th and low 5th class climbing. Supposedly there is a 5.6 chimney pitch somewhere near the middle but we must have gone around it. Like many ridge climbs there are plenty of options for increasing or decreasing the difficulty depending upon where you go. I felt like our route only included a few 5.6 steps, which were usually pretty short. The final summit block is typically accessed by a short 5.4 chimney, but we climbed up a more fun looking portion and down climbed the chimney. In all, we spent about 2.5 hours actually climbing and got to the summit just before noon.Tyler following the first pitchTyler leading the first simul pitchTyler following one of the simul pitchesSummit view southSummit view west
We descended the standard route on the southwest face of Cowen. A series of 2nd and 3rd class ledges and ramps lead down and west to a gully which can be descended into the basin north of Elbow Lake. After hanging out at camp for a bit we headed back to the car, and made it back to Bozeman before dark.Gear Notes:
We took a 60 m rope, 6 cams, a couple of hexes, a set of nuts, and lots of long slings. You could bring a lot less, but this let us do pretty long simul pitches and I ended up placing most gear. Approach Notes:
Eight miles to Elbow Lake, another mile or two to the base of the route.