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[TR] Mt. Cowan, Absarokas, Montana - west ridge 9/1/2012


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Trip: Mt. Cowan, Absarokas, Montana - west ridge


Date: 9/1-2/2012


Trip Report:

This was a spur-of-the-moment trip brought on by the need to drive my wife to Pocatello, Idaho, to collect a car for her to continue to a short-notice three-month work assignment in eastern Montana. CC.com's own Keenwesh, eldest son of a colleague from my guiding days, is a sophomore at Montana State in Bozeman, so I buzzed him to let him know I'd be "in the neighborhood" Labor-Day weekend. He agreed to hook up with the Old Fart, and proposed the West Ridge of Mt. Cowan, 11,300', highest point in the Absaroka, as an appropriate objective. Thunderstorms so severe that cars were pulling over to wait for the rain to ease (for visibility) graced my drive from Idaho to Bozeman. Weather and wildfire activity held the outcome in doubt right to the base of the route. But the 9-mile approach shown on the map turned out to be about 7 miles on the ground; Keenwesh insisted on humping the food, tent, rope, & cooking gear so the Old Fart could walk the approach with a sub-20lb pack (I could almost keep up with him!!!); the rain knocked back the fires, but broke and cleared even as we traversed moraines to the start of the ridge; and we were graced with a climb reminiscent of the west ridge of Forbidden, on utterly stellar granite, well-featured to facilitate short-roping, enabling us to complete the grade III - 5.6? ridge in under an hour. As we approached the summit, we heard voices, and looked down to see a party on the south face scramble which would be our descent route - so we waited on the summit (the Old Fart got his 'summit nap') until Dave and Nick from Gillette, WY joined us, to "guide" us down the unfamiliar descent. New terrain; new friends; delightful companionship; uncertain outcome until the last instant; what more could one ask of an adventure? (aside from confronting ones own mortality, of which I've had quite enough over the years, thankyou very much...) Thanks, Keenan, for a fabulous weekend! And congratulations, Scott, on a job well done daddying an outstanding kid!


Gear Notes:

we carried a 60m single rope, harnesses/belay devices, three cams, four stoppers, eight alpine draws, and three "cya" pegs that we didn't use. short-roping, we traded the lead when I was down to my last two stoppers, and Keenan's lead-block finished the route with gear to spare.


Approach Notes:

not as long as the map shows - about seven miles, with 3500' gain to glorious camping (and what looked like great fishing, had I brought a rod) at Elbow Lake at about 8500'. Trailhead is about an hour south of Livingston, at the west edge of the Absaroka.

Edited by montypiton
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from Elbow Lake we followed the water through moraine northwest to the col at the base of the west ridge. same approach works for the south face scramble route. looks like one could traverse below south face to east ridge - might get more technical getting past east ridge to northern features - but I have to admit I didn't really look all that closely. SWEET looking buttress lines on features between Cowan and Elbow Lake for those looking to climb 5.11...

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thanks scotty for posting me up in all my glory. Geeze, I was such a stud back then!



The route I was aiming to do with you was in fact the NE arete, alas, in the info I obtained plus our lack of a map of any kind I missed out on the fact that the ridge of interest was on the complete other side of the mountain.

Fourtunately I have a couple of roommates with horses (gotta love montana) who want to go horsepacking. with any luck I'll get to try and climb the NE arete before the icebox of winter descends on the rockies and leaves me to the pitiful pursuit of climbing frozen chunks of ice to pass my time (it's a rough life out here).

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Nevertheless, the route we did was one of the most enjoyable climbs I've done all summer. I haven't spent 3 hours on a summit for forever and plus the added benefit of hearing your stories of (not so) old were wonderfully entertaining. Can't wait for the next climb, I don't know what it'll be, but I know it will be a good one.

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I think I also climbed the W. Ridge in 2007. Great area with none of the crowds, permits, on route clusters...


Hoping to go back sometime for the NE Arete.


Keenwesh, you can always take up skiing but you'll ruin your perspective on Cascade Range snow conditions.

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I have a split board and skins, but I'd rather get killed in an avalanche climbing. If anyone is going to set off a slab it'll be my phat ass. Plus I forgot to throw it in the car when I moved over here.


here are some pics


Curt hiking above elbow lake



Weather was a little iffy below the notch



Blue skies to the east though



Cold and white outey at the notch



Looking down the ridge extending off cowan, plenty of fantastic looking routes on these summits



The Montana Centennial goes up the left hand buttress rising over the lake. 12 or so pitches that I will be back for.



And finally, Curt modeling on the hike out


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This ( Mt. Cowan) must be the highest peak in the part of the Absaroka Range that's in Montana. The actual highest peak in the entire Absaroka Range is Frank's Peak, SW of Cody, Wyoming. It's 13,140 ft. It really stands out from a distance, towering far above everything else around it. Quite a beautiful mountain, and well worth climbing.

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