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[TR] Montana - Mt Cowen - Northeast Arete 8/14/2016


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Trip: Montana - Mt Cowen - Northeast Arete


Date: 8/13/2016


Trip Report:

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 Lake



Eenie, Minnie, Miney and Moe from the east



First glimpse of the northeast arete from the pass



Moe is the large peak in the center, Cowen is the rightmost peak



A 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 pitch



Tyler leading the first simul pitch



Tyler following one of the simul pitches



Summit view south



Summit 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.

Edited by quetip
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I grew up on Mill Creek near Mt. Cowen and the peak was the subject of family lore growing up in an adventurous family of mostly nonclimbers. My early years included several trips to Cowen to recon the peak and route (before the days of any guidebook or internet info) followed by a couple years where failed attempts were mostly due to routefinding and what I call alpineitis but is mostly lack of determination and courage for the final reaches of 3rd/4th class scrambling on the standard route.


I finally broke through to summit with my early climbing gear and experience and then made several other trips which sometimes including taking nonclimbers up. Some of these trips:


- a one day trip with my girlfriend which was a real buzzkiller for our budding relationship (hint- death marches with climbing is not a good idea for a date trip). It is about 20 miles RT to summit with 5000 ft. elevation change. I am currently not married due to being a slow learner.


- a one day trip with horse assist to Elbow Lake, saving 16 miles of trail work


- several trips derailed by lightning storms before I learned what an alpine start meant and why it was important in the stormy Rockies


- one trip where I stroked my ego taking nonclimbers up the only technical pitch on the standard route near the top using a rope and gear, only to find my nonclimbing sister already on top, getting there by finding a hole 30 ft. below the summit to get to the other side and easier terrain.


- one trip dampened by a rain storm and leaky tent prompting me to quit buying crap and start buying quality outdoor gear.


- one trip to Elbow Lake in winter on skis but with no climbing


- recent day hike to Elbow Lake to meditate and recall all of the above, but with no summit


The peak is unique in this area of the Absarokas, in that it has a lot of rock and alpine feel and is no gimme even for experienced scramblers. The summit is precious, small and exposed with tremendous views in all directions and easily seen from Paradise Valley as a foreboding mountain where the easier ascent route is hidden from view and only known by "experts" who know the secret way up the other side. But it is a good ego lifter to see the impressive peak from the road and casually mention to the uninformed that you have been on top!


Thanks for the blast from the past!

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