Scrambling Up The West Ridge of Crazy Peak In Montana’s Crazy Mountains
Location: Crazy Peak, Crazy Mountains, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana
Type: Out and Back
Rating: Grade II, Class 3+
Trailhead: Big Timber Creek Trailhead
Distance: 12 miles total
Time: 7 to 10 hours
Big Timber Creek Trailhead Elevation: 6,450′ | 1,966 m
Crazy Peak Elevation: 11,214′ | 3,418 m
Total Vertical: 5,200′
Maps: Crazy Peak, Amelong Creek
Forecast: Crazy Peak Weather Forecast
The Crazy Mountains are one of my favorite mountain ranges. This isolated range lies just north of the Yellowstone River and it towers over the plains that spread eastward. In the distance you can spot the Beartooths, Absarokas, Bridgers, and other Montana mountain ranges. There are over 40 alpine lakes in the ultra rugged Crazy Mountains and the ultra prominent summit of Crazy Peak is the highest in the range at 11,214′.
Due to their locations, the Crazies are kind of hard to get to. Located to the north of Big Timber and I-90, it requires a bit of dedication and early mornings to make any attempt at climbing, hiking, or skiing in the Crazy Mountains.
To be honest, this range has eluded me multiple times. So after a backcountry partner bailed late the night before, I decided it was time for a solo mission to climb Crazy Peak. After scouring the maps, I planned to start at the Big Timber Canyon Trailhead near the Half Moon Campground, head up past Granite, Blue, and Thunder Lakes, and summit Crazy Peak via the West Ridge. No problem.
I left Big Sky in the dark, drove through Bozeman, and hit I-90 as the sun started to rise. Cruising down the Interstate at 75 mph with the rising sun in my eyes was probably the most dangerous part of my day. I was happy to turn north at Big Timber, cross the Yellowstone River and follow 191 toward Big Timber Canyon Road.
The rugged, dirt covered Big Timber Canyon Road weaves through private land (there is LOTS of private land around the Crazy Mountains). After 15.2 miles, it dead ends at the Big Timber Canyon Trailhead and the Half Moon Campground at 6,450′. Now it’s time to start walking.
The Big Timber Creek Trail (Trail 119) is a wide trail that follows the creek up into the mountains. After 2.8 miles, I took a left turn on the east flanks of Granite Peak. Here the trail crosses the Creek and leads into a steady series of switchbacks toward Granite, Blue, and Thunder Lakes.
It takes about two hours and 5 miles to reach these lakes. The hike is well worth the effort. It’s a popular destination for fishing, hiking, camping, and backpacking for good reasons. At this point, the trail ends and the route finding begins.
It’s important to note that there are at least two approaches to Crazy Peak. The first and more popular option is to follow the main drainage above Blue Lake, then to scale a super steep talus slope to the West Ridge of Crazy Peak. It takes about 6 miles and 5000 feet. The second option is to ascend the drainage above Granite Lake to a snow field and small lake, then gain the mellower ridge (almost to peak 10574), and then descend to the West Ridge of Crazy Peak. There is a short almost 4th class section low on the ridge with a bit of exposure before it joins the other route. This route takes about 6.75 miles and covers approximately 5500 feet. See maps for both routes at bottom of post.
Of course my convoluted route took me on a bit of an adventure, which I’m pretty stoked about. I started my ascent into the basin above Blue Lake as I reached the steep talus slopes. I watched as a group ahead of me consistently kick loose rock down that tumbled hundreds of feet. It wasn’t confidence inspiring on a solo mission and I opted out of climbing underneath a large party tumbling rocks down when I didn’t have a helmet.
Instead I reconsulted my map and scooted around into the next cirque – the one above Granite Lake. There was a beautiful permanent snowfield that looked like someone had recently made some ski turns and a small lake around 9300 feet. From here I hiked up a more mellow slope near the snow and quickly gained the ridge just below peak 10574.
On the ridge I got a stellar view of the SW face of Crazy Peak and it’s 2000 foot SW couloir. Wow. My route climbed down about 350 feet to the saddle where it intersected the West Ridge of Crazy Peak. From here the hiking isn’t too bad, but it is very exposed on both sides. A fall here could be detrimental to one’s health. This section of the ridge did have a couple of sketchier sections – maybe 4th class due to exposure. This lasts for a few hundred feet before it meets the other route higher on the ridge. Overall the ridge climbs about 1200 feet and it’s imperative to watch your step. I was stoked that I wore my sticky approach shoes versus my hard soled hiking boots for this climb.
Eventually the ridge ends at the northern, false summit of Crazy Peak. A small cairn marks the supposed crux of the route – a 100 foot down climb through a steep chimney. Don’t fall. At the bottom of the chimney, climb uphill just a bit and you can peer down the mega steep and tight Crazy Couloir that is still choked in ice in September.
Now with a bit of route finding that consisted of squeezing through a unique gash in the terrain (vs the ledge) and scrambling up the last few meters over loose choss, I finally reached the top of Crazy Peak at 11,214′. And I had it all to myself.
All I could do is smile. The Crazy Mountains are rugged. Granite Peak, Iddings Peak, Conical Peak, and Big Timber Peak are all impressive mountains. The basins are littered with named and unnamed lakes. The steep cirque walls hold lingering snow patches that offer turns all summer and will soon be filled snow and skiable couloirs. This place is like a massive mountain cathedral that I had all to myself. I’m already excited to come back and ski here!
After soaking in the views, it was time to carefully head back down the mountain. I quickly got back to the Chimney and carefully climbed back to the West Ridge and the false summit. I followed the ridge for 20 minutes, then decided I would down climb the main ascent route – the steep face above Blue Lake basin. There were several other groups climbing or down climbing it, so why wouldn’t I?
It was steep and the rock was loose. I used my hands a lot and wished I had a helmet. My main goal was not to go for a talus ride or take a tumble down the steep face. Try to stick to the solid rock. Let’s just say I was pretty happy to get back to the grassy tundra on the basin floor. Before I knew it, I was back at Blue Lake at 8,200′.
I guess my route got me the best of both worlds and now I know for next time. Now all I had to do was put my feet on autopilot and follow the trail back to the Half Moon Campground and Big Timber Canyon Trailhead – and most importantly my truck.
Car to car this solo mission and my convoluted route took me 9.25 hours, 13 miles, and maybe 5,700′ vertical. I’ll be back to climb this one again for sure. What an incredible mountain and inspiring range. I’m always stoked to explore different zones and this one rocks.
I also found this interesting: How The Crazies Got Their Name. Worth a read if you’re visiting the Crazy Mountains.
View MY route on HillMap:
Two Route Options:
Watch the summit panorama of Crazy Peak:
Here are a few additional photos from climbing Crazy Peak:
This trip report is from September 12, 2015.