Climbing The NorthEast Slabs On Peak 9562 Near Hardscrabble Peak
Location: Northeast Slabs, Peak 9562, Bridger Range, Montana
Trailhead: Elf Lake Turnout – 7640 feet (Near Fairy Lake Trailhead)
Distance: +/- 6.4 miles round trip
Time: 4-7 hours
Grade: II, 5.5
Summit Elevation: 9562 feet | 2915 meters
Vertical: 1980 ft (600 feet of technical climbing)
USGS Maps: Sacagawea Peak
I’m always up for an adventure. When I read about a grade II, 5.5 multi-pitch alpine climb in the Bridger Range in Ron Brunckhorst’s Select Alpine Climbs To Montana, I knew I had to climb it. With the forecast calling for clear skies and moderate winds, Jeremy Wood and I decided to go for it.
The climbing route is located on Peak 9562, also known as South Hardscrabble Peak. Hardscrabble Peak has an elevation of 9575 and is up the ridge line to the north of 9562. Peak 9562 is the first peak north of Sacagawea Peak. A little confusing, but it make sense when you look at the USGS Sacagawea Peak quad.
Jeremy and I rumbled our way north and turned onto the busy Fairy Lake Road. It’s always smart to drive slow on this dirt FS road. Watch out for easily startled horses, lazy cows, and speedy drivers.The last time I was in this area I got to ski the Great One.
As we approached the end of the road, we got eyes on the Northeast Slabs. When we reached Elf Lake, we pulled into a dirt road on the right. It’s about 1/4 mile before the Fairy Lake Parking Area. There we sorted gear and got ready for an adventure.
From the car we followed a faint climbers trail that soon fizzled out into a field of talus and scree. We scrambled up this steep pitch feeling the burn in the calves with every step. You definitely have to work to get up this section.
After climbing about 1100 feet, we were below the Northeast Slabs on Peak 9562. We determined where the prominent gully was located and tried to find the climbing route described in Bronckhorst’s book. It wasn’t entirely clear, but we made a good guess and started to climb just left of a leaning crack. The climb goes straight up the face and then works to the climber’s left across the face. It covers about 600′ and ends in a scramble to the summit.
Supposedly there are two bolts at the top of the first pitch, but we never found them. We must have been on the right track though, as there were remnants of stuck nuts and old anchors on our route. There are plenty of places to build anchors on the grippy and juggy limestone making for confident climbing. We were prepared with a full set of BD Stoppers, two sets of BD cams .5 to 2, and a selection of alpine draws. A few times, I wished I had a few tri-cams too. It’s easy to find gear placements and you can build anchors where it’s convenient.
About 200′ up, the rock gets a bit loose and blocky. So be sure to stay on point and watch out for tumbling rocks! For us, this is also when the sky darkened, the clouds started whipping by, and the wind picked up speed. What happened to our nice weather window? Between gale force gusts, we could hear bugling elk (later we found out it was free range cattle – not as exciting), enjoyed stunning views, and made steady progress.
This climb is a fantastic place to practice rope management, anchor building, gear placements, and alpine efficiency. The book says that the climb is five pitches ranging between 5.4 and 5.5. We pitched it out with a 70 meter rope and climbed it in 4 pitches and simul-climbed the last section.
Upon reaching the sub peak, the ridge line mellowed. We packed up our gear and the rope and scrambled toward the summit of Peak 9562. Then bam we got hit by the wind. We could barely stand up, which made it a bit hard to focus on the views of the Bozeman Valley, Sacagawea Peak, the Crazies, the Gallatins, and beyond. Glad we didn’t get blown off of the mountain!
Our descent route was less exciting than our climb. We followed the super busy hiking trail down to the Sacagawea/Hardscrabble saddle. Then made our way back to the Fairy Lake Trailhead. From there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump back to the Tacoma and its abundance of H2O and snacks.
Climbing the limestone on the Northeast Slabs of Peak 9652 in the Bridgers was a blast. It’s the perfect playground to practice 600′ of exposed multi-pitch alpine climbing. It’s 5.4 climbing with maybe a couple of 5.5 moves. While it’s an easy climb, it’s still definitely rope worthy due to the exposure and today’s high winds. I highly recommend this climb and will be back to do it again sometime.
Car to car our adventure took 5 hours. We covered 6.4 miles and 1980 vertical feet, of which 600 feet was 4 pitches of 5.4 to 5.5 climbing. Not a bad way to spend a day.
If you’re looking for more fun alpine routes in Montana, buy a copy of Ron Brunckhorst’s Select Alpine Climbs To Montana. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone looking to to explore the endless alpine of the 41st state.
View Route On Hillmap:
Here are some additional photos of climbing the NE Slabs on Peak 9562 in the Bridger Range:
We climbed the Northeast Slabs on August 6, 2015.