Hiking Sentinel Peak, Peak 10930, and Pyramid Point In Montana’s Madison Range
Location: Sentinel Peak, Taylor Hilgard Unit, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Rating: Grade 2 Class II
Trailhead: Potamogeton Park – Sentinel Creek Trailhead – 7,150′
Distance: 14.55 miles
Time: 6 to 10 hours
Sentinel Peak Elevation: 10,874′
Pyramid Point Elevation: 10,641′
Peak 10930 Elevation: 10,930′
Total Vertical: 4950′
Lat/Long: 44.9736, -111.4257
Maps: Hilgard Peak, Pika Point
Sentinel Peak sits deep in the Taylor Hilgard Unit of the Lee Metacalf Wilderness in the Madison Range of Montana. It’s elevation is 10,874′ and that makes it one of top 15 named peaks in the Madison Range. Sentinel Peak can be reached from the Taylor Fork or from Potamogeton Park. Starting on the Sentinel Creek Trail that leaves from Potamogeton Park appears to be a shorter approach. Sentinel Peak lies in the middle of a ridge line that connects it to Peak 10930 and Pyramid Point.
On a warm July day, Andy Tenny and I set off to climb Sentinel Peak in the Madison Range. Our goal was to summit all three peaks on this ridge line – Sentinel Peak at 10,874′, Peak 10930 at 10,930′, and Pyramid Point at 10,641′.
We set off south on Highway 191 and took a turn to the west on Highway 287 toward Hebgen Lake. Just past Hebgen Lake and shortly after Refuge Point Pullout we took a turn to the north on Forest Service Road 985. It’s a poorly marked dirt road, but a good smartphone will let you know where it is. FSR 985 heads north along Beaver Creek for about 4.5 miles and dead ends at Potamogeton Park.
Potamogeton Park is a large parking area named after an freshwater aquatic plant. There are three trailheads and three trails that leave from Potamogeton Park – Minnie Wapiti Trail #203, Lightning Lake Trail #200, and Sentinel Creek Trail #202. To access Sentinel Peak, you need to take Sentinel Creek Trail #202 located at the southwest end of the parking area.
We laced up our boots, harnessed the bear spray, and were walking by 9:30 AM. The Sentinel Creek Trail immediately drops down and crosses the creek. Then it quickly enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area. The trail climbs steadily up a ridge and then mellowly contours through forests and meadows. We made bear calls as we were walking and made good time up the trail.
After the trail turns west there are a few creek crossings and also a few switchbacks. Based on the contour lines on the maps we planned to head off trail at about 8600′ (44 57.6659N, 111 24.3219W). We reached this point in 4.8 miles and 1.75 hours. Here we quenched our thirst and began to wade through thigh deep wildflowers steadily heading up to the southeast ridge of Sentinel Peak.
Then boom a flash of movement through the wildflowers about 150 meters away. A lone wolf made its way across the steep but open meadow. It’s not often you catch a glimpse of a wolf in the wild. Sweet. Sorry, not quick enough with the camera to get the shot. We continued up to the ridge and gained it at 9,365′. Far below a well trodden trail stood out on the north side of the ridge.
The ridge was steadily steep up to point 9946. Then it opened up and mellowed out. The southeast ridge of Sentinel Peak is wide open and a mix of grass and rock. There were scatterings of bear, elk, and goat scat along with a handful of bones that had been picked clean. Oh and a few patches of snow too. We reached the top of Sentinel Peak in 3.5 hours after covering 6.5 miles and 3875′. There’s strong LTE service from Verizon along the ridge and on the summit.
The views (as always) were spectacular. Imp, Koch, Taylor Fork, Echo, Dutchman, Hilgard, Expedition Pass, Hebgen Lake, Sage Peak. Standing on top of a peak is life changing. After about 15 minutes we decided to head west along the ridge to Peak 10930. The ridge drops to roughly 10670′ between Sentinel Peak and Peak 10930.
We reached Peak 10930 in 4 hours, 3875′ and 7 miles. Peak 10930 is an unnamed summit in the Madison Range and the views of Imp Peak and Alp Lakes were outstanding. On the way to the peak we startled a family of four mountain goats who scurried across this rocky terrain way faster than I will ever be able to do.
After soaking in the views and studying the map, we turned back around and headed back to Sentinel Peak at 10874′. From the top of Sentinel Peak we went northeast toward Pyramid Point. The saddle between Sentinel Peak and Pyramid Point sits at roughly 10,330′. Then a steady climb along a wide ridge gets you to Pyramid Point at 10,641′. Someone had built a small cairn on top of the obvious summit.
Pyramid Point offered the best views toward Sedge Meadow, the Taylor Fork Road, and beyond. We summited Pyramid Peak in 5 hours, 4688′ and 8 miles. It’s an impressive point and there appears to be some excellent ski potential on the north faces of all of these peaks. Is it winter yet?
As we sat on top of Pyramid Point, ominous clouds starting rolling in on the horizon and streaky rain appeared to headed our way. We made our way back down to the col between Pyramid Point and Sentinel Peak where we dropped to the east and down the drainage.
We had selected this descent route because we thought we had spotted a well trodden trail from the ridge line above. On my last trip to Imp Peak, I noted an obvious trail had headed toward the saddle below Pyramid Point from Sedge Meadows. It would make sense that a trail would go over the mellow pass to the east of Pyramid Point. If it didn’t, this drainage ultimately intersected the Sentinel Creek Trail. Always good to explore and take the scenic route.
This route was totally off trail and led us to some very steep terrain that was impassable. Using the trusty GAIA GPS app we managed to navigate around these sections and continue down this route in a slight intermittent drizzle. Distracted by well trodden game trails and thick wildflowers, we eventually hit our elusive trail that is not marked on any map at approximately 8600′. This trail is obviously well traveled and battle scarred with horse hoof prints.
We gladly followed it south toward the Sentinel Creek Trail. These two trails intersected at 8,400 just uphill of two large switchbacks. It’s unmarked on the trail and on the map…
From here we set a 3MPH pace back down the Sentinel Creek Trail toward the car. Our tired legs were on auto pilot as we carried a steady conversation about life that was interrupted by regular bear calls. As we traveled through low elevation open forests and lush vegetation in healthy meadows, along a flowing stream near by we noted that this is certainly prime grizzly habitat.
At about 7950′ where the trail starts to turn south, we crossed a tumbling creek and popped out in to an open meadow. Leading the pack, I stepped into this meadow at the exact same moment a large grizzly bear was traveling perpendicular to the trail away from the creek. It was less than 50 feet away. We startled the bear and the bear startled us.
A quick estimate was that the grizzly was about 500 pounds and easily 6 to 7 feet tall if it stood up. The bear wandered into the thick wildflowers and stopped about 100 feet away – poking its head out of the flowers to see what the two obnoxious smelly dudes were all about. With a finger on the bear spray trigger and another on my camera we talked to the bear and scanned the area for any cubs. No cubs.
After what seemed like an eternity (probably 45 seconds?) the grizzly headed away from us and into the forest. With our heads on a swivel we continued on down the trail and away from the bear. Our hoots and hollers became much more regular and we soon found ourselves at the truck that was safely parked in Potamogeton Park.
Another Montana adventure completed. We tagged three peaks – Sentinel Peak, Peak 10930, and Pyramid Point, spotted a wolf, startled a family of mountain goats, and had an encounter with a grizzly bear. Oh and we enjoyed some mind blowing views of a wild mountain range. Gotta love Big Sky Country.
In total this trip covered 4,954′ in 14.55 miles over 8 hours. Good way to spend the day. What’s going to be next?
Watch panorama views from Sentinel Peak:
View route of our hike to Sentinel Peak, Peak 10930, and Pyramid Point on HillMap:
Additional photos from hiking Sentinel Peak, Peak 10930, and Pyramid Point:
This trip report for hiking Sentinel Peak, Peak 10930, and Pyramid Point in Montana’s Madison Range is from July 26, 2016.
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