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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Rip & Go: Hilgard Basin - Lee Metcalf Wilderness, MT

Climb to a wonderland of tundra, rugged peaks, and dreamy lakes.

by: Jason D.B. Kauffman

Expedition Lake (Photo by Doug Roane)
Expedition Lake (Photo by Doug Roane)
Hilgard Peak from Echo Mountain (Photo by Martin Scott Wilson)
Hilgard Peak from Echo Mountain (Photo by Martin Scott Wilson)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Key Skill: Counter-balance a bear bag
This is prime bear country, so plan ahead to keep your food out of reach and at least 100 feet from where you camp or cook. Hard-shelled containers are a sure bet, but to lighten your load, try this elegant hanging technique.  

1. Choose your branch. Ten feet from trunk, 20 feet high

2. Hang your line. Tie a rock to your rope and loop the branch.

3. Split your load equally into two stuffsacks. 

4. Tie the first bag to one end of the rope.

5. Hoist it to the branch.

6. Tie the second bag to the other end of the rope at around chest height.

7. Stuff the rope in the bag; leave an 8-inch loop hanging.

8. Push the second bag up with a stick (or hiking pole) until both bags hang at least 12 feet off the ground.

9. Retrieve your food by poking a stick through the hanging rope.

See This:  American marten  
The forests of the Madison Range are home to a stealthy little predator adept at scampering from limb to limb. The housecat-size member of the weasel family hunts among downed timber, seeking out mice, voles, red squirrels, and snowshoe hares. Known for its pointed face, erect ears, and bushy tail, the marten sports a light brown body, darker legs and tail, and a yellow patch running down its throat and breast. The animals prefer dense, lower-elevation fir and spruce forests like those on the first half of this route. Watch for martens darting through the tree branches in the morning or evening. 

Locals Know
Snow-covered year-round, steep and striated 11,211-foot Echo Peak dominates the views from Hilgard Basin. It may look like the domain of technical climbers, but you can access a no-ropes-required scramble along the north ridge. From your campsite at Crag or Expedition Lakes, head southwest cross-country past Thunderbolt Lake, aiming for the obvious saddle just north of the ridge. It’s a stout 1.3 miles with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. From the saddle, scramble south .7 mile to the summit. Take in the north-to-south views of the rugged Madison Range and catch a glimpse of Yellowstone to the east. Due south is toothy 11,316-foot Hilgard Peak (pictured), the highest in the range.

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