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Backpacker Magazine – February 2008

Hike Montana's Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

This wilderness area houses a classic section of the CDT but is a little off the beaten path.

by: Alan Kesselheim

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Kurt Peak and Queener Mountain, Scott Bischke
Kurt Peak and Queener Mountain, Scott Bischke

This winter, while everybody else is scouring maps and tracklogs for next summer's big Glacier or Yellowstone trip, dig a little deeper into the Montana backcountry and discover the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness–and the classic section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) that runs through it. Even locals tend to overlook this area–not for lack of grandeur, but because Montana's premier parks are such draws. Translation: Anaconda-Pintler is like a private reserve for the few hikers who see it each year.

The 158,656-acre wilderness, tucked in the southwestern corner of the state, is named for the Anaconda Range, which has peaks as pointy as the Tetons and U-shaped valleys as wide as Glacier's. The Pintler comes from Charles Pintler, a mountain man who settled the Big Hole Valley in the 1800s. About 65 miles of the CDT traverse the backbone of the wilderness, and the sweetest long-weekend-size chunk is the 34.6 miles from the Storm Lake trailhead south to the Pintler Creek trailhead–the majority of which are right on the CDT.

From the Storm Lake trailhead, switchback to 9,150-foot Storm Lake Pass, where wind and snow can howl anytime of year. From this point on, there are a bunch of peaks within bagging distance of the trail, but you'll need more than a weekend to hit even a few of them. Three and a half miles in, your trail meets the CDT: Turn west, and drop through larch groves for another 1.7 miles. You'll land in a campsite-perfect meadow near Page and Flower Lakes; at 8,400 feet, the water could still be frozen into July.

Don't be fooled by the mellow first day. After about 2.5 miles on day two, the trail climbs 600 feet to Rainbow Pass. The 9,200-foot saddle is one of your weekend high points–along with the summit of 9,643-foot Rainbow Mountain (a half-mile scramble from the pass), where you'll get 360-degree views of the Anacondas that few people ever see. From the pass, descend the Rock Creek drainage across talus and boulder fields into Queener Basin and climb back to the Divide at Cutaway Pass (mile 13.7). Then, essentially, do it again: Drop down to the toughest hump of the day–a lung-busting headwall climb to Warren Lake. If you have the time, lay over an extra day at Warren Lake and climb West Goat Peak, the highest point in the range at 10,793 feet. The best route, a 1.6-mile, 2,400-foot walk-up with some serious scrambling near the top, follows a ridge just east of the lakeshore. The view from the summit spans the Anaconda-Pintlers, the Big Hole Valley, and Yellowstone to the southeast.


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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star
Paul
Jan 14, 2013

It's too cold, no water available, scenery is just ok, poor hiking. Would suggest Yellowstone or Glacier Parks

tom
Jan 19, 2012

this is God's backyard and i am blessed to be in residence :)

canadian crippler
Jun 10, 2011

there is no place better in the world than anaconda, montana. Fact.

Anonymous
May 07, 2011

Self issued permits may as well be none required. Why even bother to waist the paper if you are not going to issue them out, along with some sort of accountability.

Lame
Apr 02, 2010

This place sucks. Tell your friends.

Emerine Kid
Apr 21, 2009

What a joker, like most of the neophytes that visit this area, they do not understand the energy, and what this place is about.
This place is best left to those of us who understand.

Pat Munday aka EcoRover
Jul 19, 2008

I agree with Richard Layne's comment. Somebody did a Fantasy Island map trip in the APW for this entry. Please see my blog, EcoRover, for more detailed info about bagging peaks and backpacking in the Pintler.

Richard Layne
May 02, 2008

Where did you get your info? In the first place you don't scramble up to West Goat Peak during the winter from Warren Lake. I do not believe the information here to be accurate from someone's experience. I say this because of my own extensive APW winter experiences that include pretty much all the areas you just described. My website will more than back up what I just said. Like I asked three times now, who got this info?

Richard Layne
May 02, 2008

Where did you get your info? In the first place you don't scramble up to West Goat Peak during the winter from Warren Lake. I do not believe the information here to be accurate from someone's experience. I say this because of my own extensive APW winter experiences that include pretty much all the areas you just described. My website will more than back up what I just said. Like I asked three times now, who got this info?

Lucinda Jann
Apr 25, 2008

As the long-time Wilderness Ranger in these parts, I can tell you that there IS a mandatory permit required for this Wilderness. It is free and self-issuing at any trailhead entry point (such as the far side of Storm Lake).
The permit is required to be on your person while in this Wilderness area. This system has been in affect since 2001.
Some other small errors in this article.
Pintler Ranger Station phone number is best bet for up-to-date info on this area.

Ridge
Apr 08, 2008

Call a place paradise, and kiss it goodbye- the last best place is no more.

ALLEN
Apr 08, 2008

CALL A PLACE PARADISE AND KISS IT GOODBYE,THE LAST BEST PLACE IS NO MOORE.

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