When I was 10, Comet Peak put up a fight. But it wasn’t a fair fight.
The first time I climbed Comet Peak – at the north end of the Pioneer Mountains (the second highest range in Montana behind the Beartooths) – was after a long morning of hunting deer in the Grasshopper Creek drainage in the Big Hole. Hunting with my dad wasn’t a sedentary experience. It was an up-before-dawn with a heavy daypack and 20 pound rifle trudging over fences and rivers to get to the most inaccessible places because logically “that’s where the game hides.” I don’t remember the details of this particular hunt, except that we didn’t see anything (we did hear a large crash through the deadfall), and by the early afternoon, we decided to call it quits.
So to fill the rest of the day, we drove over to Comet Peak. I was already hungry when we set out – up the old road that starts at some abandoned mines.
Montana can get cold during hunting season, and with a summit over 10,000 feet, Comet Peak was downright wintery. Once the road ended, you’re confronted with a large boulder field, which requires scrambles. Ordinarily, I enjoyed these sorts of hikes, but on this day, it was cold and the scrambles not only required me to take my hands out of my pockets, but to hold onto freezing granite.
About three quarters of the way up, it started to sleet. The wind picked up. It hailed. It was miserable.
Once you crest the boulder field, you’re confronted with the final gradual rock-strewn slope to the summit. That slope proved to be my breaking point. The exhaustion from the day’s hunt, the freezing weather and the psychological blow of facing more vertical after achieving the false summit proved too much, and for the only time in my hiking memory, I cried…
So a return to Comet Peak has been on my to-do list, and the recent trip to Big Hole provided the perfect opportunity for a rematch.
Once again, the weather threatened precipitation (although, August favors rain to November’s sleet and snow). Rain clouds began rolling in from the south. We took refuge from the short afternoon rainstorm in the relative safety of an abandoned mine shaft.
After it stopped raining, it was onward and upward through the boulder field. Among the boulders, Tiffany came across this patch of wild flowers. She went nuts. It was pretty stunning, and we named it Tiffany’s Meadow.
Tiffany and Rachel gain the summit. Tiffany celebrates while Rachel signs the book at the top. For some reason, the USGS Marker doesn’t indicate an elevation at the summit. It should read: 10,217 feet.
Comet peak might be named because of its shape. The westerns slope is gradual and easy to climb, but at the summit it plummets into a steep mountain canyon. The granite boulder that is its apex is situated with thousands of feed of exposure – sheer cliffs – along two thirds of its circumference. Standing on it provides a commanding view of Hopkin Lake far below. It also provides a feeling of standing on a naked precipice thousands of feet over the rocks below.
But eventually, with some coaxing from Rachel, I stood up. And as I did, the sun broke through the clouds! It had been cloudy all day, but within ten minutes of reaching the summit, as we were eating, the clouds began to break and for the next half hour we had sunshine, beautiful clouds and (for the photographer in me) excellent light.
There was another cliff face a few hundred yards away that you could get to by hiking down and then back up. After lunch, I decided to scout it out so I could get some shots back at the group. From the summit, it was hard to see just how sheer the cliffs we were perched on actually were. It was very steep, such that you couldn’t see the bottom, and the ledge was too unsure to approach close enough to look straight down. The new view afforded by my venture revealed just how exposed we actually were. These cliffs continue downward for hundreds of more feet than what was visible in the shots below. From my subsequent research of topo-maps, it appears that these cliffs are matched on the other side as well.
The first three are Rachel; the fourth is Tiffany:
More pictures here, including shooting the .22 when we were done: