Climbing Dutchman Peak In Montana’s Madison Range
Location: Dutchman Peak, Taylor Hilgard Unit, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Rating: Grade III Class 3
Trailhead: Sentinel Creek Trailhead – 7,150′
Distance: 26 miles round trip
Time: 11 to 16 hours round trip
Dutchman Peak Elevation: 10,991′
Total Vertical: 7000′
Lat/Long: 44 55.84 N, 111 27.66 W
Maps: Hilgard Peak, Pika Point
Dutchman Peak sits in the Taylor Hilgard Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness of the Madison Range of Montana. Dutchman is sandwiched along the ridge line between Hilgard Peak (11,316′) and Echo Peak (11,250′). Due to Dutchman’s remoteness, it is not climbed very often at all. When people do summit Dutchman, it is usually part of a Echo-Dutchman-Hilgard traverse.
Hiking Dutchman in a single day is a massive mission – roughly 26 miles and 7000 vertical feet. It can be summited via the steep NE couloir or via the class 2-3 south face. There is not too much beta on climbing Dutchman Peak. After scouring maps and terrain photos from missions to Hilgard Peak and Echo Peak, we decided to approach from Sentinel Creek, climb Dutchman Peak from the south, and descend via the Northeast couloir.
Dutchman is briefly mentioned in Turiano’s Select Peaks book. There is also a detailed, but speculative, trip report on SummitPost.org from a person who did the full Echo-Dutchman-Hilgard traverse, but did not do a solo mission to Dutchman. It’s a peak that is rarely climbed and hopefully this post will shed some light on this overlooked Montana summit.
Montana.gov reports that the elevation of Dutchman Peak is 10,991′ – making it one of the highest points in the Madison Range. This number meshes with the contour lines on the USGS map. It’s amazing how little information is available about this entire zone. Also who’s the Dutchman who got a remote Montana peak named after him?
On a nice little Sunday in September, Joe O’Connor and I decided to do a single day mission to climb Dutchman Peak. We pulled into Potamogeton Park at 7,150′ at the end of Forest Service Road #985 in the dark. By the time we had booted up and polished off our coffee, first light had just cracked the horizon.
We double checked our snacks, water, and gear before we hit the trail. We were moving quickly to stay warm at 6:45 AM as we headed up the Sentinel Creek Trail #202. The trail leaves from the SW end of the parking area, dips down, crosses a creek, and quickly enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
From here it works to the north for about three miles before it hooks west. The trail weaves through forests and meadows. About a half hour down the trail, something darted across an open meadow – a large 100+ lbs lone wolf. It paused in the trees wondering what we were. Unfortunately, it was too far away for a good photo and after a minute we moved on. It sounded like the wolf followed us/paralleled us for about five minutes after this – #montanamoment.
We kept cruising down the trail and after 8 miles and 3.5 hours we reached the trail split on the ridge between Hilgard Basin and Sentinel Basin at roughly 9,800′. We took trail #201 down into Hilgard Basin and were greeted by the alpine lakes, vast rolling moraines, and the towering face of Echo Peak. Note that this trail split is on the ridge – not in the northerly basin as indicated on most maps.
Trail #201 drops down a few switchbacks and skirts along the west end of Expedition Lake. Then it passes Crag Lake – looks like there some monster fish in Crag Lake! From here it goes up and down through the forests, skirts the shore of Lake Ha Hand, passes a few seasonal lakes, and wraps around the aquamarine Blue Paradise Lake. Tons of great lakeside campsites in this zone.
Soon after Blue Paradise Lake, the trail loses some of it’s mojo. It’s still clear where it goes, but it is not as well traveled. The trail works up a rocky section to the ridge line at about 9800′. From here you are greeted with views of Hilgard and Dutchman Peak plus all of the lakes in the basin. By this point we had covered 11.25 miles in 5 hours.
There is a steep gully that looks manageable from the saddle to access the basin, but it seemed easier to follow the vague trail and work west through a large flat basin until we found a better and safer access point to the basin below. We choose a thickly treed area around 10,000′ and made our way down to the basin high above Tallus Lake and Clear Lake. We dropped to about 9750′ in the rocky basin and took a break in some trees.
After staring at the steep and intimidating NE face of Dutchman, we were glad that our plan was to climb to the saddle to the south of Dutchman Peak (along the ridge line to Hilgard Peak). We rock hopped across boulders around the east ridge of Dutchman toward the saddle. It was relatively easy climbing up to the saddle – probably 3rd class. We had hands on the rocky slabs, as we crested the ridgeline. The wind was howling!
From here we worked diagonally uphill to the northwest across grassy slopes that supported solid rocks to the upper ridge of Dutchman. The views of Dutchman Lake to the SW were impressive. We peered down several different steep gullies that dropped to the basin in the north and skirted our way toward the rocky summit block of Dutchman Peak.
The summit block is quite exposed on the west and east. We scouted around and found an exposed class 3 climb up the south west ridge. Expecting a precipitous rocky summit, we were pleasant surprised with a larger area with enough room for both of us to sit and enjoy the views – and call our wives with the 3 bars of Verizon LTE. We had reached the summit of Dutchman Peak in 7.25 hours and 13.25 miles after covering 5650′ up and 1837′ down. This is one of the most remote peaks in the entire Madison Range and this was going to be a big day.
The views were mind blowing. Echo Peak, Sentinel Peak, Koch, Imp, Finger, Hilgard, Hebgen, Ramshorn, and so many other peaks were visible in the distance. The Maple Fire (2016) was smoking up the eastern horizon near West Yellowstone. The Madison Valley spread out far below to the west. Unnamed peaks, vast drainages, and countless lakes were scattered in all directions. This is wild Montana and it’s incredible.
We soon realized we had a long way to get back to the van, so we decided to boogie woogie out of there. We carefully down climbed the exposed summit and skirted back around to the east and peered down the NE couloir – if only it was covered in snow and we could ski it. After a brief discussion, we decided to down climb the NE couloir on Dutchman Peak. It was steep and filled with loose rocks. Without helmets, we decided to go one at a time down this steep terrain feature – regrouping in safe places. It took a bit of time to reach the boulder field at roughly 9900′ far below, but we shaved up a good bit of mileage via this route. Plus, we got to check out new terrain and a potential future ski line.
From here we rock hopped back across the massive boulder field and climbed back up to the ridge and found the trail. With a delightful conversation to keep us entertained, we cruised along the trail quickly crossing Hilgard Basin and the beautiful alpine lakes along the way. The high clouds had come in and turned our blue sky day into a bit of grey bird.
At approximately 5:30 PM we reached the trail split for Expedition Pass. From here we had 8 miles still to get back to the van. We needed to hoof it out of there to be back before dark. We set a 3 MPH pace and started walking.
Grizzly country during bow hunting season becomes a very intimidating place quite quickly as dusk sets in. We hooted and hollered while we discussed mindless topics – making more than enough noise with bear spray close at hand. Then about 1 mile from the car, we came around a switchback with a slight change of direction and startled a large grizzly bear. Luckily, instead of charging us in the almost dark forest, the bear high tailed it into the thick trees in the other direction – plowing down at least one tree before it disappeared.
Fifteen minutes later we were back at the car. It was officially dark out. We pounded some Hammer Recoverite, snacked on some Gummi Bears, texted the wives with the inReach Explorer, and put on flip flops. Mission accomplished.
Our epic adventure to Dutchman Peak was a complete success. We safely encountered an wolf at dawn, explored new wilderness terrain, bagged a super remote peak at mid day, startled a grizzly at dusk, and got back to the car safe and sound. All in all we covered 25.98 miles and 6988 vertical feet in 13.5 hours – according to my Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
Next time I climb Dutchman Peak will be via the Echo-Dutchman-Hilgard Traverse or with skis on my feet.
Watch panorama views from the summit of Dutchman Peak:
View route of our climb of Dutchman Peak Montana on HillMap:
Additional photos from climbing Dutchman Peak in Montana:
This trip report for Dutchman Peak in Montana’s Madison Range is from September 11, 2016.
#amountainjourney #madisonrange #montana #eternalstoke