Hiking To The Top of Big Sky Resort’s Lone Mountain via The SE Ridge
Location: Lone Mountain, Big Sky Resort, Madison Range, Montana
Rating: Grade 1, Class I
Trailhead: Big Sky Mountain Village Base Area
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 3 to 6 hours
Elevation Big Sky Resort Mountain Village: 7,500′ | 2286 meters
Elevation Lone Peak: 11,166′ | 3403 meters
Total Vertical: 3700′
Maps: Lone Mountain
Lone Mountain is located in the Madison Range of Montana. It is home to Big Sky Resort – an aspiring world class resort that operates on private land. As soon as you turn off of Highway 191 toward Big Sky, Lone Mountain dominates the skyline. It’s one of the most iconic peak in the Madison Range and it is also the only peak that has been develop, which means it lacks the wilderness feel that other peak bagging adventures offer. Yet, it is still a magnificent mountain to climb, even if there is a tram to the summit.
Lone Mountain, which is often referred to as Lone Peak, is a nearly perfect cone shaped mountain. Four distinct ridges leave the summit breaking the mountain up into sections. While it appears very similar to Washington’s Cascade volcanoes, Lone Mountain was formed by glaciation and stream erosion. Pick up a copy of Turiano’s Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone to learn more about Lone Mountain and other peaks in the Greater Yellowstone. It’s a book that’s worth buying.
This strikingly perfect peak offers incredible ski terrain on all aspects and under utilized climbing potential too. I can only imagine what would be done on this mountain if it wasn’t one of the world’s up and coming high end resorts. It’s a lift accessed mountaineering gem. Because it is a resort, many people get in over their heads both in summer and in winter. Even though the security of the ski/bike patrol offers a false sense of invincibility, the mountains must always be respected.
On a bluebird day in July, my wife, Mia and I decided we would climb to the summit of Lone Mountain via the SouthEast Ridge. We started in the almost full parking lot at the Big Sky Mountain Village Base Area at 7,500 feet and set off by foot prior to the lifts opening. Be sure to grab some water and snacks at the base as there are zero on mountain facilities.
There are plenty of options to ascend the lower angle sections of the mountain. Big Sky Resort offers a summer trail map that’s worth checking out. We opted to hike up Moose Tracks – a meandering hikers-only trail that weaves its way past a creek and ascends through the trees on the east/southeast side of Lone Mountain where it skirts the boundaries of the Yellowstone Club – a luxury playground for the rich and famous.
Whatever route you take, watch out for downhill bikers. The South Road may be a more straightforward ascend route, but it lacks the trail appeal. Either way the goal is to reach the top of the Swift Current quad chair. Hiking at a leisurely pace we reached the top of Swifty Chair at 9,150 feet in about an hour and fifteen minutes.
From here we joined a steady stream of folks who had rode the chairlift up and were heading to the summit of Lone Mountain via the SE ridge or the Summit Climb as the trail map calls it. To access the SE ridge, you enter at the BoneCrusher gate. A large sign indicates that it is 2.8 miles and 2015 vertical feet to the summit and back. The trail ascends steadily through a grove of dead trees and soon enters a talus field. Herds of people and probably a few mountain goats have established obvious routes through the loose rock.
At the top of Bone Crusher, the ridge mellows for a bit before it gets a bit more hairy. This section of the SE ridge drops off steeply on both sides for hundreds of feet. It’s not for people who suffer from vertigo or for dogs – although there are plenty of small children who billygoat across this section. It’s far from technically demanding, but is certainly nerve wracking for those who don’t spend much time in the mountains or near exposure. A fall here could certainly be detrimental to your health.
This sketchier section of the SE ridge lasts for a few hundred heart-pumping meters. Finally the ridge widens (about where the ski run TU begins) and the ridge allows for easy walking. Now you can breath and soak in the views of the Spanish Peaks to the north, the Gallatin Range to the east, the Hilgards to the south, and the rest of the climb. It’s incredible.
As you approach the permanent snow fences, more goat tracks and climber trail switchback up the ridgeline. Sometimes they take you out onto the face of Marx and Otterslide (ski run names), but the easiest walking is near the power lines that sit on the ridge line proper. It’s easy to lose sight of the trail that meanders through the loose talus and scree, but you’ll quickly find a new trail as this section is consistently criss crossed.
Before you know it, you’ll reach the top of Lone Mountain. After climbing 3675 feet in just under 3 hours, Mia and I reached the summit. We were greeted with a chorus of warm congratulations from people who rode the tram to the summit via the $85 per person Lone Peak Expedition. You’ll be a climbing hero to those people. Wrap around the top of the tram to the true summit of Lone Mountain at 11,166 feet, where you can sign into the guest log if you so desire.
Enjoy the views of the surrounding wilderness areas and mountain peaks. On a clear day you can even glimpse the Tetons. Helpful maps strategically placed around the large summit area by Big Sky Resort will help you identify mountain ranges, peaks, and valleys – like Beehive Peak, Wilson Peak, Gallatin Peak, Fan Mountain, the Sphinx, the Bridger Range, the Gallatin Range, the Taylor Hilgards, The Tobacco Roots, Yellowstone National Park, and beyond.
It’s mind blowing how vast this area truly is. If you fall in love with Big Sky and the surrounding area and you want to buy real estate in Big Sky, contact my wife, Mia Lennon. She is a real estate agent with the Big Sky Real Estate Company and would love to help you find your dream property.
When you’ve had your fill, it’s time to head down. Many of the climbers we passed on the SE ridge were training to run The Rut, part of the Skyrunner World Series. It was surprising to see how many of these climbers opted to take the tram down from the summit.
In my opinion, the spiciest part of the whole adventure was descending the loose talus and scree (through Otterslide and Marx) back to the more mellow section of the southeast ridge. Once you reach the ridge, it’s easy moving back to the start of BoneCrusher. It takes about 45 minutes unless you run into a friend or two.
Make your way down the mountain whatever way you choose. We opted for the straightforward descent route down South Road back to the base.
Car-to-car our adventure covered 3700 vertical feet in about 9 miles. Mia and I completed the entire climb in 5 hours. After letting our dogs out, we headed to the Gallatin Riverhouse to enjoy a Cold Smoke beer and the best BBQ in Big Sky.
While Lone Mountain lacks the wilderness feel of other summits, it’s well worth the effort to climb. It’s fun, straight forward, and definitely an adventure. It’s highly recommended. Have you climbed this peak?
See Our Route On Hillmap:
See Additional Images From Hiking Lone Mountain At Big Sky Resort:
This trip report for climbing Lone Mountain at Big Sky Resort is from July 19, 2015.