Skiing The Notch on Koch, Koch Peak, Montana
Location: Notch Couloir, Koch Peak, Taylor-Hilgard Unit, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Trailhead: Upper Taylor Fork Trailhead – 7250 feet
Distance: +/- 13 miles round trip
Time: 5-9 hours
Top Elevation: 11000 ft
Vertical: 4610 ft
USGS Maps: Koch Peak, Lincoln Mountain
The summit of Koch Peak is 11,293 feet. It’s the highest peak in the Taylor Hilgard unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in the Madison Range of Montana. Sandwiched between the Madison and Gallatin rivers, the Taylor Hilgards consist of 141,000 acres of majestic wilderness that is largely untouched by humans. It’s remote. It’s big. And it’s home to endless ski objectives.
Just to the north of Koch Peak’s summit is a prominent notch. From this obvious notch, two stunning couloirs drop down the east and west face of Koch Peak. The east facing line is typically referred to as the Notch on Koch. This was our ski goal for the day.
For our first May ski mission, Jeremy Wood and I decided to ski the Notch on Koch. Our starting point was the Taylor Fork trailhead (7300 feet), which sits at the end of the Taylor Fork Road (Forest Service Road #134). This road is typically snow covered and gated until mid-May, which makes access to Koch Peak challenging mid-winter without a snowmobile. Luckily this year is a low tide year and the road is melted out – prime time to ski the Notch couloir on Koch Peak.
We arrived at the Upper Taylor Fork TH and were hoofing it down the trail at first light. With no snow in sight, we hopped on the summer trail – Taylor Fork Falls Trail #17. Within half a mile, we had to ford the Taylor Fork. It was cold. There’s nothing like a frigid snow run off river crossing to wake you up in the morning. Beats coffee any day.
Armed with bear spray and completely numb toes we continued down Trail #17 paralleling the Taylor Fork – offering up impressive views of ski descents on Woodward Mountain and Peak 10764. As the sun rose over this grizzly bear stronghold, we hit the junction with Tumbledown Trail #4. This steep trail follows Tumbledown Creek towards Koch Peak.
We hit snow around 8100 feet. After a few intermittent post holing adventures we transitioned to skins. We soon passed the wilderness boundary around 8250 feet and lost the trail around 8500 feet. It finally felt like a ski adventure.
Continuing up the convoluted, rolling terrain of Koch Basin, we experienced all sorts of weather. As they say, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. It was completely unpredictable. It was rainy, sunny, snowy, cloudy, and ominous. And made for gloppy skinning. But we kept moving toward the Notch on Koch.
As we passed the northeast face of Koch Peak, we noted several fun couloirs that need to be skied. There are other exciting ski lines in the basin too. This would be a fun place for a yurt.
At 10,000 feet, we reached the bottom of the Notch Couloir on Koch Peak. We ditched some weight and transitioned to crampons to start the bootpack. It didn’t take too long to reach the top of the Notch on Koch at 11,000 feet.
Tempted to reach the summit of Koch Peak, we ultimately chose not to. As we stood in the notch contemplating ascent routes, the rumble of thunder and the dark clouds of an incoming thunderstorm dominated the western horizon. Time to ski.
We noted the sweet west facing notch couloir dropping into No Man Creek, admired the fun lines of Sawtooth Ridge, and quickly transitioned to ski mode. It’s not smart to be high in the mountains with a quickly approaching thunderstorm coming your way.
The Notch on Koch offered up about 1000 vertical feet of fun couloir skiing (a bit short compared to our recent ski of the Chamonix Couloir in the Beartooths). The snow was variable – wet slide debris, soft pockets, perfect corny, sticky goodness. As always it was a fun adventure ski.
At the bottom we grabbed our gear and headed home. The rolling terrain of Tumbledown creek didn’t make for the most enjoyable ski out – especially with the rumble of thunder rapidly approaching.
Luckily the weather stayed decent as we skied down the mountain. We did our best to follow the trail to make good time. Hopscotching between patches of snow we managed to ski to about 8000 feet.
After a quick transition to the trusty La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes, we were back on the old heel-to-express and heading back to the car. Five-plus miles and one river crossing later we were at the Tacoma wearing flip flops.
Our mission to ski the Notch on Koch carried us approximately 13 miles and 4600 vertical feet. The entire trip took about 9 hours car-to-car. Due to the imposing thunderstorm, we didn’t summit Koch Peak, but we did complete our goal of skiing the Notch Couloir. Plus, we made it home safely, which is always goal #1.
I’ll be back to summit Koch Peak this summer and look forward to exploring more ski descents in the Taylor Hilgards. Stay tuned.
See the route on Hillmap
Here are a few additional images from skiing the Notch on Koch:
We skied the Notch on Koch on May 4, 2015.