Climbing What’s Left on Beehive Peak in Montana’s Madison Range
Beehive Peak stands at 10,742 feet at the head of Beehive Basin. It’s south face offers a variety of accessible alpine climbing routes. It’s highly visible from all around the Big Sky area and it’s been calling my name for awhile now. On a random Wednesday in September, Stew Chumbley and I set off to climb What’s Left, a 5.6 alpine route, on Beehive Peak’s south face.
Arriving at the parking lot (7925′), we were welcomed with quite a surprise – a totally empty parking lot. That is something that rarely ever happens at the Beehive Trailhead. The day was off to a good start. We laced up the approach shoes, stashed some gear we decided we didn’t need, and jumped on the heel-toe express direct to Beehive Peak.
The mellow trail through Beehive Basin is a long, but enjoyable walk year round. The trail is well trodden and must see thousands of people each year. It weaves through meadows, crosses babbling brooks, rounds beautiful lakes, and meanders under breathtaking glacially carved gneiss formations. Be sure to bring your camera!
After about 3 miles we reached the lake and The Prow. We cruised passed some wandering deer and hit the end of the Beehive trail after 3.6 miles. At the end of the trail, Stew and I proceed to boulder hop across scattered talus to the base of the Beehive Peak. Nearing the end of the basin, we found a large boulder (9800′) to take a break. It was a good opportunity to eyeball all of the climbing routes and potential ski lines on both Beehive Peak and The Honeycomb.
We drank a bunch of water, ate a Pro Bar, and geared up for the more exciting part of the day – the alpine climb. Our route was going to take us to the base of the 4th Of July Couloir (a great ski in winter). We were going to ascend the gully to a nice ledge system and find our route up the south east face.
Beehive Peak is well traveled and we expected to find an obvious climber’s trail. We didn’t. Everywhere we stepped was choss and talus until we entered the 4th of July Gully. Then the climb became a bit of a steep scramble with more supportive rock on the right side. As we gained elevation, we found a nice ledge system near the top of the black dike.
The grassy ledges led us to the beginning of What’s Left. In all of the guidebooks and research we did, there was no exact defining moment of What’s Left. There seem to be many variations of this route all in the 5.6 realm. This was our route. We flaked rope, tied in, and started to climb.
The route we followed was very straight forward. It was a mix of easy climbing moves and solid scrambling. I worked the line until Stew called out that we were almost out of rope. Wishing I could go 10 more meters, I built a solid anchor and belayed Stew up. We were making good time.
We quickly finished those lingering 10 meters and found a solid belay spot near a nice evergreen tree. Next time we’ll shoot to finish pitch 1 there. Above the tree was a nice section of more whitish rock. It appeared to go on for some distance, but did not appear to be overly challenging. We decided to simul climb this pitch to be a bit quicker and more efficient.
After about 100 meters or so we were standing on the summit of Beehive Peak at an altitude of 10,742 feet. We had traveled parking lot to summit in just under 4 hours. The entire Madison Range and beyond spread out in front of us. Beehive Peak is the second tallest peak in the Madison range, only behind Gallatin Peak off to the East. To the south west stood Lone Peak. Beehive Lake looked inviting at the base of the Blaze a few thousand feet below us to the north. And Big Sky and Beehive Basin sprawled off to the south. We had stunning views in all directions.
Stew checked his cell phone – yes there is solid reception at the top of the peak. Then we explored the summit. We explored the standard descent route that wraps back to the 4th of July Gully (or down towards the Twin Couloirs in winter), we pondered where the entrance to Hanging Garden was, and we eyeballed the East Ridge toward Honeycomb Peak.
The standard descent route didn’t look very fun, so we decided to descend via the East Ridge aka Follow The Swarm to the saddle by The Honeycomb and then we would descend the gully between Honeycomb (10,600′) and Beehive back to the packs. Implementing classic short roping techniques we efficiently worked down the east ridge. There was plenty of exposure on both sides so the down climb rated pretty high on the pucker scale.
Descending Beehive’s east ridge must be trickier than ascending the route. We decided to rappel a large section at one point to reach a small goat trail. At another sketchy section, Stew set loose a solid 400-pound boulder that tumbled down to Beehive Lake with a large splash a good thousand feet below us. It was one of the scarier moments I’ve had in the alpine.
Eventually we reached the Honeycomb gully. The Honeycomb’s face towered above us. We set up an anchor, as others had before us, and rapped down the gully. It was a quicker and safer option than down climbing choss. After one rappel, the rock firmed up and we down climbed the gully to the awaiting talus field.
As we went back to boulder hopping across the talus field. I took regular pitstops to check out other alpine climbing lines on my hit list – Worker Bee, Life of A Drone, New World Route, and others.
Eventually we returned to our packs, drank some water, and set off to find the Beehive Basin trail. Next time I would downsize the climbing rack. One set of nuts and, 05, .75, and doubling up on cams 1 to 4 would be more than enough gear. On the way to the trail we traveled across peaceful meadows, leaped across crystal clear streams, and stared eye to eye with a large mule deer. We regained the trail near the lake and hoofed it back to the Subaru.
At the end of the day, it looked like a storm was rolling in over the distant Taylor Hilgards. Perfect timing for us to finish up. We were on the trail about 8 hours, covered 2970 feet (905 meters), and traveled 9 miles. What’s Left was a really enjoyable alpine climbing route. The only thing I’d do differently is to take the standard Descent Gully next time. Beehive Peak is an amazing climb all around and I will happily return soon.
For more detailed info on What’s Left and other climbing routes on Beehive Peak, check out:
- Select Alpine Climbs to Montana – Ron Brunkhorst
- Bozeman Rock Climbs – Bill Dockins & Tom Kalakay
- Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone: A Mountaineering History & Guide – Tom Turiano
Here are some additional images from our climb of What’s Left on Beehive Peak:
This was climbed September 3, 2014.