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Trip Report    

Alpine Scramble - Bismarck Peak

This was an epic scramble with great summit views. A significant thunderstorm during the descent added "interest" to the trip.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The Pear Butte Trail needs a lot of maintenance.  There are dozens of logs down across the trail, none terribly difficult to climb over or crawl under, but enough to slow us down somewhat.  From where we left the Pear Butte Trail, only portions of the trail to Bismarck are still evident.  From the final saddle about 1000' below the summit, we started by following the ridge with trees; when the trees end, the continuation of the route is fairly obvious.  Ice axes were not needed, but there was snow (that won't last much longer) available to replenish water bottles.

Having attempted this peak before, I knew it would be a long day, so we camped nearby the night before and were on the trail at around 6:15.  We descended part way toward the pond south of Point 6274 hoping to find running water, but settled for snow to replenish our water bottles.  Fortunately, the day was not so warm as to need as much water as I expected.  It appears on the map that the old trail bypasses Point 6816, the last significant point on the ridge before Bismarck, but we never found that portion of the trail.

The summit was sunny with great views, but there were clouds and shower activity in the distance in several directions.  We took home a large summit register that we were unable to open; we'll deliver it to the Program Center.  A smaller register left by Fay  Pullen is full and also wet and falling apart; this (and its inadequate container) should be replaced the next time there is a Mountaineers scramble of this peak.  We had thought about doing this as a loop connecting to the Mt. Aix trail, but even though it was sunny, it was obvious that the weather was unstable and if a thunderstorm were to develop, that route would be less safe.

That turned out to be a good decision, because after we had descended about 700 feet, a thunderstorm developed very quickly.  We stopped where we could get off the sharpest part of the ridge to wait it out.  After about 15 minutes there was a bit of a lull, and we quickly descended to the saddle and then below the saddle to the south.  There we waited  for about a half hour in rain and hail as the intensity of the storm increased.  A few of the thunderclaps were within 3 seconds of the associated flash, indicating that those lightning strikes were just over a half mile away.  We were getting cold at that point, and when the storm seemed a bit less intense, we continued on our way, but well below the ridge.  Where there were side ridges that needed to be crossed we did so quickly through trees.  Finally the storm died away and we could return to the route along the ridge.  We returned to the cars about 15 hours after we started.

Why did it take us so long?  The thunderstorm probably accounts for about an hour and the obstacles on the trail perhaps another half hour.  Mainly, though, this is a trip with lots of ups and downs, not all apparent on the map.  The net gain is 3900' but there are at least 900' extra each way.  It wouldn't surprise me if a careful measurement of our route showed a total gain of over 6000' for the day.