Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!
Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!
This week, we send you on an overnight backpacking trek that provides miles of glorious alpine exposure in the Big Belt Mountains west of Helena.
Baldy-Edith Basin and Peaks Loop Trail #151
A scenic hike past several mountain lakes, then a high ridge-peak walk along the Baldy-Edith crest.
Roundtrip: 22 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
Directions: First, get to Townsend. From Missoula,you’ll head east on I-90 and then either get off at Garrison Junction to take Highway 12 to Helena and then Highway 287 to Townsend; or you can continue on I-90 all the way to the Three Forks area and then north on Highway 287 to Townsend.
From Townsend, head east on Highway 12 to the East Shore Canyon Ferry Road and then north for 13 miles to the turn for Duck Creek pass. From there it’s about 10 fairly rough miles to the pass; a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Park at the trailhead on the south side of the pass.
What to expect: The first three miles wind through open forest below the ridge connecting Duck Creek Pass with Mt. Baldy. After that, you’ll meet a jeep trail at a small creek – stay on the trail left and to a series of switchbacks.
After five miles you’ll reach the intersection with the trail up from Gypsy Lake, and another mile after that you’ll reach Hidden Lake. The lake visible from the trail is not Hidden Lake. To get there, just follow the trail to the intersection and the lake will be a quarter mile to the west (right).
A mile past Hidden Lake is a junction for a trail to Upper Baldy. After another half-mile the downhill climb will turn uphill for a gradual ascent for 1.5 miles to Edith Lake, which is set in a steep cirque. This is a good place to camp; there are some overused sites at its outlet and at the head of the lake, and there’s generally good cutthroat fishing in the lake.
From here, the trail climbs steadily for a little over a mile to the pass just west of Mt. Edith. This is high, open alpine country with spectacular views in all direction – particularly into the basin you just crossed and the high peaks you’re about to traverse.
Now the fun challenge begins. From here to the top of Mt. Baldy is about four miles, with three “peaks” on the ridge at over 9,000 feet. The first two miles (and peaks) are a pleasure – open alpine meadows with abundant wildflowers. From the top of Peak 9,126 down to the next saddle is a challenging steep boulder field of about 300′ vertical (not good for dogs!). After one more small “bump”, with great views down into Upper Baldy Lake, the ridge rises steeply to the summit – at first on broken rock, then on open flower filled tundra. Near the top, you’ll see a steep snow couloir that drops almost all the way down to Upper Baldy Lake.
Views from the top include the Little Belts and Smith River valley, Castles, Crazies, Absarokees, Bridgers, Gallatins, Madison, Tobacco Roots, Highlands, Elkhorns and the Continental Divide. Not to mention Canyon Ferry Lake at your feet. Close up, you’ll be intrigued by the Needles area to the East in the roadless area.
From the top, you descend over two false summits, both of which are easy to get up, but hard to get down with broken cliffs and some thick timber. From here, you can either follow the ridge north toward your car and eventually hit the jeep trail. Or you can go northeast toward the intersection between the jeep trail and the trail, at which point you are three miles and a thousand vertical from your car.
Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:45 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!
Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!