Basecamp: Solve the riddle of the Sphinx
Rising 10,876 feet, Sphinx Mountain stands guard over the same wildlife that call Yellowstone home. Viewing the peak from the Madison Valley, the reddish brown fortress stands out amongst its peers and practically begs to be climbed. Pitch your tent at the Bear Creek Campground (free, no reservations). Then, get an early start hiking along Trail 326 for two miles, until it joins Trail 325. Stay left for three miles to the saddle between the Helmet and Sphinx Mountain. Stay right, heading for the big obvious gully. Scramble up the gully until you sight the summit plateau. As the plateau levels out, look for the ridgeline about 400 feet above on the right. The true summit is at the northeast end of the ridge.
Kayak: Dodge trees while communing with the spirits
Rent a kayak from Paddle On Adventures ($45/day single, $70/day tandem, 406-209-7452) and while plying the now still waters of Earthquake Lake consider that in 1959 a massive earthquake caused nearby Hebgen Lake to tip and slosh its contents from one shore to another. Eventually these twenty-foot waves (called seiches) overtopped Hebgen Dam and rushed downstream forming Quake Lake. A landslide traveling down the south flank of Sheep Mountain (at an estimated 100 miles per hour) killed 28 people who were camping along the shores of Hebgen Lake and the Madison River. After kayaking, visit the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center ($3/car, 406-823-6961) overlooking the lake and slide and learn more about the quake.
Backpack: Hear the call of the wild (again) on Echo Peak
Echo Peak, the third highest peak in the Madison Range (and a technically easy scramble), lords over the high-altitude, lake-filled Hilgard Basin. Starting at Potamogeton Park on the Beaver Creek Road, follow Sentinel Creek Trail 7 miles to a trail junction in the narrow basin east of Expedition Pass. Turn left and head up and then down into Hilgard Basin. Set up camp anywhere in the Basin (choose one of the already established campsites to reduce wear on this fragile area) and take a chilly dip in one of the eight lakes. The next morning, follow a bench southwest to Thunderbolt Lake and clamber up the north ridge of 11,214-foot Echo Peak. USGS quads: Pika Point, Hilgard Peak
March 07, 2008