Not that kind of crater.
A few years ago one of my students asked me if Mount Powell (30 miles NW of Butte) is an extinct volcano. It is not. When I asked why he thought it might have been volcanic, he told me about “The Crater” – And that’s when I became curious about Mount Powell. As it turns out, The Crater, which is even labelled on maps, is actually an impressive cirque, shaped by a glacier that once flowed from Powell’s northeast slope toward the valley of the Clark Fork River. The Crater was definitely the highlight of my hike to the summit in July of 2016, but I was also impressed by a strange flow-shaped mass of rocks near the bottom of the crater. According to geology maps, the unusual deposit was left by a “rock glacier”. Apparently during the glacier’s final decades, there were more rocks than ice in the mix. Eventually even the ice between the rocks melted away, and the rocks were left without a “ride”. From the summit, the deposit looks like a fluid blob of rocks, but without the matrix of ice, the rocks are no longer flowing. (Photo Tour)
To loop, or not to loop.
Mount Powell is the highest peak in the Flint Creek Range (10,168 feet). It is situated between Helena, Butte, and Missoula, making it a great option for many who are seeking a challenging one-day adventure. I left Helena at 5:45 am, drove 75 miles, parked alongside a road, and started hiking at 7 am – There is no trail, so you’re on your own. I followed the driving directions in my Peakbagging Montana book by Cedron Jones to get there, but chose a hiking route slightly different than the one detailed by Jones. I ended up doing a 13.5-mile loop, but wished I had done it as an out-and-back hike instead. From where I started, it was 5.7 miles one-way to the summit of Powell with 4,330 ft. of elevation gain, then another 1.5 miles along a scenic ridge to the summit of Deer Lodge Mountain. So, if I had turned back after reaching Deer Lodge Mountain it would have been ~14.5 miles round-trip. The problem with the loop route that I opted for, is that it involved cutting across a drainage where my dog and I encountered some very unpleasant bush-whacking. I’ll be smarter next time – My dog certainly hopes so. We arrived back at the car around 3:30 pm.
Note: The photo tour includes driving directions, an image that shows my hiking route, and several photos of The Crater. Click on the link below to access it.
- Photo Tour – Great views of the crater!
Includes driving directions, map of my route, many photos.
- Map of the Mt. Powell area.
Zoom in to see more detail.
- More about rock glaciers from Geology.com.
- Even more about rock glaciers.
This site does not open on many mobile devices.
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.
I like the geology lessons that accompany your interesting hikes and great photos. I had not heard of a rock glacier before but it makes perfect sense. Wow, very dramatic ridge and the view to the lakes is stunning.
Thank you. Geology, meteorology, scenery, photography, exercise – There are so many things I like about hiking.
Very impressive hike and very detailed information about the hike. Are the rocks from the rock glacier still flowing slowly?
I don’t think so (at least not like they were when they were part of the rock glacier). As with any pile of rocks on a steep slope, there will be some downward movement of rocks, especially during the spring as snow melts and the ground thaws.
This place seems so remarkable and worth exploring. Enjoyed reading your post and seeing the pictures. I am definitely adding Mount Powell to my bucket list!
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