The deep south – July 11-12, 2020.
Most of my blog posts have featured adventures in central or west-central Montana but this one tells about two days spent exploring the southernmost tip of Montana with my friend Murray. We left Helena early Saturday morning, drove 200 miles to the remote Italian Peaks area 50 miles south of Dillon (70 miles driving), and started our adventure at the Nicholia Creek Trailhead.
Below: Before returning to Helena, we climbed Eighteenmile Peak (11,124 ft.) – the highest peak on the Continental Divide in Montana.
East into Idaho?
At about 11 am Saturday morning we set off on a 20-mile loop trail that followed Nicholia Creek to it’s headwaters, then took us up and over a beautiful pass to the Deadman Creek drainage (maps included in photo tour – link below). That evening, 10 miles into our journey, we left the main trail, following a .5-mile path up and over a low point on the Continental Divide to Divide Creek Lake in Idaho – just a few hundred feet east (yes, east) of the Montana border. Highlights of the day included discovering a glorious spring just before crossing the pass, visiting with another group from Helena, walking past an amazing anticline (geology thingy), swimming in the lake, and eating dinner on a picnic table.
We got up at 4:15 am Sunday morning and walked up little hill near the lake where we had a great view of Comet Neowise – no light pollution here! After a pre-breakfast nap, we ate, packed up and were back on the main trail in Montana by 9 am. Much of our 10-mile walk on day #2 was on the CDT, which guided us back into the Nicholia Creek drainage. Murray and I enjoyed the open high country that the trail passed through and the views it provided as we returned to the valley floor. We finished the backpacking trip at 2:30 pm Sunday afternoon, and then made the half-hour drive over to Harkness Lakes on some of the worst roads I’ve ever driven. The plan was to camp there, then climb Eighteenmile Peak early Monday morning. However, after finishing the backpacking trip reasonably early and realizing that Harkness Lakes was not a good camping spot (windy, no shade, cows), we decided to climb Eighteenmile and then drive home that night (Sunday) – Plus, the Ibuprofen we’d taken after backpacking kicked in and we were both feeling pretty good by then.
Although it is 11,125 feet at the summit and there is no trail, Eighteenmile begs to be climbed. We could see the entire route from Harkness Lakes up the northeast shoulder to the rocky top, and it was calling us. We pushed each other pretty hard all the way – I led the first hour, then Murray set the pace the rest of the way. The ascent (2.5 miles with ~3,000 ft. of gain) took 2 hours. After spending 25 minutes feasting on spectacular views and basking in the glory of our accomplishment, we started down, taking an hour and 20 minutes to get back to the car. Three hours and forty minutes round-trip – not bad for a couple old geezers. After a quick stop in Dell for refreshments, and another in Dillon for more fluids, food and gas, we made the drive home, arriving in Helena just before midnight.
- Photo Tour of our two trips in the Italian Peaks.
Best viewed on a larger screen – Be sure to read the captions.
- Map of the Italian Peaks area.
Zoom out or in, scroll around.
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.
Beautiful trip and one that’s been on my bucket list so I enjoyed yours vicariously. An elderly well traveled Montana cowboy once told me that the Nicholia creek area was his favorite spot in Montana.
We are planning to do this trip later in August and wondering about access to the creek along the way for our dog for water. Any insight? Thanks!
Lisa – There was access to water in the stream as we hiked up to the pass but dry from the pass to Divide Lake. On our second day there was a stretch where water was flowing in the stream but one again dry once we left the valley and headed back up and over to the trailhead. We did the trip several weeks ago, so it could be much different now.