El Capitan, Bitterroot Mountains, MT 08.19.2018


Oct 12, 2015
This is my first trip report here, hope you enjoy.

Last week a friend sent me a message asking if I could get out for a hike this weekend. We had been trying to hook up for a while, but family and work obligations kept getting in the way. As luck would have it, we were both free Sunday, so we decided to make the best of it.

Cory wanted to try and get out of the smoke that we've been having here locally, and he had heard that the Bitterroots weren't quite as smoky. So, we decided on a one-day summit of El Capitan, just West of Darby.

El Capital, 9,983', is the second tallest peak in the Bitterroots behind Trapper Peak just to the south. The "normal" route is a 16-18 mile bushwack from the North via the Little Rock Creek trailhead. We, instead, opted for a Southern approach, via Tin Cup Creek and Kerlee Lake. Unbeknownst to me, this route is closer to 30 miles roundtrip.

We met early in Anaconda and drove the two hours to the trailhead in the dark. We arrived about 4:30 and were on the trail by 5:00. We then spent the first hour and a half hiking by headlamp.

Luckily, the sun came up right before we had to make our first stream crossing, otherwise this would've been a little tricky.


The approach to the first trail junction was about 9 miles following Tin Cup Creek.



That's when we found out we needed to somehow get across this:


After a tricky stream crossing and some even trickier route finding, we finally found the user trail that would bring us to Goat and Kerlee lakes, where we might finally catch our first glimpse of El Cap. The trail has not been maintained in years (or ever, maybe?), so the going was tough. That, and the fact that it gained over 1,600' in less than a mile, made for tough two hours of hiking, but we finally got to Goat Lake around 10:00.


From here, some more route finding got us to Kerlee Lake, where we stopped for lunch.


The peak in the center of that picture is the Lonesome Bachelor, and El Cap sits just to the West. We wouldn't even catch our first glimpse of our goal until we could gain the pass to the left of the Lonesome Bach. We didn't take long for lunch, as we knew we needed to keep moving if we were going to make it in a day.

It didn't take long before we were above the lake looking back on our lunch spot.


The next hour or so were spent negotiating large talus fields and trying to find the best way up to the long summit ridge. We finally made our way up a snow-filled gully and got our first view of the North side approach and could see the summit was another hour or so away.


Finally, after about 9 hours and 15 miles of hiking, we crossed one last snow field and finally made the summit!



After a lunch at the summit and a few texts home to let our families know we had made it and "all is well", we headed back down the trail about 2:30.

The hike out was fairly uneventful, other than the black bear we spooked about a mile from the trailhead. I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of him, and (fortunately) he was running pretty fast in the opposite direction. We finally made it back to the truck around 9:00, just as it was getting to be too dark to see without headlamps once again.

Total stats on the day were 30 miles roundtrip, and 16 hours of hiking. It was a great time, although I'm not sure I'd be willing to do another 30 mile day anytime soon!
Last edited:


Sep 12, 2014
hey, thanks for sharing. that summit view is pretty sweet.


Because I am able.
Dec 31, 2017
That is some serious mileage! But looks like you made it to the top of the world :) Thanks for sharing!


Onward and upward
Aug 20, 2016
This was something on my list this summer that unfortunately never got checked. I did get trapper peak done though!


Oct 12, 2015
@misSOULa that was my first time in the Bitterroots, but would love to explore that area more next summer. How was Trapper Peak? Would like to make it over and do that one next.
Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
GarrettM Attempted Summit of El Capitan - Montana, Bitterroot National Forrest Backpacking 7
misSOULa Montana's Bitterroot Mountains: Big Creek Lakes and Ranger Point Backpacking 2
misSOULa Montana's Bitterroot Mountains: Gem lake and Trapper Peak Backpacking 1
misSOULa Montana's Bitterroot Mountains: Bass Creek Backpacking 1
Bryan Harwood Blodgett Canyon: The Bitterroot Masterpiece Backpacking 6
Bryan Harwood Bitterroot Summit Hike #3: Gash Point Hiking & Camping 0
Bryan Harwood Selway- Bitterroot Wilderness #3: Bass Creek Backpacking 2
Bryan Harwood Bitterroot Summit Hike #2: Mt. Ward Hiking & Camping 5
Bryan Harwood Selway- Bitterroot Wilderness #2: Big Creek Backpacking 2
Bryan Harwood Bitterroot Summit: Sweeney Peak 04-02-16 Hiking & Camping 0
Bryan Harwood Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Backpacking 4
kansas good place to watch sunrise in the La Sal mountains Trip Planning 0
NorthwestWanderer First time in the High Uintas | Red Castle SNEAK Loop | I give these mountains 5 out of 5 stars Backpacking 7
westy Wallowa Mountains, Oregon Trip Planning 3
John Goering Pioneer Mountains, Montana <50" UTV trip Off Road 3
Kerrie at Thru We Go Packraft Trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains Trip Reports 2
John Goering Boulder Lakes, Tobacco Root Mountains Off Road 0
John Goering Tobacco Root Mountains South Meadow Creek Off Road 1
C Utah Mountains in Late May Trip Planning 12
S Mentasta Mountains, Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve- family backpack Backpacking 1
Noun Sequitur Magdalena Mountains, Mesa Trail Loop Hiking & Camping 3
Mountain Wanderer Four Lakes Basin in the Southern Cabinet Mountains - Montana Backpacking 12
Artemus Wind River Mountains Conditions 2021 Trip Planning 17
J Death Valley NP Black Mountains and beyond Hiking Dec 19-20, 2020 Hiking & Camping 1
scatman Grassy Benchmark - Grassy Mountains - April 24, 2021 Hiking & Camping 18
scatman Peak 6551 - Lakeside Mountains - April 17, 2021 Hiking & Camping 7
norwegianxplorer In the shadow of the Henry Mountains, Utah Backpacking 2
Mountain Wanderer Cedar Lakes Loop in Montana's Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Backpacking 4
Janice Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - August 2-7 Backpacking 15
balzaccom Ruby Mountains, Nevada Hiking & Camping 2
fossana 2fer in the Tushars (Tushar Mountains, UT) Hiking & Camping 4
TeamJenkins17 Bighorn Mountains Trip Planning 2
T Grizzly bears in Wind River Mountains Noobs: Introduce yourself! 12
fossana Bat Mountain traverse (Funeral Mountains) Hiking & Camping 5
westy Meadow Valley Mountains Backpacking 7
westy Meadow Valley Mountains Hiking & Camping 2
scatman Tabby's Peak, Cedar Mountains - November 19, 2019 Hiking & Camping 10
westy Delamar Mountains. Again. Hiking & Camping 0
westy Delamar Mountains Hiking & Camping 4
Artemus Wind River Mountains Snowpack 2019/2020 Trip Planning 12
fossana Delano Peak the even longer way (Tushar Mountains, UT) Hiking & Camping 14
fossana Ruby Crest Trail (Ruby Mountains Wilderness) Backpacking 7
fossana Browns Point > Summit > Whipple loop (Pine Valley Mountains Wilderness, UT) Hiking & Camping 1
fossana Delano Peak the long way (Tushar Mountains, UT) Hiking & Camping 14
Parma Idaho's White Cloud Mountains - Boulder Chain Lakes - Chamberlain Basin Backpacking 8
N Wallowa Mountains and Seven Devils wilderness September Trip Planning 3
westy Clover Mountains Hiking & Camping 1
fossana Moapa Peak (Mormon Mountains Wilderness, NV) Hiking & Camping 5
MikeM Ski Mountaineering the Highland Mountains, MT Winter Sports 3
westy Tushar Mountains Trip Planning 2

Similar threads

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.