The last day of January in North Idaho is not the time of the year one expects to be hiking high into the Cabinet Mountains near Montana. In spite of a less-than-stellar forecast we set out for the Scotchman’s Peak trailhead. We managed to get within several miles before getting two Jeeps stuck in the snow. An hour of digging, pushing, and rocking our vehicles we managed to extricate them and head back toward Rapid Lighting Road. Plan B was 6,390’ Goat Mountain.
Jeff Beeman, Don Otis, Ken Emerson and his brother, Scott found the trailhead and started up the relentless trail at 9:30 am. At 2,200’, the overall gain to the summit is nearly 4,200’. We set a quick pace and by 4,500’ we reached the base of the cloud layer. Although temperatures were moderate, the moisture in the dense cloud made it feel much cooler. As we ascended, the trees took on an eerie frost. The trail hugs the ridgeline so it’s tough to get lost in spite of plenty of deadfall. Tracks from wolf, elk, deer, and moose were abundant. We had hoped we might break the top of the cloud layer eventually. Since Scott was just in from Florida, he was finding the going a bit taxing though he never complained and managed to keep within a couple minutes most of the way. The trail reaches the first and only downhill section after 3,500’ of hiking and then drops 200’ before finishing the final ridge past a corniced east ridge. The sun was trying desperately to make an appearance and at times we’d spot blue sky. We did not need snowshoes until this last section and even then we could have made it without them – highly unusual for this time of the year. Jeff and I made the summit about 1:15 pm and ever-so-briefly caught a glimpse of the North Face of Scotchman’s. By the time Ken and Scott arrived a few minutes later, the summit was once again draped in cloud.
We made the roundtrip in little more than 6 hours – the descent was painful as the trail just doesn’t give any breaks to the quadriceps and knees. We did the trail twice in 2014 so we know the views can be spectacular when the sky is clear. I’d recommend waiting until you have a cooperative weather forecast. The views toward Lake Pend Orielle are as good as any in North Idaho. And the views of Scotchman’s can be had from no other summit quite like Goat Mountain.
#1 Don Otis on summit of Goat Mountain
#2 Jeff Beeman makes his way up the first ridge
#3 Wolf track (poor)
#4 Pine frost