Hiking Montana, by Bill and Russ Schneider, rates the climbs in their book on a scale that starts at Category 5 and ends with Category H. Category 5 hills are defined as “a slight upgrade, while Category H hills are ones “that make you wonder if the person who laid out the trail was on drugs. Any trail with a Category H hill is steeper than any trail should be.” H stands for “horrible.” Category 1 hills, on the other hand, are merely “lung-busting and calf-stretching.” Personally, I don’t equate busting a lung with stretching my calf, but there you have it.
Because the Crazy Mountains are steep, they have their share of Category H and Category 1 hikes. Two of my favorites are the hike to Cottonwood Lake, which starts from the west side of the mountains, and the hike to Glacier Lake, which starts from the east.
The six-mile trail to Cottonwood Lake is steep and rocky, but the real grind doesn’t start until the third mile or so. And believe me, when the guidebook says that a climb will “stretch my calves”, you can be sure that in my mind that grade is definitely a category “H”. Especially if I’ve got 35 -40 lbs. on my back. The last time we did this hike we actually spooked a black bear at the top of the steep climb, but I was so tuckered out that my only response was a tired grunt. The bear, on the other hand, had plenty of energy, and ran hell-for-leather straight uphill.
There are some lovely campspots about a mile before the lake, or you can camp closer to the lake. And, you often have the whole area to yourself.
The hike to Glacier Lake starts on the east side of the mountains, from the Big Timber trailhead. The first three miles or so to Upper and Lower Twin Lake are a nice gradual climb, and the lakes are a perfect spot for a lunch break:
The trail then starts a 2,000 foot climb to the pass above Twin Lakes. It’s switchbacked, so it doesn’t move into a Category H climb, even for me, but it’s definitely a tough climb. The last time we were there it was early September, and both whortleberries and huckleberries were ripe, which provided an excellent distraction for me as we made our way up the switchbacks:
This next picture gives a pretty good idea of how high we climbed on that hike:
And, we found a perfect campsite next to a little babbling brook. As usual, it was worth the effort.