Darwin Ranch approach to Doubletop

Corrections and additions for Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone.

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Darwin Ranch approach to Doubletop

Post by TomTuriano »

On July 23-24, 2006, I climbed Doubletop and Triangle peaks from the Darwin Ranch side. I had climbed Doubletop twice before, once in April 1987 from a camp above Brewster Lake, and once in summer in one day from Dell Creek. I also climbed Triangle during that April trip. So, I was excited to explore the northeast approach to these peaks.

The first thing I learned is that the Kinky Creek Road was realigned in 2003 (the same year Select Peaks was published). Hence, the map on page 326 of Select Peaks is in error. The red line on the map below shows the new alignment. The yellow line is the old alignment. The new road continues beyond the new Kinky Creek Trailhead at the end of the red line down a series of switchbacks to the Darwin Ranch, but the portion of the road beyond the trailhead is gated and private.

The hard-to-see blue line on the map below is the new connector trail from the new Kinky Creek Trailhead to the Wilderness boundary and the Dry Fork/Clear Creek trail junction. From the new trailhead, the new trail drops through a gap in Red Bluff Ridge into Clear Creek drainage. The trail crosses Clear Creek on a footbridge to reach the main trail junction. The US Forest Service is hoping to have their maps updated in the next year or two.


The second thing I learned was that Dry Fork is not the best way to approach Doubletop as mentioned on page 331 of Select Peaks. Clear Creek is. Dry Fork trail is very steep and undulating during the first several miles, and the headwaters above Brewster Lake is very rugged. Clear Creek, on the other hand, climbs mostly gradually and the terrain at its head is much more forgiving. The lower portion of the Dry Fork trail is misplaced in Select Peaks on page 326. The short peach-colored line in the map above is a more accurate representation of its location.

Our itinerary on this trip was to ascend Clear Creek, climb Doubletop, Triangle, and Darwin peaks, and then descend the Dry Fork trail. The Clear Creek trail was excellent for three miles until its crossing of Clear Creek. At this point, we followed a faint trail along the northwest bank of the creek to spectacular Clear Lake. From there, a faint trail, lost often but soon regained, continued along the right side of the valley, passing along the rim of a steep gorge at its trickiest point. Soon, the going was very easy on limestone slabs and detritus until we reached our camp destination--a small unnamed lake immediately below Triangle Peak on its south side at the head of Clear Creek.

That evening, we braved 600 feet of steep limestone scree and talus to gain the northeast ridge of Triangle Peak, which we followed easily to the summit at about 6pm. Our descent took us back down the northeast ridge to the first major saddle, which afforded a much easier route back down into Clear Creek, albeit over a mile downstream from our camp.

The next day, we broke camp and hiked under the southern scree slopes of Triangle and gained the upper basin of Clear Creek. This is a spectacular location with limestone slabs interspersed with tufts of vegetation and erratic boulders. We quickly climbed and descended the west ridge of Doubletop Mountain, and then worked our way slowly across an ambigous drainage divide into the head of Dry Fork.

Dry Fork is another spectacular drainage with several large lakes rimmed by slightly-dipping stepped sedimentary bands representing most of the Paleozoic Era. The trail skirts the north shore of Brewster Lake, and then follows the north side of the valley for several miles before climbing tediously onto the undulating ridge separating Dry Fork from upper Gros Ventre River. At the trail junction, cross the footbridge and follow the new trail up through Red Bluff Ridge to the new Kinky Creek Trailhead.
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