Distance: 19.5 km
Elevation gain: 1335 m View map Download GPS track
Lightning Peak is the second highest peak in the Livingstone Range, named after nearby Thunder Mountain by Bob Spirko after he found and published an easy route to its summit in 2015
. I’ve wanted to scramble it ever since then, and in need of exercise today I figured it would make for a nice solo scramble.
I located the trailhead about 3 km south of the Maycroft Road – Highway 40 junction and parked in a large field on the east side of the road. I wouldn’t have wanted to get a car into the meadow, however, and there wasn’t a lot of room by the side of the road to park at this spot, so keep that in mind if you’re heading to this area in a smaller vehicle.
An old dirt road headed east into the forest at this point and I began my hike along it. In retrospect I probably could’ve driven the truck for quite some distance down it, perhaps most of the way, but it would’ve been slow going and I wanted the exercise anyway. After 3 km of easy hiking and shortly after descending to and crossing a minor stream, I turned sharply left onto another road. I followed this road for a further 1.5 km until I reached a washout in the road where a couple pieces of flagging indicated this was the beginning of the ascent route.
I followed the lefthand bank of the drainage through open forest for a few hundred meters, then crossed the rocky and dry creekbed when I saw a cairn on the opposite bank. This is a critical juncture and is easy to miss, but it marks the start of a steep ascent along a minor rib that eventually leads right to the summit ridge.
The hike along the minor rib was easy and there was an obvious trail for the first kilometer or so. The trail faded when I came to a steep and dry open area, then disappeared completely (or I just lost it) when the trail re-entered forest. Multiple animal trails were quite distracting through here, but they all seemed to lead in the wrong direction, so I found myself uncharacteristically relying on my GPS until I reached open meadows perhaps 500 m later.
With the forest now gone and the summit ridge visible it seemed easy to plot a route up; the only obstacle being a gully and the desire to avoid gaining too much elevation that would need to be lost in order to cross it. On both the ascent and descent, however, I couldn’t find a good way through this area. In both cases I ended up awkwardly sidehilling on a slope of varying stability and questioning why I wasn’t able to find even the faintest of animal or human trails.
Once across the gully I continued steeply up the rocky slope, eventually encountering pleasant grass as the slope angle eased. Again, I found navigation tricky. I knew I had to contour to the right (south), but couldn’t seem to stop myself from gaining elevation that I subsequently had to lose. The GPS kept me largely on the most direct route, but it was a bit disconcerting that I was finding ways to make such an easy ascent more difficult than it had to be. In my pre-trip research I’d noticed the elevation gain reported by others varied by several hundred meters, so evidently I’m not the only one who gains and loses unnecessary elevation on this scramble.
Navigation finally became straightforward when I reached the summit ridge. As I made my way along the ridge I often found sheep trails to follow, some bypassing minor highpoints, and had no trouble finding my way through areas that had appeared difficult from afar. I was surprised by how narrow the ridge was as I passed over the false summit, however. There were multiple routes to choose from, but all had some degree of real or imagined exposure. As I made my way along I kept thinking about whether it was an easy or moderate scramble, eventually deciding that it is most appropriately defined as a “sort of scary easy scramble”. It’s not a simple walk, but it’s not all-out terrifying either.
After the false summit I picked up a good sheep trail and followed it almost all the way to the summit. A large cairn marked the presumed highpoint, but I wandered around quite a bit to get the best view for photos. Unfortunately dense smoke or haze obscured the view and washed out the sky; it seems a bit early in the year for this, but I guess we’re already on our second or third heat wave this spring.
I had a relaxed lunch on the summit, then retraced my steps back down. The wind had picked up a bit during my summit stay and the random gusts made getting back over the scrambly spots on the false summit a little trickier than on the way up; this wouldn’t be pleasant for a hiker in a stronger wind. The remainder of the descent was uneventful, but I did end up going off track in the same three areas as I did on the ascent! I wasn’t quite myself today, but there must also be something about the terrain that makes it oddly difficult to stay on the easiest route.