Star Peak: a “new” name for an old mountain — and a great hike

First, and at the risk of turning this into a product review, let me first say that the Lightning Ascent snowshoes from Mountain Safety Research are a bit pricy, but boy, do they work well. Last Sunday, mine got their first workout as I accompanied Susan Drumheller, Brad Smith, Bev Newsham and Cabell Hodges on a FSPW winter hike up Star Peak.

Cabell, Sandy, Susan and Bev at the "politically incorrect' sign
Cabell, Sandy, Susan and Bev at the "politically incorrect' sign. (Photo by Brad Smith)

Star Peak was not the original destination for this hike. It was listed as a snowshoe walk up East Fork Creek in the Lightning Creek drainage, but snow has not manifested itself in enough abundance down low to justify risking bumps and bruises that could be garnered attempting a hike up ice-covered Road 419. So, we flexed, plans changed and it was good.

The first couple of miles of the Star Peak trail is really an old logging road that some folks still run ATV’s on, though I’m not sure if that’s legal. The big Kelly hump at the base of the road seems to indicate that it’s not, but there’s no sign to back it up. I’ve made a mental note to ask the Forest Service about that. Use notwithstanding, this steep, rocky old twin-track is a fair approach to a great “trailhead” that still sports an old-fashioned routered Forest Service sign that reads, in part, “Squaw Peak L.O. – 2 1/2.” In the interest of cultural sensitivity, Squaw Peak was renamed “Star” by the Forest Service over a decade ago.

One of the first Forest Service trails in the Cabinets is trail 998, built — long before the approach road came about — by the first ranger on what was then the Cabinet National Forest, Granville “Granny” Gordon. Gordon, who came into this country in 1907 with his wife and family, also built the stacked rock cabin that still graces a spot near the summit of Star Peak, just below the 1930s lookout cabin that sits at the pinnacle of the mountain.

We packed our snowshoes as far as that “politically incorrect” sign, and farther, finally putting them on near the bottom of a big patch of lodgepole that covers many acres of the south face of the peak. Many of the trees have been killed by beetles, and the sparse cover makes for great snowshoeing. When we abandoned the trail and took off up the fall line, a couple of us were making a mental note to bring skis next time. As we began up through this open, snowy forest, too, we noted that standing among the dead are a fair amount of the living, some of which have already begun to reseed the stand.

We didn’t make the top to get a winter gander at Granny’s rock shelter, as concerns about running out of daylight turned us around a few hundred yards shy. We were justified in our decision when we got back to the truck about 30 minutes after sunset, happy to be back in time, and hungry — not only for dinner, but for another shot at the peak.

Star (nee Squaw) Peak is at the very southern end of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. Although the mountain has gotten a new name, some folks are resistant to that change, or simply not used to the new name. In the nearby neighborhoods, the names are interchangeable yet. After all, it had been Squaw Peak for a long, long time, and the first name of it was somewhat more indelicate than that.

I like the new name. To me, it means more than the other, for the mountain itself has been part of my personal landscape since I was a baby. When we were young, we camped out each summer in the front yard of our home in Montana. On those evenings, before sleep, we would watch for the lookout light in that white cabin atop the peak. Often, we knew whose hand it was that lit the lamp, and more than once, I looked at it and thought how much it looked to me like an extra star.

We have another hike to Star this winter, led by Jacob Styer. Take a look in the hike schedule for a description and a chance to sign up. I’m going, and I bet this time, we make it to the top. I owe it to my snowshoes and the memory of Granny Gordon.

— Sandy Compton

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Categories: Blog
About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (, which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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  1. Indeed, it was a great hike/snowshoe. My goal-oriented personality will require that I go pack and attain the summit. Look forward to another “run” at the summit.

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