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Sunlit Summit

Cloud Peak

Elevation: 13,169 ft.

Prominence: 7,079 ft.

Isolation: 145 miles

Technical Difficulty: Class 2

Cloud Peak Guidebook


While the Bighorns are not as popular as other Rocky Mountain ranges, this area harbors just as impressive an array of alpine lakes, big walls, and remote spires as almost anywhere else in the contiguous U.S. Cloud Peak, as the highpoint of the range and one of the three ultra-prominent peaks in Wyoming, is a great introduction to the state’s mountains. It is also one of the easiest Wyoming 13ers in general, both in terms of technical difficulty and distance from the trailhead.

General Considerations

Most people climb Cloud Peak as part of a short backpacking trip, but it is also a reasonable day-hike for those who are comfortable with ~25-mile days, since most of the distance is on a good trail. Only the most popular routes are described here, but as always, there is no need to limit yourself, and accessing the peak from a different trailhead or traversing more of the range is certainly worthwhile too.

Route 1: Southwest Ridge – Class 2

From the West Tensleep Trailhead, follow the scenic Mistymoon Trail past Lake Helen, Lake Marion, and Mistymoon Lake (each of which are popular backpacking destinations). At Mistymoon Lake, stay on the northbound trail and cross a slight pass into the Paint Rock Creek drainage, leaving the trail at a convenient point to travel off-trail across a meadow to reach Paint Rock Creek.

Hike cross-country up the Paint Rock Creek drainage over mixed grass and talus to about 10,600 ft., at which point the route begins climbing slightly left (northeast) away from the creek and into a subsidiary valley. Climb talus at the head of the subsidiary valley to reach Cloud Peak’s broad, talus-covered southwest ridge around 12,000 ft.

From the talus plateau at the top of the subsidiary valley, the southwest ridge narrows to a thin line of rocks which provides a connection to Cloud Peak’s upper slopes. The final ascent consists of a few hundred feet of clambering around giant boulders on the south slope of Cloud’s summit plateau. The highpoint, marked by a cairn, is located close to the precipitous east face and affords stunning views of the Cloud Peak Glacier and Glacier Lake far below.

Route 2: North Slopes – Class 3, Mellow Snow

Despite its intimidating appearance from afar, the north face of Cloud Peak has a little-known route that enables an ascent from (or descent to) Wilderness Basin, which is the long west-facing valley that reaches from Lake Solitude past Middle Cloud Peak Lake to the cirque of Black Tooth, Woolsey, the Innominate, and Cloud Peak. Since Wilderness Basin has no trails, accessing this area is left as an exercise in wilderness routefinding.

From Lake 11170 at the head of Wilderness Basin, head southeast up steepening talus slopes towards a persistent snowfield at the base of Cloud’s north slopes. The route’s general location can be identified based on a large, right-angling dike of black rock. In general, the easiest terrain is found a short distance to climber’s right of the dike. After crossing the snowfield (if it hasn’t melted yet), the route becomes straightforward and entails mixed hiking and basic scrambling up highly fractured terrain. Small cliffs interrupt easy progress, but there is always a way forward if you keep looking for the path of least resistance. Before long, the route emerges onto Cloud’s vast, low-angle northern plateau, and the summit is close by.

Cloud Peak Map

Click title to show track
Southwest Ridge Route
North Slopes Route

Cloud Peak Panorama

Cloud Peak Photos

DISCLAIMER: Mountain climbing is dangerous. Activities described on this page may lead to serious injury, death, and property damage. This webpage is presented with no warranty express or implied. Pictures and text are for entertainment purposes only. No commercial use allowed; all rights reserved.