Venture Across Froze-to-Death Plateau

Venture Across Froze-to-Death Plateau

One of the Most Fascinating Places in Montana

Montana has some beautiful places to visit. There are the Eastern Montana prairie lands, the dry Pryor Mountains, the rugged western part of the state, and a huge variety of lakes, rivers, and streams to explore in the Beartooths. But if you really want to experience mountain life, and want to see how life truly is above 10,000 feet, then you need to head to the top of Froze-to-Death Plateau.

Don’t let the name scare you. If you plan properly you won’t actually freeze to death. Instead you will step into what can only be described as a different world. A place where everything you know about mountain life goes out the window, and things just feel different.

Getting to Froze-to-Death

There are two ways to get to the plateau, neither of them are easy. One is longer, the other is steeper. It all depends on your hiking style and what you want to see.

The more popular route is to head up the West Rosebud canyon. You hike to Mystic Lake before turning onto the Phantom Creek trail. The turn off provides a great place to sit, relax, have a snack, and catch your breath because the next section is a bit grueling. At the turn-off you head up the mountain and hit the switchbacks from hell. Over the course of the next two miles, you gain over 3,000 feet in elevation and switch back 26 times. When you have reached the giant rock cairn, you’re basically at the top of the switchbacks and the low point of the plateau.

The less popular route may be the way you want to go. Head up the East Rosebud canyon, and shortly before you get to the lake you will find the Phantom Creek trailhead. You have to hike 7 miles to get to Froze-to-Death, but most of them are pretty moderate. There’s a great stopping point at the 2.5 mile spot where you can relax on the shores of Slough Lake (technically a wide spot in the creek). The last 1 mile or so is where it gets tough. Full disclosure: this is the only place in the Beartooths where I have seen signs of grizzly bears.

Traversing the Plateau

Once you have arrived at the plateau your adventures continue. The plateau is teeming with tundra style plants, flowers you don’t see down low, glacial pools and streams, and rocks. Lots of rocks. You can hang out for a bit and drop back down, or you can venture across. I suggest venturing.

The plateau runs mostly east and west. At the far west it ends at Froze-to-Death Mountain, a spot you can gather a great view of Granite Peak. But to get there you have roughly 4 miles of traversing on the top of the plateau. 5 to get to the saddle.

Despite what the name implies, it’s not flat up there. Nor is the trail well marked. Instead, you have a very low incline where you walk from one rock cairn to the next. There are little rolling sections where you can’t see over the top, and you think “I have to be close” only to be disappointed that you still cannot see the end. It’s all part of the adventure, take your time and enjoy the trip.

On your right and left (north and south) you do have great views down into the valleys. Turn around and you can see off the edge of the Beartooths into the plains below. There are a few rock shelters built up if you need to pitch a tent, but keep in mind that it’s going to be windy, and snow falls up there 12 months out of the year.

The whole trip is worthwhile when you get to the top of Froze-to-Death Mountain; or the base of Tempest Mountain. From there if a highpoint is your goal you can set up camp and conquer Granite Peak the next day. If not, you’re far into the wilderness, so you will have quite the trek to get out before nightfall.

Explore Your Montana

I have often described Froze-to-Death Plateau as my most favorite place in the world. Part is the strain required to get there. Part is the isolation you experience. Part is the beauty you don’t find elsewhere (even driving up the Beartooth Pass doesn’t yield the same feeling). Part is the long hike above 10,000 feet that will test your mettle. However the factors combine, it becomes a place of enchantment; a place that provides some amazing memories, pictures, and stories when you get back down.

by Scott Sery
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here. Find out more about Scott at