Of course Mt. Fitzpatrick is kick-ass. The peak, the highest in the Salt River Range to Jackson Hole’s south, is named for a mountain man who once hid for two days from a party of unfriendly—they were trying to kill him—Gros Ventre Indians only to emerge and be attacked by a pack of wolves. (He survived the wolves too.)
What Makes It Great
Fitzpatrick the man was 6’1. Tall for his time. Mt. Fitzpatrick is 10,907-feet. Its summit is about 4,000-some feet above the Swift Creek Trailhead.
It also comes with extra credit. If Yellowstone is unique in the world for the number and density of its geysers, the Periodic Spring’s claim to fame is that it is one of the few cold water geysers in the world. It requires a slight—1/2-mile—detour from the Mt. Fitzpatrick trail. We recommend it.
After all, the trailhead for Mt. Fitzpatrick is several miles east of Afton, a good 90-minute drive from Jackson. If you’re going to be down there, you might as well hit as many sights as you can!
We’ve done this hike in late July and the explosion of wildflowers started almost as soon as we left the car. The flowers continued all the way to Fitz’s rocky summit. We’ve seen a fair amount of awesome wildflowers around Jackson Hole and nowhere has been so decadent, so thick, so varied and so overwhelming as Swift Creek’s south fork and the open slope leading to the ridge you take to Fitzpatrick’s summit.
The start from the parking lot is a little loose and scrappy. Suffering an initial steep, dusty pitch, you’ll quickly start crossing the side of a hill well above Swift Creek. This is pleasant. Several miles in, when the Swift Creek trail splits from the trail to Rock Lake Peak (so you’re following the creek’s south fork) and then enters an open meadow, it gets downright gorgeous. Waist-high hairbells anyone??
As you wander up the south fork of Swift Creek, the trail is gentle and affords great views of the west face of Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is the highest point on the ridge to your left as you’re walking up the canyon. You can certainly scramble up these slopes to the summit, but we don’t recommend it. Attaining Fitzpatrick via its southern ridge is among the most scenic scrambles we’ve ever done.
Follow the trail to the back of the drainage, walking around minor avy debris en route. At the head of the drainage, look left (east). Just behind the open slope in front of you is a ridge stretching for two miles, all the way to Fitzpatrick’s summit.
The ridge isn’t knife-edge because of its western side. To the east side it does drop off fairly precipitously for most of the way to Fitzpatrick. Even when the east side is slightly mellower though, there are not many route option. In all but one section, we stayed exactly on the ridge. Where we left it—to get around a thick stand of whitebark—we dropped to the west and side-hilled on steep, fearfully loose scree. It sucked and also made for amazingly slow travel. Stay on the ridge itself as much as possible.
There is no technical climbing on the ridge, but there are areas that feel—and are—quite exposed. Also, hikers who like the security of a definite trail might want to skip the ridge and summit. (Taking the trail to the pass at the back of the south fork of Swift Creek is a worthy hike on its own.)
The summit of Fitzpatrick has 360-degree views that take in the Greys River Valley just below to the east, the Snake River Range, the Caribous, the Gros Ventres, the red-tinted Wyoming Range, the surrounding Salts, and even the Tetons and Winds. Immediately below Fitzpatrick’s east face, the Caribbean-blue Upper Crow Lake is one of our “most beautiful lakes in the area.”
Once you’ve taken the ridge to the summit, feel free to bushwhack down the west face to reach the trail below. That’s what we did. It shaved off a bit of mileage, but wasn’t that much faster.
If Indians and wolves couldn’t kill Fitzpatrick, you might be wondering what did. Pneumonia finally got him in 1854. He was 55.
Who is Going to Love It
Even without flowers though, this hike is gorgeous. And we bet you won’t see anyone else. Blooming wildflowers and solitude - who wouldn't love that?
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The road to the Swift Creek parking area is signed from Highway 89 on the north end of Afton. The sign either says “Swift Creek” or “Periodic Spring.”
For information on how to access Mt. Fitzpatrick from the Crow Lakes, check out Rebecca Woods Bloom's book, Beyond the Tetons. Tom Turiano's book, Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, has additional information on this ridge route, as well as on Fitzpatrick the man.