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 Gibbons Pass

The combined Beaverhead/Bitterroot ranges reach north from Idaho's Snake River Plain, almost to the Canadian border near Lake Pend Oreille. Over this distance the character of the range changes several times. South of Salmon a steep rocky skyline forms an imposing backdrop of peaks from the Lemhi Valley. By the time these mountains reach Gibbons Pass to the north, they are a big bulk of green, densely forested hills. The continental divide, which has faithfully followed the ridge line of these mountains, takes its leave from the Bitterroots and heads east along the more rugged Anaconda Range. A little further north, the Bitterroot Range also shows off another rugged side, the rocky escarpment west of Hamiliton.
Gibbons Pass is also one of the most historic passes in Montana. It's not just the Lewis and Clarke story, which seems like to be documented with tablets at every turn of the road. The pursuit of the Nez Perce Indians by Captain Gibbons also took its first tragic turn here. Furthermore the pass was the main route of traffic, prior to the construction of US93.

1.(00.0km~00.0mi, 1351m~4432ft) START-END WEST: Sula, jct US93 - East Fork Rd
2.(03.1km~01.9mi, 1394m~4573ft) turn left onto FR106, Camp Creek Rd
3.(05.9km~03.7mi, 1466m~4810ft) stay left uphill on FR106
4.(17.6km~10.9mi, 2117m~6945ft) TOP: Gibbons Pass
5.(18.6km~11.6mi, 2086m~6844ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: right goes to Trail Creek Pass over higher point. Profile stays left
6.(31.3km~19.4mi, 1948m~6391ft) turn left onto Mt43
7.(61.4km~38.2mi, 1843m~6046ft) START-END EAST: Wisdom


From North. When US93 passes through the collection of houses, known as Connor. It has no rumble strips - no shoulder either. The road winds along the west Fork of the Bitterroot River, accompanied by a wide collection of humanoid habitat. The structures range from roadside residences to businesses like the the naughty Moose Restaurant, and log cabin vendors to small saw mills. The residences too span the gamut from old shacks to large mansions with equally large for sale signs. The background is a picture of devastation left from the last forest fire. It accompanies the rider almost to the top of Gibbons Pass.

But we are still on the lower, busy paved section. Sula is a gas station /bar, reminding the passerby that the next gas station south is 43 miles away, implying that he should not mind paying the extra cost that this business charges. Leaving Sula several neglected tablets tell the story of Lewis and Clarke's meeting with Indians, here at the junction of West Fork and the beginning of the northern ascent to Lost Trail Pass.

After about a mile the dirt road to Gibbons Pass turns off to the left. It is well signed. It parallels paved US93 for a few miles, then traverses up the slope to the left. As it gains altitude it enters what is left of the woods, a black and white matchstick forest. Open views are opener now. The rocky ridgeline of the Trapper's Peak portion of the Bitterroot Range starts to appear as background to the stark shape of naked trees. The various meanders that have been climbed already make up the middleground of the view. The road cut for Gibbons Pass can be seen ahead, past the next long detour into an indentation into the hills. Once this section of road is reached, it seems much higher than it did from below, partly due to the effort required to get here, and also because the Bitterroot Crest behind the Hamilton area is now more completely visible.

Finally the road enters green trees, more than just trees - a thick healthy forest, the views disappear. At the shallow top, which seems like an average spot in an average forest, a whole collection of historical signs mentioning Lewis and Clarke, Chief Joseph and Capt. Gibbons line the pass.

From South. (described downwards). This side has a completely different character, not only because the area devastated by fire, ends here. There is also very little evidence that you are on top of a ridge. An ever so slightly slanted surface leads through open meadows and wet lands. This must have been a sought after camping area during Indian trail days. Granted, there is a slight downhill, the bike does roll a bit faster.

A branch in the road allows a direct descent to the top of paved Lost Trail Pass. The description and profile continues along the other option, FR160, the same road number from the start at the north side. This broad wetland valley finally terminates onto Mt43, turning left to the town of Wisdom. At the junction are more Lewis and Clarke as well as Nez Perce informational tablets.

A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on page:
Chief Joseph Pass


Lewis and Clarke (<Lolo Pass|Big Hole Pass>): After having spent a relatively comfortable winter at the mouth of the Columbia river, the group split up on the return trip. Using their newly discovered geographic knowledge, Lewis and nine soldiers headed directly east, while Clarke together with Sacajawea and the rest of the group recrossed Gibbons Pass in order to retrieve the cached canoes. Rather than descending into the Lemhi Valley, this time they descended into what is shown as the eastern approach above, and then continued over Big Hole Pass. There are two Big Hole Passes in this area. This is not the rough continental divide crossing, but the today paved road west of Dillon.

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians (<Lolo Pass|Big Hole>): After the Nez Perce alluded a trap set for them at Lolo Pass, the band of Indians moved south through the Bitterroot Valley over Gibbons Pass. They descended over the eastern approach, of what has recently been named as Chief Joseph Pass (and is also the eastern approach of Gibbons Pass shown above), into the  Big Hole Valley and found Gibbons and his troops ready to accept their surrender. Chief Joseph preferred to fight. In the ensuing two day battle Gibbons lost a howitzer, 2000 rounds of ammunition and 68 men wounded or killed. Joseph and his band escaped south over Big Hole Pass.