At 9,376 feet, Allen Mountain is the third tallest official summit in the Many Glacier Valley. (Note: Allen is actually the fourth highest peak in the area; Cracker Peak, an unofficial summit, comes in at 9,833 feet). Nearby neighbors Mount Siyeh (10,014) and Mount Gould (9,553) make for a truly impressive cluster of monstrous peaks! It is an immensely large mountain, both in height and bulk, but when one stands on the eastern shore of Switcurrent Lake to take in the iconic view, it is easy to lose Allen Mountain amidst its more dramatic neighbors. The unbelievable east face of Mount Wilbur, the impressive spire of Grinnell Point, and the bulky mass of Mount Gould tend to steal the scenery.
Directly to the south of Many Glacier Hotel, a broad, scree-covered mountainside leads uphill towards steep cliffs and a rounded summit. The sub-8000 foot summit is not all that impressive from this vantage point, especially in the company of its neighbors. This is the northernmost summit of Allen Mountain, and it marks the end of a long, jagged ridge that runs south towards the actual summit. This point disguises the enormity of Allen, as it obstructs much of the mountain, including its towering summit a few air miles to the south, from view. Gordon Edwards, author of The Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park, sums it up best: "Because it is so broad and so close to the road it is difficult to realize how big this mountain is. Climbers who struggle up to its summit, however, will always remember that it is HUGE..." By taking a short stroll to the opposite shore of Swiftcurrent Lake or the north shore of nearby Lake Josephine, one can start to appreciate this exceptionally huge hulk of rock.
As one might expect from such a large mountain, there are multiple routes that provide access to the summit. This page will mention several of those routes, and will describe the High Traverse/Great Break Route in detail as in my experience, this is the preferred ascent route for many climbing parties. This route follows a precarious game trail to Snow Moon Basin, one of the more idyllic spots I have had the pleasure of visiting in Glacier Park. Its multiple route options, all requiring the better part of a day, coupled with a commanding summit view and non-existent crowds, make Allen Mountain a mountaineer's delight.
A few photos that try to capture the sheer size of Allen Mountain:
Left: View south from the slopes of Mount Henkel. Right: Allen Mountain behind Many Glacier Hotel and a frozen Swiftcurrent Lake.
from the park boundary
Allen Mountain is located in the Many Glacier Valley in the northeastern sector of Glacier National Park. It rises immediately south of Many Glacier Hotel, which is accessed from US-89 via the small, unincorporated town of Babb, Montana. A paved, pothole ridden road winds 12 miles from Babb to its terminus one mile past the hotel at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn; this is the only way to enter Many Glacier via automobile. Babb is located 8 miles north of St. Mary, a small, busy tourist village at the east entrance of Going-to-the-Sun Road, and 11 miles south of the US-Canadian border crossing at the Port of Piegan in Carway, Alberta.
Allen Mountain is clearly visible when driving west towards Many Glacier Hotel. It rises across Sherburne Reservoir, and various pullouts afford great views of the face where the Great Break Route makes its steep ascent.
Many Glacier can also be accessed via several well-maintained trails. The Highline Trail passes Granite Park Chalet, and detouring east over the Continental Divide on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail will bring hikers to Many Glacier. The spectacular Piegan Pass Trail, which originates at Siyeh Bend east of Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road, ends along the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake right next to the Many Glacier Hotel. Hikers coming in from the Belly River Valley can also climb up the steep trail through Ptarmigan Tunnel, which terminates at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
All practical routes for Allen Mountain originate near Many Glacier Hotel. There is a large parking lot uphill from the hotel that will occasionally fill during prime tourist season (July through Labor Day).
Gordon Edwards' A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park outlines multiple routes for this grand mountain. Climbing can range from class II (sometimes with moderately severe exposure) all the way up to class III/IV on the Great Break high above Snow Moon Basin. Due to the sedimentary nature of the rock in Glacier National Park, a unique rock grading has been established by the Glacier Mountaineering Society. Please refer to this link for detailed information. If you are new to climbing in Glacier, I highly recommend checking out this info before attempting any climbs in the park.
In my experience, most climbing parties attempt the High Traverse/Great Break Route for at least the ascent portion of Allen Mountain. It is a highly exciting and scenic route, and a true classic in Glacier National Park. It involves an impressive goat trail, a pair of serene alpine lakes, and some solid Class III/IV climbing through a massive cliff band. I will describe this route in detail.
HIGH TRAVERSE/GREAT BREAK ROUTE
The beginning of this route is referred to as the High Traverse Route to Snow Moon Basin by Gordon Edwards. Above Snow Moon Basin, a stiff climb up the Great Break provides access to Allen Mountain. Total elevation gain from Many Glacier Hotel is 4,500 feet. It can take parties anywhere from 3 1/2 to 6 hours to reach the summit. Descent time depends on which of the many routes you decide to follow down.
Head up to the large parking lot above Many Glacier Hotel. If you are unfamiliar with the route, I highly recommend taking a moment to study the terrain directly to the south. Beneath the north summit of Allen Mountain, a large field of loose rock stretches down beneath enormous cliffs to the thick forest below. The rock field is partially bisected by sparse fingers of pine; study the smaller rocky patch on the left, as you will soon be slogging up this stretch towards to the High Traverse Route. A game trail, virtually impossible to see from afar, begins beneath the lumbering cliffs and wraps around Allen Mountain to Snow Moon Basin.
Looking south from the parking area at Many Glacier Hotel towards the north summit of Allen Mountain. The red "X" denotes the start of the game trail on the High Traverse Route.
Prominent ridge of Altyn limestone leading away from Many Glacier Hotel
The route begins at the foot of an old wooden horse bridge (still in use today) at the south end of the parking lot, where a very well-worn trail leads directly south along a prominent exposed slab of Altyn limestone. After a couple of minutes, the trail will dip into the trees and will intersect a maze of animal trails. Try to follow the most well-worn trail, zig-zagging through the forest but always moving uphill and generally to the south. Cairns may help guide you at times; this non-maintained trail is quite regularly traveled, so keep your eyes peeled for signs of human activity. Eventually, the trail will steepen sharply and transition to scree despite staying in the trees. After a short pitch or two, the trail will emerge at the bottom of an enormous talus and scree slope. This rock is very, very loose; pick a game trail for better footing and head straight uphill. Resist the temptation to follow game trails directly east, as this will take you off route and into some precarious climbing. Instead plod upwards towards the massive cliffs, always keeping the smaller cliffy outcroppings to your left. As you head up, better footing will be found in the bottom of a shallow, often dry drainage. Look for a broad ledge that extends to the east just beneath the towering cliffs above; this ledge marks the start of the unmistakable game trail to Snow Moon Basin.
Thanks to all the hiker and critter traffic, the game trail is very easy to follow, although downed timber may slow progress slightly. The trail passes several broad couloirs, one of which requires a bit of attention regardless of the conditions. The game trail narrows here, and is somewhat exposed, so careful footing is imperative. Furthermore, this couloir can often hold snow well into July, and although detours beneath the snow are possible, be forewarned that a slip of any sort here would be less than ideal. The couloir is steep here, and a few hundred feet below the game trail is a huge cliff that drops toward Lake Sherburne and the Cracker Lake Trail far below. Note: Gordon Edwards describes a detour further west and downhill if this couloir is choked with snow; see his guide for more information. After safely negotiating the couloir, in only a few minutes you will cross a broad, open shoulder and be greeted to a great view of Wynn Mountain. The game trail veers south and heads downhill for a short stretch before leveling off underneath sheer, crumbly cliffs. Soon after, Schwab Falls, which drains Snow Moon Basin, and the false summit of Allen Mountain will be in view straight ahead. The trail will continue south, with the only difficulty occurring when it climbs up and around and steep pitch near a small drainage. Follow the trail uphill through scrubby trees, paralleling the stream above Schwab Falls. You will soon reach Falling Leaf Lake. A short walk along the north shore leads to a marvelous lunch spot near the roaring waterfall that drains Snow Moon Lake.
Left: Negotiating the snowy couloir on the return trip. Center: Wynn Mountain comes into view as the trail nears a broad shoulder. Right: First view of the Great Break Route behind Schwab Falls.
From this sublime basin, you will need to head south towards Allen Mountain, climbing steadily uphill on solid footing across a tundra-esque landscape. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, as this area provides fantastic summering ground for the majestic mountain mammal. The large basin is headed by the north face of Allen's false east summit. Gain the ridge that extends eastward beneath these looming cliffs, where one gets a great view of turquoise Cracker Lake and the Canyon Creek drainage far below. Continue up the ridge, following a well-worn game trail that becomes more apparent as the cliffs are approached. Follow the trail until it reaches impassable cliffs, at which point it traverses westward on a broad ledge. Head out onto the ledge, and look upwards for a very noticeable break in the rock - this is the Great Break that Edwards identifies in his guide. When I was here in July of 2009, a very large cairn clearly marked this spot. Negotiating the Great Break entails approximately 300 vertical feet of solid class III climbing, with a few stretches that may border on class IV due to the exposure. There are great hand and foot holds most of the way, which help make for safe passage. Eventually, look for the best spot to traverse eastward and regain the broad summit ridge. From hereon, it's a simple class II walk up and over the false east summit before a final push to the summit proper.
Left: Approaching Allen Mountain from Snow Moon Basin. Center: Glacier Mountaineering Society negotiating the Great Break. Right: The final stretch of ridgetop leading to the summit.
CRACKER LAKE TRAIL/LAKE SHERBURNE ROUTE
the "Bushwhack" route leading down to Lake Sherburne and the Cracker Lake Trail
Referred to as the "Bushwhack Route" in the Edwards guide. This route provides another way to access Snow Moon Basin if snowy goat trails ain't your cup o' tea. Leave the Cracker Lake Trail just past the point where the trail nears Lake Sherburne, before Cracker Flats. Bushwhack uphill, keeping your eyes peeled for a game trail which will provide easier passage, and look for the place where the sheer cliffs suddenly become much lower. A break in those cliffs affords a class III route into the basin above, and by following game trails south you will intersect the previously described High Traverse Route that leads to Snow Moon Basin.
CRACKER LAKE ROUTE
A series of class II/III cliffs can be climbed to/from Cracker Lake on Allen's south slope. Edwards describes this ascent as "unimaginative" and that the descent is "infinitely easier". I have not taken this route, but after studying photos from the summit of nearby Mount Siyeh, it appears one could make a rather rapid descent along the main drainage that leads straight down to the lake.
LAKE JOSEPHINE ROUTE
The large alder-covered avalanche chute above Lake Josephine
This route provides an easy descent back to Many Glacier Hotel, or may be used for an early season ascent when snow would make the High Traverse and Great Break routes extremely complicated. Follow the high trail along the south shore of Lake Josephine towards Piegan Pass. About half way along the lake, a massive alder-choked avalanche chute is encountered. Utilize drainages and game trails while bushwhacking uphill wherever the terrain is the most forgiving, trending up and to the right when possible (A friend of mine utilized a small dry drainage just prior to this chute to start uphill and reported relatively easy going). Trees will become a bit more sparse, and cliffs will be encountered. Head directly south (right) along the base of the cliffs, until encountering a broad class II slope. Head uphill for a great overlook of Snow Moon Basin, then slog up the class II north ridge to Allen's east summit and onward to the top.
SNOW MOON NOTCH ROUTE
This route involves a snow climb above the head of Snow Moon Lake to a notch in the north summit ridge, followed by an uncomplicated climb up the ridge from there. See the Edwards guide for further information.
Unfortunately, the ISO setting on my camera was set for some photos I tried taking the previous night, and coupled with the cloud cover I encountered on Allen's summit, I have no quality summit view shots. Views from the top are exceptional, however. The almost impossibly steep north face of Mount Siyeh is directly across Cracker Lake to the south, and a sea of peaks is visible behind. There are mighty views to the northwest that include Mount Merrit, Mount Cleveland, and the snow capped peaks of the Livingston Range. The entire Grinnell Glacier Basin is visible to the west, but perhaps the most unique view is to the north, of Many Glacier Hotel amidst a beautiful chain of lakes. I guess you'll just have to climb up there and see for yourself!
When to Climb
Due to extreme winters along the Continental Divide, problematic snow can linger on trails and mountain slopes well into July and August. Hence, the climbing season in Glacier is rather short, and often begins in June and can last into October, weather permitting. However, some lower peaks and southern facing slopes can be safely attempted much earlier in the season. Your best bet is to inquire locally about snowpack and weather conditions. I use the NOAA for detailed weather forecasts for the greater Glacier area; check out the website here.The High Traverse/Great Break route would involve treacherous snow conditions anytime before July. Ice axe, crampons, and experience on steep snow would most certainly be requirements. Routes from Lake Josephine and Cracker Lake are mostly class II and could be attempted in June or even in May, but a lot of moderate angle snow would be encountered. At the very least, an ice axe would necessary for any early season ascents.
Where to Stay
The Many Glacier Valley affords three different lodging options. There are 110 sites at the beautiful and popular Many Glacier Campground near the end of the main entrance road. The campground almost always fills well before noon during the busy summer months and there are NO RESERVATIONS, so I recommend arriving very early in the morning to ensure you obtain a site. Cost is $20 per night as of 2012. Visit the NPS website for more information on camping throughout the park. The historic Many Glacier Hotel sits on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, and offers spectacular views of Grinnel Point, Mount Gould, and Mount Wilbur. The hotel is also very popular, and is often booked solid for the short time it's open (first week of June to late September). The hotel recommends booking at least six months in advance if at all possible. Finally, the more modest cabins at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn are available for about half the price of a hotel room. The Motor Inn sits right next to the campground, and provides easy access to some great trails and decent pizza. Refer to this website for information on booking at Many Glacier Hotel or Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.Other places to stay outside of the park but within close proximity to the Many Glacier area can be found in Babb, Duck Lake, and St. Mary.
Red Tape, Wildlife, etc.
A fee is required for all persons entering Glacier National Park. As of 2012, single vehicle rates were $25 for a seven day pass, or $35 for an annual park pass. A full explanation of the entrance fees can be found here. Glacier is subject to extreme winter weather conditions, and as such, much of the park is virtually innaccessible for the majority of the year. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is completely only open from mid-June to mid-September, and as such, many of the civilzed areas of the park (including the historic lodges and many of the campgrounds) operate for a short window as well. All of the services in Many Glacier are closed by the end of September, and after it starts snowing, the road is not plowed until May, so plan your trip accordingly.The ancient rock is Glacier National Park tends to be quite crumbly and rotten; as such, a special rock grading system has been developed to help climber's safely approach peaks throughout the park. Refer to the Glacier Mountaineering Society's website for detailed information. The park is home to lots of potentially dangerous wildlife, including moose, black bear, grizzly bear, and mountain lions. Hike loud, carry bear deterrant spray (and know how to use it!), and let someone know your intended route before heading out into the park. Pick up a copy of J. Gordon Edwards classic A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park. It's an absolute must for anyone who wants to safely venture to one of the park's many accessible mountain summits. His route information is often invaluable, and it will introduce you to many exciting climbs and off-trail hikes scattered all throughout the park.Visit the FANTASTIC Glacier National Park page, a labor of love by late Summitpost member sainitgrizzly (R.I.P.), or the NPS page for more detailed information.
Special thanks to my dear friends and trusted climbing partners Chris Dickson and Josh Olson for contributing photos and route information. This page was originally contributed by former Summitpost member Aaron Johnson. He passed it along to active member Fred Spicker, who sent it my way. Aaron's original page was great, but I opted to revamp it entirely and have tried to include new photographs and as much information on the different routes as possible. I kept one of his original photos on the page, which shows the Glacier Mountaineering Society climbing through the Great Break on an outing in 2006. I hope that my updated page will do justice to this mighty mountain!
Click on the individual photo for more information. Enjoy!