Apikuni MountainOne of the most striking features of Glacier National Park's soaring peaks are the steep, glacially carved faces that tower precipitously over lush, expansive valleys thousands of feet below. In the Many Glacier region of the park, visitors often leave with vivid memories of the impressive east face of Mount Wilbur, or the impossibly steep wall that guards the eastern reaches of bulky Mount Gould. Although not nearly as visually striking as the aforementioned peaks, Apikuni Mountain, located just a few miles north of the historic Many Glacier Hotel, affords several interesting mountaineering possibilities, and anyone lucky enough to visit its summit will most certainly marvel at the fantastic vistas that spill out in every direction.
Apikuni - What's in a Name?Apikuni (formerly spelled Appekunny) is a Blackfeet name that was given to George Willard Schultz, an easterner who moved to Montana as a young man and became enthralled with the culture of the Blackfeet Indians. He traded with them, learned their language and ways, and eventually was adopted into the tribe. His Blackfeet name means "White-spotted Robe" or "Scabby Robe," that is, one that was badly tanned, leaving hard spots. He married a Piegan Blackfeet Indian woman by the name of Natahki (appropriately, a beautiful, seldom visited tarn at the head of Apikuni Creek dons her name), and lived as a full member of the tribe for many years. A gifted writer and guide, he befriended George Bird Grinnell, and began writing articles on the Blackfeet that were published in Grinnell's magazine. Over time, his wife would pass, and he would leave the tribe. Remarried, this time to a white woman, Schultz chronicled his days with the Blackfeet in books such as My Life As An Indian. Forever fond of his days spent with the natives on the Great Plains of Montana, when Schultz died at the ripe age of 88 he asked that his body be interred on the Blackfoot Reservation near an old buffalo fall there.
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.
The trailhead that provides the most direct access to Apikuni Mountain is located on the Many Glacier entrance road approximately one mile east of the hotel. At this point there is signage for a horse crossing; on the north side of the road is a small parking area with trailheads to Poia Lake and Apikuni Falls. Apikuni Mountain perches high above the hanging valley where the falls originate.
In my opinion, far and away the best route to Apikuni's summit. This route will take the bulk of a day, but affords a prolonged stretch atop an open ridge, with spectacular views in every direction. Please refer to the route page for detailed route description and photos. In brief, starting at the Ptarmigan Tunnel trailhead, you hike 5+ miles on well maintained trail to Ptarmigan Lake, gaining 1,700 feet in elevation. From the lake, you trudge 2000+ feet up the loose, scree-blanketed west face of Crowfeet Mountain before a brief class III climb to the summit (although this approach is very tiring, it is comparatively much easier than the more direct approach to Apikuni, which entails scrambling uphill over 3,000 feet on arguably looser terrain). From Crowfeet, a mile long walk along a solid, scenic ridge takes you to the summit of Mount Henkel. After some class III downclimbing from Henkel's summit, another glorious ridge leads to the rounded summit of Apikuni Mountain. From the summit, angle east to avoid large cliffs, then ski down the loose rock into the valley above Apikuni Falls. A climber's trail bordering Apikuni Creek is encountered, and from there it's an easy 1 1/2 mile downhill stroll to the Apikuni Falls/Poia Lake Trailhead.
Note: If Crowfeet Mountain is of little interest to you, consider trying the south couloir approach to Mount Henkel instead. The couloir is marvelous; there are numerous cascades, clear pools of water, fun route finding and climbing opportunities, and an array of rock formations that will keep you entertained throughout the approach. After bagging Henkel, follow the route description to the ridge that leads to Apikuni Mountain.
Apikuni Falls Approach
From the Poia Lake/Apikuni Falls Trailhead, located off the Many Glacier Entrance Road one mile east of Many Glacier Hotel, follow the steep trail towards Apikuni Falls, switchbacking 700 feet over one mile through dense forest and tall stands of bear grass. The maintained park service trail terminates near the base of the falls, but the route continues on a well-worn climbers trail over a desolate boulder field. Cross the boulders, and soon after the trail will begin to steeply climb a loose hillside several hundred feet east of the falls. After slogging up the hillside for a few minutes, the climber's trail flattens out and enters the broad, spectacular hanging valley above the falls. From here, the south slope of Apikuni Mountain comes into full view, and the trail will continue westward, vaguely following the course of Apikuni Creek. Ultimately, you'll want to find a drainage gully that will take you uphill to the north; climb up whichever one looks the most enticing, trending slightly northeast to avoid potentially dangerous cliffs. You'll eventually encounter game trails that lead to the west; follow whichever you chose. Route finding is intuitive from this point on. Small cliff bands will be encountered, but you can easily work you way up and around them via class II and III gullies. The rock is incredibly loose here, so climb everything one at a time and take care not to displace any large rocks. It may take a while, but eventually you'll reach the summit ridge, from where it should be a rather uncomplicated stroll to the west up to the rounded mountaintop.
Other possible ascent routesI have not explored these options, but based on topo maps and photographs I've taken throughout the area, I believe you could safely ascend Apikuni Mountain from the following places:
- Natahki Lake (click on the link to visit Glacierscrambler's great route page for accessing this lovely, seldom visited tarn). Scramble towards the north from Natahki Lake up class II talus to the saddle connecting Mount Henkel to Apikuni Mountain. An easy ridge walk to Apikuni from there.
- Poia Lake backcountry campsite
- Kennedy Lake
The broad summit affords fantastic views in every direction. To the east, the Great Plains of Montana stretch out across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On a clear day, one can make out the Sweetgrass Hills, rounded anomalies towering over the flat expanse nearly 100 miles to the east. The crumbled summits of Chief Mountain, Yellow Mountain, and Gable Mountain spread out to the north in a fantastic kaleidoscope of tans, reds, greys, and yellows. The west affords great views of two of Glacier's 10,000 footers, massive Mount Cleveland (the park's largest) and Mount Merritt (flanked by gorgeous, crevasse laden Old Sun Glacier). Beyond the Continental Divide, several peaks of the distant Livington Range are visible, including glistening Heaven's Peak. All of the peaks of the Many Glacier region can be spotted, including Mount Wilbur, Mount Grinnell, Mount Gould, Allen Mountain, Mount Siyeh, Altyn Peak, and Mount Henkel.
When to ClimbDue to extreme winters along the Continental Divide, snow often lingers on mountain slopes well into July. Hence, the climbing season in Glacier is rather short, and often begins in early July and can last into October, weather permitting. However, some lower peaks and southern facing slopes can be safely attempted much earlier in the season. I believe the southern slopes of Apikuni Mountain would fall into this category. With the Apikuni Falls Approach and its limited climbing requirements, you would likely be able to easily bypass any snow and safely summit sometime in June. Of course, seasons vary greatly from year to year, so make sure to inquire about mountain conditions before undertaking any early season climb. You can see a portion of the south face of Apikuni from the Many Glacier entrance road, so it's possible to briefly scout the route from there. Otherwise, hike 1 1/2 miles up to the valley above Apikuni Falls. The mountain comes into full view here, and you'll most definitely be able to decide whether an early season ascent is pratcical.
Where to StayThe Many Glacier Valley affords three different lodging options; the Many Glacier Campground is a beautiful, immensely popular campsite located in the heart of the Swiftcurrent Valley. The Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail starts from a parking area near the campground. The campground often 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. 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 tasty pizza. Refer to this website for information on booking at Many Glacier Hotel or Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Other places to stay outside of but within close proximity to the Many Glacier area can be found in Babb, Duck Lake, and St. Mary.
Red Tape, Wildlife, etc.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 in 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.