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The experience of climbing in the Marias Pass area of Glacier National Park is the antithesis of climbing along the Going-to-the-Sun Highway: Just Park and Climb! There are no entrance fees or long lines waiting for road construction here. No traffic jams or stressing to find a parking spot at Logan Pass or Siyeh Bend. No annoying motor coaches and best of all no crowds!
Calf Robe Mountain is part of the Clark Range and is located approximately 6 miles northeast of Marias Pass in the southern portion of Glacier National Park. The Continental Divide passes over the summit of Calf Robe and shortly after makes an abrupt turn northward as it runs through the entirety of Glacier National Park to just north of Brown Pass at the International Border with Canada.
Marias Pass has spectacular views of seldom-visited peaks along the Continental Divide. Calf Robe Mountain is one of these peaks and is perhaps the easiest one to reach. Other peaks in the area featured on SummitPost include: Summit Mountain, Little Dog Mountain, Red Crow Mountain, Dancing Lady Mountain and Elk Mountain.
An Introduction to Calf Robe Mountain
Calf Robe Mountain is the source for Coonsa Creek, which flows to the Marias River.
A Blackfeet name for Calf Robe is Onistaiayi.
According to Jack Holterman, there are two Calf Robes that the mountain could be named for:
Nominee Number One: This Calf Robe was probably a relative of the Culbertson family (a well known family with influential history in Eastern Montana). Calf Robe was a bully who met ultimate justice at a whiskey post in Alberta when a group of traders killed him. They unsuccessfully tried to dispose of his body by stuffing it into a hole in the ice. The body bobbed up and down and scared the women who saw it.
Nominee Number Two: This Calf Robe must have been a kinder, gentler and friendlier fellow who contributed to Blackfeet legend about a grizzly and a wolf that cared for a wounded Blackfeet warrior who was on his way home after a foray to steal horses from their enemies the Shoshonis. This event supposedly occurred in the 1870s.
There are a few different stories of this oral tradition of why the Blackfeet Nation has a taboo against killing bears in hibernation.
This particular story goes something like this:
Calf Robe and his companions went to steal the horses from their enemies. The warriors are overtaken and all but Calf Robe are killed. He is wounded and seeks shelter in the forest and is too weak to even crawl to water. A coyote comes and looks him over. A grizzly comes and stares at him. Calf Robe asked himself “Which part will he eat first?” Instead of eating him the grizzly licks his wounds and soon the coyote and bear bring him meat. As he regains his strength he is able to crawl onto the grizzly’s back and the coyote and bear take him to his home.
Side Note: Most modern hunters with ethics would never consider shooting an animal while it was hibernating as well.
Calf Robe Mountain is a featured peak in J. Gordon Edwards’ A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park and the route descriptions are located on pages 317-318. He describes an elevation gain of 2,800 feet via the northeast ridge (with a mileage of approximately 3.5 miles one way) and the Firebrand Pass Route gains the same elevation in approximately 6 miles.
The routes associated with this page generally follow Edwards’ Class 2 Northeast Ridge Route to Calf Robe Mountain. The more difficult Class 2 & 3 ascent from Firebrand Pass is also covered.
The actual elevation gain is 2,836 feet from U.S. Highway 2.
Firebrand Pass: Past and Present
Firebrand Pass was called “the Bad Road” by the Blackfeet because of the dangers associated with passing between two tribe’s territories.
Its present day name is associated with a 1910 fire that was reportedly started when a firebrand, a piece of burning wood, was blown across the pass moving the blaze to the east side of the park into the Ole Creek drainage.
For more information on Glacier National Parks Passes please see Glacier Passes Native American History of the park's passes and Anglo-American History of the park's passes.
To visit Glacier National Park is to enter a place where Heaven touches Earth affording brief glimpses into the Wonders of Creation.
Glacier National Park’s Calf Robe Mountain is located in northwest Montana.
U.S. Highway 2 between West and East Glacier weaves between the mountain in the Flathead Range to the west and the incredible peaks of the Clark Range in Glacier National Park to the East. The highway follows the Middle Fork of the Flathead River as it forms the boundary of the southwestern side of Glacier National Park and actually passes through a small portion of the park to the East of Essex, Montana. Just east of the park U.S. Highway 2 follows Bear Creek to Marias Pass. Marias Pass was influential for the Transcontinental Railroad and was “discovered“ by John Stephens as he search for a route through the mountains.
It is here near Marias Pass that the Firebrand Pass Trail takes off from the Lubec Lake Trailhead. The trailhead is located at mile marker # 203.
Montana is a long way from most places. That’s why many of us live here. It is possible to get here, but you have to really want to get here. You can get here how ever desired as air, bus, train and even highways serve the Flathead Valley!
For all of the rules and regulations for Glacier National Park please visit the park website.
Vehicle single entry fee for Glacier National Park is $25.00 for 7 Days, $12.00 per person for single hiker, motor biker or bicyclist. An "America The Beautiful Federal Lands Recreational Pass" for goes for $80.00 which gives entrance to all National Parks, National Forests, BLM, US Fish & Wildlife, and Bureau of Reclamation sites for one year from date of purchase. See Plan Your Visit for other information regarding all of the National Park entrance fee information.
If you are planning on visiting Waterton Park make sure you have a passport.
You do not have to register for day climbs in Glacier National Park but it is recommended. Backcountry travel regulations can be found at Backcountry Travel. There is also information from the Park Service on Mountain Climbing in Glacier.
Volume Two of Climb Glacier National Park has more details on Calf Robe Mountain and suggested routes. It can be ordered at Climb Glacier National Park.
J. Gordon Edwards does not designate names for either of the route published in his writings. They are named here for purposes of clarity only.
Edwards describes this route in a straightforward manner. Here are some additional notes that will make this climb easier.
The Coonsa Trail (also referred to as the Firebrand Pass Trail on some maps) leaves U.S. Highway 2 at the Lubec Trailhead which is located at mile marker #203. Park on the U.S. Highway 2 side of the railroad track. There is ample parking near the trailhead.
Walk over the railroad tracks and locate the trail near the gate. The junction with the Autumn Creek Trail is 1.4 miles (2.3 km) from the Lubec Trailhead on U.S. Highway 2.
Northeast Ridge Route
In his description of the suggested route to Calf Robe Mountain, J. Gordon Edwards suggests following the Coonsa Creek Trail (Firebrand Pass Trail on some maps) from U.S. Highway 2 to its junction with the Autumn Creek Trail and from that junction begin the off trail portion of the route. From this junction he suggests walking northwest through the open forest for about ½ mile and continue in that direction to an elongated flattop ridge. From this point, he describes the route as a straightforward Class 2 scramble up the northeast flank to the summit of Calf Robe. The one-way distance for this route is about 3.5 miles in length and climbs approximately 2,800 feet.
Additional Recommendations: An easier route to the northeast ridge with NO bushwhacking is just up the trail. To find this location follow the trail towards Firebrand Pass for 1/3 of a mile. The trail crosses a wet area that has been built up by trail crews and shortly after that manmade feature on the trail a large meadow is reached. From this meadow one can see Calf Robe. Head off towards Calf Robe and follow the route as described on the route page.
Firebrand Pass Route
This route adds additional distance to the trip and requires Class 2 & 3 scrambling up the northwest flank of the mountain to the summit. This approach is particularly attractive if there are other peaks to the north included on the day’s agenda. There are 4.8 miles trail and 1,867 ft elevation gain to the pass and another 997 feet of scrambling to the summit of Calf Robe Mountain from Firebrand Pass.
Additional Recommendations: The scramble from Firebrand Pass to the summit of Calf Robe is not difficult as far as route finding. Stay close to the northwest ridge for better footing.
Optional Side Trips:
At 8,770 feet in elevation, Summit Mountain can be reached from Calf Robe Mountain via a goat trail along the crest of the Continental Divide. Edwards describes this option in his Routes Among The Peaks Section on page 315. Looks difficult but would be possible in a long day. May require some significant gains and losses in elevation.
In that same section, Edwards describes a ridge walk along the Continental Divide between Lubec Lake on Highway #2 and the Two Medicine Valley. Climbers who are fit can accomplish this route in a day from either starting point. The route requires climbing Appistoki Peak, an unnamed peak, Mount Ellsworth, Bearhead Mountain and Red Crow Mountain.
Dancing Lady Mountain could also be reached from Firebrand Pass via a ridge walk from just north of Red Crow Mountain. See the Dancing Lady Mountain page for details.
A long day trip, with a two-day trip being much more enjoyable, down the Ole Creek Drainage to Walton Ranger Station could prove entertaining. Make sure you have a campsite reserved at Ole Lake before leaving for this overnight trip. From that trail Eagle Ribs Mountain, Mount Despair, the Barrier Buttes, Brave Dog Mountain, Sheep Mountain and Salvage Mountain may be able to be reach with some creativity and perhaps some serious bushwhacking. Be prepared to deal with bears, as this is a remote seldom-visited corner of the park. There may be easier routes to reach these peaks.
Special Considerations: The rock in Glacier Park is widely varied and it is not unusual to find several different types of rock on any given route. Know your rocks and be certain of your safety. J. Gordon Edwards has an excellent section in his guidebook on rock and climbing safety. Be safe and know your limitations as well as those who are climbing with you. Also refer to the following links for further details: GNP Rock and Grading System and the GMS Climbing Guidelines.
The timing of this climb may not be as crucial as deciding whether there is a desire to deal with the grizzly and black bears that frequent this area. Stay alert and use caution and good bear etiquette while climbing Calf Robe. My father-in-law rode horses into the Ole Creek Drainage in the 1970s and at that time the gentleman he was with told him that maybe 10 people made it to the Ole Creek drainage every year.
I am confident that the numbers are higher now but this area is remote compared to the peaks along Going to the Sun Highway. Within a 800 feet of the trailhead we found recent grizzly tracks but no other evidence of its passing and no other bears were seen. Make noise and use good sense in any bear country.
When to climb Calf Robe Mountain presents an interesting conundrum. Climb early and deal with snow or climb late and deal with a hot, dry route.
Perhaps the most logical time to climb is late August or early September when the temperatures cool and Montana usually is enjoying what we call “Indian Summer” (my apologizes to any Native Americans). If you wait too long the risk of skiffs of snow increases as does poor weather. It is all an issue of timing.
The nearest campground is a USFS Campground at Marias Pass. Spots are available on a first come basis.
This is bear country! Bring bear spray and know how to use it.
As with all hiking and climbing in Glacier National Park use caution and practice good manners with the wildlife. You are in bear country. Carry bear deterrent spray, don’t hike alone and make some noise. For more information please go to the Park's website for Bear Information. The U.S. Forest Service also has helpful information on Grizzly Bear Management.
Crucial gear includes: water, sturdy footwear and a camera.
Get a Glacier National Park map from a local sporting goods store.