OverviewGoing-to-the-Sun Mountain (henceforth, GTTS) may take the United States's "most words in a summit name" award. This peak stands high above the Logan Pass area of Glacier National Park, and its hulking, disintegrating form is as complicated as its name.
The class 3/4 standard West Face route ascends 4000 vertical feet from the Siyeh Bend trailhead. About half the distance and most of the elevation is gained over the extremely old, crumbling sedimentary rocks that are a Glacier National Park trademark. The popular Diagonal Chute variation of the standard West Face route ascends a prominent, often snow-filled gully, which is visible from Logan Pass.
Other, more challenging routes exist on all sides of peak. The long Direct East Face route, which ascends 4200 feet from the Bering Creek drainage, first climbs endless class 4/5 rock bands and finishes on the permanent snowfield below the summit. Above the GTTS/Matahpi saddle, the north ridge is craggy, exposed, and difficult. The south face is complex and quite steep, and although class 4 routes exist, they present non-trivial route-finding challenges.
Mount Siyeh, GTTS's taller (10,014 feet) neighbor, obscures views to the north, but otherwise, the summit views are both panoramic and quite inspiring. Matahpi Peak, located about a mile north of GTTS, makes a perfect link-up, with its easy climbing and equally enjoyable summit views.
Getting ThereEasiest access to GTTS is via Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road which crosses the Rocky Mountains through Glacier NP. If climbing the standard route, park at the Siyeh Bend trailhead, elevation 5850 feet. This trailhead is approximately 5 miles east of Logan Pass. Yearly progress on the opening of GTTS road can be found on this NPS page.
Red TapeVehicle entry to Glacier National Park costs $10, good for seven days. Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed for most of the year (usually early November to late June); without it, the approach is 12 miles longer each way. The NPS recommends that all climbers "register" at the Logan Pass Visitors Center, though this is not mandatory.
When To ClimbThe peak is not intrinsically impossible to climb in the winter months. In fact, adequate snow coverage makes much of the approach over rotten rock easier. However, closure of Going-to-the-Sun Road adds 25 miles to any round trip climb. The obvious strategy would be to ski up Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- NPS camping page. "Glacier has 13 campgrounds with approximately 1000 sites. Fish Creek and St. Mary Campgrounds may be reserved in advance. All others are first come/first served." The closest campgrounds to the trailhead are Rising Sun and St. Mary.
- NPS Lodging Page. These are lodging options actually inside the park.
- Outside the park, there are some camping/lodging options in the village of St. Mary, 12 miles from the trailhead. Babb, Montana, 5 miles north of St. Mary, has limited lodging options.
- NPS Weather Information
- NPS webcams. The "St Mary Cam" is "coming soon". When it is in place, it should provide a view of GTTS.
EtymologyFred notes the following: I had always believed that Going-to-the-Sun was named based on a Blackfeet Indian legend and was surprised to find the following while researching place names in the Park: "GOING-TO-THE-SUN MOUNTAIN - The mountain was named by James Willard Schultz for what he claimed was an old Indian legend, in which Napi, the Old Man, came down from his home in the sun to help his people, the Blackfeet, out of their difficulties. When his work was done, he returned to his home in the sun, up the slopes of this mountain. This legend however, was probably invented by the white men, and may have originated within Schultz, who was not above flowering up his stories to make them have more reader appeal." This is located at: Historic Place Names James Willard Schultz was a writer for "Forest and Stream", a popular outdoor magazine in the late 1800's. George Bird Grinnell was the editor for this magazine and one of the pioneers intensely involved in establishing Glacier National Park. Also, it turns out that the Blackfeet had another name for the mountain already and the newcomers to the area goofed it up: "MATAHPI PEAK - The name, meaning "Face Mountain," was the old Blackfeet name for Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, because of the snow field that resembles the head of an Indian Chief near the eastern summit of the latter peak, when viewed from the east at certain times of the year. The name was erroneously applied by white men to the small peak immediately north of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain."
GMS Climb Classification SystemFred Spicker and
Vernon Garner have put together an excellent fact sheet outlining the peculiar climb grading system (developed by J. Gordon Edwards) used in Glacier NP. Generally speaking, the brittle meta-sedimentary rocks in the park make rockfall a hazard and require careful placement of protection.
AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Fred Spicker for corrections and insights.
- Legends of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain
Yes, there is a legend. A name this silly requires a legend. A more pragmatic namer might have otherwise called it "rubble pile".
- Images from Morgan Brown
- Glacier Mountaineering Society