OverviewGlacier National Park is one that few will soon forget. Immediately upon crossing the park boundary, visitors are greeted with a spectacular view of the crumbled north face of Wynn Mountain reaching high above the opposite shores of slender Lake Sherburne. In mid-summer, several expansive meadows are blanketed entirely by a gorgeous array of wildflowers, and these open areas often permit one to see bear, moose, deer, coyotes, and birds of prey in their natural state. The Salamander Glacier, perched along the eastern flanks of the Garden Wall above famed Grinnell Glacier, is visible in the far distance. This truly is a magnificent introduction to a wondrous area of Glacier Park! As the road nears Many Glacier Hotel, one's perspective changes, and you're suddenly amidst the towering peaks that only minutes earlier seemed so far away. A massive spire, seemingly unremarkable from previous vantage points, dominates the classic scene from the eastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. It's known as Grinnell Point, and most visitors incorrectly assume that it's one of the tallest peaks in the entire valley. Its summit is listed at 7,600 feet, which actually makes it the second lowest official summit in the entire Many Glacier region. Still, its summit is a more than worthwhile destination, one that rewards the determined mountaineer with interesting route finding, challenging scrambling, and stunning views.
Grinnell Point is, simply, an arbitrary point near the easternmost extension of Mount Grinnell's long summit ridge. It rises so abruptly and so prominently that from Swiftcurrent Lake, it totally obliterates any view of the much larger Mount Grinnell, which tops out at an elevation of 8,851 feet, over 1,200 feet higher. It's a rather confusing summit, as the large cairn that marks most climber's final destination is actually much lower than many points farther to the west. In fact, many people en route to the point accidentally climb one of the many taller spires along the summit ridge; fortunately, it's easy to down climb slightly and traverse eastward to the accepted summit. Like many geographical features of Many Glacier, it is named after George Bird Grinnell, naturalist, writer, and early proponent of protecting the magnificent stretch of the Rocky Mountains now known as Glacier National Park.
Getting ThereGrinnell Point is located in the Many Glacier Valley in the northeastern sector of Glacier National Park. It rises abruptly across Swiftcurrent Lake from the famed Many Glacier Hotel, which is accessed from US-89 via the small, unincorporated town of Babb, MT. 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.
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.
Most parties looking to climb Grinnell Point will start their day at one of two trailheads for the popular Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. A trailhead is located immediately south of Many Glacier Hotel, with the other originating from the opposite side of Swiftcurrent Lake at the Grinnell Glacier Picnic Area. It really doesn't matter where you start; from both trailheads, it is almost identical distance to the bifurcation which leads towars the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail.
Another viable access point is from the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, located at the west end of the parking lot for the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Technical ascents of the north face can begin here, and those looking to climb Mount Grinnell and descend to the long connecting ridge towards Grinnell Point may chose to start from this trailhead.
Route InformationSouth Ramp Route
Based on my experience, this route is far and away the most popular way to climb this peak. Total elevation gain is 2,700 feet, and most parties will be able to complete the round-trip climb in no more than six hours. Start off on the nature trail that circles Swiftcurrent Lake and follow signs to the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail. As the trail begins to wind around Josephine, you'll pass a small pond below the trail to the left that holds large chunks of ice well into the summer months. Shortly thereafter, take note of a steep 20-foot tall cliff that overhangs the trail on the right. Once past the cliff, the trail passes through a short stretch of forest. After breaking out of the trees, study the very large, sheer cliff that rises a few hundred feet high above the trail to the right. Edwards refers to a "great waterfall" that tumbles over this cliff; however, the waterfall is not as grand as it once was, for the water that makes its way over the cliff is often reduced to a mere trickle. Still, the cliff is usually quite wet and appears very dark, and as such is easily distinguishable from the Josephine Trail. Leave the trail once directly beneath the cliff, and plod straight uphill through sparse vegetation. This is fantastic grizzly bear habitat, and sows with cubs are regularly viewed in this area. Make TONS of noise and stay close to your climbing partners while ascending this hillside to avoid any surprise encounters!
As the large wet cliff is approached, traverse to the right (north) along its base for a few hundred feet until reaching a broad class III couloir. Scramble directly upwards until reaching an obvious game trail that ascends back towards the south on a distinct grassy ramp. Above the ramp, the game trail leads towards a small drainage (which continues downhill and over the aforementioned wet cliff). Stay north of the drainage, picking your way uphill through several easy cliff bands. Eventually, you should be able to spot the obscure grey pile of rock that marks the entrance of the Josephine Mine, one of several defunct mines that can still be found in the Many Glacier area. Explore at your own risk!
A massive snow chute leads steeply uphill from the mine. By staying north of the snow chute and taking care in route finding, it is possible to ascend the next 1,000 feet to the summit ridge without encountering anything worse than class III. Make sure never to venture too close to the snow chute; a fall here would almost certainly be fatal. It is not uncommon for parties to find themselves cliffed out at times; if so, simply retrace your steps and a safe route should become evident. After reaching the summit ridge, several large, crumbly crags of varying height protrude from the ridge as it extends to the east. Avoid the temptation to climb the first point, as a ridge walk to the summit cairn would prove to be very dangerous from this spot. Instead, stay beneath the blocks, traversing eastward on ledges and scree shelves, until the enormous summit cairn comes into full view.
*** I personally have not attempted the following routes, but they are outlined in detail in the Edwards' guide. His route descriptions are fantastic, and he includes a very helpful hand drawn diagram that should aid anyone looking to successfully climb Grinnell Point. The Miner's Trail and East Ridge routes have different approaches than the South Ramp Route, but ultimately lead to the Josephine Mine, upon where the great snow chute can be followed all the way to the top.
The Miner's Trail Route
An old trail used to branch off the Grinnell Glacier Trail back towards the east, and climbed steadily towards the Josephine Mine. According to Gordon Edwards, it was quite common for ranger-naturalists to lead hiking groups to the mine via this route. I believe the old trail can be found at the easternmost point of the first switchback about half way along the Grinnell Glacier Trail.
East Ridge Route
This route involves bushwhacking up a round, forested hump that rises towards Grinnell Point from the southwest corner of Swiftcurrent Lake. Some class III and IV stretches are likely to be encountered. The route eventually meets up with a goat trail, and following it to the west brings you to the Josephine Mine and the bottom of the great snow chute.
Traverse from Mount Grinnell
If you are looking for a long, exciting day far above the treeline, it's possible to walk the long ridge between Mount Grinnell and Grinnell Point. From the summit of Mount Grinnell, descend towards the east via 2,000 feet of scree. From there, the ridge leading to Grinnell Point can be easily traversed. There are a couple of cliff bands and humps along the ridge that will likely need to be bypassed.
North Face Route
Multiple pitches involving crack climbing, and one sixty foot high chimney. Technical rock climbing equipment and skills required. I'd consider inquiring at the Many Glacier Ranger Station for further details.
Summit ViewsI'll let some photographs do the talking here... Enlarge photos for more information.
When to ClimbDue to extreme winters along the Continental Divide, problematic snow can linger on trails 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.
Snow may linger on the grassy ramp that provides access to the area beneath Josephine Mine well into June. This ramp is somewhat north-facing, and could hold snow longer into the season. The rest of southeast slope is subject ample sunlight, and although snow sticks to the prominent chute year-round, the class III terrain from the Joesphine Mine to the summit ridge may be devoid of snow in early June. This route is partially visible from a couple vantage points along the South Shore Lake Josephine Trail, as well the flanks of Allen Mountain above Stump Lake; if you are looking to attempt a climb early in the season, I recommend scouting it out from either of these vantage points. Or check in with the rangers or staff at Many Glacier Hotel. Someone will hopefully be able to give you some insight on to whether or not the route is easily passable. From personal experience, I have climbed the South Ramp route as early as June 14, 2010; on this particular trip, we encountered zero snow the entire way.
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 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 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.Information pertaining to entrance fees for Glacier National Park 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 typically only open from June to 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 page that was a labor of love of late Summitpost member sainitgrizzly (R.I.P.) or the NPS page for more detailed information.