The "UN" Season:Layout designed for best viewing on a "1024 x 768" screen.
2010 has been an unusual weather year in Montana.
With unusually heavy and late spring/early summer snowfall in the high country and unseasonably cool temperatures in June, July and August climbing in Glacier National Park has been interesting to say the least. Thunderstorms and low clouds have left us unable to climb for many days. There are occassional "nice' days scattered here and there but far to few to accurately predict that the next day to climb will be without threatening thunderstorm and low clouds.
On an August day four of us set of to climb Dragon’s Tail. It was a unanimous choice for all. All but one of us had climbed it before but two of the three climbers were unable to see the summit views due to low clouds and wind. With undaunted courage we set off for the day.
Today would be unlike any other so far this year … the climb and the weather.
The Scaly Tail Of The Beast:
Dragon’s Tail is an unofficially named portion of the Continental Divide perched high above the southeastern shore of Hidden Lake. This serpent’s tail-like ridge was thus named “Dragon’s Tail” by a local climber while climbing Reynolds Mountain.
Long noted by some climbers to be difficult due a convincing goat trail that leads directly from a shared saddle with Reynolds Mountain that ends in G.M.S. Class IV (5) cliffs after imparting just a degree of hope for an easy route to the summit.
After reaching the top of the small hump in the tail climber’s dreams are quickly shattered by an unexpected swing from the Dragon. Many mountaineers have turned around and looked for another mountain to climb with a sense of failure in utter despair.
Having climbed Dragon’s Tail before we held the keys to unlock the correct route and soon we were standing on the summit congratulating each other as well as enjoying the better than fair weather day. A quick look at the Dragon's Tail page on SummitPost when we summitted the first time did not hurt either.
The young men decided that they vanquished the Dragon and celebrated the event as only youth can do.
Then someone asked … ”Where is the Dragon’s head?”
Surely There Must Be A Head:
We decided to find a way off Dragon’s Tail without retracing our steps. J. Gordon Edwards wrote in his climber’s guide that it is possible to traverse from the summit of Dragon’s Tail to the pass on the north side of Floral Park and then return to the outlet at Hidden Lake where the Hidden Lake Trail can be followed back to Logan Pass.
Surely we would locate the head of the Dragon somewhere along this route.
Exploring new terrain in Glacier is not without its false starts. A quick jaunt to the end of the southern ridge revealed serious G.M.S. Class V (6) cliffs that required more skills, equipment and rope then we had. We eventually located four G.M.S. Class III (4) couloirs that effectively lead us to a scree ramp about 400 feet below the summit. The climbing was not technically difficult but nonetheless was challenging due to the loose scree and the steep angle of the descent.
Edwards was right when he wrote that it could be done.
The route finding was challenging and there appeared to be little human traffic in the area. We did find one cairn high on the eastern cliffs but no other signs of human use.
After reaching the scree ramp we had to once again regain all but 100 feet of the elevation that we had lost to reach a saddle between Dragon’s Tail and an unnamed elevated point to the south.
Perhaps This Is The Dragons Head:
There is a long portion of the Continental Divide between Reynolds Mountain and Gunsight Mountain that is quite unusual; it has not been named.
Traversing from Reynolds Mountain to Gunsight Mountain would be a challenge due to many intervening points and unseen cliffs. Although the Dragon's Tail is part of this section it is not named on any map. Perhaps the head lies to the west of Dragon's Tail.
An elevated knob below Dragon's Tail was guarded by loose scree that rolled with each step we took. Surely it was guarding the location of the Dragon’s head. But alas after traversing across its northeastern slope all we found was more scree and cliffs that needed to be navigated through.
There is no head to this dragon perhaps someone who had passed this way before had already dispatched the Dragon.
Room And A View:
With the bulk of the difficult climbing behind us we were able to enjoy a brief rest the pass between Floral Park and the Hidden Lake basin that Edwards described as a “surprise”.
He described the “Floral Park Traverse” from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald Lodge via the Sperry Glacier Basin as “an interesting way to get to new places”. This would be a lovely way to see Glacier National Park if 20 miles (32 km) and an elevation gain of 3,500 feet (1066 m) of yo-yo like trekking is an enjoyable to spend the day.
Countless visitors to Glacier National Park have stood on the shore of Avalanche Lake and gazed up at the waterfalls cascading down from Floral Park and the snowfields of Sperry Glacier. Many of them have wondered what secrets are hidden beyond their gaze. Part of the “surprise” that Edwards wrote about is that while standing on the pass the whole basin unfolds before the eyes. To make it even more amazing both Hidden and Avalanche Lakes can both be seen. This is an easy place to get lost daydreaming for minutes or even hours.
Okay…enough day dreaming … we still have a bear to slay.
What Goes Up … Must Come Down:
After a brief discussion regarding the best way to cross the lower slopes of Bearhat Mountain to the East Face Route we set of across the “Sound of Music”-like valley. The hills truly were alive … not with music but with birds, goats, marmots, flowers and cascades of water dancing through the rocks.
Snow fields and cliffs blocked to most obvious route and we had to loose more elevation to safely traverse to the shoulder where the route is located. More snow and scree blocked the way but eventually it yielded to us and we reached the bottom of the route.
Three went up to climb to Bearhat Mountain’s false summit. The other spent time observing cutthroat trout rise far below in Hidden Lake, pondering mountains and watching clouds while being stalked by a mountain goat. With the exception of the nosey goat it was a great way to spend the day whiles the rest of the guys slayed the bear.
I use slay because young men need to “conquer” something.
What Comes Down … Must Go Up:
The descent to Hidden Lake is a non-technical “walk in the park”.
In this case there were a couple of snow fields to slide over, two sets of cliffs to scramble down and a long dry stream bed to climb down to avoid unnecessarily walking on too much vegetation. Upon reaching Hidden Lake a trail leads all the way to the outlet of Hidden Lake. This unofficial trail appeared to be heavily used by climbers seeking to reach the “surprise” or even traverse all the way to Comeau Pass on the other side of the Sperry Glacier Basin.
The outlet of Hidden Lake is closed for fishing due to the many mature cutthroat trout that spawn in the reds of this outlet. Spawning in an outlet stream is unusual in itself as trout would generally prefer to spawn in an inlet, but in this case there is no inlet so they have adapted.
The 760 foot climb from Hidden Lake to Hidden Pass is demanding for most hikers.
Thankfully, the National Park Service has strategically stationed mountain goats along the route to cheer on the "tourists" as they crawl up the trail.
We too were grateful that their shift was not over as the encouragement was greatly appreciated. The bighorn rams near the pass obviously had other items on their agendas and could not be bothered by the few "brave" hikers who ventured away from their cars who were attempting to shoot their “treasured” photos.
No actual dragons were vanquished nor were any bears slayed on this August day.
It was just four guys from Montana spending a glorious day traversing around Hidden Lake.
A total of nearly 5,200 feet of elevation change and about 10 miles were required to complete this trip.
To use a cliche':
The views were amazing and the memories are priceless.