Mt Stimson from Mt Jackson summitFlathead County High Point – Mt Stimson (10,142’)
Pursuing my goal of climbing all the 10,000’ peaks in Glacier National Park, I obtained a backcountry permit on July 21, 1998 and set off with my climbing partner, Vern Ingraham, of Whitefish, MT to climb Mt. Stimson. We decided to take the SE Spine route described in Gordon Edwards’ “Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park”. Since we were going to an undesignated campsite at Buffalo Woman Lake, we were required to take along a bear barrel for our food since the rangers didn’t think we would find suitable trees in which to hang the food.
The route starts from US Hwy 2 about 16 miles east of West Glacier (38.1 miles west of East Glacier) and involves fording the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Coal Creek. This can be very hazardous depending on how much water is coming out of the mountains and is always a cold experience which is best attempted late in the summer. After negotiating this intimidating task, we proceeded to hike the Coal Creek trail 16.5 miles up toward Martha’s Basin and to the campsite near Buffalo Woman Lake. We were surprised to find that the trail has at least six more creek fords and eventually resigned ourselves to having wet feet and worrying about probable blisters.
There were some fine trees for hanging food by our campsite and we rigged a rope to haul up our backpacks with the food. While we didn’t see much fresh sign of grizzlies, we didn’t care to encourage any predation. We got started soon after it was light after coffee and oatmeal and headed for the saddle between Eaglehead Mtn and Mt. Pinchot, From that point we traversed along the west slopes of Pinchot at about 7,500’ for about 1.5 miles to the saddle between Pinchot and Stimson. As we approached that saddle, we noticed an old grizzly lying right in our path and we altered course gaining a couple hundred feet without hardly noticing the effort while keeping a close eye on the bear and trying to figure out how to proceed. Fortunately, the bear heard us and stood up and headed down slope towards the Pinchot creek drainage and we were able to proceed to the ridge which led up the final 2,500’ to the summit.
This is truly a monster of a mountain and involves an elevation gain of about 6,000’ in addition to all the water crossings during the 21 mile approach. We were lucky to have good weather for our summit day and the final climb was probably class 3 or perhaps easy class 4 in sections. As we headed back to camp keeping a lookout for the griz, we looked at the cliffs above us while traversing Pinchot trying to spot a route for a summit attempt. Although we tried in a couple of spots, we were not able to find anything less than class 5 until we neared the saddle between Pinchot and Eaglehead from which it is possible to scramble up and reach the peak. After doing so, we briefly contemplated trying to bag Eaglehead as well, but decided to leave it for another day.
We headed back for a well-deserved rest and packed back out the last 16.5 miles to our vehicle the next day. After our trip in, we approached the numerous fords with a new approach…we simply walked through the streams, stopped on the far shore and took off our boots spilling out the water and wringing out our socks before continuing to the next refreshing dip.