Although the West Face is considered the standard and the shortest route on Mount Gould, the northwest ridge is a bit more challenging and is only slightly longer, probably not even by a mile. Additionally, it has the distinct advantage of including a visit to Gem Glacier, a small mass of ice high on the Garden Wall. A hanging glacier, Gem Glacier is not considered a true glacier because its size (5 acres) is below the generally accepted standard of 25 acres. Since 1966, most glaciers in Glacier National Park have melted significantly, some by well more than 50%. Gem Glacier was a bit over 7 acres back then, so it was never a large glacier to begin with. Still, it is worth checking out; people unfamiliar with glaciers will likely be amazed by the colors and patterns evident in the exposed ice.
Since both the northwest ridge and west face routes depart the Highline Trail close to one another, it is possible and probably enjoyable to use one for the ascent and the other for the descent. Since the northwest ridge is a bit harder, I recommend that for the ascent, but climbers should take note that the west face, even though only Class 3 when followed correctly, can be tricky to negotiate going down due to numerous cliff bands. Also consider this comment from seasoned mountaineer and SP member Fred Spicker: "When I did the NW Ridge and descended the West Face, there were so many 'ducks' on the W Face that it was pretty confusing trying to follow any particular 'route.'"
Climbers should also note that Class 3 in Glacier National Park is a little different from Class 3 elsewhere. Glacier Park Class 3 is defined as follows:
"Moderate. Small cliffs on the route may be difficult, and steep scree may require great exertion, but there is little danger of physical injury if reasonable caution is exercised."
--From J. Gordon Edwards's A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park
The Glacier Mountaineering Society expanded upon that definition in this way:
"Difficult: High angle scrambling, moderate cliffs, considerable exertion. A rope might be necessary for beginners."
In other words, Glacier Park Class 3 can mean anything from hideously steep talus to what in other places climbers might call Class 4. Welcome to Glacier!
In all honesty, I do think the crux sections and some other spots here and there touch upon "normal" Class 4 (as if there is any standard definition of Class 4-- hah!), but they are not terrifying unless you manage to get yourself badly off-route.
This section will not tell you how to get to Glacier or how to find the trailheads; neither is hard and both are up to you.
Instead, this section will discuss options for getting to the point where you leave the Highline Trail, that point being about a quarter-mile northwest of the saddle between Haystack Butte and the Garden Wall.
Option 1:This is the way I used and probably the way most would. From Logan Pass, hike the Highline Trail for four miles to the saddle. Then hike another quarter-mile until you are immediately beneath a broad, obvious couloir (see picture below). Logan Pass is at about 6700'; the saddle is at about 7000'. There are some ups and downs in between, but overall, it is an easy hike. Total distance to the summit is maybe 6.25 mi, with about 3000' of elevation gain.
Option 2:Head up using a climber's trail from the Weeping Wall. Note: summer road construction blocked access to this route in 2012. Since I have not used this route, which is the shortest approach though a bit steeper that from Logan Pass, please see the image below, which is by FlatheadNative. By far, this is the shortest approach, at about 2.25 mi. Total distance to the summit is about 3.75 mi with about 3800' of elevation gain.
Option 3:Head up from the Loop. Unless the road is closed higher up or you are staying at Granite Park Chalet, this approach really makes no sense since it is the longest and steepest of the three. Hike from the Loop to the Highline Trail and then hike southwest to the couloir described in Option 1. Total distance to the summit this way is about 9.25 miles, with about 5300' of elevation gain.
Note: one can cut some distance from this approach by heading up the slopes much earlier and then making a high traverse to the notch between Gem Glacier and Gould. I "discovered" this option on my descent because I wanted a more direct way to Granite Park Chalet since I needed to try to catch up with my wife, who had passed on climbing Gould. Please see the photos below for landmarks and details.
Well, here you are at the aforementioned spot of leaving the trail, right?
You have about 2 miles, 2000', and jaw-dropping, eye-watering scenery ahead, so enjoy.
The Edwards guide goes into more detail than I will here, and my choice is based on this:
* The Edwards guide can be confusing.
* Even though I did not go the exact way Edwards described, I had no trouble finding my way up, though I admit it was harder (and more fun) than the guidebook's description.
Once at the notch beside Gem Glacier, you can see the talus slopes leading to the northwest ridge, and you can see the crux sections as well. Do not start by trying to climb the crest of the ridge itself; that is difficult Class 5 terrain. The route actually begins below the crest, on the east side.
So head on up. The hardest parts are lower down, and there are pictures of them above. But first, make sure to check out the Gem Glacier.
After the crux spots, the rest is easy scrambling and hiking to the summit, where the views are simply unbelievable. You might see cairns here and there, but they're not necessary to keep you on-route.
Stop every now and then to appreciate the views. They're worth it.
You'd be a fool to go climbing in Glacier and not at least have ice axe and crampons in the car. From the road, you can see most of the route and can decide whether to leave one or both behind.
If you're climbing with others, wear a helmet in consideration of loose rock.