Sinopah Mountain is the crown jewel of the Two Medicine area, not because it is the highest (that, at 9513', would be Rising Wolf Mountain), biggest, or most dramatic (although drama is certainly present!), but because of its striking appearance as it rises from the farsouthwestern-pointingtip of Two Medicine Lake. Sinopah proves to be an irresistible visual magnet, its lake-facing profile an unbroken wall of cliffs sweeping precipitously upward in classic Glacier Park style. Very easy to look at. Very photogenic. And a fun mountain to climb.
Sinopah Mountain, fronting Mount Rockwell
The Blackfeet Indians considered the Two Medicine area "The Backbone of the World," and in addition to the normal usage for sustenance, used this portion of what would eventually become Glacier National Park for vision quests. The story of how the area came about its name is taken from the writings of James Willard Schultz, who was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe and had an Indian wife: The Blackfeet Confederacy was divided into three tribes: the Pikuni, the Bloods, and the Blackfeet. In the spring each tribe held an Okan'a religious ceremonyand it just so happened that one year two of the tribes, the Pikunis and Bloods, happened to hold theirs at the same time and in the same place. After that the river was called Two Medicine Lodges, or Two Visions Lodges Riverlater shortened to Two Medicine. The combination of forested lakes, seemingly endless combinations of cliffs, walls, spires, and towering peaks, make it easy to see in this place a special significance! The name "Sinopah" is a derivative of two Blackfeet words. Sinopa is the word for the kit (prairie) fox, and Sinopaki means "Fox Woman." Sinopah was the Indian wife of Hugh Monroe (Rising Wolf), and daughter of Lone Walker, a powerful Blackfeet chief. All three of the mountains bearing the names of these individuals are in the Two Medicine area.
The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is immediately east of Glacier National Park. Their official website is a great source of information on trip planning and the cultural history of the region.
The amazing combination of Sinopah and Rockwell
While far from unknown, and certainly not void of people, this place is more subdued than the Lake McDonald or Logan Pass areas, Saint Marys, or Many Glacier. It's just that it lies a bit outside the main traffic flow, yet there are good trails throughout (you can even take a ferry from one end of the lake to the other, which, depending on your destination and route, will shorten the distance spent walking from one to three miles each waythe ferry is $5 one way, $10 round trip), giving many choices for doing as much or little legwork as desired, from easy day hikes to major multi-day treks into other sections of the park. Or you can simply stay in the Two Medicine area and climb mountains.
Sinopah Mountain's View of the Neighborhood
(And here's a link to the new GNP Web Cam page, which includes a nice perspective of...
...the Neighborhood's View of Sinopah Mountain).
From the north, take Hwy 89 south out of Saint Mary, turning on Hwy 49a paved road, but very winding and slow going; relax, enjoy the wonderful views!for approximately eight miles until the Two Medicine turnoff, then it is seven easy miles to the campground, ranger station, general store, boat dock, and ample parking. From the south, take Hwy 2 to East Glacier, and in town turn on Hwy 49, head north out of town four miles, to the Two Medicine road.
Standard Precautionary Note: All GNP roads are closed in winter, with Going-to-the-Sun Road (the major route through the park; its eastern terminus is at Saint Mary) sometimes not opening until July (average opening is second week in June; earliest opening ever is May 16, 1987, second earliest is May 22, 2005). Don't head out early in the year (i.e., June/early July) without checking the status of these roadsit is not unusual to have repeated, sometimes lengthy, road closures due to storms, avalanches, rock slides, or all three! The same holds true for late in the year; weather changes dramatically, beginning usually around the end of August, with road closures normally becoming more and more frequent through the month of September (although don't shy away from going, there can also be very nicealbeit cool or colddays of Indian Summer throughout this time frame; plus the park is relatively free of people after Labor Day). The following links are pretty much self-explanatory, and provide all sorts of useful and interesting information:
Current GNP Road Status
Map of Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park
(Note that clicking on the image after it loads brings up a larger version, making it MUCH easier to read.)
And finally, click here for current information, as well as easy access to some
interesting photos showing the Plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The trailhead ("Two Medicine Pass") is located at the southwest end of the parking area, immediately beyond the fee booth for the boat rides. Follow this well-maintained trail, which gains only about 70 feet the first couple miles. At first, the route actually winds away from Mount Sinopah to avoid some marshy areas, but have faith, as the trail will soon make a beeline southwest.
Stay on the main (well-marked) trail past two junctions, soon crossing a suspension bridge. On the other side of the bridge, stay left at a third junction and proceed another mile or so to Rockwell Falls, at which point a bridge crosses the stream, with the trail continuing up the drainage. Do not cross the stream, but look instead for a faint trail (no sign) heading up along the right side of the stream and falls.
Pay attention as the trail departs the stream because it is easy to lose amongst the brief brush through which you must bushwhack. The sometimes scant trail then breaks out into a clearing and winds its way through some loose scree, at which point it becomes easy to follow. Climbing out of the scree onto more sure-footed tundra, the great south cliffs of Mount Sinopah rise above you.
Climb straight up the slope, aiming for a wide couloir on the far right. Occasional red bench rocks along a minor trickling stream will be encountered and are easily climbed or bypassed. Approaching the wide couloir, the terrain may appear daunting and impassible, but it's not; forge onward because the fun is only beginning.
Ascend the couloir over Class 3 rock, staying left of center. Cairns may be encountered and they will generally lead you along the best route, but variations are many; loose rubble and talus litter the shelves scaled through this section, so climb with care. Several steep pitches up rock walls must be executed, but careful route finding will keep the difficulty at Class 3. There are a couple spots that may involve some mild exposure and smaller holds and ledges, but proceed patientlyyou will soon be above the climbing. Loose scree slopes must be ascended to gain the summit ridge, but climb straight up from your position until assuming the ridge not far west of the summit. Follow the ridge to the top.
Return the same route, exercising more caution during your descent not to dislodge rocks.
DISTANCE: 9 miles round trip
GAIN: 2,700 feet
SINOPAH BOAT RIDE ($5 one way - $10 round trip)
Hikers have the option to take a boat ride, saving their feet some mileage in the process. However, the sailing times of the boat may not be conducive to a desired early start. Check at the dock, located at the trailhead, for the schedule, or consult the park's website.
It makes sense to consider a boat ride on your return, if you can manage to adjust to the boat's schedule. If so, once back at the second junction, you have the option of hiking a mile to the boat dock at the west end of Two Medicine Lake and catch the boat back to the trailhead, or turning right and following your route back the way you came.
During the summer and fall, standard day hike provisions will do, but be sure to have layered clothing and expect all types of weather and temperatures in Glacier at any time of the year. Don't forget your camera!
Assuming access is possible, a late spring ascent would involve steep snow and ice, requiring the appropriate gear. Ice axe, crampons and rope, rack and screws are likely required to execute this route safely in such conditions.
The park roads are not maintained in the winter and easy access is unlikely. The route ascends dangerous terrain prone to avalanche activity anyway, so a winter ascent is not recommended.
(NOTE: The reasoning behind incorporating the route into the main page is that there is basically only one way up Sinopaha technical ascent would probably be possible, but given Glacier's rotten, sedimentary rock, most assuredly would not be recommended except to the foolhardy!and combining the Route and Main pages provides a more logical and intuitive access to information.)
The Red Tape, Wildlife, & Cautions Section
In case you need it: A couple reminders that this GNP/Northern Rockies area has a LOT of wildlife.
No permits required, but you must pay a park entry fee, which is $25 for one week, or $35 for an annual pass. Registration for day climbs in Glacier National Park is recommended, but not mandatory. Probably anyone prone to climbing in this part of the country already knows this, but the Northern Rockies are full of wildlife. Always be aware, and don't do anything stupid, likefor examplefeed the bears, think that a mountain lion is even remotely related to your pet cat, or run up to a moose (moose are quite unpredictable, irritable, and very dangerous). And never, ever, EVER forget you're in grizzly country; they insist on being left alonedisagreement on that point is not an argument you'll win! Bear spray and noise should be part of every GNP foray you make into the back country. Black bears will be found in the forests, grizzlies commonly venture onto the above-timberline tundra, sometimes, when in pursuit of such delicacies as ladybugs or cutworm moth larva, even to the summits! Also note that improperly stored food in park campgrounds (i.e., scraps left around the table or campfire, or edibles in your tent rather than your car) will subject you to a $50 fine. If you wander off, leaving your pack unattended, and there is food in it which attracts the attention of, for example, a bear, it is also a fine. Folks, the Park Service is serious about not providing human food access to the critters!
When To Climb, & Climbing Considerations
From late June/early July (during this time frame expect LOTS of snow in the high elevations) to early fall, depending on snow conditions. Traditional climbing season in the Northern Rockies is July, August, and Septemberwith September weather becoming progressively colder and more unstable (sometimes dramatically so: PAY ATTENTION!) as the month progressesbut does of course vary from year to year. There are occasional winter climbs in the park, but not often, and then only by well-equipped, area-wise, extremely competent individuals. Basically, most of GNP is inaccessable throughout the winter, and avalanche danger, to put it mildly, is extreme almost everywhere.
Because of the nature of the rock, there are special considerations regarding climbing in Glacier National Park, and grading systems unique to the Park have been developed by both J. Gordon Edwards and the Glacier Mountaineering Society. Anyone doing more than just "trail" hiking in this part of the Rockies should read the excellent and important information put together by Fred and Moni Spicker. Muchif not mostof the rock in GNP is sedimentary and rotten, and you need to know about it: Glacier National Park Rock & Grading Systems.
The Two Medicine Campground ($20 per dayno reservations, first come first served basis) is close to the area trailheads, as well as the ferry. There are numerous campgrounds available within Glacier National Park, of which only Fish Creek and Saint Mary take reservations (not required, but probably a good idea during the peak summer tourist period). There are also many campgrounds, as well as motels, just outside the park on both the west and east sides.
Click here for General Camping Information, and click here for Current Site Availability in specific campgrounds.
In addition, there is a great deal available in the way of accomodations and camping on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The community of East Glacier Park is within easy driving of Two Medicine Lake (approximately 25 minutes), and has several restaurants and motels, as well as an RV park which also caters to tenters. And if your credit card is gathering dust, East Glacier Park is also home to the (really nice) Glacier Park Lodge.
Also, and for those so inclined...GNP does have Backcountry Campsites throughout the park, including the Two Medicine area. Some of these sites can be reserved; others are on a first come basis. Anyone doing extensive, several day, remote hiking/climbing would be well advised to check this out.
Mountain Conditions/Web Cams
Weather pagean overview, plus current conditions and forecast
This is the New NPS Web Cam Page.
External Links/Additional Information/Items of Related Interest
In TributeOn March 1, 2011, Vernon Garner, Saintgrizzly, left us after losing a bold, inspiring fight against pancreatic cancer. Or maybe he won, for he is at last free of his pain and has "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil."
Vernon was an important contributor on SummitPost, but beyond merely making good, informative pages, he actually inspired many who read his work. No one put more work into his or her pages than Vernon did, and many of those pages, especially those related to Glacier National Park, the place he loved above all others, are works of art in both the writing and layout. More than one person has wanted to visit Glacier or go back to Glacier largely due to what he shared about that magnificent place.
Many people on SP counted Vernon among their friends, and many more saw him as one of the best, one of those who exemplified the spirit of this site. He was one of the best of us, he will be missed, and he will not be forgotten.
As a tribute to him, Vernon's pages will remain in his name. Any member who sees a need for an addition or correction should please contact site management via the "Send PM to the Elves" feature.
Rest well and climb on, Vernon.