The Southeast Slope Route is shortest most direct route to the summit and the main route described by Edwards.
However, the West Ridge Route, which gets barely a mention by Edwards, has apparently become the normal route on the mountain - and not without good reason.
The West Ridge Route gains the first 2,000 feet of elevation via 2.3 miles of trail leaving only about 2,550 feet to gain on the ridge.
Via the Southeast Slope Route it is only about 2.5 miles to the summit, but about 4,550 vertical feet is gained - none of it by trail and nearly every bit of it up unrelentingly steep slopes that eventually become vertical cliff bands below the false summit at the junction of the southwest and southeast ridges. Edwards describes the route as "a good climb for hikers with a bit more than the average amount of perseverance."
This is a good route for those who want to add more work and some Class 3 or 4 scrambling to the ascent of Stanton Mountain.
An ascent via the South Slope with a descent via the West Ridge would make a nice traverse of the mountain - especially for those who would prefer to descend by a less steep option (easier on the toes and knees).
Getting ThereFrom the Going-to-the-Sun Road, take the road to the Lake McDonald Ranger Station. The unmarked turnoff is about 1.4 miles northeast of the Lake McDonald Lodge and about 100 yards past the Johns Lake trail head sign. The road is paved at the beginning and soon crosses McDonald Creek.
After you pass the Ranger Station and the road turns to gravel watch for the very first small hill. Just past the hill is a drainage. Very shortly past the drainage there are several spots to pull to the side and park. The drainage is also the eastern edge of the burned area.
Walk back to the drainage or the top of the small hill. You are at the beginning of the route.
Lake McDonald Area Map
Edwards recommends bushwhacking directly up the drainage until you come out in the open slopes above it.
Since his description was written, a fire in the area burned to and into the drainage in question. Recent rains have also caused some major erosion and small landslides in the gully.
After looking at the amount of deadfall in the burn and the thick brush in the drainage, we decided to go up through the unburned timber to the east of the drainage. We started directly from the top of the small hill and found the going to be relatively easy through fairly open timber with occasional game trails and very little underbrush. We descended the same way, so we did not actually go onto the lower slopes of the gully. They may be more open than we thought, but they did not look very inviting from above either.
We stayed in the timber until we started encountering small cliffs and then traversed out into the open gully to the west. We came out just above the fork in the main gully.
If you go up the drainage, or traverse out of the timber lower, the main gully is followed upward until it forks. Take the right fork.
Once in right fork of the open gully, follow it up gradually steepening slopes to the cliffs at the base of the false summit.
Find your way up through the cliffs and ledges. With care and patience, nothing harder than Class 3 need be climbed, but Class 4 cliffs are present. The easiest way will force you gradually to the left (west) and you will top out on the southwest ridge a short distance below the false summit. Prepare yourself – the summit looks a disappointingly long distance away after all the work it has taken you to get this far!
Follow the ridge to the false summit and then the ridge from there to the base of the summit pyramid. The southeast ridge of the summit pyramid is easy Class 2 and 3 scrambling or go further west where it is only Class 2.
Guidebook and Special Considerations
Guidebook: A CLIMBER'S GUIDE TO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK; J. Gordon Edwards
Note that the rock in Glacier National Park is very rotten by any standards.
See GNP Rock & Grading Systems for more information.
Essential GearIn early season with any snow on the slopes below the false summit, an ice ax and crampons would be in order. A rope might be desired depending on the experience and skill level of the party.
A note on bugs.Both the authors of the main page and Edwards warn about bugs during the summer. Be aware.
We climbed in September and had no problem with bugs.