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Waterfall-o-rama: GNP's Blackfoot Glacier Basin
Trip Report

Waterfall-o-rama: GNP's Blackfoot Glacier Basin

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Waterfall-o-rama: GNP\'s Blackfoot Glacier Basin

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Montana, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 48.60053°N / 113.64178°W

Object Title: Waterfall-o-rama: GNP's Blackfoot Glacier Basin

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 4, 2013

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering

Season: Summer


Page By: andrew david

Created/Edited: Aug 1, 2013 / Aug 4, 2013

Object ID: 859331

Hits: 1466 

Page Score: 79.78%  - 11 Votes 

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Introduction and Executive Summary

Nearing the end of the Jackson Meadows Trail. July 4, 2013

The waterfall pointed to is very obvious in person. This route is far less scenic but direct and avoids much of the up and down of the higher crossing.

Orange is the approximate best way around the lake. Blue is my suggested route to Mount Logan. Green is the route from Almost-a-dog Pass, still miles away, which backtracks quite a distance as shown.

Snowmelt caves.

Watch your step in early summer.

Siksika Falls? I think unnamed, but I do carry a map at small scale.

You cannot spell waterfall without the word fall.  That is a little quip to keep in mind for any who wish to explore this area because you will enjoy plenty of falls of all kinds.  August is the ideal month, and if you take note of a few of these pictures and count not at all on the incomprehensible Edwards Guide description for the Blackfoot Basin, you can have a splendid trip, especially if you enjoy pain, bushwhacking, or just doing hard stuff for the heck of it.  It will be a demanding trip any time of year, even on the perfect day weather-wise and condition-wise, and even in strong teams.  I hiked to Gunsight Lake and beyond on July 4, summited two peaks, and had very ambitious aims and permits to go further.  For various reasons I will get to, this trip ended in failure, but was remarkable nonetheless, and will always be a fond memory.  While I was suffering and stumbling and falling, that was in question.  But time makes one of the worst days of your life one of the fondest, and so does distance, and an SD memory card full of photographs, but not any blood, sweat, or tears, all now long dried and washed away.  As long as you do not mind knowing already the ending (failure), there is a good story here and many stunning photographs!  What's more, I think at least some of you will find even better adventures awaiting in the Blackfoot Glacier Basin (there is plenty of room there), and by perusing this, you can save yourself some of the hassles and hardships.   And do not fear that if you view these many photos you will have seen everything.  The rapid melt patterns of glacier basins can make them appear different worlds one week to the next and for all the photos I am posting to show off this beautiful area and inspire others to explore it, I have not revealed half of all my favorites.  It is a huge basin, and beautiful throughout.  I certainly did not step on every inch of ground either.  There is plenty more to discover, all without any evidence of human existence, save for the helicopters buzzing overhead every 45 minutes or so.

And I truly hope someone finds a use for this page because I just committed several too many hours to making it.

Halfway Lakes

Same waterfall as marked in the earlier photo, signalling the lakes are near. This fall actually drains from the lakes.

This is a welcome sight.

Western and larger of the Halfway Lakes.

Glacier effects.

Waterfalls at the edge of a world.

Eastern and smaller of the Halfway Lakes, fed by many waterfalls. Almost-a-dog Pass in distance.

The date was July 4, and I was in Glacier National Park again, at last.  Injury had delayed me and cost me a month of what I intended to be the greatest and fullest summer of my life.  I am 29, the perfect age for a final full-time fling as an unemployed explorer-bum.  My childhood dream was to be a poet bum, and though I no longer write, and never have when I've got better things (like mountains) to do, I got the bum part down, though I will soon be leaving it behind for adulthood and middle-age sedate mediocrity.  I have earned it.  I have the scars to prove it, but just take my word.  A man can only almost die so many times before the laughter goes from jocund to nervous.  It stops being fun after a while.  I spent most of the summer of 2012 living out of my car and traveling the West, and now at last, after delays and expensive foot fixes, and that old scourge, rest, I was living the dream at last again in 2013!  I spent the last week of June hiking myself into approximate shape and climbing five great, big peaks in the Sawtooths of Idaho (which I will write about one day, probably after my pending month in the Cascades), and then drove two days through insane heat (without working A/C) to the upper realms of Montana and the great Glacier National Park.  Enough background.  I had some probably impossibly ambitious plans cooked up because those are the kind of plans one cooks up when laid up in bed, wondering about and wishing for just a glimmer of good health again.  "If only I could climb a few peaks..." I would begin, and by the time I was stopping the car and stretching my legs outside the Apgar Backcountry Office I was going to conquer the whole park.  I arranged permits with a charming young lady ranger (of which GNP was stocked the way Two Medicine Lake is loaded each spring with trout, and whether it means I am not terribly ugly or is for some other reason, each of these ladies was a dream to work with and gave me whatever crazy permits I wanted with no fuss or muss), who typed and then wrote with marker the following advisories on my permit: "Solo hiking, severe weather advisory, water hazard on route, snow hazard on route, animal warning on route, route not recommended, not on trail."  And she finished with "TRIP NOT RECOMMENDED!"  I might frame the thing.  She teased me I ought to.  Well, okay it was an ambitious plan, and it turns out, far too ambitious, but we'll get to that.

The trip is discussed in the Edwards book: Going from Gunsight Lake to the Jackson Meadows, across Blackfoot Basin, to Almost-a-dog Pass, down to Red Eagle Meadows, up to Red Eagle Pass, then following game trails on the scree ridges of Red Goat Mountain, Norris Mountain, and Triple Divide Peak, to Triple Divide Pass, then down a rugged trail to St Mary.  Is that all?  Solo?  Its only like 40 miles, and almost half of that is on trail.  Surely it can't be so tough?  I figured I'd toss in a couple of peaks while I was at it.  After all, if you are going to hike on a not-quite-100% foot still recovering from a turf toe sprain, then why not go all out? 

I will spare you many details on the approach.  If you cannot find your own way to Gunsight Lake, all the trip reports and mountaineer websites in the world will not help you out.  That trail is pleasant enough in that it is a trail, though thick with tall plants, especially on the spur to Florence Falls, where I fell into mud, by the way.  Pretty views, and none prettier than those toward Mount Logan, easy to spot, and hard to fathom.  The closer I got, the farther it seemed to float away.  It looked impossible and all those notes on my permit began to heckle me.  At Gunsight Lake I met a nice local fellow with an inner tube who had been floating on the lake.  I mention this as I would bump into the same guy three weeks later (mentioned in my last TR "Semi-Soloing Mount Merritt".  Forgive the plug.)  That is one beautiful lake and it just floors you seeing it up close, even having viewed it in many pictures.  The interesting thing is how time of day, angle, and even weather make the color of the lake change so drastically, even one day to the next, or one hour to the next!  Hiking in, the lake was blue and choppy.  When I came out, it would be still and almost emerald green.  Well, I needed water and started pumping my filter.  Here is where things began to take a wrong turn.  In Idaho, I'd noticed a teeny little leak starting in the plastic filter shell, but at some point in the hot drive, that hole had done what peaks like those at GNP do every year: the change in temperature from day to night had opened it up much wider, and cracked it badly.  The principle is likely the same as that which makes a handhold of seemingly-solid rock break off in a climber's hand.  And knowing this made the news no less bitter.  To lighten my pack I'd skinned my first aid of a few things and one of those was half of my backup water treatment tablets.  Quick math told me I did not have 40+ miles worth of water treatment if this filter would not hold up.  Duct tape fixed the trouble for now, and turning around was unpalatable, so I pressed on.  But gear is a plague one must fight.  Start to depend on things, and they will fail you.  Most gear is designed for light use in ideal conditions, and for those staying on trails.  My little quests shred pants, wreck boots, crack filters, break sunglasses, make hats and bandannas disappear and blow away, drown cameras, and...well you get the idea.  I am sure it is the same for many out there.  Only so much care can be taken, and if one were to check every piece of gear and stay perfectly on top of the condition of everything, or replace each questionable item, well, that would either break the bank or be a full-time job in itself.  So I travel light, eat cold foods, forgo what I can, and depend on only a few things.  Sadly, I have this dependency on water.  I am frankly, addicted to it.  I can get along better without it than some, but still, water is my master. 

The trail to Jackson Meadows Overlook is easy to follow, but miserable to take.  Hot and steep and full of roots and rocks, the only relief is knowing that as it is not leading to the 10,000 foot summit of Mount Jackson, it cannot possibly keep going up at that rate for long.  The trail soon began crossing patches of rapidly melting snow and I met with challenge Number 2.  This route was not in season.  I'd expected early July to be ideal, thinking the glacier would feature less crevasses and I'd not need to worry over finding water at any point, but August is actually the time to go out here.  As it was, I could tell scanning ahead I was facing one of those days where I would tie knots into strap-on crampons at least a dozen times.  I hate those days usually.  There were holes opening where melt was hollowing the snow beneath and these were periodic scenic obstacles across all the snow, it would turn out.

Now, I am going to do any readers out there a HUGE favor, and simplify 6 pages of incomprehensible gibberish in the Edwards Guide book ("cross the stream by the big rock"!!!!!!  I take soooooooo many exceptions with that sentence: a) THE stream, THE stream?  Depending on season, there might be a dozen or more that you will cross, B) THE big rock, as if there are not 7,000 "big" rocks out there?!) down to a single instructive tip.  Look at the photo I am posting at full size below.  Just hike to where the arrow points near the edge of the forest.  It may look steep or sketchy.  I know this. The fact that it did and that I was alone and that I got distracted by what I thought were Siksika Falls (and which might be, but also might have no name and just be glacier melt and not a true falls) all combined to make me doubt that low route I originally picked out because of bears or other dangers and to lead me off of it, and in that dreaded Z pattern of zig zags that adds miles to the miles.  Besides, I had crampons and if I put them on, I'd not need to carry them on my back and shoulders, and since I was going to Almost-a-dog Pass anyway, I might as well get high, hit snow, stick to it, and make rapid progress of this thing.  The Edwards book mentions a high crossing of more interest to mountaineers, and with less danger of bears.  And since I could not begin to decipher his complicated descriptions of the basin, I thought it best to get lost on my own merits, rather than someone else's.  And brothers, let me tell you, I have plenty of ability to get myself lost, especially when rusty at route-finding and hiking.

Now, the fact that the description for the hike to Almost-a-dog Pass covers six pages while entire mountains in the same guide book sometimes warrant less than a paragraph, should ring alarm bells.  And it did.  I was expecting a bit of a long afternoon, even before starting the trip.  But hey, we're talking about wee little Montana glaciers here, not the Alps, the Himalayas, or even the North Cascades.  How bad could things get?  I'm no stumblebum.  The summer before I'd been a dynamo, breezing through 16 hour days, piling up 600+ miles and nearly 50 mountains (this may not sound like many to some readers, and may sound like an incomprehensible number to others, but 47 peaks when none are "walk-ups" and not doing 7 foothills at once and counting each one separately is a pretty large number) and I've soloed some fierce things, stuff accomplished technical climbers might scoff at, but which they scoff at only when roped up in teams.  I know this sounds like bragging, but inevitably, there are some out there dismissing my account already and sneering, "I could go do the Blackfoot Glacier Basin in an hour" and who will maybe try to do just that.  More power to you.  I wish you the best.  And I hope you don't leave orphans.  My point is that this area is a serious undertaking.  Well, things got bad quickly.  The snow never holds out on the high route.  There is no single line or elevation you can pick out or climb to and then just traverse.  You hit islands of scree, boulders, dead ends, potential dead ends, and all kinds of miseries.  Oh and waterfalls.  Yeah they are beautiful and make for good pictures, but walls of waterfalls are no aid to progress.  Every stinking time I got crampons tied on and made a few feet of progress, I'd run into some unexpected drop-off, cliff, or danged waterfall.  Ever been stalked by waterfalls?  Or punked by them?  It was like dealing with an inner city gang hassling you at every corner.  Turn around, and bang, a waterfall punches me right in the nose again.  So the afternoon dragged on.  I estimate it took 4.5 hours to reach the Halfway Lakes.  Take that low route I mentioned, and barring bear complications, you should make it in half that time or less.  I do not have a watch so that is the best I can do.  What is more, I did not even know there were lakes on the route.  Had I known, I likely could have developed a finer plan than what I had.  That finer plan would have involved those lakes.  On my National Geographic Map, a single lake is shown, not named, and looks too small to be accountable or useful to any hiker on the way through.  If you have the same map, look for the lake South of the word "Falls" to the East of Siksuka Falls.  The next falls to the East are not named either, but the lake just South of them is actually a pair of lakes now (ah global warming, that old friend), and they are beautiful and approximately halfway across that horror-show basin.  Thus, I am naming them "Halfway Lakes" until someone more knowing than I tells me if they have an assigned name yet.  I think it an ideal name. 

The Halfway Lakes appeared to my complete and utter joy.  I think I gasped as I came over some common, cursed scree hill or moraine or other.  There below me, and not that far below me, were beautiful bright blue lakes in rocky stepped benches.  I could take a break!  As I had put away the pages I'd torn out of the Edwards book for the trip, I would not know until afterward, but J Gordon Edwards mentions this exact spot, and says to "descend" to it.  So even if you take the low route I pointed out, you will break out of brush and scree somewhere above the lakes, likely because to break up to them any other way would include climbing several waterfalls at the edge of the world (for all intents and purposes).  The lake can only be crossed to the South safely, again because of those remarkable falls.  Camping could be done anywhere, on snow or rock.  The rock is smooth and fine for sleeping and the area calls for more exploration.  Nearly every inch of rock is marked with unique patterns and tattoos, from the movement of glaciers.  I passed a relaxing half hour taking photos and letting the weight of my 32 lbs of gear and food bear down on stone rather than my body.  The views from here are already incredible.  I strongly considered staying.  My permit was for the meadows south of Almost-a-dog Pass, but just where those end, who can say?  Still, it was hours until sundown, and I had a long way to go.  I filtered more water, noting that my filter even under three patches of duct tape was leaking still more than earlier.  But for the suffering I'd done already, I was going to go up some peaks, even if it killed me.

These lakes make a handy base camp for parties looking to Mount Logan in overnight trips, or three day trips, and who want to also climb Blackfoot Mountain, or handsome Peak 8884, which does a convincing impression of Blackfoot Mountain until one knows better and realizes that named peak is much farther away yet.  Another option would be to pack to the lakes, target whichever peaks looked most in-season and most appealing, and then target Jackson on the way out, spending a night at Gunsight Lake on the second or third night when a permit would be easier to obtain than on the first night of a trip.  The views from each might offer some redundancy but that would make a wonderful trip, full of challenges, but without the obscene difficulty of toting a pack across the entire basin.

Mt Logan behind. Taken near Halfway Lakes.

Walls of falls. I did not even attempt to take pictures of all of them.

Melt pond on the high crossing to Almost-a-dog Pass.

Sunset greetings from high the Blackfoot Glacier. Mount Jackson is on the left.

Almost-a-dog Meadows. I descended a 5 ft cliff to camp in a very cloistered spot, protected on all sides from easy entry. Plenty of camping to be found.

Mount Jackson far away and diminutive thanks to distance.

Almost-a-dog Meadows

Leaving the Halfway Lakes is slow and tedious.  You must take steps of varying height, working around walls of waterfalls, of course, and cliffs just too big and slick to climb.  Actually, going up these ledges is not rocket science.  There are easy breaks and momentum will mean you can force any route you like rather than searching the best one out.  If you do not need to come back down to those lakes, you will never know the struggle they can be with tired legs and mind and weight on your shoulders.  But I am ahead of myself again.  The challenges from the lakes to the meadows are the same as those from the Jackson Meadows to the lakes: swirls of snow and then brush, and then scree, and then a cliff, and then a wet crossing, then a waterfall, or two, or three, and then more snow, more scree, an ice patch, a maze of forest, and repeat, ad nauseum.  I always curse when I get tired, dry, and hot, but I did some extra volume of cursing on this trip- both quantity and loudness- and with added vehemence.  Still, its hard to suffer too much when at any moment I could spin around and take in stunning scenery.  The Fusilade is forested and near, Mount Jackson shrinks behind, there are flowers, Blackfoot Mountain nears, with crumbling walls of ice, there are patterns on the rock.  Mount Logan towers above.  The pass seems to flit away like a mirage, or the smoke of a candle in a wind.  At least the cursing would keep bears away, though I never saw the sign of any.  No scat, marks on trees, turned over rocks, or any other threatening spores (signs).  Actually, I saw no hint of any animals.  No faint trails, footsteps, scat, of any kind.  Even the marmots seemed to know better than to wander into that basin this early in the year.  And if goats will have no part of an area, goats who love solitude and airy heights, then it probably means the spot is out of season. 

The meadows were delicate and just thawing.  Fewer flowers popped out than will by August, surely.  Every footstep sunk into mud or left some mark and made me feel clumsy.  I kept to snow where I could as much to leave no trace as to avoid shoving through pine trees.  Camping opportunities are plentiful and will be even more so later in summer.  I picked a spot at last because it was fortified tremendously.  I found a little pocket meadow with a wall of tree on one side, steep rocky climbs on two others, and with cliffs and trees I had to drop five feet down on the last.  If any animal came in the night, even a silent bear on slippered padded feet, I would know.  And why would any?  I left my food above in the bear can.

As this was the fourth of July, I thought to see fireworks from any towns in range.  I hoped this would prove true and impressive.  A little added treat.  But I slept heavily, hearing but a few, and spotting none, as clouds moved in.  This hardly registered through a fatigue deep enough to reach the marrow of each bone.  When I flipped open my bivvy sack in morning and saw...nothing, it echoed though, familiar, and sunk in quickly, even half asleep.  Nothing to do in a white out but sleep to heart's content and hope for a burn off.  I did just that, needing it, wanting it, and getting it. 

The burn off came by late morning.  I dried boots and gorged on a rock, pestered by a marmot at last, a lonely little creature who thought, like many people actually, to fill her life with chatter and thus keep loneliness at bay.  So this marmot whistled and whistled and whistled some more, standing on hind paws and looking out, as if every single utterance was genius and sure to bring a friend along. 

The Pass beckoned.

Looking up Almost-a-dog Peak from the pass of the same name.

Flowers along the stroll up Almost-a-dog Peak.

Gunsight Lake hopelessly far away.

Almost-a-dog Pass

This is one of many awe-inspiring passes of GNP, but this is one of those that is terrible to reach.  If you are a "Pass Bagger" than leave this one until after you've nabbed the ones with trails.  Jefferson Pass, Red Eagle Pass, and Almost-a-dog are mystical, almost legendary places- once in a lifetime quests for all but the stoutest of locals- that you cannot reach without leaving a piece of yourself behind.  I got a fabulous mingling of clouds and sunlight, perfect for photography.  The walk to Almost-a-dog Peak is easy but interesting, decorated with flowers of many colors, with Clyde Peak a quintessentially majestic horn, Mount Logan suddenly snarling from up close with intimidating cliffs, and red drops closer at hand, close to "terrifying" as the Edwards book calls them.  There is a single notch that opens in those cliffs and presents a potential descent, but I wanted to go higher and take a look around before I decided anything about the next day and my future.  Almost-a-dog is a farther summit than appears, or one would expect.  The ridge is no good, as usual in GNP and should be avoided.  Too many dead ends and drop offs.  The views keep improving, though having a cloud at almost eye level helps.  Through holes in those cumulus patterns I could pick out Split Mountain at times, and eventually, Red Eagle Pass, with two lakes just North of it and below, and the entire ridge route I was anticipating.  Nothing much more needs be said.  If you need instructions for this mountain than you do not need them because you will not possibly reach its foot!  Anyone who gets to that point is certainly good enough at route finding and invention to make their way to the peak if desired.  Edwards says one can walk from the summit to Little Chief Mountain, but "walk" is not the word I would use, looking to the East.  There is the little trouble of a crazy scree castle in the way.  I wrote off that faint notion and went back to the pass.  The walk would be a traverse with hideous exposure; fun I am sure, but if you have to retrace every step in late afternoon, that is probably not much of a trip.  I would only conceive of trying it were I then interested in that awful bushwhack down to Virginia Falls and out by different trail, making a long loop.  I would also only ever consider this as a day trip because carrying a pack would be murder.

Taking little time or food or water I headed next to Mount Logan.  Wisps of an obvious and well-worn goat trail went up the edge of the cliffs toward a shoulder.  From there, the going is obvious and enjoyable, as the ramped ledge carries you to the Southwest where a climb of Mount Logan begins.  There are only two problems with this fun and scenic route: a) getting back on this proper ledge from above is much more difficult b) as one proceeds, one cannot help but notice how from the Halfway Lakes below a direct route up snow (or scree in later summer) would have saved a few miles off the total distance traveled. 

For that reason, I suggest anyone targeting Mount Logan forget about Almost-a-dog Pass unless a) also intending to do Almost-a-dog Peak, b) or dead-set on descending that notch and pressing on to the Red Eagle Meadows, c) or making a small loop of the mountain ascent, including the pass on either ascent or descent, but not both. 

The views change dramatically from the pass and the morning's peak.  Clyde Peak and Mount Stimson are much nearer, with the latter being almost too big to see: it fills an entire camera and all of your view South and is almost invisible by being so vast.  It is like a sky of forest at first, and then I realized that no, it was a peak, and people climb it.  What a terrible undertaking!  I am sure it makes an unforgettable adventure.  Clyde Peak is a sinking ship in the foreground, down a wail of scree, an intimidating angle which could be walked for that summit attack.  Not for me though, not that day, not this life.  Logan is not difficult to reach.  The cliffs are typical stuff: crumbly, covered in yellow lichen, dangerous only to the uninitiated and careless, tamed if you take the patience to find the right route.  Class 3 if you do.  Class 4 or worse if you miss it or give up and just force the issue.  Coming down is faster for that reason, as you can mark your progress with cairns, or will remember the way.  I saw no cairns on either peak, though the summits had the familiar stacked pyramids, and which, I am told now, hold registers.  Well, I never signed any, and will get over it just fine. 

I fumbled some in finding that goat run on the way down, and on this particular mountain, you do need that singular ledge to make it back to your starting point at the pass.  No serious hardships, but it wiles away an afternoon quickly enough, each rest, each step retraced. 

I tested the notch in the red cliffs after returning to the pass and did not like it.  Now, recall, those who are out there scoffing, thinking, "Pfffuh!  Baby!  I bet its easy as pie."  I cover lots of ground solo.  There are often no humans within 10 miles of me, and none with an idea where I am.  One fall, one slip, one broken ankle, might be all she wrote.  So I have some guts, and have known some glories.  Certainly there are bolder mountaineers, practical machines who know nothing but climbing, and care for little else, but that notch is legitimate.  This is Glacier Park, so plan on loose scree at hand and under foot.  With a pack, alone, this is not going to be a pleasant hour or more.  With a team, lowering the packs on a rope, spotting one another, this still will not be a pleasant hour or more, but it will be a safer one.  As it was, I made the choice to flip around pretty quickly.  That broken filter was a handy excuse.  Retracing my steps, I was 12 or 14 miles at most from the road.  If I pressed on, I had 25 miles or more to go, and I did not know conditions intimately.  If I moved from sunup to sundown I could cut a day from the trip and might have enough pills and enough of a filter left to not pass out from dehydration or to resort to drinking untreated water.  But I had several other trips planned, and to get to them, I needed to not start taking big risks.  Besides, how bad could crossing that basin be, now that I knew the way?

Closing in on the summit of Almost-a-dog Peak.

A view through the notch that gives passage to Red Eagle Meadows.

Goat trail along the shoulder of Logan.

View up from the Logan Goat trail. Go up any place you like the look of the cliffs, or follow it to the SW corner where things will be about the same.

Another view through the Notch that could connect Almost-a-dog and Red Eagle Passes, with Split Mountain and Norris well-framed behind. Yes I am fishing for compliments.

Another shot of the fun Goat Trail from Almost-a-dog Pass to Mount Logan. One of my favorite goat trails in the park so far, and I have done close to a dozen. Very hard to find the right ledge on the way down unless you mark the way.


The strange thing about my retreat was that the crossing was worse.  Rather than knowing the ground and avoiding pitfalls and hazards, I had covered enough of it that every step seemed familiar.  I had more information than I could use.  Every tree seemed the one I meant to pick out as some marker.  I did more zig-zagging, got lost in the maze of little pines, cursed, screamed, sweated, and made very slow progress to those lakes.  They were the obvious spot to spend the night in my mind.  Beautiful and miles from the pass, if I were at them by nightfall I could not possibly talk myself into descending that notch in the morning.  See, I know me.  I talk myself into things, not out of them.  And I had hours to do just that. 

Details are tedious.  I reached the lakes, could not find how to get across them, of course, and wound up throwing my gear down in a rage and a rush at the smaller more Eastern lake right as rainfall began.  I hopped into my bivvy sack without eating and drinking little and with a camp far from as secure as I like.  But I had water at one side and my head, so if a bear came, I knew it would reach my feet first or come from the East and that is some peace of mind.  If a bear grabs my feet, I can sit up and fight back.  The important thing is to keep your head from being the first thing gnawed.  These are the concerns of the soloist in bear country. 

Rain let up for a few moments to allow miraculous pictures, but I was content to sleep deep and long again, and needed it.  All my falls had been minor, but they still add up; knicks, bruises, scrapes, sores.  Waterfalls and the entire basin were transformed.  Trickles were gushes, streams now torrents.

I awoke in another white out, this one closer, heavier, just as cold, and less likely to burn away.  So my decision seemed fortuitous and intelligent.  I had reduced my blind escape by half.  Still, it would be 6 pm when I reached the road.  And that was without a break of longer than fifteen minutes and no real food.  That night I car camped just outside the park in a tent that felt like a mansion for space and the next morning I cancelled my permits.  But before all that, I did a lot more falling.  I fell four times in one minute down one snow slope, despite being in crampons, with an ice axe, and being a normal marvel on snow.  As I say, I am no stumblebum.  Take this area seriously if you go.  I had even worse trouble with cliff-outs, waterfalls, and turn-arounds.  I just did not trust that low route from the lakes, not in the fog, and tried to repeat my performance of two days before.  This led to what was likely a sickening total of elevation change.  Lord only knows how much needless climbing and descending I did.  I kept my knife in pocket and my bear spray out, but could have put both away as I never expected to meet one and was making enough noise to frighten an army off.  I wound up losing my knife in one scree tumble.  Patting that pocket after with a gloved hand did not reveal the sheath was still there, but empty.  That was a great knife too.  When I found back on the Jackson Meadows Trail that it was missing I roared to shake the mountains.  If anyone heard, I am sure they thought a complete psychotic was out.  Yet, taking a bad fall on truly horrifying scree and boulders, having a knife come out of its sheath during the tumble, and simply losing it, without getting sliced, or breaking anything, is a good outcome.  I can get a new knife by Christmas.  And some lucky customer will or has come across that blade.

Jackson Meadows Trail was difficult to find again.  Those rapidly melting snowfields had altered considerably.  I found a few cairns but spin-outs and self-arrests on mud and slick slopes of now rapids convinced me I was too low.  I went up more steep snow.  Then exhausted and nearing the point of pleading with the air, I saw the thin worm of trail below.  Another snow descent, more shallow snow caving in, but no mishaps.  I would not take my eyes off that trail the last few minutes before reaching it.  I had to hold it fast with incantations, lest it disappear in some twisted joke.  Back on the trail, I collected water, and laughed for a while, spread out on a big rock.  Yellow flowers were all around, the sky was blue and clear, except for back at the pass.  My whole route for the day would have been invisible.  So I was glad again to be out and okay.  All those falls, and no blood or any limp to show for it.  My poor not-quite-right foot was just fine thanks to tape and maybe by luck.  I would get to sign up for and march out on more trips in this hard, , unforgiving park.  And suffering does a soul good.  Of this, I am always certain.  It does no body any good to have it easy all the time, to always get what we want, with food and entertainment at fingertip.  Mountain life makes better men of us: alternating between extremes, facing such conditions.  But that afternoon, I was no philosopher, and I only laughed.

Halfway Lakes again, shining in late afternoon, trying to beat the storms.

Blackfoot Glacier with waterfalls.

Now that is a wall of waterfalls! Steps leading up the flank of Mount Logan, left by receding glaciers.

A break in the storms allows for a single picture. Love those 7:30 pm Bivvy Sack bedtimes.

From the Bivvy. Looking towards Gunsight Lake.

Glacier scourings. I found the white out produced incredible light for taking pictures of these rocks.

White out. Staying lost around the lakes for a while.

Not helping with route finding.

More striated rock near Halfway Lakes beneath the receding Blackfoot Glacier.


The benefits from this trip were a renewed appreciation for hard wilderness and my own limitations and abilities, as well as a very fast fitness program.  In only a few days I'd gotten rid of my rust and my lungs and legs would do better the rest of the month in Montana.  I also have to advise that no one tackle this area solo.  I know the park, rangers, and every other visitor and writer who knows Glacier says this, but I do not say it because of added dangers to the soloist, but rather that you just will not have any fun alone on this route.  Having someone to complain to, interpret terrain with, and all that would make a big difference.  

Really all told, I was relieved to find a trail again.  I had a long way to go, but when you fall a dozen times in a day, you get thinking how much can go wrong on any trip.  A cracked filter and altered plans is not a disaster.  And to fall again and again, and not get injured, even a sore wrist or ankle or a knock on the head, is either lucky or experience.  It is very often the more experienced and very talented climbers and hikers who die in GNP, or any mountain region, because they can get themselves into such trouble, or such remote areas where almost anything can happen.  Not much can go wrong on a trail, but even a few steps off it, you are entering a primal world, a whole new one with different rules and lessons.  I held up for the rest of the month, but just barely, and this was not the last trip to beat me up and take a toll out of me. 

I suggest Sperry Glacier and Grinnel Glacier areas first.  Those are less demanding and similar experiences which will make good warm ups.  If you've done both, then the Blackfoot Basin is beautiful, but rugged.  Expect some damage and don't be one of the many each year who need rescuing.  And get permits.  The area is not in high demand and its better for everyone that there is some idea where you are.  At $5 per night, this is a bargain.  Mount Logan is, in my humble opinion, a more difficult endeavor than Mount Merritt, or at least, one with a shorter window to summit in.  Merritt's approach is long, but predominantly on trail, and flat.  The approach to Logan includes a lot of potential up and down, a mess of conditions, and only half the distance is on trail.  Of course, after approaching Merritt, you have nearly a vertical mile to ascend and the difficulties of Logan are finished, so there is that to keep in mind. 

As for my original itinerary, well that is for strong teams only.  If you covet Red Eagle Pass as well as this area, another attack method is the divide and conquer one: do Almost-a-dog and Red Eagle Passes on different trips.  The views will be similar and yes, they are only a few miles separated (as the crow flies), but doing Red Eagle Pass on a separate trip means you have the option of day tripping the Norris traverse and the 4 miles of scree trails along ridges.  With permission, camp 1/2 mile south of Triple Divide Pass, which will have water for most of the summer, if not all of it, go to Red Eagle with a light pack, grab any other peaks you fancy (Razoredge, Split Mountain), and return.  Or try the same trip from Atlantic Creek Campground and carry your heavy pack a mere 4 miles in from the parking at Cut Bank Ranger Station.  Those options do not require an Ocean's 11 type "super team" to be assembled just to get back out alive.  Of course an Ocean's 11 type super team would be awesome, and if you have the clout and the initiative and want to invite me, I would not definitely say no.  I'd have to think about it first at least.

As ever, I hope this proves useful to some, and that those who did not enjoy it stopped reading before now.  I am posting summit views below because not everyone wants to see those without climbing a mountain.  For those who do appreciate seeing them before going out, I also have a summit panorama video from each peak on my Facebook page.  The link is on my SP profile.  This will be my last trip report for a while, but I do have a few other good stories from Glacier Park, and maybe I will write them up here one day.

Glacial stone, tattooed and unique.

Fresh rains brought torrents from many now unfamiliar waterfalls.

Peak 8884, inviting, and near. I ought to have climbed it as a High Traverse will by need go very close.

Fusillade, with even more waterfalls off into the edge of a lower world.

Waterfall fatigue is the condition of becoming desensitized to too much beauty. It is prevalent in Glacier National Park.

Descending from Peak 8884. All snow in early July.

Mount Jackson, and the sun, never looked so good.

Looking down at the final snowfield of the day...or so I thought, and so it should have been.

Back at the Jackson Meadows at last, I dropped gear, and just had to sit laughing for a while, hardly believing I was back safe with all bones intact.

Summit Views

Clyde Peak from Logan. Split Mountain, Norris Mountain, and others of Cut Bank area behind.

One of many inspiring views of Clyde Peak I got. Views from the Almost-a-dog Peak and Pass are quite similar. Notice Split Mountain's summit peaking out on the left in a hole in the clouds. Goat trails lead across obscured ridges from the right to the left of this photograph.

Mount Logan and Blackfoot Mountain behind Almost-a-dog Pass from Peak of same name.

Halfway Lakes seen from near Almost-a-Dog Pass.

Halfway Lakes from near Mount Logan summit.

Blackfoot Mountain from Logan.

Mount Stimson and the Nyack from Logan summit.

View north from Logan.

Almost-a-dog Peak over the pass of the same name. From Mount Logan.

Extensive Red Eagle Meadows from Mount Logan.

This photo commemorates four falls in under one minute. While in crampons and ice axe. Fatigue is a dangerous foe.



[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 1-8 of 8    

Fleshj27pretty pics!


Voted 10/10

Loved the pic and a great story...
Posted Aug 4, 2013 1:01 am

andrew davidRe: pretty pics!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

Thanks and I am glad you enjoyed it. I thought I would include so many because it is not an area already documented or photographed heavily on this site, or anywhere.
Posted Aug 4, 2013 11:55 pm

silversummitQuite an account!


Hasn't voted

I love reading about one of my 3 favorite NPs and your account was quite well written (although a few more paragraph breaks would have improved it substantially.) And I would definitely frame that permit!
Posted Aug 4, 2013 11:58 am

andrew davidRe: Quite an account!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

I think I will keep them shorter in future in general, but will watch my paragraph length from now on too. Thanks for feedback. I am putting together a scrap book at summer's end. Those permits, many pictures, and a 3 inch blade that punctured my tire just outside the park will all be in there.
Posted Aug 4, 2013 11:54 pm

mike_lindachersuper stuff


Hasn't voted

love glacier. your images and commentary are top notch. solid output, thank you!
Posted Aug 5, 2013 12:14 pm

andrew davidRe: super stuff

andrew david

Hasn't voted

Thanks for the compliments. It is good to hear back on these reports so I know if I should keep doing them/what to change or keep the same. Every page on SP sees hundreds of hits, but so few votes and comments, its like writing in a vaccuum. I guess I'm doing some things right. Happy travels.
Posted Aug 8, 2013 1:27 am

GlacierCountrygreat trip


Voted 10/10

Enjoyed your trip report. I think I will put a variation of your trip on my agenda later this fall.
Posted Aug 6, 2013 12:36 pm

andrew davidRe: great trip

andrew david

Hasn't voted

I had some memorable trips but I do keep thinking about that Blackfoot Basin trip. If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I'd just get a permit for the lakes, climb Mount Logan and Blackfoot Mountain, and call it good. But Almost-a-dog Pass is awesome too.
Posted Aug 8, 2013 1:25 am

Viewing: 1-8 of 8