Visit of 7/15 - 7/29/09
Trip to Glacier National Park 7/15-28/09
After a seven year absence, my wife and I decided a return to Glacier National Park (GNP) was long overdue. We lived in Whitefish, MT for some 12 years during which we discovered this treasure in our “backyard” and have spent many hours hiking, climbing and driving through this wonderland. My interest in mountaineering was grounded in GNP with my first climb in the park taking place 9/26/90 as Jack Klovstad joined me on the summit of Mount Brown. In my backpack was a copy of the Climber’s Guide by J Gordon Edwards which had been a gift to me from my wife the previous Christmas.
Late in the following summer, I met a member of the Over the Hill Gang who invited me to join him on one of their Thursday hikes and we climbed Mt Reynolds 9/17/91. The following week I climbed Medicine Peak and Mt Henry with other OTHG members who drove me to the Two Medicine area for my first time.
By the following spring, I was ready and working to schedule as many Thursdays as possible starting with Mt Stanton 5/7/92, Elk Mountain 5/21, Goat Mountain 6/5, Mt Sieyh 7/15, Going to the Sun/Matahpi 7/31, Bullhead Pt 8/13 (where I first climbed with my buddy Vern), Bearhat Mountain 8/20, Otokomi/E Flattop/Pk 8007 8/27, and Mt Jackson 9/3
The following years saw similar activity with 25 more peaks in ’93; 33 peaks in ’94; 28 peaks in ’95; 24 peaks in ’96; 35 peaks in ’97; etc. etc until I moved to Las Vegas in the fall of ’99. Even from my new home, we journeyed back to Montana the next three years and I was able to climb even more remote peaks such as Logan, Blackfoot, Custer, Thunderbird, Guardhouse, Longfellow, Eagle Ribs, Shaheeya, Split, and Kinnerly.
Since then, my climbing focus shifted to other areas and although we tentatively wanted to get back to GNP, several trips were cancelled due to fires, etc. So this year, we planned to arrive early in the season to minimize the fire season potential disruptions. One decision we had to make concerned where to set up our camp. While we have always liked the Many Glacier area and the Swiftcurrent campground in particular, we chose the Rising Sun Campground for several reasons…(1) there is a camp store and a restaurant and shower, (2) it is located on the free shuttle system route and (3) there are a large number of fantastic climbs and hikes in this part of GNP.
Our first day on the road brought us to Pocatello, ID where we found a great price on a hotel through Hotwire.com the night before we started. The plan was to get an early start from there in the morning and arrive at GNP in the early afternoon before all the campsites were reserved. This worked well and we found a nice site (#3) which even had a water faucet next to the picnic table. Holding a Senior Lifetime Park Pass has a benefit of saving 50% off your camping fees as well as free entry into the park and we charged $30 to our credit card for the first three nights. This would enable us to move if we discovered aspects of the camp that were objectionable. We continued this cautious approach for the entire time, renewing our permit for 3 days two more times and gradually settling in with no desire to break camp and move.
Each evening there was a guest speaker, usually a ranger, who gave a presentation on various aspects of GNP from 8 – 9 pm and we attended nearly all of them including one by a Blackfeet tribal member who gave us insights on their culture and history. After these lectures, we generally were making movements to get some sleep. The first night was the most exciting with a storm blowing through and fairly heavy rain for several hours along with thunder and lightning. We were wakened early in the morning with some water dripping through the fly and the temperatures starting to get cold. Fortunately, the water intrusion was minimal and that was the last rain we experienced for our nine nights in the tent.
We did not bring our standard sleeping bags this trip! With an air mattress, we thought it would be nice to use sheets and a wool blanket. This was a big mistake as we ended up adding more and more clothing each night including ski hats, fleece jackets and gloves in an attempt to stay comfortable. Finally, I pulled an emergency space blanket out of my backpack and started using it as a final layer. It worked great for warmth, but try to sleep with a steady noise like aluminum foil every time you shift or twitch!
Since my wife does not enjoy exhausting herself to climb big mountains, we agreed to an alternating schedule where one day would be a climbing day for me and the next would be a hiking day for the two of us. She could do easy hikes on climbing days and relax and read while I wore myself out.
Icebergs at the lake
Day 1 this approach was enhanced when some of her friends from Whitefish picked her up and went
beargrass and friends
to Many Glacier to hike to Iceberg and Ptarmigan lakes, about 13 miles, while I headed up Goat Mountain
and then explored a connecting ridge that runs around Goat Lake.
Baring Creek Goat Lake Over the hill members
Day 2 was Over The Hill Gang Thursday and we drove to Coram, MT to meet them for breakfast and to pick a moderate hike that would be enjoyable for both of us. After a good breakfast at the Glacier Grill, Pat was ready to hike up to Piegan Pass where we enjoyed a nice snack before heading back to camp.
Day 3 was a climb day and I decided to climb Otokomi Mountain
and hike the ridges to Single Shot, E Flattop and Napi Point.
Otokomi Mtn from Rising Sun
Pat rode the shuttle to Logan Pass and hiked up to the Hidden Lake overlook seeing numerous goats and a dozen Rocky Mountain Big Horn rams. My climb was frustrated by my lack of memory for the route and I searched much of the morning as I hiked most of the way to Otokomi Lake looking for a suitable spot to head for the top of the mountain. Near the lake, I found a nice drainage which led me into some interesting cliffs and after about 700’ of climbing, I decided prudence dictated backing off some slippy, wet class 4 pitches and returning to try again another day. On the way back, I saw a solid game trail heading through the brush and forest and followed it to where I could reach the talus slopes. After a snack, I continued up and over the three false summits to reach the top. By this time it was getting too late to do the ridgewalk and be able to catch the last shuttle back to camp. Plus, I knew Pat would be worried if I was that late in returning for supper. So, I headed back to camp and called it an interesting day.
Day 4 was a joint hiking day and we agreed to once again do the Highline trail from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet and on to the Loop. There are ranger led hikes of this trail almost every day starting at 9 am and lasting for eight hours. We considered hiking with the ranger and taking off at some point if the pace was too slow. However, the shuttle had us at the visitor center by 8:20 am and we did not want to wait for nearly an hour to get started…so we headed down the trail with our bear spray in holsters. At that time of day, the sun is still behind the Continental Divide and we hiked in the cool shade for miles until nearly to Haystack Butte. It was a perfect day and there were occasional hikers along the trail. The wild flowers were beautiful along the trail. I considered scrambling up to do Bishop’s Cap along the way, but decided to save it for another time in favor of spending our time together. When we reached Granite Park Chalet,
it was nearing lunchtime and we stopped and enjoyed a snack along with the views. On the four mile drop to the Loop we were surprised to see how the views had been opened up by fire in recent years. Another less enjoyable aspect was the lack of shade from the hot afternoon sun.
highline trail below Granite Park
At the Loop, we caught another shuttle back to Logan Pass where we transferred to an east side shuttle for the trip back to Rising Sun.
beargrass, etc penstemon alpine buttercup alpine bluebell moss campion spiraea
Day 5 dawned as a solo adventure in the mountains, but I was feeling tired and my feet were sore from the travels of the first 3 days. Instead of pushing myself, I asked for and was granted a date for breakfast in St Mary at the Park Café. When we returned to our camp, we grabbed books and snacks and hitched a ride with a couple from Canada across the divide to the Lake McDonald Lodge. Our new found Canadian friends were driving through the park on a free day enroute to Kalispell to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary which had taken place there so many years ago. We walked to the lake side of the lodge and found comfortable chairs on the porch where we could visit with other hikers and enjoy some quiet time before catching the shuttles back to camp.
Day 6 found me refreshed and eager to head back to Logan Pass for a climb of Bishop’s Cap
My plan was to hike down the Highline trail for about 30 minutes and then climb up the Garden Wall to the notch between Pollock Mtn and Bishop’s Cap. From there, I had climbed the Bishop’s Cap several times in the past. It is very pleasant climbing and when I reached the crux moves near the summit, the climbing brought back many great memories of both friends and mountains.
Gould from Bishop's Cap
Returning from the climb, I considered taking the high road over Pollock and Piegan mountains, but decided to retrace my descent to the highline since Pat had been thinking about coming up later and perhaps meeting me on the trail.
As it turned out, she had come out to the area where I departed the trail, but failed to see me up above and headed back. She had reached Logan Pass about 15 minutes before me and was awaiting a shuttle back to camp when we ran into each other.
Day 7 of our visit was another “joint” outing, but Pat agreed to a plan of joining a ranger led 9 am hike of Siyeh Pass while I would attempt to climb Going to the Sun(GTS)
mountains. Since her hike circumnavigates these two fine peaks, we hoped to get back together in the afternoon for the hike out. As it turned out, my climb of GTS required more time than I had anticipated with some route difficulties causing me to make a detour on the approach to the summit. This was followed by some casting about for the correct break in the cliffs on my descent which provided a boost in adrenalin and renewed respect for the climbing challenges in GNP. As a result my arrival at the second summit, Matahpi, was not until about 2 pm and I felt it was too late to be exploring for a route to drop down to the trail near Siyeh Pass. Instead, I headed back out the way we had come in the morning and picked up our car for the drive back to camp. I waited at Sunrift Gorge for about ½ hour to see if Pat and the ranger led hikers would come out, but then decided to go on in case they were ahead of their planned 8 hour schedule. As it turned out, they were right on their schedule and another 20 minutes would have enabled Pat to ride back with me instead of using the shuttle.
Day 8 of our park visit was once again turned into a modified adventure. We took the shuttle to Logan Pass once again and hiked up to the Hidden Lake overlook and then on down to the lake itself which is another 1 ½ miles and adds 675’ of elevation loss and gain to the initial 550’ up to the overlook. We saw goats and sheep along with the ever present marmots.
There was one goat and her kid standing in the water when we reached Hidden Lake which was something that neither of us had seen previously. Upon our return, Pat graciously released me to pursue a climb of Dragon’s Tail
so that I might add a mountain page on Summitpost.org when we returned home.
Fusillade Mtn from Dragon's Tail
It was another great trip to an exciting summit for me and although I had previously climbed it, I had route difficulties which resulted in some exciting cliff climbing before reaching the standard route. Upon my return to Logan Pass, I caught the next shuttle and rode back to camp to enjoy our last meal in the camp.
Day 9 was once again OTHG Thursday and after our experience at the Glacier Grill the previous week we opted to head over and join them for breakfast. We had broken camp and were heading to Whitefish Lake to spend a few days with friends before our long return to Las Vegas and the warmth of summer. I considered joining my friends for another day in the park, but the most interesting offering of the day was a trip to visit Snow Moon and Falling Leaf lakes on the side of Mt Allen at Many Glacier. The problem was those members that were headed there had already left at 6 am to drive over and I was already 2 hours behind. So, we headed into Whitefish after breakfast and spent a relaxing day by city beach staying with a friend. I also enjoyed a run along my old haunts which have been improved with bike paths that head out past the Big Mountain Road along E Lakeshore Drive. Pat played a round of golf at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course that evening and reported many new and fancy improvements in the facilities.
Day 10 found me again hitting the roads running early and enjoying a light rain during part of my outing. The rest of the day was devoted to reading and relaxing. That evening we met my brother and his family at the Back Room in Columbia Falls for some of their famous ribs. In our opinion, the quality has declined from what we used to love earlier this decade, but they were still enjoyable.
Day 11 presented an opportunity to hike with an acquaintance I made through summitpost.org. Blake
and two of his friends were climbing Summit
and Little Dog
mountains and invited me to join them.
Little Dog and Summit mtns
We got a late start and were there in the heat of the day, but the views were still fantastic. These mountains are in the southern part of GNP at the Marias Pass along Hwy 2. We headed in to the Autumn Creek trail and then bushwhacked up to the base of the mountains through some nice forests. There was plenty of bear sign, but all we saw was a pair of whitetail deer, a buck and a doe, on the return to our vehicle after 7 hours of effort to reach both summits. Pat spent the day joining friends with a boat for an outing on Flathead Lake near the Bigfork area and ending with dinner at Meadow Lake resort.
The next morning we headed down to Flathead Lake where we visited a friend in Lakeside and spent the night before hitting the highway for the two day trip back home. In reflecting on the trip, we had a great visit and the weather was superb. I always enjoy drinking the fresh snow and ice melt in the high country and stuffing snow into my water bottles when I cross snow patches. The wild flowers were excellent early in the summer and this was a great year for bear grass in the park. One disadvantage to our early visit was the lack of fresh berries which would have been available in a few more weeks. GNP is a beautiful place and it is still wild if you step a few feet away from the roads into the valleys and peaks along the 700 some miles of trails.