A long awaited climb of one of GNP's Masterpieces

Page Type
Trip Report
Montana, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 13, 2008
Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
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A long awaited climb of one of GNP's Masterpieces
Created On: Feb 1, 2010
Last Edited On: Feb 2, 2010

A Calling

The decision to climb Heaven's Peak came after doing an overnight trip to Trout Lake. Leaving from the North end of Lake Mcdonald, myself and a couple friends climbed up and over Howe Ridge. Along the way we saw extremely fresh bear scat and tracks, supposedly there are alot of grizzlies in the drainage we were heading into. As we had a late start because we had left after work, we setup camp, ate a quick meal, and told stories around the fire until the whiskey was gone. The next morning, the glass still lake was dominated by snow crusted Heaven's Peak. From that moment, we decided standing on its summit was mandatory.

PerfectThe decision to climb was made...

This was June 14th. The mountain would simmer in our subconscious for much of the summer.

Reconnoitering the Route

As the summer of 2008 was winding down, and many adventures had been dreamt and realized, we felt the nagging call of unfinished business. At a reunion concert outside of Whitefish, we met someone who had himself climbed Heaven's Peak. Hearing him recount his climb, and the respect he held for this mountain, reawakened those feelings we first felt looking up from Trout Lake so many months before.

We talked to "Tall Dave" from Sportsman in Whitefish, and consulted A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park. We had a plan.

We made a day trip to see where we would start from and what awaited us...
River crossingPullout to climb Heaven's Peak on Going to the Sun Road

up the creekJust across McDonald Creek

The Start

On September 12th, we made the drive from Whitefish to Glacier. We claimed the last camping site available at the Sprague Creek Campground - a good omen. The night was passed admiring Lake McDonald, with all the anticipation that comes the night before a great feat is attempted.

The next morning we were up before the sun and drove approximately 7 miles to the small pullout directly across from a stream draining the basin Southeast of the mountain.

We easily forded chilly McDonald Creek and began the climb following the stream. We climbed some small cliffs and were quickly bushwacking...


This went on for about an hour or so, we searched for game trails but couldn't find any that gave easier advancement.

We hit the treeline and the going got much easier.
looking backlooking back

The Scramble

We made our way to the South Ridge.
fun scramblingscrambling
scramblingDan Scrambling
to the ridgeto the South Ridge
South RidgeSouth Ridge

The Final Push

South Ridge ViewSouth to Mt. McPartland, Mt. Vaught, West down to Trout Lake
We reached the South Ridge and had epic views all around us.
South Ridge ViewEast towards Going to The Sun Road, Logan Pass
As suggested in A Climber's Guide to Glacier, we climbed up the South Ridge until there was one impassable boulder, which was solved by dropping down onto the West Face. On small scree ledges we traversed across the face while slowly making upward progress where we could. It was somewhat difficult knowing exactly where the summit was from our position. With Dan leading the way, we found ourselves scooting up a small scree chimney. As we peaked our heads out of the chimney, our senses were overwhelmed, for it had led us up to the summit ridge!
South Ridge ViewThe West Face and further North

From where we stood, there were two highpoints on the ridge. Dan went to check the South one out

summit ridge - heaven s peakThe true summit is behind the camera - nonetheless, awesomely beautiful

Although stunning, the true summit was the Northern most highpoint.....

The Summit

summit views - heaven s peakTo the Northeast - Going to the Sun Road
summit views - heaven s peakon top

The Descent - A crucial decision is made

With numerous stops for pictures and video on the way up, we found ourselves on the summit proper at 4pm. It had been a long day already, and the descent was sure to present us with more obstacles. We knew that the North Ridge was a gentle slope and could easily be descended. We also thought that we could find a trail through the dense forest back to the Packer's Roost where we would hitch/walk back to our car around dark. Regardless, we thought a traverse of the mountain would be cool, so down the North side we went.

A Ptarmigan bid farewell as we left his summit home.
summit views - heaven s peakPtarmigan - at home near the summit of Heaven's Peak

Down descending the North Ridge
Camas LakeLooking Down on Camas Lake

A bad Decision?
long wayPacker's Roost, VERY VERY FAR AWAY

Well the decision had been made, we made quick progress back down to the treeline, and then soon realized the magnitude of our choice.

In the waning hour or so of daylight after giving up hope of finding the trail, we made slow progress alternating between alder over our heads and balancing across zigzagging windfall.

We knew that we'd have to spend a cold, uncomfortable night in this dense forest. A site was chosen, and we collected as much firewood as we could.
bivystill in good spirits
It could have been worse. We had a little bit of food and also emergency blankets with us. A small fire kept us warm, however our sleep was interrupted every hour to add more sticks. By morning, our emergency blankets were torn to shreds. We were moving at first light.

This was a long, long morning. The going was insanely difficult. We followed the burn line down because we knew it would lead us to the general area of Packer's Roost. However, neither the burn nor the green forest allowed us an easy passage. The burn was full of downfall and new growth, the green, full of head high alder. It was comical how the other option always seemed better and we found ourselves alternating every hour or so, it always being really toilsome. By much perseverance, we succeeded in hitting the valley floor and McDonald Creek. A seemingly never-ending journey was almost finished. We met two goodnatured park employees studying fish populations in this section of the creek. At first they were amazed we had summited Heaven's and were back down at around 1pm. We informed them that we had actually summited the day before.....oh.

They led us to Packer's Roost and gave us a very appreciated ride to our truck.

As was tradition, we stopped at Los Caporales in C. Falls to get some much deserved Mexican grub and our fill of Fishbowl Margaritas.

Final Thoughts

West FaceThe Magnificent West Face - taken from Stanton in late October

This was my first summit in Glacier National Park - a bittersweet accomplishment. What a shame to have grown up in Whitefish, Montana and it taken me 22 years to realize the amazing backyard I was blessed with. It saddens me to know that many of my friends are still ignorant to the splendor and adventure that is so near to them. This climb sparked a fire inside of me and led to the obsessive return to the park for the remaining weekends before the heavy snows of winter stopped all trespassers. The emotions I felt on certain stages of this climb will probably never be recreated - but they will bring me back to the mountains for the rest of my life.


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sushiman - Mar 19, 2010 10:26 am - Hasn't voted

great page

reminds me of a similar adventure i had on this peak.
nothing like walking a mile through alders and not touching the ground. worst bushwacking ever!

Viewing: 1-1 of 1

A long awaited climb of one of GNP's Masterpieces

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