Photo on left is Amphitheater Mountain; Mount James and Amphitheater on the right.
Amphitheater Mountain is one of the vast majority of Glacier National Park peaks with no established trail to its summit. As is pretty much the norm in this park, initial access to the mountain is via a very good NPS trail, but upon reaching the point at which plans for the day lead "up" (with the trail continuing on, tantalizingly and subversively, further into the mountains), you are, so to speak, on your own.
Not long after begining to climb...
Gaining elevation, changing view...
...across the way, same valley.
Immediately upon fording a small creek (not a problem when we did it the end of July, but no guarantees earlier in the year), there is a somewhat hard-to-find, occasional and faint game trail leading the way through a healthy (and, admittedly, unpleasant) bushwhack, which after close to an hour gives way to a more reasonably open ascent leading to tree line; then, higher up, a goat trail assists in the traversing of a substantial distance of scree, during the course of which you get your first view of the mountain...
First view of Amphitheater...
Not far from the saddle now...
Higher still, the view south...
...which is situated such that it cannot be seen from any roadis, in fact, tucked into the surrounding terrain in such a manner so as to remain
Summit view looking W/SW.
invisible until one is relatively high-up on nearby peaks, and for all practical purposes is completely "out of sight, out of mind," from any of the trails in neighboring valleys. Amphitheater is not mentioned in J. Gordon Edwards' A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park, and is given short and somewhat confusing shrift in Jack Holterman's Place Names of Glacier National Park (the name origin, apparently, is uncertain)yet, despite its stature as one of the "back burner" peaks in an area of mountain greatness, I found this particular mountain to be absolutely wonderful, with the climb resulting in a real gem of a day!
Photo on left, from Amphitheater's summit, is Mount James and its snow basin (just under 2300' from summit to frozen lakes). Bob Sihler's image on the right looks down into the same basin, but from Mount James' summit!
Then, there are the (Comparatively) Diminutive, Neglected....
Medicine Owl Peak, hidden and oft-forgotten, deserves its moment in the sun. Here are three views taken from its closest neighbor.
Plus this different view of Medicine Owl, shot by Bob Sihler from high on the side of Mount James.
At 8893' elevation, Kupunkamint Mountain can't be accused of being diminutive (after all, it's 200' higher than friend and neighbor Amphitheater Mountain!), but is not one of those peaks climbed often. The colorful name is said to be that of a man, and in Kootenai means "He shakes himself." The word was originally applied to animals, presumably in reference to "shaking" upon standing after sleeping; interesting, even if available information is short on historical context.
The slate-gray western face of Kupunkamint Mountain.
But also and always...the gods...and views to die for...
Nothing but pictures here. Enjoy...!
Reason enough to climb.
Views and Monsters.
On the left, the view south from Amphitheater Mountain's summit. The right photograph looks NE from the Mount James summit, past Amphitheater, all the way to St. Mary Lake.
On the left, RIDGE. (Also, Norris Mountain.); On the right, Norris Mountain fully exposed.
(Click on images to enlarge them; it helps...a lot!)
Elevation Gain 3560'; Round Trip Mileage 11.5 miles.
There is only one trail leaving the Cut Bank Campground (see "Getting There" section below, for directions to the campground). It is well-marked, there is parking, and the trail itself is quite good. Stay on the trail for between 2 and 2.25 miles, at which point you will leave the trail, turn north (right), staying on the Cut Bank (east) side of a small stream, and progressing through a relatively flat, lightly-timbered area for about a quarter mile. Soon the forest becomes much denser, and the terrain narrows substantially. At this point cross the creek (not difficult when we did it the end of July; probably not so easy earlier in the summer), whereupon you will immediately begin climbing through dense, difficult undergrowth. The reason the crossing was done where it was is that there is a faint game trail leading through the worst of the bushwhack. It is admittedly somewhat difficult to find, but if you come across it, take advantage of it during the approximate hour (no more than that; maybe a bit less) you'll need to work your way through the worst of the dense undergrowth. At any rate, if you miss the game trail, persevere, struggle upward, and eventually you'll reach a point at which the forest opens considerably, and the worst of it is over.
Wrapping around the mountain on this terrain...
From this point it is really just a matter of continually climbing, eventually reaching timberline, and traversing (you'll soon get your first sighting of the day's goal) along a ridge all the way to Amphitheater Mountain. The steadily climbing traverse, unfortunately with quite a bit of scree (but there is a goat trail taking you where you wish to gotake advantage of it!), is quite lengthy, and you'll passno need to ascend, unless you wisha couple small "summits" en route. But your goal will be in sight the whole way, gradually drawing nearer, and besides, you can always enjoy the unfolding view, which is substantial.
...eventually brings you to the summit cliffs.
Upon reaching the saddle at the base of the mountain proper stay on the goat trail as it both climbs and wraps around the mountain (check the pictures above; it is quite visible in a couple of them). At the point the trail ends it all becomes relatively intuitive; there is no established way to the top, several routes are possible, so work through the cliffs(relatively difficult climbing, at places bordering on class 4), but...I consider them "interesting and fun"to the airy summit. Enjoy the view. Enjoy the 1800' straight down the north face. Enjoy...!
Plan on a full day to do this climb, 11 or 12 hours. The traverse is all above timberline, and is quite lengthy and (of course) open; the cliffs, while not technical, are such that "rushing" through them to beat something like bad weather would not be advisable. What I'm saying is...watch the weather, because descent to shelter off the summit will take time! Also, this mountain has no water, so if you run out, you'll be depending on the availability of snow, which, since much of the day is spent on the south-facing slopes, would almost certainly be problematic in later summer.
Amphitheater Mountain is located in the Cut Bank Area of the park, and is most easily reached from the Cut Bank Campground (one of the more isolated, yet still easily accessible, campgrounds in the parksee "Camping" section for more detailed information) via an excellent trail which is followed approximately two miles, until coming to the point at which the actual climb begins (see "Route" section). To reach the campground, go south on Hwy 89 approximately 15 miles from Saint Mary, until reaching the turnoff, which is well marked with a "Cut Bank Campground" sign. The campground is 5 miles from this point, on a gravel road easily passable for passenger cars. Information may be obtained at the Cut Bank Ranger Station, which is 4.5 miles up the road, and about a half mile from the campground. The drive from Saint Mary takes approximately 40 minutes.
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, with the second earliest being 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 in Glacier, beginning usually around the end of August, with road closures normally becoming more and more frequent throughout 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 relatively self-explanatory, and provide all sorts of useful information:
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 through 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.
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, especially on weekends). There are also many campgrounds as well as motels just outside the park on both the west and east sides. Lodging, whether camping or indoors, should be no problem. Specifically, Amphitheater Mountain is in the Cut Bank area, and there is a small campground (about a 40-minute drive from the town of Saint Mary; a bit longer if coming from either Browning or East Glacier Park); the NPS designates this campground as "primitive," with the only facilities being pit toilets. Cost here is $10 per night, or half the normal rate. [NOTE: As of summer, 2009, the only water sourceand it's a good oneis from Cut Bank Creek, which flows mere yards from the campground. Water quality in GNP is normally quite good post run-off, but it's still probably a good idea to filter this far downstream.] See link below for current campground information, including fees. There are also several restaurants in the three closest communitiesSaint Mary, East Glacier Park, Browningto the Cut Bank Campground.
The communities of East Glacier Park, Browning, and Saint Mary, are all on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where there a great many additional services available.
Also, for those so inclined...GNP does have Backcountry Campsites throughout the park. Some of these sites can be reserved; others are on a first come basis. Anyone doing extensive, multi-day, remote hiking/climbing would be well advised to check this out.
Current Conditions/Web Cams
Weather pagean overview, plus current conditions and forecast
On 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.