Apikuni Mountain as viewed from nearby Mount Henkel
Apikuni Mountain is located in the extreme northeast corner of Glacier National Park, very near the historic Many Glacier Hotel. Despite topping out at over 9,000 feet in elevation, Apikuni is one of the lesser regarded peaks in this area. Surrounded by more visually impressive neighbors, and with a standard route that can be described as unimaginative (read: classic Glacier class II scree grunt), it's easy to see why this interesting mountain can be overlooked. The standard approach from the south typically melts out earlier than other routes in the area, making this a nice mountain to climb earlier in the season in preparation for bigger summer adventures.
Apikuni (formerly spelled Appekunny) is a Blackfeet name that was given to George Willard Schultz, an easterner who moved to Montana as a young man and became enthralled with the culture of the Blackfeet Indians. He traded with them, learned their language and ways, and eventually was adopted into the tribe. His Blackfeet name means "White-spotted Robe" or "Scabby Robe," that is, one that was badly tanned, leaving hard spots. He married a Piegan Blackfeet Indian woman by the name of Natahki (appropriately, a beautiful, seldom visited tarn at the head of Apikuni Creek dons her name), and lived as a full member of the tribe for many years. A gifted writer and guide, he befriended George Bird Grinnell, and began writing articles on the Blackfeet that were published in Grinnell's magazine. Over time, his wife would pass, and he would leave the tribe. Remarried, this time to a white woman, Schultz chronicled his days with the Blackfeet in books such as My Life As An Indian
. Forever fond of his days spent on the Great Plains of Montana, when Schultz died at the ripe age of 88 he asked that his body be interred on the Blackfoot Reservation near an old buffalo fall there (1)
Impressive cliffs on Apikuni Mountain, viewed from Many Glacier Road
Apikuni Mountain is located in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park, Montana. The nearest developed area within the park is Many Glacier, which is accessed from US-89 via the small, unincorporated town of Babb, MT. A windy, pothole ridden 12 mile paved road leads from Babb to its terminus in the Swiftcurrent Valley; this is the only way to enter Many Glacier via automobile. Babb is 8 miles north of St. Mary, a small, busy tourist village that sits at the easternmost extent of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Many Glacier can also be accessed via several well-maintained trails. The Highline Trail passes Granite Park Chalet, and detouring east over the Continental Divide on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail will bring hikers to Many Glacier. The spectacular Piegan Pass Trail, which originates at Siyeh Bend east of Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road, ends along the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake right next to the Many Glacier Hotel. Hikers coming in from the Belly River Valley can also climb up the steep trail through Ptarmigan Tunnel, which terminates at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
The trailhead that provides the most direct access to Apikuni Mountain is located on the Many Glacier Road approximately one mile east of the hotel. At this point there is signage for a horse crossing; on the north side of the road is a small parking area with trailheads to Poia Lake and Apikuni Falls. Apikuni Mountain perches high above the hanging valley where the falls originate.
This is the shortest and most straightforward approach. Elevation gained is 4,000 feet, and most parties will require 6-8 hours round-trip. From the Apikuni Falls/Poia Lake Trailhead one mile east of Many Glacier Hotel, a wide trail climbs 700 feet over one mile to spectacular Apikuni Falls. Just prior to the falls, a well-worn trail branches off to the right. Follow it for a short distance until entering a massive boulder field. Look to the crumbly cliffs above the boulders, where a noticeable break affords relatively access to the basin high above. Carefully pick your way up the loose rock and the well-worn climber's trail will be encountered at the top of the cliffs. It continues uphill through krummholz until entering the desolate, arid basin south of Apikuni Mountain.
Crumbly terrain east of Apikuni Falls.
Well-worn climber's trail above Apikuni Falls.
From here, the south slope of Apikuni Mountain comes into view. The climber's trail continues westward, vaguely following the course of Apikuni Creek. The goal is to begin an ascent of the loose slope to the right (northeast) at whatever point makes the most sense. Take note of one small cliff band that cuts across the slope several hundred feet above, as this only obstacle on this portion of the route. Locate easy class III breaks in the cliffs and continue to the loose slopes above. The footing is quite rotten here, so look for game trail to help aid the ascent. Aim for a broad shoulder at ~ 7,800 feet on the southeast ridge. There are very interesting views of the surrounding peaks form this shoulder, and it serves as a nice place to rest before continuing the tiring slog up the ridge top.
Leaving the broad shoulder at ~7,800 feet. The southeast ridge leads all the way to the summit (at left).
The remainder of the route up the southeast ridge is very straightforward. Early in the season, a snowfield or two may be encountered along the ridge, but they are easy to cross under normal spring conditions. There are a few rocky outcroppings along the ridge, all of which can be easily bypassed to the left (south). Clamber up to the summit and take in the spectacular views in all directions. Make every effort to retrace your route on the descent; if you drop downhill too early, dangerous and impassable cliffs may be encountered.
Snowy summit in late May.
Looking back down the southeast ridge.
Traverse from Mount Henkel
It is possible to turn a climb of Apikuni Mountain into a multi-summit outing by hiking the fantastic ridge that connects to Mount Henkel
and Crowfeet Mountain
. The route traverses high above seldom-visted Kennedy Lake, and affords spectacular views while hiking high above tree line for an extended period of time. Negotiating the ridge is mostly straightforward, but steep climbing and careful route finding will be encountered never the summits of both peaks. If you are interested in visiting all three peaks, visit my route page for the Crowfeet-Henkel-Apikuni Traverse
, which details a counterclockwise route to the tops of all three peaks. Note that this route can just as easily be completed in a clockwise direction, starting with a climb of Apikuni Mountain's southeast ridge. If three peaks seems like too long of a day, you could always climb Henkel from the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and follow the lofty ridge over to Apikuni before ending at the Apikuni Falls Trailhead.
Kennedy Lake sits beneath Apikuni Mountain (L) and Mount Henkel (R).
Other possible routes
I personally do not have any experience with these routes, but they certainly appear possible based on observations I've made from nearby areas.
- Approach from Poia Lake Campground
- It is possible to gain Apikuni's southwest ridge from Natahki Lake, a beautiful tarn tucked away north of Altyn Peak. Please visit Glacierscrambler's great route page for more information on Natahki Lake.
The broad summit affords fantastic views in every direction. To the east, the Great Plains of Montana stretch out across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On a clear day, one can make out the Sweet Grass Hills
, rounded anomalies towering over the flat expanse nearly 100 miles to the east. The crumbled summits of Chief Mountain
, Yellow Mountain, and Gable Mountain spread out to the north in a fantastic kaleidoscope of tans, reds, greys, and yellows. The west affords great views of two of Glacier's 10,000 footers, massive Mount Cleveland
(the park's largest) and Mount Merritt
(flanked by gorgeous, crevasse laden Old Sun Glacier). Beyond the Continental Divide, several peaks of the distant Livington Range are visible, including glistening Heaven's Peak
. All of the peaks of the Many Glacier region can be spotted, including Mount Wilbur
, Mount Grinnell
, Mount Gould
, Allen Mountain
, Mount Siyeh
, Altyn Peak
, and Mount Henkel.
Western view from Apikuni Mountain.
When to Climb
The slopes on the Southeast Ridge route melt out relatively early, thus early season ascents (May, June) are definitely possible. A few snow fields will likely be encountered along the upper portions of the ridge, and an ice axe may prove necessary on early season outings. Of course, seasons vary greatly from year to year, so make sure to inquire about mountain conditions before undertaking any early season climb. You can see a portion of the south face of Apikuni from the Many Glacier entrance road, so it's possible to briefly scout the route from there. Otherwise, hike 1 1/2 miles up to the valley above Apikuni Falls. The mountain comes into full view here, and you'll most definitely be able to decide whether an early season ascent is pratcical.
Final snowy push to the summit in June.
Where to Stay
The fantastic Many Glacier car campground is located at the terminus of the Many Glacier Entrance road, one mile past the Many Glacier Hotel. The campground has 109 sites and as of November 2016 fees are $23 per night. Be forewarned: describing Many Glacier Campground as busy in the summer months is nothing short of an understatement. From mid-June to Labor Day, the campground almost universally fills well before noon. As of 2016, the NPS has implemented a reservation system and half the sites are reservable in advance. The remaining sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis only. If you do not have a reservation, I recommend arriving before 7am to line up in the queue of walk-up campers. Information on historic campground fill times, reservations and camping regulations can be found on the NPS camping webpage
Many Glacier Hotel offers 215 rustic rooms in a spectacular setting on the eastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. The hotel turned 100 in 2015, and does not have many modern amenities. It is extremely busy during the summer, and the concessioner recommends booking several months in advance. Rates range from approximately $150 to nearly $300 per night, with the majority of rooms in the $200 range. Visit Xanterra’s website
for more information. There are also numerous local lodging opportunities (campgrounds, motels, cabins) just outside the park in and around the small towns of Babb and St. Mary.
If you are looking for some adventure, there are likely routes on the north face of Apikuni Mountain that could be explored from the backcountry site at Poia Lake. Note that I am not personally familiar with any routes from this direction. As of November 2016, permits are $7 per person per night and can be obtained at various visitor’s centers (St. Mary and Many Glacier are nearest). There is an advance reservation system (and associated fee), or sites can be obtained on a walk-up basis. Please visit the NPS backcountry camping webpage
for more detailed information.
Red Tape, Safety, Wildlife, etc.
A fee is required for all persons entering Glacier National Park. As of November 2016, single vehicle rates are $30 for a seven day pass, or $45 for an annual park pass (increasing to $50 in January 2017). A lower fee is charged for hikers and bikers; please visit the NPS fees webpage
for a full explanation of the entrance fees.
Glacier is subject to extreme winter weather conditions, and as such, much of the park is virtually inaccessible for the majority of the year. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is typically open in its entirety from mid-June to mid-September, and many of the developed areas of the park (including the historic lodges and most of the campgrounds) operate for a short window as well. Information on the operational status of front country campgrounds
and park roads
can be found by clicking on the hyperlinks.
Glacier Rock Grading
Due to the sedimentary nature of the rock in Glacier National Park, unique rock grading systems have been established by both Gordon Edwards and the Glacier Mountaineering Society. Please refer to the Glacier National Park Rock & Grading Systems Summitpost page
(authored by Fred Spicker
) or the website of the Glacier Mountaineering Society
for detailed information. If you are new to climbing in Glacier, I highly recommend checking out this info before attempting any climbs in the park. Oh, and don't forget to wear your climbing helmet!
A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park
Pick up a copy of Gordon Edwards' classic A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park. It's an absolute must for anyone who wants to safely venture to one of the park's many accessible mountain summits. Edwards spent many years as a seasonal ranger in Glacier, where he developed a deep passion for exploring the park's mountains and sharing its splendors with others. The book provides a fantastic history of climbing in Glacier, and his detailed and colorful route descriptions are a fantastic introduction to off-trail hiking and climbing in the park.
The park is home to lots of potentially dangerous wildlife, including moose, black bear, grizzly bear, and mountain lion. Hike loud, carry bear deterrent spray (and know how to use it!), check local trail postings
(for area warnings/closures) and let someone know your intinerary before heading out into the park. Also, note that special precautions are in place in all front and back country campgrounds to limit human-bear encounters. Regulations are posted everywhere (picnic tables, ranger stations, bathrooms) and it is every visitor's responsibility to take them seriously
. Remember, a FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR
! Please visit the NPS camping webpage
for more detailed information.
1. Holterman, J. (2006). Place Names of Glacier National Park (3rd Edition). Helena, MT: Riverbend Publishing.