Kintla in a Day Hike (Albeit 18 hours)
On August 8, 1998, Vern Ingraham and I set out from Whitefish, MT shortly after 3:30 am to drive to Bowman Lake and climb Kintla Peak by way of the “Akokala Lake Route”. We are not aware of this being attempted previously on a “day climb”, but the idea had been fomenting in my thoughts for several weeks after our climb of Reuter Peak by a similar route.
On our 7/16/98 Reuter Pk trip, we had looked at the ridge from Akokala Lake and decided to traverse beneath the ridgeline on the Eastern ledges to avoid gaining and losing elevation climbing over spires along the ridgetop. In taking this approach, we unknowingly passed completely by Reuter and were striving toward a fine-looking mountain further north along the ridge. Said ridge was becoming progressively more vertical and as the ledges began to play out giving way to sheer cliffs, we climbed to a saddle and had lunch. We decided we didn’t have enough time to reach our goal, but wanted to explore further the chances of reaching the top of the ridge north of some lakes on the west side of the saddle where we had stopped to eat lunch.
After heading down to the most northerly of the lakes, I finally had the inspiration to look at my map to try to determine where we were and was surprised to find we had passed Reuter and were beyond Longbow lake. We at that point reversed direction and climbed Reuter from the north ridge on our way home for the day. Further study of the maps led to the conclusion that we had been striving toward Kintla and were probably about 2 ½ miles from it when we discovered our error and headed back over Reuter. As noted earlier, the idea of using this approach to climb Kintla in one day was thus born. Obviously, we would need an early start with the probability of a late return. So it developed that we parked and started hiking from Bowman lake campground about 5:20 am with the aid of flashlights the first couple of miles. We were at Akokala lake about 7 am and began our bushwhack and climb up to about 6,600’ on the ridgeline heading past Reuter on its eastern flanks.
The previous evening, in preparing for alternative climbs in the event of unforeseen obstacles, I had read the descriptions of climbing routes for East and West 9,430 peaks which are just beyond the Longbow lake area. One passing comment caught my attention to the effect that the route we were planning to take looked impassable from East 9430 to the south ridge of Kintla!!!
A last-minute adjustment to the plans led to our decision to stay near the 6,600’ contour on the east of Reuter heading to the north end of the Akokala valley and then attempt to reach the ridgetop in the vicinity of the col in the ridge running from Peabody toward Kintla. See topo map in route description.
As we made our way north, observation of the ridge we were desirous of being atop led to the approach we settled on, which was climbing up a ridge that descended to the east from the vicinity of the sharp peak south of 9826 on the south ridge of Kintla. This easterly ridge was about ½ mile north of the saddle which separated us from Longbow lake and was the first section of the steep high cliffs where non-technical climbing appeared feasible.
We climbed through some broken ledges soon reaching a chimney which took us up over 1,500’ with only occasional detours out, around, and back into the chimney. At the top we reached an area of numerous ledges with ample breaks to permit passing upward and northerly as we continued to head toward Kintla which was not visible from this location.
Looking south down Akokala creek
We observed our progress in approaching the ridge from Peabody and saw the saddle between 9826 and the sharp peak south of it. It was after noon by the time we reached this area and I was feeling serious concerns about pursuing this trip. We were at about 8,500’ with serious cliffs above and below us and we were tiring from the exertion and uncertainty that the climb was even feasible from this approach. As we ate a quick lunch, I offered to head back, but Vern suggested that we at least climb another 1,000’ to the ridgetop to take a look around. Knowing we would be treated to a view of the Kintla glacier on the west side of the ridge, I agreed. We reached the top a little south of 9826 and immediately were treated to a view of not only the Kintla glacier, but Kintla peak itself not too far beyond 9826 to the north!
Summit fever attacked with a vengence and I made fast progress around 9826 on the west side and quickly reached the west face of Kintla. Remembering that there was a good route up this face, I studied it looking for clues and eventually selected a couloir that turned out to be too far south and led to much more rock climbing than I would have preferred. Vern similarly got into difficult cliffs trying to approach from the ridgetop heading north. We eventually overcame our route-finding deficiencies and reached the summit about 3 pm noting an easy route down (or up) further north of our problems on the west face.
We started back about 3:20 and it required about 2 ½ hours to downclimb the cliffs (mostly class 4) using a series of chimneys and couloirs slightly north of those we had ascended. Our goal was to reach the valley floor and then follow the stream down to Akokala lake. We noticed some large reddish boulders that were at the base of the ridge we were descending and noted that it appeared that a traverse back to the north at the level of those boulders would take us around a nasty set of cliffs between us and the valley floor. The ridge we descended (on the south side) did in fact enable us to reach the boulders with a traverse around a narrow ledge at that level to the north side of the ridge which led to a scree-covered slope down into the valley.
The bushwhack down to Akokala lake was progressively more difficult starting out great and eventually leading us to wade the creek itself before being forced out by downfalls and small waterfalls. We tried both sides finding the west to be the least-worst option. This segment of the trip took about 2 ¾ hours which was probably easier than the 5 hours we spent heading in the opposite direction during our morning traverse at the 6,600’ level. Of course, gravity and descending were major factors. (We would not attempt the bushwhack up the valley!) We reached the upper section of the lake about 9 pm and hiked to Bowman lake arriving about 11 pm having turned on our flashlights about 9:30.
One suggestion we would offer to others attempting this route would be some sort of lightweight shin guards. The uncountable impacts with hidden obstacles during the bushwhack left us bruised and battered, but otherwise elated with about as much adventure as one could hope to have in one day!
We estimate that the trip was over 23 miles(12 by trail) and exceeded 7,500’ vertical gain.