Wednesday, August 12-- The day before, I had climbed Dragon's Tail
with two other SP members, Blake and Walt. After the climb, as Blake headed one way and Walt and I headed another, Walt and I decided to grab a burger and a beer, and we discussed, among other things, a short outing for the following morning. Because I had to check out from the lodge room with the wife and kid by 11, I really would only have about two hours to play with after considering probable driving and packing times.
That didn't leave us with much time to climb something. Fortunately, there is Mount Oberlin. It is the lowest of the peaks surrounding Logan Pass, and it doesn't stand out too impressively from that area (though it does from many points along Going-to-the-Sun Road west of Logan Pass), but its small summit has excellent views and is guarded on two sides by high cliffs. Plus, one of the routes to the summit offers some fun scrambling with some interesting, albeit brief, route-finding situations. And considering that the easier of the two main routes to the summit is just 1.5 mi and the scrambling route is probably no more than 2, Oberlin was not only the best option but also really the only
option given the time constraints.
So we planned to meet at Logan Pass at 7 and then climb Oberlin, after which Walt would probably stay out to climb Reynolds Mountain and I would go back to family life.
We would climb via the South Ridge route, which begins where the climber's trail from Logan Pass reaches the saddle between Clements Mountain and Oberlin.
Whereas the previous day had been sunny but windy, this day was not. It was windy again, but the sun was struggling to make even brief appearances, and we both knew that forecasts mentioned almost a 100% chance of rain for that day, with the afternoon being worse than the morning. We could see the peaks around us, but it was obvious that it wouldn't be long until the ugliness we could see to the west would be upon us.
This made Walt reconsider his plan to climb Oberlin with me-- not because he was afraid of the weather, but because he was afraid the weather would deteriorate too much by the time he got to Reynolds. Walt had wanted to climb Reynolds the previous day, but the strong winds had changed that plan (a section of the route he wanted to climb has serious exposure with little chance of shelter or retreat from weather). He did not want to get shut out again. Less than 10 minutes after our start, then, Walt decided to abandon the Oberlin climb and head for Reynolds.
The truth is that Walt probably just didn't like me and also felt a little inferior as a South Lakes Seahawk in the presence of an Oakton Cougar (we graduated high school the same year from schools in adjacent districts), but I told him I understood, and we went our separate ways.
Unfortunately, Walt got shut out again. After finishing the traverse across the north face of Reynolds and starting the final climb to the summit, the weather turned from unpleasant to odious, with high winds, hard rain, and snow. He had to forgo the summit and head for the Southwest Slopes route, an easier and safer way to descend the mountain.
I was luckier. Walt's climb covered more than twice the distance mine did, and my total time from car to summit and back to car was only about 90 minutes. There was far more overcast than sunshine, but some isolated holes in the dark curtain above created some dramatic lighting and allowed me to get a few pictures I really liked (displayed at the end of this TR), and I only had to endure a few sprinkles near the very end.
Later, after checking out from our cabin, the Sihlers headed up to Logan Pass intending to hike to the Clements-Oberlin saddle (we wanted to do something short because of the weather forecast, and we wanted something with great views but did not want to go on the very busy Hidden Lake Trail or Highline Trail). We got to Logan Pass at about 11:00, just as rain started falling hard and relentlessly and the mountains disappeared. Walt's car was still there, and we parked across from it. All I could do was shake my head at his bad luck and hope he was okay. He got back about an hour after that, and a little shouting through the rain was how I found out about how he fared up on Reynolds. Walt told me he was heading for Colorado in search of dry weather. That was probably a good choice; it rained most of the day in Glacier for each of the next five days, and the higher mountaintops were only rarely visible.
Oberlin (right), with the Clements-Oberlin Saddle and the South Ridge route visible. Photo from 2006.
The South Ridge route is the one that in A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park
, by J. Gordon Edwards, is called the Clements Saddle route. It is described as Class 3 with one possible spot of Class 4.
That route, which the Park Service now prefers as the standard route on the mountain (and to which effect has posted signs), is the more enjoyable route; the Southeast Slopes route, which used to be the standard route, is just a Class 2 slog up loose scree (it makes for a fast descent, but the Park Service wants to discourage use of this route entirely to reduce damage to the alpine meadows, though it is not officially against the rules to use the route and there are no barriers or signs at the intersection of the two routes promoting one over the other).
Now that the South Ridge is the NPS preferred route, cairns mark the route all the way to the summit. The cairned route looked very easy and I did not follow it, so I cannot say if it is "Class 3 with one possible spot of Class 4," but I have my doubts that the cairned route follows the route Edwards describes. This is for two reasons:
1. I wonder whether the Park Service would reroute the main way up a popular mountain from a hike to a scramble.
2. I overheard a waiter the night before telling some customers that he had "hiked" up Mount Oberlin that morning. He mentioned "hike" three times in the conversation and said not a word about scrambling or climbing. Of course, he could have been a very good climber for whom Class 3 is
just a hike, or he could have gone up the Southeast Slopes. But it still made me wonder.
Anyway, I mostly stayed on the left side of the ridge, where there was more exposure, loose rock, and scrambling. Some of the scrambling fell into that vague transition area between Class 3 and 4 and could credibly be called either. But whatever it was, it made for some enjoyable scrambling before putting me atop the ridge a short distance from the summit, and then I had no other choice but to walk the rest of the way.