Of Glaciers and Gardens

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 16, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer


I'm tempted to say that this all began in August 2003, when shortly after sunrise I beheld these marvelous views, one of which has become my highest-rated picture on SummitPost. It got so many votes so quickly that sometimes I wonder if it was ever POTD or POTW, but back then I didn't know they existed, and the albums collecting them don't go back that far. Not that I care too much, for many here know that I think this site would have been and would be much better off without those features.

But I'm getting off-route, so back to the point-- here are the views that tempt me to say this is where it all got started:
Mount Gould, Dawn
Garden Wall, Dawn

But no, it really began back in July of 1998 when I drove out to Swiftcurrent Lake to photograph day's first light on Mount Gould:
Mount Gould, Dawn

So what is this it after all? Not the love of mountains-- I had already been afflicted with that sweet malady for some time.

Instead, it was a fascination with Mount Gould and the Garden Wall and the glaciers on and beneath them.

What is the Garden Wall?

The Garden Wall is a knife-edge ridge that runs approximately 8 miles roughly between Swiftcurrent Pass and Logan Pass. Mount Gould, one of the park's most distinctive mountains, is the highpoint, and Bishops Cap, a small, exposed pinnacle, is the second named peak on it. Finally, there is Pollock Mountain. There are numerous unnamed spires and peaks. The ridge itself forms the Continental Divide here.

The formation is not named for its dramatic crest but rather for the character of its western face, where the steep mountainsides sport terrace-like ledges with "hanging gardens" that paint the slopes a vivid green in summer. Long, narrow waterfalls tumble down; in some places, such as the Weeping Wall, they spray vehicles on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Garden WallThe Garden Wall from Logan Pass-- Gould is the peak in the center.

2003 Traverse

That morning in 2003, I hiked out from Granite Park Chalet up the short but steep trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. The previous day, I'd been up there at about sunset, and although the view was spectacular and the lighting amazing due to wildfire smoke, I had to go back and see it under different light.
Mt. Gould-- Sunset and Smoke
Mount Gould, Sunset and Smoke

Overnight, the smoke had settled in the valleys, creating the fog-like effect seen below and in the second picture displayed on this page.
Iceberg PeakIceberg Peak
Smoky DawnMount Wilbur

By late morning, that smoke would rise again and make visibility poor for the rest of the day, including during my hike up Swiftcurrent Mountain, which supposedly has some of the best trail views in Glacier, but for a few hours, the inversion remained and clear blue skies reigned above, creating a dramatic effect and making me burn through film (didn't go digital until 2007).

From the overlook, I yearned to get higher, so I wound up scrambling my way to Point 8479, where the views were even better and where I took most of the pictures featured on this page so far. In awe, I stared at the foreboding ridges and pinnacles of the Garden Wall and gaped at the glaciers, especially the heavily crevassed Grinnell Glacier. Despite two prior trips to the Canadian Rockies and having seen the much larger and more spectacular glaciers there, this was the first time I had really beheld the glaciers of Glacier National Park in such proximity and in such detail, and for some reason, maybe the fact that a part of my spirit permanently resides in Glacier, I was more moved by the glaciers I beheld that morning than I ever had been by their big brothers up north. I suppose another reason was that in the Canadian Rockies, my experiences with the glaciers had mostly been via roadside viewing or short trails, whereas this was a true wilderness experience, enhanced by the fact that I was the only one out there, the only one in the entire world who was seeing what I was seeing the way I was seeing it that morning.
Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake

Faced with the prospect of turning around and heading back or finding a way to extend the outing, I decided to extend. Traversing south along the Garden Wall looked impossible. No stranger to mountains and hiking but still fairly new to mountaineering at the time, I never considered continuing northeast to the summit of Mount Grinnell, which would have been easy to do, was only about a mile away, and would have been my first named Glacier summit. To this day, I have no idea why I didn't consider it and regret it. And I still have not climbed Grinnell. There was a chance to do so in 2008, but I didn't do it, for reasons explained a little later.

But a traverse north along the crest of the Garden Wall to Swiftcurrent Pass, where a trail would then return me to Granite Park Chalet in under a mile, looked both doable and highly appealing, and that's what I did, getting the chance to get very close to the Swiftcurrent Glacier, sometimes even traversing just above its upper edge. Anyone interested in this route can read about it here.
Swiftcurrent Glacier

So a few hours after leaving the chalet, I was back. For much of the rest of the day, I read, dozed, and just lounged about while watching the sky get hazier and hazier. Without much excitement, I hiked up Swiftcurrent late in the afternoon, as I already mentioned, and I had an interesting conversation with the person manning the fire lookout there, but the views were awful due to all the smoke.

The night was interesting, though. From the porch at Granite Park Chalet, we (the staff and the few other guests who didn't let the fires change their plans) could see the flames in the valleys below. This was both spectacular and ominous, something not easily forgotten, though much from that day was not to be forgotten, especially my heightened hunger to someday stand atop Mount Gould.

July 2008-- Foiled

Five years later, I was back at the chalet, with climbing Ahern Peak and Iceberg Peak as my primary goals. However, I had hoped to climb Gould and/or Grinnell from the Highline Trail either on the way in or the way out. Unfortunately, due unusually high snow accumulation at that time of year, the Highline Trail was closed between Logan Pass and Granite Park, forcing me to approach from the Loop instead, which does not come close to Gould. So I got my two peaks, but no Gould. All it did was tease me as I longingly looked upon it from Iceberg and from the chalet.
A View from Iceberg PeakFrom Iceberg
Mt. Gould and the Garden WallFrom the chalet

August 11, 2012-- Pollock and Bishops Cap

For a few years, Fred Spicker (long-time member and highly respected contributor) had talked about getting together for a climb, but nothing ever worked out. Finally, we got the chance. With his wife on an outing with her friends, Fred had the time and opportunity to drive out to Glacier from Spokane, and it just so happened that some of his "free" dates coincided with days I was going to be there as well.

In between backpacking trips, my wife and I were spending two nights at Rising Sun Motor Inn by St. Mary Lake, and on our full day there, my wife was happy to get a break from me and hike the Siyeh Pass loop by herself while Fred and I would do a climb.

Fred's climbed about everything in Glacier that can be done as a day climb, and I expressed a preference for something I hadn't climbed before, so he suggested Pollock Mountain via the Great Cleft Route and then Bishops Cap, which he hadn't climbed in several years. Both are Garden Wall peaks, Bishops Cap being a distinctive Class 4 spire (not a choice place to be on a windy day) and Pollock being not too remarkable to look at but having a scenic and interesting route. Leaving one car at Logan Pass and another at Lunch Creek, we got an early start and set off for Pollock.
Logan, Pollock, and Bishops CapPollock and Bishops Cap from Gould

Fred also has a ton of experience with technical routes in Washington state, the Alps, and elsewhere, and his climbing has also taught great wisdom and provided harrowing, cautionary tales. One can learn much about climbing from spending just one day with Fred.

In turn, Fred learned of my near-total ignorance when it comes to famous alpinists. Truth be told, I'd be hard-pressed to name 10 famous alpinists and briefly explain their main claims to fame. For me, climbing and mountaineering are highly personal, and I got into them on my own and stick with them for highly personal (some would say selfish) reasons. So think of me as like a football fan who admires the mechanics of the game but doesn't take much interest in the individual players.
Bishops CapBishops Cap

Pollock's Great Cleft Route is Class 3 and Bishop Cap's route is Class 4; we had no problems with either.

At the summit of Pollock, we paid a moment of tribute to SaintGrizzly. As many here know, SaintGrizzly was an avid (that's an understatement) fan of Glacier National Park, and his SP pages for Glacier and some of its peaks and routes are easily among SP's best. A good man and a kind man as well, many miss him.

As they always are in Glacier, views from both peaks were stunning, but what hit me most that morning were the salivating ones of Mount Gould from Bishops Cap.

Gould is maybe a mile from Bishops Cap, but a look at the ridge between them suggests there is no way to traverse from one to the other without negotiating difficult and dangerous Class 5 terrain or losing so much elevation as to make the combination unappealing. Perhaps this is why one never hears about doing both peaks on the same day.
Gould from Bishops Cap

So Gould would still have to wait.

Following that, we worked down gullies and ledges to the Highline Trail, where we got into Fred's car and then drove back down to mine.

The next day, Fred climbed Reynolds Mountain as my wife and I began a four-day backpacking trip into the Belly River section of the park.

Gould at Last

When we returned to roads and roofs and mattresses after the backpacking trip, we still had one full day in Glacier left, and I suggested a long but highly scenic and largely easy outing: driving over from our West Glacier motel room to Apgar, taking the park shuttle to Logan Pass, hiking the Highline Trail to Granite Park Chalet (with a side trip to Grinnell Glacier Overlook) and then hiking down to the Loop, and finally taking the shuttle back to Apgar. The weather looked to be, and was, perfect-- sunny all day with high temperatures in the 70's. A very fine last day in Glacier.

Climbing had not originally been part of my plan, but as I eyed Gould and the high notch between its west ridge and the Gem Glacier, I got to thinking of how I'd always admired Gem Glacier, though tiny, for the way it seemingly clings to a cliff high on the eastern side of the Garden Wall, how for a few years I'd been wanting to try the scrambling route up to the glacier, how being there would provide the opposite-side view of the glaciers and basin that had so inspired me back in 2003, and of how Gould would suddenly be in play, probably the last chance for me for at least two more years.

Even though I was a bit hung over and feeling queasy from the shuttle ride up Going-to-the-Sun Road (combination of being hung over and sitting near the back), it was too much to resist. I announced my intentions to my wife, made the obligatory offer to join me (declined), and then set off. Telling her I was definitely going to Gem Glacier and maybe to Gould as well, I told her I'd meet her at Granite Park Chalet and gave her some estimated times of return. Because my hiking pace is much faster than hers and she was still going to hike up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, I figured she wouldn't have to wait for me too long and would enjoy the alone time, anyway.

Wishing I had thought to bring along my copy of J. Gordon Edwards's A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park just in case of something like this, I scouted a general way up to the notch and got busy. Remembering that the route should be no harder than Class 4, I patiently worked around more difficult sections until, not too long after leaving the trail and so far ahead of schedule, I was at the notch.

Being at the notch was everything I had dreamed it might be. Looking across to where I had taken pictures that August morning nine years earlier, I admired the peaks, the glaciers, and the ice-choked lake. Beside me was the Gem Glacier, which I could walk up to and touch. And soaring above the glacier was an awesome spire that helped explain why no one tries to traverse the crest of the Garden Wall between Grinnell Glacier Overlook and Gem Glacier-- sheer, rotten Class 5 rock with sharp pinnacles and deep notches.
Gem Glacier and Pinnacle
Garden Wall and Gem Glacier
Salamander Glacier, Grinnell Glacier, and Upper Grinnell Lake

A hanging glacier, Gem Glacier is not considered a true glacier because its size (5 acres) is below the generally accepted standard of 25 acres. Since 1966, most glaciers in Glacier National Park have melted significantly, some by well more than 50%. Gem Glacier was a bit over 7 acres back then, so it was never a large glacier to begin with. Still, it is worth checking out; people unfamiliar with glaciers will likely be amazed by the colors and patterns evident in the exposed ice.

Gem Glacier Detail
Gem Glacier Detail
Gem Glacier Detail

Well, time for Gould.

Despite lacking beta for the route, I didn't have any trouble finding the way. Finally, I was atop a peak I had admired for long and wanted to climb for long, and even though it's far from being the highest or one of the most difficult peaks in Glacier, it meant a lot to me all the same to be there at last. And, as I had read, the views were among the best from any Glacier summit. Unfortunately, I was there a little later than I normally would have been due to the fact that the shuttles don't run as early as I typically like to start out, so the color and contrast are not as nice as I would have liked to have captured, but they were still damn fine views.

Here are some, arranged as one rotates clockwise, starting with facing northwestern (the last is obviously looking down):
A View from Gould
Allen Mountain
A View from Gould
Brown and Cannon
McPartland Mountain and Heavens Peak
Salamander Glacier, Grinnell Glacier, and Upper Grinnell LakeSummit view

It paid to stop once in a while to look back the way I had come as well:
Gem Glacier and Garden Wall

All the photographing I did down by Gem Glacier, at the summit of Gould, and in between the two ended up making me head down at just about my predicted reach-the-summit time. However, I took a northwest-trending shortcut to get back to the Highline Trail perhaps as much as a mile north of where I'd left it, and that helped me catch up to my wife about a tenth of a mile before Granite Park Chalet, so I didn't have to feel guilty about making her sit around and wait for me.

Signing the register atop Gould, I also left a note for SaintGrizzly should he ever visit that summit again.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-12 of 12

boyblue - Jan 6, 2013 3:46 pm - Voted 10/10

Great TR, Bob!

During our honeymoon, my wife and I hiked and camped in Teton and Yellowstone. Then we were off to Seattle and decided to skip our plans to visit Glacier. I know... those are grounds for permanent banning from SP. All I can say is that seeing what we missed by reading your excellent TR, viewing the images and exploring the links might be punishment enough... :-) -Gordon


boyblue - Jan 7, 2013 4:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Great TR, Bob!

Lol! My wife and I both love the mountains, but she's not as hopelessly obsessed like I am (or was). Going to Seattle was a compromise I made for her. But, we're already revising our vacation plans to include a long overdue visit to Glacier this year or next- partly in thanks to you. :-)


dadndave - Jan 7, 2013 7:49 pm - Voted 10/10

Great stuff, Bob

A great read.

Looking at the shrinking icefields and dry cirques make me wonder what all this would have looked like just 100 years ago.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Jan 8, 2013 6:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great stuff, Bob

Thanks for reading. It's a damn shame about the glaciers. You can actually see what one of them in this TR looked like 100 years ago as opposed to now here: http://www.shawnotto.com/neorenaissance/blog20120803.html.

Also here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grinnell_Glacier


mike_lindacher - Jan 9, 2013 12:09 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Report

my fav place in the world, for 2 big reasons. can't wait to return, and maybe someday for good.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Jan 9, 2013 6:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Report

Thanks! Many has been the time I've wished to live there as well.

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Jan 9, 2013 3:12 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Photos

I'm assuming you snagged the title from "Of Rats and Children".

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Jan 9, 2013 6:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Photos

I may have been subconsciously channeling my inner Steinbeck, especially since he's one of my favorite authors, but the title actually just came to me while I was writing the TR.


FlatheadNative - Jan 10, 2013 12:56 am - Voted 10/10


Perhaps you love Glacier as much as I! Next time you are here we ARE climbing. FYI, I just released an iPhone and iPod app for Climb Glacier National Park. Its pretty sick.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Jan 10, 2013 12:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice

When you get a chance, you need to head in from Belly River and see the country around Glenns and Cosley Lakes and Stoney Indian. Some places I went out there last summer are hands-down the most spectacular places I've seen in Glacier.


ywardhorner - Jan 12, 2013 1:29 pm - Hasn't voted

Good Read

I've never been to Glacier, though it's not that far from me now. There must be some ice routes . . . . ?

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Jan 13, 2013 8:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Read

You know, I've come across some bits about the ice here and there, but not a whole lot. It might be a well-kept secret, or it might be due to the fact that most of the waterfalls are off portions of the road that close in winter.

Anyway, I've been enjoying your recent ice pages. Thanks for submitting them, and keep up the good work!

Viewing: 1-12 of 12



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Mount Gould (MT)Trip Reports
Garden WallTrip Reports