Back to Montana...
Last winter, I received a phone call from my friend Jason. We have been good friends since our days together at the University of Montana and have shared plenty of trials and triumphs in the northern Rockies. He and his wife had recently bought a new home in Columbia Falls; one that was in desperate need of a new roof. We have taken different paths since graduating from UM. He landed a job as a forester with the state of Montana, whereas I had moved to western North Carolina to pursue other interests. I've been a loose cannon of sorts; I currently manage a great little pizza restaurant, Blue Mountain Pizza, and still own a roofing proprietorship--Shining Rock Roofing. This is where Jason's opportunistic manner-of-thinking comes into play. "Why not buy Chris a plane ticket to Montana? He can help me re-roof the house for a fraction of the price of a contractor and when we're done, we can build some new memories in the backcountry of Montana!" Brilliant! After a few subsequent phone calls to work out the details, the date is set and flight purchased.
Taking Care of Business
Alright, the day has finally arrived. My flight is rather uneventful until we begin our descent into Glacier International Airport outside of Kalispell, MT. Flying at about 13,000 ft., we cruise over the spectacular country that is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Despite a flight attendants request to turn off electronic devices, I cannot help but snap a few pictures of one of my favorite big-kid backyards.
The Chinese Wall from high above!
In the interest of keeping you all engaged, I'll forgo the mundane details of installing a new roof. Suffice it to say that things went smoothly. We even managed to find time to float the Middle Fork of the Flathead, hit up the 1st annual Stumptown BBQ Cook-off in Whitefish, and enjoy many of the fine microbrews that Montana has to offer!
Double Haul IPA and wild Montana whitewater-sweet relief after a hot day on the roof!
Great Northern Mountain...the Hard Way.
Functional and beautiful--Jason is pleased with his new roof.
View from the descent on the 'modern' route.
It's time to trade the ridges and peaks of his home for those of Montana's epic wilderness. First on our list, Great Northern. We pack some lunch and plenty of excitement for our first summit attempt. However, we forget to pack an up-to-date guide book. Ours' is published in 1999 and little do we know at the time, that a lot can happen in a decade. We park Jason's truck near the bridge over Hungry Horse Creek and look for our 'trail.' The guidebook says "Look for a clearing in the brush south of the creek and after a second thought as to whether or not to attempt the hike, head into the brush." The vegetation is thick and wet but we jump in without hesitation. Our over-grown, old-logging-road-of-a-trail soon turns into thick gullies of Devil's club and downed timber. Ouch! After a mile of difficult route finding, wet boots and scratched-up forearms we emerge onto a rocky bluff between to the two forks of Hungry Horse Creek.
The rocky bluff that was our escape from the bushwhack.
Then we headed up a 'thumb' of vegetation amongst steep scree on Great Northern's NW ridge. Close to the top, we see climber's making relatively easy progress along an adjacent ridge to the north. "Where the hell did they come from," I ask myself.
Jason scrambling up Great Northern above the 'thumb'
Upon meeting the ridge and the other climber's, they ask us, "Where the hell did you guys come from?" The hard way, I guess. Nevertheless, we made the summit and enjoyed some fine views and easy hiking on our descent via the new standard route. We even ran into some fellow mountaineers of a different sort.
Fellow mountaineers of a different sort. Great Northern and Stanton Glacier.
I'll check the copyright year on my guidebooks from now on!
One of the Prongs on the Crown of the Continent
Glacier National Park is considered to be the 'Crown of the Continent' due to its' rugged topography and unique geography among the natural features of North America. It sheds water to three oceans; the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic. It also houses 6 peaks in excess of 10,000 ft. One of these is Mount Siyeh; our second summit bid of this trip. Siyeh is superlative in its' own right; the north face of Mt. Siyeh is the tallest vertical cliff in the Lower 48 at 4,200 feet!
Cracker Lake at the base of Siyeh's north face.
We began our assault from Siyeh Bend on the east side of Logan Pass along Going-to-the-Sun Road. We quickly hiked our way to Preston Park; the launching pad for the standard route up Siyeh.
South side of Siyeh from Preston Park.
After carefully considering our route, we begin our climb. The crux of the standard route is negotiating a band of cliffs. Class 3 scrambles can turn into Class 5 pitches of crumbling rock. We retrace our steps a couple of times and look for cairns that help to assure us that we are on the right path. Finally, we top out above the cliffs on the immense scree field that leads to the summit. On this day, the wind is strong and constant. But I am feeling the same way. Upon looking back to memorize the features of our descent, I notice that it appears that the scree slopes are the edges of the earth! What a feeling! I love the exposure and exhilaration of these high places. I remember the words of Joe Simpson, relating the grace and brilliance of mountaineering to a sort of alpine ballet. Concentrating on each step, I reach the saddle and am overwhelmed with the view that confronts me. An ocean of peaks, steep cliffs and glaciers surrounds me.
View from the saddle.
I turn to look at Jason and a reciprocated smile is all that needs to be said. After a short, steep hike up some more scree, we are there! The views are outstanding with Glacier's rugged peaks and valleys in all directions.
Mt. Gould, Salamander Glacier and Upper Grinell Lake from Siyeh. Me on the summit of Mt. Siyeh.