Western Saddle Route-Variation

Page Type
Montana, United States, North America
Route Type:
Spring, Summer, Fall
Time Required:
Half a day
Steep Class 2

Route Quality: 0 Votes

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Western Saddle Route-Variation
Created On: Jul 27, 2010
Last Edited On: Jul 27, 2010


Altyn Peak is a beautiful red-colored mountain located in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. Certainly not the highest in the area, yet still a worthwhile climb as the surrounding views are magnificent. Check out Saintgrizzly's fantastic main page for Altyn Peak.

In his book, A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park, J. Gordon Edwards says of the Western Saddle Route...Distance to summit about 2.5 miles, none of it by human trail. Elevation gained is about 3050 vertical feet. Class 2 all the way. From the highway around the north side of Swiftcurrent Lake, walk up the steep meadows toward the top of the mountain. After passing the half-way point, scramble up loose scree directly toward the broad saddle west of Altyn. The scree is bright red and very loose, so seek out bits of vegetation and small outcroppings of solid rock for better footing. There are also many trails made by mountain sheep on this hillside, which may aid in the ascent, and frequently climbers see ewes and lambs grazing on the upper hillsides. The red scree chutes and gullies extend to the saddle, after which it is an easy walk up gentler slopes to the summit of Altyn Peak.

In my humble opinion, anyone who tries to climb Altyn Peak via the description above is either a glutton for cruel and unusual punishment or certifiably insane or both!!! Having descended this route...know that trying to ascend this way would be like climbing in a vertical red sandbox!!

We wanted to climb Altyn Peak from this direction so we came up with the following variation.

Route Description

Park at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot down toward the trailheads. Start out on the Iceberg Lake Trail and follow it for approximately .5 miles...there will be some elevation gain on the trail. As you crest a highpoint on the trail at this point the views will open up to your right and you will be able to see the route up Mount Henkel.

You will also be able to see two other smaller drainages to the right of the Henkel drainage coming off the cliffs between Henkel and the Altyn saddle. You should also be able to find right off the trail a small rocky climber's trail that is probably for Henkel. You can take this trail up through the meadows until you lose it, but it will take you above the thicker vegetation to your right that would interfere with a more direct route to the other drainages. At this point you want to begin traversing up and to your right through the steep, rocky and beautiful-flower filled meadows. You should watch your footing here as some of the grass is thick and you can't see what your putting your foot on...you think it is grass or solid ground and instead it is a fist-sized rock that rolls with you.

[img:642471:alignleft:small:Lower part of route through meadows]
[img:642473:alignright:small:Upper part of the route...up and around the cliffs]
Here...you have a choice...you can angle for the first drainage and begin your climb up solid footing to the base of the cliffs or, if you prefer the wild-flower filled meadow, continue traversing upward and to the right to the second drainage where you also may climb upward on more solid footing to the base of the cliffs.

Two very important things to remember...the higher and farther to the right you go the poorer the footing becomes...and you must climb to the base of the cliffs to gain much better footing to continue your traverse towards the saddle.

[img:642476:alignleft:small:Looking back down the route from the saddle]
[img:642480:alignright:small:Looking over at the route up...on the descent]

The route is really quite simple. Once you make it up to the base of the cliffs, traverse toward the saddle on better footing. You're never totally out of the scree, but you may be able to find one of the game trails that Edwards mentions in his description. At this point, hug the cliffs all the way around and upward to the saddle. DO NOT VENTURE OUT INTO THE RED QUICKSAND!!

[img:642073:alignleft:small:Altyn false summit]
[img:642074:alignright:small:Altyn summit ridge]

Once you reach the saddle you must WALK up and over a false summit and then upward to the true summit...footing is solid all the way.

Route Statistics
Mileage-2.66 miles one way(approximately .5 miles on trail)
Elevation gain-Just over 3000'


You have wonderful views all the way up this route and you are surrounded by a veritable smorgasbord of some of GNP's best....Mount Wilbur, Allen Mountain, Mount Grinnell, Swiftcurrent Mountain, Bullhead Point, Mount Henkel, Crowfeet Mountain, Iceberg Peak, Iceberg Notch just to name a few.


After resting, eating lunch and absorbing the views walk back down the summit ridge to the saddle.

Upon reaching the saddle just bail out onto the red quicksand and be prepared for one of the funnest and fastest descents of your life!!

The picture below was taken from the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot showing the way down through the red scree!!

Gear and All Things GNP

Bring lots of water, sunscreen, bug spray and hiking poles may also be helpful.

Again, check out the Altyn Peak main page for other information.