|On the false summit of Red Eagle Mountain on way to the top|
It sits above the south shore of St. Mary Lake on the east side of the park and towers above the scenery of the lake.
I liked it so much that when I got my first computer I downloaded a screensaver featuring the mountain from the park Web site.
For years I’ve looked across the lake studying various routes up the mountain, a bit overwhelmed by how steep it is, and wondering how I would negotiate its timbered and red-scree slopes.
Saturday I set out for the park, thinking I might try Heaven’s Peak, the most prominent mountain in view on the park’s west side.
We set out from Great Falls at 5 a.m., but didn’t arrive in the park until just before 8 a.m. My climbing partner, Mark Hertenstein, looked up at Red Eagle, assessed the additional time it would take to drive over Logan Pass to Heaven’s Peak, and called Red Eagle for the day.
I’m glad he did, because the route we chose took us until 8:30 p.m. and we didn’t get back to Great Falls until 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, after stopping for supper at the Park Café.
Our route was simple: we got out at the Gunsight Pass cutoff trail west of the Sunrift Gorge and hiked toward St. Mary and Virginia Falls with the goal of hitting the park trail on the south side of St. Mary Lake. We figured we’d hike about four miles before starting up. We determined we would ascend at the stream that crossed the trail draining the second major waterfalls.
It turned out to be a good plan and we bushwhacked through some pretty heavy timber and deadfall before hitting the major cliff band, which we skirted and then found ourselves in a dry streambed/waterfall for 2,000 feet of slogging.
We headed for a saddle between the bright red-colored pointed peak with a cairn and flag (which we figured was Red Eagle Peak) and a band of dark colored diorite cliffs (which turned out to be the true peak).
Of course, we climbed the red peak and decided it was Red Eagle and proceeded toward the diorite outcropping and cliffs, figuring that to be Mahtotopa. Oddly, there was no climber’s register atop the red peak, but there was a new one on the flat topped, diorite/limestone peak.
The views from the top were spectacular: Red Eagle and St. Mary lakes below; the Norris traverse country and might Stimson peaks to the south; close by and across the lake Goat, Going to the Sun and Siyeh; and to the west the whole Logan Pass area.
Coincidentally, some old Hi-Line and Glacier Mountaineering Society friends had placed the new register the day before. Thanks John and April Carr and Bud Iszler. Dennis Bonawitz from the Flathead was on that same trip.
We proceeded down the peak on the line toward Little Chief Mountain, but were getting woefully short of water. We climbed the highest peak in sight before Little Chief along the way and then headed down into the valley below the snowfields hanging off the north flanks of Little Chief.
Mark led a perfect route through some pretty tough cliffs and we were able to replenish our water from a steam below high waterfalls coming off adjacent cliffs. We trudged through avalanche debris, at one point coming across three enormous curled bighorn sheep horns. I was surprised at how heavy they were.
From there it was a slog through lots of downed timber and brush adjacent to the stream. At several points there were benches of bright red argillite next to the rushing stream that had sharply cut its way through the rock. The benches were much the same as those encountered between St. Mary and Virginia Falls.
Then it was a pleasant walk back to the car past those falls, where we encountered some tourists, the first people we had seen this high summer day!
Looking back we realized that we had walked quite a distance and in climbing Red Eagle peak had gained 4,400 feet! We had gained much more than that when you through in Mahtotopa.
We were satisfied that we had made the right decision not to proceed on to Little Chief, as we would have been on the mountain long past dark before completing our trek.
Just one other note for the weekend: We went to the matinee showing of Spider-Man 2 on Sunday and enjoyed the movie and came away more convinced than ever about the increasingly deteriorating manners of many movie-goers.
A family had taken an infant into this movie and the child understandably fidgeted and cried and made noises throughout the movie, causing us to move.
When we moved the people behind us with two small children were allowing those kids, who were not interested in the movie to talk loudly and move about the theater freely.
There were many other instances of kids misbehaving throughout the movie.
Or was it the parents who were misbehaving?