Monday, July 25, 2005

Glacier Mountaineering Society week

GMS group comes off top of Mount Grinnell

On top of Elk Calf peak in Badger Two Med, looking toward Glacier Park
Mark Hertenstein works his way down to Iceberg Lake from Iceberg Notch

I spent the last week enjoying the companionship of fellow climbers at Glacier National Park during the annual Glacier Mountaineering Society’s gathering.
Throughout the week skilled leaders took climbers on many of the classic routes detailed in the late J. Gordon Edwards’ “A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park,” (Falcon).
I did seven climbs and traverses, four of which I had done previously, but satisfying, nonetheless: Grinnell Mountain, Lone Walker peak, Mount Reynolds Grand Traverse (which I led), the Ptarmigan Traverse with descent through the Iceberg Notch, and Divide Mountain. During one of my “rest” days I also climbed Elk Calf and Flattop mountains in nearby Badger-Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
It was also a time to commemorate Edwards’ life. He died a year ago during the week, stricken with a heart attack at age 84 on Divide Mountain.
He was celebrated in a memorial event at the St. Mary Visitor’s Center.
That was a lot of activity over 7-days. It was very windy most of the week, but sunny and warm, too.
It is hard to pick out which of the trips was most spectacular. Each has its own special beauty.
· The views from Grinnell peak, located at the head of the Swiftcurrent valley at Many Glacier, were exceptional. You are able to look directly down on Grinnell Lake and Glacier, some 3,000 feet below. Our route was from the Loop on the Going to the Sun Highway, up to Granite Park Chalet, to the Grinnell Overlook, and across ledges to the summit ridge. We followed a herd of bighorn rams across the ledges between the Grinnell Overlook and the summit ridge. On the way down we got out our ice axes and used them on three large snowfields that hang off the ridgeline.
Coming off Lone Walker peak
· Lone Walker peak is located at the head of Upper Two Medicine Lake. We took the boat across Middle Two Medicine Lake, hiked to Upper Two Med, put on out water shoes and walked the shoreline to the base of the mountain where we traversed scree to a goat trail to a saddle between Lone Walker and Helen peaks. We scrambled the north ridge to the summit cliffs-cap about 700 feet below the top. We then took a route through the cliffs, many Class 4, to the top. It would have been easier to traverse to a west ridge, but our route was very interesting and thrilling. We scrambled down through these cliffs, returning to the boat dock at nearly 10 p.m., a long and exhausting day!
GMS group comes off Mount Reynolds on Grand Traverse
· Mount Reynolds Grand Traverse. We were honored to have Jane Edwards, a distinguished climber and the daughter of Gordon, join us on this classic route that follows the diagonal goat trail across the face of the mountain, some 700 feet below the summit. Jane recalled stories of other climbs on this route, which she describes as her father’s favorite. One such was with a National Geographic Society photographer who dropped his film canister while lunching in a notch where it swings to the east face and down. Gordon surprised the photographer by retrieving it. That canister contained the photo that appeared on the cover of the Society’s book on the Continental Divide. Fifteen of the 16 climbers who started out reached the top. We got soaked by rain on the way down. Along the way we saw many mountain goats which provided many photo ops.
Here I am on Ptarmigan goat trail above Helen Lake
· Ptarmigan Traverse with descent through Iceberg Notch. Of all the hikes I’ve taken in the park, I consider this my favorite, the most scenic and most thrilling. It involves hiking to Ptarmigan Tunnel, leaving the trail at the tunnel and climbing on the ridgeline above it to the north where it meets a narrow goat trail that hangs in the cliffs for some four miles to Ahern Pass, where a snowfield plugs the pass and must be carefully negotiated (preferably with ice axe and crampons). Then it is a 700 foot ascent to the Iceberg Notch on the Garden Wall between Iceberg Peak and the B-7 Pillar. It is 2,000 foot straight down to Iceberg Lake on cliffs and ledges, and finally the trail and the 6 miles back to the trailhead. I was accompanied by Mark Hertenstein and Bill Labunetz of Great Falls. Hertenstein was our able route finder. Views all the way are exceptional. The goat trail hangs high above the Helen Lake Basin a couple of thousand feet below. We could watch mountain goats playing on the trail ahead of us at various points, and in the cliffs above us. We counted about 30 goats along the traverse. There are tremendous views of Mounts Merritt and Ipasha with their outstanding glaciers. I wish I could find a better word than “thrilling” to describe how it felt to negotiate this tiny trail, knowing that a slip could send you plunging thousands of feet over the cliffs. The sight of Iceberg Lake far below you from the notch is unsettling as well when you realize that’s your destination. The most frightening part of the trip for me was crossing the snowfield at Ahern Pass. I did it with an ice axe, but recommend having crampons as well for safety reasons. It took me 45 minutes to cross this field, post holing with the axe all the way. I think a slip on this field without proper self arrest would be fatal.
· Divide Mountain. This is a wonderful way to say goodbye to the park after a special week. Hertenstein and I scrambled this limestone sentinel at the park’s St. Mary entrance before noon after a heavy breakfast at the Park CafĂ©. The climb is just under 2,000 feet and passes by an interesting old octagonal lookout, long out of use. There are exceptional views of St. Mary Lake, and the heart of the park’s east side.
Mark Hertenstein on Divide Mountain near the Octagonal ranger station

No comments: