Monday, July 04, 2005

Poia, Scarface, Morningstar mountains

Approaching Scarface

On the way to Scarface

Coming off Scarface, heading to Morningstar
Since I first heard it, I’ve been taken with the Blackfeet legend of Poia, a story analogous to the Christian redemption story of Jesus.
Walter McClintock, for whom a Glacier Park mountain is named, first recorded the story in his book, “The Old North Trail,” after spending a winter with the Blackfeet in the early 20th century.
Poia is the son of the Blackfeet God Morningstar and Blackfeet maiden Feather Woman. He is afflicted with a facial scar given him by the all-powerful Sun-God Napi for a transgression by his mother, and thus, his nickname, “Scarface.” He and his mother are banished back to earth. The legend tells of Poia’s journey back to the Napi, who removes his scar and sends him back to earth to teach the Blackfeet the Sun Dance.
McClintock was so impressed with the legend that he invited American composer Arthur Nevin to the Blackfeet camps, which resulted in the opera, “Poia” that premiered in Pittsburgh in 1907 and was last performed in Berlin in 1910.
The Great Falls Symphony took on staging the opera as the centerpiece of the “Explore the Big Sky” celebration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Great Falls, a national “signature” event.
Because I was so excited by the legend and the thought of the opera performed here, I set out to climb Poia and Scarface mountains in the Badger-Two Medicine Wilderness Area, south of Glacier Park.
Two years ago I did Poia (elevation: 8,274 feet), and last fall Scarface (elevation: 8,282 feet).
These mountains are adjacent to one another in a drainage off Small Creek in the Badger-Two accessible from the North Fork of Birch Creek out of Swift Reservoir west of Dupuyer.
That third mountain in this “cluster” is Morningstar peak (elevation: 8,376 feet).
Last weekend, I had my heart set on climbing Morningstar in advance of Sunday’s performance of the opera “Poia.”
It is on a ridgeline that drops off 700 feet from Scarface.
When I was on Scarface last fall I studied this ridgeline and estimated that it would be possible to climb Scarface and then Morningstar in a daytrip from Great Falls.
I failed to do that last fall because the days are short in October and I ran out of daylight and had to turn back after Scarface.
Hertenstein had been wondering if it was possible to climb all three peaks in a day. I thought not because of the tremendous amount of elevation one would have to drop and then regain to get each of the mountains. I didn’t think one day would be enough.
On Saturday I was proven wrong!
We did all three mountains despite strong winds and occasional rain showers. We even had a few moments of snow showers on the top of Morningstar.
From my earlier hikes I had discovered a great elk trail high above the west slope of Small Creek that led through dense timber to tremendous meadows just below the ridgeline. Small Creek is about 4-1/2 miles up the North Fork of Birch Creek Trail No. 121 from Swift Reservoir.
That elk trail eventually leads to an open basin framed by the Scarface ridge on the west and the Poia ridge on the east.
To climb Scarface, follow the basin below the ridge nearly to its end and scramble up a low point. Once on the ridge you’ll see three “peaks.” The middle peak is the high point. The first time I did this I climbed all three just to make sure I bagged the named summit.
It is a simple scramble up scree to Scarface.
On top Morningstar finally comes into view.
The ridgeline down to it is a tad gnarly, but doable if care is taken.
On the valley floor between the three peaks
While doing it we could look back across the base of the three peaks and could see a low saddle between the false east summit of Scarface and Poia.
At that point we decided to go for that saddle to climb Poia, which would put a perfect cap on our day.
It meant descending Morningstar some 1,300 feet to the basin below and then climbing about 500 feet back to that saddle and another 700 feet to the top of Poia.
The descent was through easy scree down Morningstar’s south ridge and onto a carpet of alpine flowers. The hike up to the saddle was easier than I had expected but involved some side hilling.
Then it was a slog through the limestone scree to the top of Poia!
One unusual side story about our time on Poia was that while we were taking a break, Hertenstein laid down his pack in what we thought was a sheltered area, and the wind lifted it up and sent it down the mountain’s face, never to be seen again.
The views from all three mountains are remarkable. The Badger-Two Medicine, Bob Marshall, Rocky Mountain Front and Glacier Park peaks are all highly visible.
What are impressive are the high-above-timber-line peaks of the Badger-Two. There’s a lifetime of trips in this area.
Our hike began at 8:22 a.m., and we returned to our car at 8:45 p.m.
Oh, the opera!
What a wonderful performance, a perfect complement to a perfect mountain climbing trip.

Atop Poia

Down the valley from Poia top

1 comment:

Bitterroot said...

It's great reading of your adventures in the Two Medicine and Bob Marshall country. The photos are just amazing.