Monday, October 03, 2005

Triple Divide Peak

On top Triple Divide Peak with Mount Norris behind me

Triple Divide Peak and Pass

The Mountain Ash berries were in a shocking orange
You really don’t need much of an excuse to visit the remote Cut Bank Creek entrance to Glacier National Park, particularly in the fall.
But, I had an extra incentive in traveling there last week --- to climb Triple Divide Peak (elevation: 8,018 feet).
I had been to Triple Divide Pass, a mere 600 feet beneath this landmark, on five other occasions, and had failed to give this handsome peak a try.
It is a long walk in, so it isn’t something you would do on a lark.
The pass is 7.2 miles from the trailhead, and to the top is nearly another mile. The total elevation gain to the summit is 2,900 feet.
Triple Divide Peak/Pass is special because it sits at the apex of three major watersheds following toward the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and Hudson’s Bay.
Cut Bank Creek is such a treat because it is rarely visited, despite its splendor. In the early days of the park it was on a main horseback route that went from camp to camp. Before that, the Blackfeet would camp here in the winter and block the Flathead tribes from coming through to the buffalo hunting grounds on the Great Plains on the east side of the mountains.
One of the mountains back there is called Medicine Grizzly Mountain in honor of one of the legends where the Flathead killed a Blackfeet warrior who was transformed into the Medicine Grizzly who helped the Blackfeet repulse their foes.
There is also a high mountain lake named for Medicine Grizzly, which is visible from the Triple Divide Pass trail.
The trail climbs along the Cut Bank Creek bottom for several miles offering great views of Bad Marriage Mountain to the south and far off in the distance pointed Flinsch Peak. The creek looks like a fertile fishing hole. Beavers have worked it and created a small lake that appears before you leave the trees.
Once out of the forest the trail straddles the south flank of Mount James to the pass.
Keep a sharp eye, because there are Bighorn sheep that blend in along this stretch.
The rock is a bright red and green mudstone. The groundcover was a brilliant yellow punctuated by bright red huckleberry and mountain ash foliage. The mountain ash berries were a bright yellow.
As I enjoyed the trail, and the lake below me, I began to focus on the Triple Divide ridgeline, planning a route to the top.
The ridge is relatively flat and slightly sloped, rising only a bit more sharply to the summit, which drops precipitously to the pass to the north.
I know that the mountain can be climbed directly from the pass up some Class 3 ledges, but this wasn’t the day for it.
In addition, several inches of fresh snow from the night before complicated the trek.
I saw three breaks in the ridge I figured I could scale and started making plans.
Just before I got to the pass I cut off trail toward the first break. I started up the scree a couple of hundred feet and immediately got into slick ice to a point where I couldn’t proceed any further and had to turn back.
The scree in the next break, really the low point in the ridge, crawled upward to an easier band of cliffs and I knew this was the spot to get to the ridgeline. Despite the ice and snow, the scree was easy climbing and the ledges free of moisture. I scrambled up to the ridge where it looked like a winter fairyland of snow.
From there it was about a half-mile up another several hundred feed to the top.
There, I was treated to panoramic views in all directions. The view to the west and Mount Stimson, one of the highest peaks in Glacier, dominated the horizon.
From here you could clearly see the alpine lake hanging in a cirque above Medicine Grizzly Lake.
I signed the register and noted that I was about the 12th climber to summit this peak this year, the most recent some 21 days before me.
Because the days were getting shorter and cooler, I got down quickly and hurried back to the car.
About three miles before I arrived at the trailhead, smoke from a forest fire drifted over the western ridge and filled the valley, obscuring what was an otherwise clear sky.
The only time I saw another person was at the very beginning of my hike when four Columbia Falls fishermen began the trail for Grizzly Medicine Lake.
I was alone for the rest of the day.
Not bad for a major national park, is it?


Anonymous said...

I came across your site while blog surfing around (something I like to do when I'm board :-). You have a really cool blog. If you are interested, go see my eBay Auctions site. It's just a fun site but you may find something to entertain you.

fuzzbonnet said...

Hi Tom! The Triple Divide Pass would be a personal best to top my personal best, for sure. Are you and Katie planning on hiking the weekend of September 21/22?! We will be at Glacier Park Lodge at that time and I'm interested in teaming up with you for a day hike. There will be 5 of us and two gals are real mountain goats, the rest of us are moderate hikers. I've been known to up my pace when motivated by crazies or Grizzlies are on the trail. :p
Have a great weekend and I look forward to hearing from you.

Marilyn Brady

Out there with Tom said...

Alas, Katie is scheduled for a conference in Missoula that weekend, so we're going to have to beg off!
We would like to do something with you guys at some point, so please don't write us off.


calbaker said...

How many hours did your climb take? I'm going there in early July, and I'd like to make an attempt at it. Was it very technical? I plan to drag my wife along, and her outdoor technical climbing experience is limited.


Tom Kotynski said...

Just to get to the pass and back is roughly 14 miles. Add the climb to this. It is not difficult if you find the right route. Study the ridgeline and there is a lovely meadow about 300 feet below. Follow that meadow to a scree slope (chute) coming from a break in the ridge line (the furthest break to the left). It is quite steep and there are usually bighorns there that kick down rocks. It is not a difficult scramble up the chute. Once you climb this, it is a simple ramp walk to the top! Give yourself all day.