Monday, July 10, 2006

Three sacred mountains

Descending Morningstar, on the way to Poia

Mark Haemig looks at final pitch to Poia

Larry Hiller looking from Scarface toward Morningstar
Blackfeet legends fascinate me.
Because those legends lend their names to the mountains of the Badger Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area, I’m drawn there.
Last year the Great Falls Symphony recreated one of those legends on an opera stage with “ Poia,” performed as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial signature event.
The day before the opera premiere I climbed three of the mountains whose characters are key to “Poia.” Those are Poia (elevation: 8,274 feet ), Morningstar (elevation: 8,376 feet), and Scarface (elevation: 8,282 feet ).
Although the climb was long (19 miles), with lots of elevation gain (5,100 feet) I thought it beautiful and special enough to share with my Glacier Mountaineering Society companions, and offered a hike Saturday.
Each peak has its unique qualities. Three-headed Scarface sits at the end of long limestone ridge; Morningstar presides over a remote valley with grand views of the entire Badger Two, and Poia has yellow-brownish rock on it that is reminiscent of Yellowstone Park.
Eleven GMS members showed up for the hike. Seven reached all three summits. All enjoyed the beauty of the southern edge of the Badger Two Medicine near Swift Reservoir.
A year ago we dealt with snow squalls. Saturday we labored under bright, hot sun unbroken by any clouds, Our thermometers exceeded 90 degrees. That heat felled at least two of our climbers who turned back less than 1,000 feet below the final peak of the day, Poia.
The Poia legend represented in these three sacred peaks is the Blackfeet equivalent of the Christian Christ legend. Poia is the son of a god, Morningstar, and the Blackfeet maiden, Feather Woman. Poia’s face is scarred (becoming Scarface) for his mother’s transgressions. He ultimately redeems the Blackfeet by bringing them the Sun Dance.
Tram Stout gathers himself to climb the gap below Poia
Our route followed the North Fork of Birch Creek Trail from Swift Reservoir for four miles to Small Creek. At Small Creek we went off trail and found an elk trail as we climbed through thick forest to a great basin between Scarface and Poia. Here we ascended the long limestone wall that leads to Scarface. Once on top the ridge we could see Scarface’s three peaks. The summit is the middle peak.
Morningstar is an impressive looking peak connected by a sometimes sketchy limestone ridge to Scarface. It is a drop of more than 600 feet to the saddle between the two mountains.
We climbed Poia by dropping 1,200 feet on good, skateable scree to a basin below Morningstar. It was a 600 foot climb to a saddle at the base of Poia and another 600 feet to the Poia summit ridge.
We returned to the trailhead via a gentle, long ridgeline that eventually took a sharp plunge to the North Fork of Birch Creek near Killem Horse Creek.
The views from all three peaks are expansive and breathtaking.
To the north and beyond are the Badger Two Medicine (Feather Woman, Heart Butte, and Goat peaks). To the south and east the Bob Marshall Country and Rocky Mountain Front (Mounts Richmond, Drewyer, Fields, Walling Reef). To the west, the Bob Marshall all the way to the Swan Range (Pentagon, Silver Tip, Swan peaks). To the north beyond the Badger, GlacierPark (St. Nick, Stimson, Rising Wolf peaks), and Great Bear Wilderness Area (Great Northern Peak).
We were very pleased to see that the Ralph Thornton-Bud Iszler party had left registers on Scarface and Morningstar that included a printed page with story of the Poia legend.
When we climbed these three last year there was no evidence of any recent climbs.
These mountains are too beautiful and special to be ignored.
Poia's "gendarmes"

Byron Wallis couldn't resist this short climb

Mounts Richmond and Sentinel comes into sight on way down from Poia

No comments: