Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Medicine Grizzly traverse

This grizzly track gave us pauseT

Del Meuchel on top of Medicine Grizzly peak

The descent into the valley

Enjoying large snow fields

A look back at what we had climbed
The Blackfeet legend of the Medicine Grizzly has always intrigued me.
It holds that after a Blackfeet chief was killed by Indians from the Flathead coming to hunt the Blackfeet buffalo. The battle occurred at the pass near where the Blackfeet were encamped at Cut Bank Creek. The Flatheads were defeated when a grizzly --- a “Medicine Grizzly” --- emerged from the dead chief and turned back the invaders from the west.
A beautiful mountain at the head of Cut Bank Creek in Glacier National Park is named for that legendary grizzly (elevation: 8,315 feet).
On Tuesday were traversed that mountain, climbing up from Medicine Grizzly Lake and climbing down on the Morningstar Lake side.
Along the way we saw numerous goats high up on the cliffs at the base of the mountain. The goats and their kids also romped or lounged in the snow and snow patches. We saw an incredible sight when a group of goats jumped onto a very steep and long snow patch and glided, not walked, to the bottom of the patch, just as if they were extreme snowboarders. Every time we looked up we were able to spot some new goat.
To reach the summit we approached up the Triple Divide Pass Trail from the Cut Bank Campground in the park. It splits off to Medicine Grizzly Lake. We stopped some 5 miles from the trailhead, took off our boots and waded the creek.
Then it was up the northwest face of the mountain more than 1,000 feet through a tangle of willows and alder until we broke out into the cliffs. Here it was pretty easy-going to the summit cap, a series of cliffs with couloirs running down their sides.
Dell Meuchel, the Cut Bank High School teacher who will be leading this trip for the Glacier Mountaineering Society Saturday, picked one of the couloirs to the left and scrambled to the top. I searched for an easier route and finally found it more to the west. The views on top are incredible. Of course there’s the Triple Divide Peak, Mount James complex to the north, high above the upper and lower Medicine Grizzly Lakes. We could see Mount Reynolds at Logan Pass far to the north. To the west loomed two of the park’s 10,000 footers --- Jackson and Stimson. To the south and east the Dawson-Pitamakin area above Two Medicine.
We then headed down the southeast ridgeline cliffs until we were forced onto huge snowfields that extended up to just below the summit cliff band on the southeast face; Below us, a high mountain lake still encrusted in ice. We traversed above the lake and then worked our way through another cliff band.
At one point we had to use our ice axes across a very steep snow patch, carefully kicking toe-steps.
We had dropped about 2,000 feet and found ourselves trapped in a cliff band with waterfalls crashing around us in every direction.
After unsuccessfully exploring north and dropping a couple hundred feet, we realized we would have to re-cross our path, gain several hundred feet and pop over a ridge to the south, hoping it would yield a breach in the cliffs.
To our delight, that’s exactly what happened, and a good ramp through the cliffs aimed straight at Morningstar Lake a couple of miles south.
We dropped 1,000 feet and hit the Morningstar Lake Trail, and then it was an easy walk back to the trailhead, some 6 miles.
Along the way Meuchel looked up and found the breach in the north side of the cliffs on that east face, just to the north of spectacular waterfalls.
He recalled that he had climbed the mountain this way several years ago.
Had we stayed above the final cliff band and headed in that direction, we could have saved a couple of miles of cliff scrambling.
But, we would have missed the glorious sight of Morningstar Lake.
This turned out to be a wonderful traverse, now one of my favorite climbs in the park.

1 comment:

Charlie Adams said...

Tom: I didn't see a way to just e-mail you, so I'll just do this post. I'm curious if you have any reconnaissance on the trail conditions of Rierdon and Green Gulches.


Charlie Adams