Sunday, August 16, 2009

Red Eagle Pass trail exploratory

This pretty much sums it up ---- cloud banks and rain that made for a soggy trip

Mark Hertenstein crosses Red Eagle Creek on suspension bridge 
Triple Falls on Red Eagle Creek
My summer was aimed at trying to get into the shape needed to take a crack at Red Eagle Pass in Glacier National Park, tucked along the Continental Divide in some of the park’s most remote landscape.
But, this has been a summer of compromises and because of rain I had to settle for finding what used to be a main trail to the pass and following it for several miles before being turned back by torrential moisture.
Before the Going to the Sun Road was built and car tourism became a main focus of the park, the trail through Red Eagle Pass to St. Mary’s from Two Medicine, was the major park through route. Thousands of tourists used to travel this route by horseback using the park’s horse tent camps and chalets.
During World War II the park closed a number of trails, including this one in 1942.
It is now seldom visited and is overgrown and has been reclaimed by nature in many spots.
My plan was to reach this pass by way of the Norris Traverse, gaining the Continental Divide at Triple Divide Pass, ascending Triple Divide and Norris peaks enroute.
But a combination of continuous rain and a bear closure at Atlantic Creek made that impossible.
So, instead we got a two night backcountry camping permit at the head of Red Eagle Lake and decided to find the trail remnants and make a try at it Friday.
If there is an obvious beginning point, it eluded me.
One way to locate it is to hike from Red Eagle Lake toward the trail to Triple Divide Pass, crossing the creek beyond the first falls and suspension bridge at a major bend where an old bridge had been washed out. At a second crossing, leave the Triple Divide trail and cross and start looking.
Because of the cold and rain we bypassed the more direct route and opted for a difficult bushwhack along the shoreline and across a smaller creek coming off the hanging valley to the west.
We found good portions of the trail off and on for several miles before being turned back.
It gave me hope that we will ultimately get to the pass from this route in the future.
I marveled at the gorgeous red rocks everywhere as we passed them through forests of trees burned two years ago in the Red Eagle fire.
About a mile into this trail finding expedition we were treated to a large waterfall with three prongs. Surely, this must be the Red Eagle Falls, although the map doesn’t indicate it. The falls had to be a major attraction on the historic horse ride.
Because the pass is so low --- about 6,400 feet --- and rises about 1,500 feet over 7 miles or so from Red Eagle Lake, I found it remarkable that it was closed by the park and allowed to fall into disrepair.
I know that should I reach the pass it will lead me into other major backcountry opportunities like the Norris Traverse, Almost a Dog Pass and almost unimaginably wild Glacier wild country.
I’ll return.
Just wish I had explored this country when I was younger.

1 comment:

Rimrock said...

Congrats, and condolences, Tom. ;-)
Good on you, though.

Bill O'Connell, aka Rimrock here, and to my regret I never got much above Red Eagle Lake. I'm currently re-reading "A Climber's Guide to Glacier", which at least helps to ease the withdrawal symptoms for those of us who can't visit Glacier's backcountry anymore.

Kudos to you, though, and I really enjoy your photos. Even these rainy ones, although they make me cringe a bit! The one you had recently on Mount Morgan... Someday I hope to visit that upper Nyack Creek country. In the meanwhile, yours and Ralph Thornton's photos are the next best thing.
Keep it up!