Sunday, August 05, 2012

Revisiting old favorites in Glacier Park

The Triple Divide Pass walk is one of the most scenic and colorful in Glacier Park . 
The poor air quality coming off the Bob Marshall Wilderness west of Great Falls made me change my mind about a planned backpack trip there.
Instead, I redirected to Glacier Park and decided to revisit of favorite hikes, headquartering out of Rising Sun Campground. It was just too hot to consider carrying a heavy backpack.  I covered 47 miles and climbed two peaks on this "leisurely" trip.

Mount Oberlin

Ole Olson of Plenty, Sask., hits top of Mount Oberlin off Logan Pass
Goats in Oberlin Basin above Going to Sun Highway off Logan Pass
I arrived around noon on Wednesday, just in time to get the last campsite.  I hopped a park bus to Logan Pass and climbed Oberlin (elevation: 8,180 feet), meeting climbers from Saskatchewan and North Carolina who had their kids along.  The weather was perfect, the views clear and far-ranging and we saw a ton of mountain goats, many (I guess) that have been pushed here from all the construction on nearby Going to Sun Highway. A film crew from Japanese public television was filming the goats. I tried to stay off trail going up, taking a southeast ridge and then helped the Saskatchewan dad and son down through the cliffs on the west. I think this is the easiest peak one can climb.  It rises 1,500 feet from Logan Pass and traveling leisurely, takes about three hours round trip.  It is the perfect trip if you don't have much time, and gets you away from the Logan Pass crowds and madness immediately.

Jackson Overlook to Lake McDonald Lodge

Judy Brown of Calgary above Gunsight Lake
  This was to be the high point of my four-day stay.  It is a 19 mile jaunt that starts on the Going to the Sun Highway at Gunsight Pass trailhead and ends at the McDonald Lake Lodge.  It travels by a gorgeous Gunsight Lake through a valley of colorful, high walls and in sight of Mount Jackson and then through Gunsight Pass, down to Lake Ellen Wilson, up through Lincoln Pass, down to Sperry Chalet and out at the lodge.
I had done this walk-through before some four years ago and enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it again.  Unfortunately, the skies were overcast and there was some smoke coming up from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex fires.
Goat above Lake Ellen Wilson
A lovey lunch spot at Ellen Wilson.  That's Gunsight Pass in the distance.
The Browns on the steep snow field crossing.
The stretch from Gunsight Lake to Sperry Chalet is the best part of the trip, with alpine travel, the two major lakes, the chalet and an interesting trail that included treacherous snow patches, weeping walls, waterfalls galore and lots of mountain goats.  The goats were a nuisance and forced me off the trail a couple of times above Lake Ellen Wilson and even caused a trail crew to pause and shoo them away.  I was joined on much of this stretch by backpackers Judy and Jackie Brown from Calgary, a mother-daughter team, who I met when we crossed the Gunsight outlet where the bridge is out.  We had to take off our shoes to wade the cold, thigh-deep water.  Later, they joined me on the challenging steep, snowfield crossings. They were enjoyable company.
The only part of the trip I dislike is the stretch from Sperry to the lodge because the trail is rocky and so forested, hiding good vistas.  Perhaps I'm spoiled by east-side panoramas.
When I got back to camp the skies opened and there was quite a downpour that finally dropped temperatures.
I also found out high tightly scheduled the park buses are.  I was lucky to end my hike about 4:30 p.m, and catching the 4:42 p.m., bus at the lodge, the last I could have caught to Logan Pass, the transfer point back to my campground at Rising Sun on the east side.  I came very close to being stranded at the lodge.

Climbing Mount Otokomi

Goat Mountain and Goat Lake view from top of Mount Otokomi
J. Gordon Edwards' classic, "Climbing in Glacier Park," talks about how easy Mount Otokomi (elevation: 7,935 feet) in the St. Mary Valley is, a "walk-up" he calls it.
This was the second time I've done this peak and I can say that I've yet to find that easy route.
Each time I've walked up the Otokomi Lake trail about a mile and a half and then went up a forested ridge line that opens up to steep and never ending scree, punctuated by a Class 3 cliff band.  It is a 3,100 feet slog to the top of this mountain that never seems to end.
But, immediately, the views make everything worthwhile ---- Red Eagle Peak with St. Mary Lake to the south, and Goat Mountain and surprisingly large Goat Lake tucked into its cirque.  At the top the long East Flattop/Singleshot/Napi ridge line to the east, and the Siyeh/Cracker/Wynn ridge to the northwest.  The rock  is brilliantly red in many directions.
My luncheon companion atop Mount Otokomi
When I finally hit the top after busting my way through some tightly spaced trees, I could see below me an open slope that led downhill to a valley to the west. I couldn't resist, and started down.  I thought, 'how easy' this is.  What a mistake.  I immediately dealt with 1,000 feet of cliffs and ledges before dropping to the valley   where Goat Lake waters mix with Rose Creek.
Mount Otokomi and Rose Creek from near the Rising Sun cabins in St. Mary Valley
I've gone back and studied Edwards' book and have concluded that had I resisted that 'easy' slope in view, if I had turned north and gone to the saddle above the drainage, I could have dropped down more easily into that valley and avoided the treacherous cliffs.
I suppose I would have done better if I had not forgotten my topo map and Edwards' descriptions.
It is hard to resist the route I took up because Edwards' route is another couple miles up the trail.  That will be for another time.
Nonetheless, this is a marvelous mountain to climb for its proximity to the campground and its views.

Triple Divide hike

Enjoying Triple Divide Pass, looking north toward St. Mary Lake and Split Mountain
I always like a nice "finisher" hike at the end of a trip and I was pretty whipped from my Gunsight/Sperry trip and Otokomi climb, so I did a slow walk up to Triple Divide Pass in the Cutbank Creek area of the park, covering 14.4 miles.
The weather was the best of the trip, if a tad hot.  The colors along the way just popped.  I figure this was about the tenth time I've done this one, a real favorite of mine because the trail is so uncrowded and the colors so vivid.
Only three other parties came to the pass while I was there.  All three of the parties decided to continue on and climb Mount James (elevation: 9,375 feet), another 1,300 feet above the pass.
A band of bighorn ewes and lambs in meadow below Triple Divide Pass
When I reached the pass there was a herd of bighorn sheep ewes and lambs lounging in the meadow just south of the pass.
On the way down and late in the day there were several more parties, including some horseback riders intent on getting to the pass to climb Triple Divide Peak (I'm skeptical they made it), a Parisian couple with baby, three recent University of Chicago grads and a couple of fishermen.  
Other options on this trail are Medicine Grizzly Lake and the Atlantic Falls/Morningstar Lake/Pitimakin Pass.
I was hot and tired when I finished, glad for the astounding scenery and delighted with my mini-vacation.
The view of Red Eagle Lake near my Rising Sun Campground


Anonymous said...

Great photos Tom! We enjoyed hiking with you, and appreciated your mountain experience. Safe hiking!
Judy Brown

Out there with Tom said...

Let me correct that: