Monday, July 03, 2017

Testing myself: Mount James in Glacier

Beargrass at the foot of Mount James

On the summit of Mount James

More views from the top

Hiking to Triple Divide Pass in Glacier Park is a challenging day hike.  It is 14.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain and loss of 2,500 feet.
But just like the TV ads that sell gadgets, "wait, there's more," when you reach the pass.
If you're like me, you're lured to consider Triple Divide, Razor's Edge or Mount James peak, all reachable by routes from the pass.
While I had set out for a simple day hike to this breathtakingly beautiful pass, I noticed that the southwest ridge of Mount James (elevation: 9,375 feet) was bare and climbable.
Mount James is the big boy at the head of the Cut Bank Creek Valley in Glacier.  It can be seen from U.S. 89 as you drive from Browning to St. Mary, and it is clearly visible looking up the Red Eagle Valley from Going to the Sun Highway.
It is large, tan scree and talus pile from the pass.
It also looks deceptively close from the pass.
That was my mistake.
While it is another mile-and-a-quarter from the pass, it rises another 2,000 feet over that distance.
At the pass I met a couple of recent high school grads from Northern Virginia on their way from Atlantic Creek backcountry campground to the foot to Red Eagle Lake.
I encouraged them to join me for the climb from the pass, and to my surprise, they did.
I didn't think they'd want to climb with someone old enough to be their grandfather.
What was impressive was that they did the climb with full backpacks!
Since it had been more than 20 years since I did this climb, I had forgotten what a pain in the ass the diorite (black rock) spires were to traverse.  I remembered that skirting them to the south would be a much better route than fighting them and the tangle of trees that protect their flanks.
It was a very hot day, but we had breezes that became cooler as we neared the summit.
The views from the top of this mountain are as good as any in the park:  three of the park's six 10,000 footers were in clear view ---- Stimson, that dominated the southwestern horizon, Mount Jackson with its glacier fields, and Mount Siyeh.  We looked down on the various valleys of the park, marveling at the alpine lakes, the snow fields.  Off to the east were the Great Plains, shimmering like an ocean on the horizon as far as the eye could see.
There were very few hikers on the trail throughout the day, and no one else but the three of us on the peak.  Early in the day I met a group coming down from the pass, 11 Continental Divide Trail hikers going from north to south, who hoped to complete their hike by November.
I saw three bighorn ewes, and a mama and two small mountain goat kids and one pile of bear scat.
This hike was a test for this old man.  At the end of the day I had gained and lost 4,800 feet of elevation and covered 17 miles.
I was really pooped from the experience!
I had to get off the trail to let this bighorn ewe pass

A weeping wall along the trail thoroughly soaked me as I pass under it

1 comment:

Tim Bondy said...

Props for completing what sounds like a truly magnificent day hike. The only question I have is:
Are you crazy? :-)

Thanks for sharing your experience. You had me at Cut Bank Creek. Love that valley, trout fishing and hiking I did in the 80s and early 90s.