September 13, 2013

Glacier from 9,553 Feet

After my scenic bike ride up to Logan Pass, I locked up the bike and took off on foot.  Bikes aren't allowed anywhere off road in U.S. National Parks.  The hiking was a good change up after being in the saddle for two-plus hours.  From Logan Pass I headed North, along the garden wall, on the highline trail.


The highline trail follows the continental divide all the way into Canada and Waterton National Park. Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks combine to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a biosphere reserve and world heritage site.  Translation - they are biologically diverse, protected and jaw dropping.


Late Spring/early summer is a great time to be in Glacier, no crowds and full blooms! (check out the bear grass above)  I had never been to Glacier during this time of year and it was completely different than my winter and late fall experiences.  Glacier has a way of making you feel like you have never been there before!


A few miles into the highline trail you begin to see the Bishop's Cap (9,127ft) towering to the west and Haystack Butte rising subtly from the east.  I had the perfectly cut single-track all to myself - no animals or people.  I really have trouble leaving this place.


After about 45 min I made it to Haystack Butte and took a hard right.  From there I could see the mountain that I wanted to climb.  Mt. Gould stands at an impressive 9,553 feet, smack dab in the middle of Glacier National Park.  The climb up gains more than 2000ft!


Climbing Gould was tricky.  After a steep, steep climb up past the initial border field, things only got worse.  The section everyone warns you about is the diorite sill which is the scientific name for wet, slippery, eroding cliffs.  You literally have to climb up a slot that running water has carved out to gain access to the upper pitches of the mountain.  My heavy backpack, from the bike ride up, swinging side to side really didn't help.  Neither did the 1600 million year old rocks sliding out from under my feet.  My bike helmet was put to the test on this eroding mountainside.  Thankfully I was the only person on the mountain.


Rock cairns are great for finding your way up mountains that you've never been on.  The only problem is that people build rock cairns just to stack rocks really high and not necessarily to guide curious climbers up the correct path to the summit.  I chased cairns up the mountain and had to turn around at several steep and sketchy dead ends - very funny....  What is it about cairns that you make you feel so confident and relaxed that you are going the right way?!


With tired limbs and ripped up hands I criss-crossed my way up and up.  A few hundred feet from the top I turned a corner and came face to face with a large male mountain goat.  The goat was shedding its wooly white coat; it was literally dragging behind it as turned and ran away from me.  Then I started to notice just how high up I had climbed.  Haystack butte looked so small and defined now.  You could trace the windy park road all the way back through the valley and to the west side of the park.  The higher elevations were still desperately holding on to the last of their winter snow drifts.


After two hours of mindless switchbacks and feeling lost, my eyes finally rose over the peak.  The reward was incredible.  Looking south towards Many Glacier Lake you can see almost 5,000 ft of vertical relief!  Not a good spot for people who don't like exposure... good thing I love it!   It was amazing to see all the little alpine lakes tucked away amongst the higher peaks.  Most visitors would never even know they are there.


One of the reason I chose to climb Mt Gould was to get an aerial view of Grinnell Glacier.  I had gotten a glimpse of it before with my brother Dave a few years back but we didn't get this close!  It was nice to see one of the few remaining glaciers in the park and the inspiration for the parks name.  The sun glistened on the teal blue proglacial water which itself stood out against the white snow and crumbling sedimentary rock shelves.  I spent 45 min just taking in the most beautiful views you could imagine.  The only thing that kept me from staying up there was my body's unrelenting requirement of calories, water and rest.  I still had to down climb, hike the highline trail back, bike to the St Mary entrance and drive 4 hrs home... worth it!

On the way down I met some people playing in the boulder fields below the diorite sill.  Even from a few hundred feet above I could see them contemplating the effort it would take to reach the summit.  These were the first people I saw all day so I stopped to enjoy my peanut butter sandwich and encouraged the two guys from Canada to just go for it.  They were headed up when I left so I hope they made it.  It was almost 2pm at that point and last call for safely getting up and down in day light.


It was now mid-afternoon and the highline trail was buzzing with people and goats... everywhere.  I passed multiple sets of female goats with offspring.  The adult goats would walk nonchalant right past you but the younger goats would panic and dive off the side of the trail.  I'm always amazed at their ability to stand upright on those steep slopes.  Towards the end of the trail, an adult female passed by me on a very narrow section of the trail. I literally climbed up off the trail onto a rock to get out of its way.  The goat walked up to me, turned its head and just stared for a minute and then just kept on going.  By then, the whole wait for the goats to pass routine was getting old but it was nice in a way.  While out in the backcountry your movement or travel is affected by the wildness of the area and not your stop watch or sense of immediacy to get home.  Sometimes it is just nice to slow down!

On Tuesday, I'm heading back home to see my family in Cleveland so I spent the weekend in Glacier to take in as much of Montana as I could.  While stuck in traffic around the strip malls of midwest suburbia I will be dreaming of the stillness and openness of my new home - Montana!


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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.