After three grizzly bears denied us the summit of Mount Cleveland one day prior, our climbing party of Morgen Lanning, Kara McMahon and myself headed for the summit of the much-less-notorious Notoas Peak. At 9,360 feet, Natoas doesn't draw near the attention of 10,000+-foot summits like Mount Cleveland or its immediate neighbor, Mount Merritt (10,004 feet). But it still involves 4,200' of climbing and 18 miles of slogging, just to approach it from the nearest trailhead. Fortunately, wildflowers outnumbered mosquitoes and biting flies, although just barely.
We woke at the Mokowanis Lake Trail Junction campground beat from a bid on Mount Cleveland the day prior and made the coffee press work overtime before hitting the trail by 8:30. In two miles the trail disappeared and we began the bushwhack straight up from Mokowanis Lake. After following mediocre elk trails for an hour or two, we broke free from the vegetation and began scrambling up scree and small cliffs to the Mokowanis-Merritt Saddle.
Another two hours of fun, scrambly routefinding later, we finally topped out at the saddle and scanned the horizon for recognizable summits. Peerless views of the Ptarmagan Wall, Chief Mountain and Old Sun Glacier demanded our attention, but it was the view of Natoas that most impressed. A thin ridge defines the approach, but the other three sides are guarded by cliffs 1,000+-feet high. All three of us had stood surrounded by these two remarkable summits before, just three years prior. That day Kara and I had made it up Mount Merritt while our climbing partners had balked at the final above-the-abyss snow crossing. At the time we believed that we would never stand here again—its just too far in, and too much work. Somehow, here we were again, beat but not particularly surprised.
We made our way across onto a corner of Old Sun Glacier and followed very fresh grizzly bear tracks toward the summit of Natoas. With winds blasting the summit hard enough to knock us over, we stayed more or less seated while atop the peak.
After taking a few pictures, we made our way back across the glacier, through the pass and back to camp, thankful for another great day in the park.