Monday, August 22, 2011

Little Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

Posted By on Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Another weekend, another trip to Glacier. After an electrical storm pushed us off of Mount Allen (9,376') the day before (August 5,) my climbing partner Al Byrd and I met his friend and mountaineer Leah in Saint Mary and headed up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to place a bid on Little Chief Mountain (9,541'). After a leisurely breakfast and pack-up session we hit the trail to Virginia Falls. The Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park warns climbers that a once-great elk trail has been obliterated by downfall and to expect a horrible bushwhack. So after crossing the bridge below Virginia Falls, we split up in an effort to find the "route" amidst the willows, alder and other difficult-to-penetrate vegetation. After a few dead-ends, we found it, an excellent but nearly invisible trail through head-high thickets. Less than an hour later, we emerged onto the open western flank of Little Chief, directly at the bottom of an easily-walkable slide path that extended directly upward more than 3,000' until it is blocked by impossible summit cliffs.

Summit scramble

From there its an easy one mile stroll south along ancient and undulating goat trails, traveling until the cliffs relent and allow upwardly-mobile types an array of easy scramble routes to the true summit.

Leah stolling the alpine goat trails.

We saw two other climbers that day, one a speed racer who literally ran down the mountain, charging through cliffs and scree like they weren't there. The other was also solo, a single man we caught up with on the ascent. Kevin casually claimed an impressive tic-list of Glacier summits, backing it it up with a deep knowledge of the surrounding place names, features and histories. He was slow-moving but confident and very friendly. When he asked if he could join our group as long as he could keep up, we said sure, confident in his ability to take care of himself either way, and kept climbing.

Little Chiefs scree-covered summit

A cold wind greeted us atop the summit, and we dressed warmly for a quick lunch and nap, high above most everything else—Logan Pass, the road, the world.

Kevin on Little Chief

Typically seen from the road as the dramatic ridgeline across from Saint Mary lake, the dramatic ridgeline connecting Little Chief to Matotopah and Red Eagle Mount lay at our feet to the east.

The Matotopah/Red Eagle ridgline,as seen from Little Chiefs summit
  • Chad Harder
  • The Matotopah/Red Eagle ridgline,as seen from Little Chief's summit

We considered making the day longer, heading out across the ridge and tagging the next two summits as part of a loop, but we'd got off to a late start that morning and decided against it. Instead chose to head back down the way we'd come up, breezing down the scree, across the goat trail, through the hidden elk highway and back to the world-class swimming hole/jumping spot called Saint Mary Falls. A little-too-public bath under the bridge and we returned to the car, clean and happy.

Leaving the alpine

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