I have a real weakness for the stunning alpine of Glacier National Park, and I regularly find myself driving past other exquisite ranges (Missions, Swans, Bitterroots) to go get lost in them. So on July 27, I headed out with Kara McMahon and Morgen Lanning to try and find our way up Mount Cleveland- at 10,479 feet, its the highest peak in the park. We got to the backcountry office before they opened and stood in line before scoring a camping permit at Mokowanis Lake Junction. After packing up our gear at the Chief Mountain trailhead, we headed down into the Belly River Valley. We saw perhaps a dozen backpacking parties during the 12-mile approach, an almost-no-vertical trail that penetrates the northeast aprt of the park and gets hikers across the Belly River via a seasonal suspension bridge.
The next day we woke early and headed up to Stoney Indian Pass, passing a seemingly-endless lineup of cascading waterfalls along the way, and fording creeks twice before getting to snowline. Once at the pass, we paused for brief lunch of pre-cooked elk brats on tortillas with white cheddar and a sprinkling of glacier lillies.
We left the snow-covered trail and climbed up to the narrow goat trails weaving between the three iconic spires toward the broad summit, with plenty of ascending and descending of steep gullies along the way.
The route traverses the Stonies via a high ledge, visible here near the upper band of snow:
We crested the false summit—just a few hundred feet shy of the the true one—and promptly bumped a large sow griz and her two cubs-of-the-year. They bolted away, galloping, and covered the half-mile of scree to the top in a flash.
When they disappeared over the other side, we pow-wowed, and decided to not follow—even though it meant not reaching our goal. A bit disappointed, we took solace in our position atop of the world.
With winds gusting over 60 mph, we carefully retraced our route out along the cliffs and ledges, finally arriving at the trail in twilight. By the time we arrived back at camp, we'd conjured a perfect objective for the next day: Mount Natoas.