For my only day off this past week, my friend Tony and I stood atop Piegan Mountain, which, at 9,220 feet, presents an array of the park’s salient elements, including the Going to the Sun Road; Mt. Siyeh; Glaciers Jackson, Harrison, and Sperry; Logan Pass; and the start of the Garden Wall. Dozens of peaks, along with their glacier-carved valleys falling between, string the rest of the horizon.
To commence the climb, we had to get to Piegan Pass, which is nestled under the north side of the mountain, bridging it to the saddle falling away from Mt. Siyeh. I had hiked here the week prior, and two people I met there explained to me the possibility to summit Piegan and the preferred route. It’s off trail and another few thousand feet up from the pass, and time would hinder any attempt for that day. I wanted to climb it bad, so the following week I took Tony, who I needed to hike with at least once more by the summer’s end. We left the lodge at 10:00, driving the Going to the Sun Road to Siyeh Bend.
Tony and I talked about music and our plans come Fall. He’s very keen on backpacking somewhere overseas during the spring, and he enjoys asking me pertinent questions or recommendations. He wants to go alone, and I told him that there are ups and downs with doing so. You get to pursue whatever sights and cities you prefer; party and sleep-in whenever you want; and you’re forced to meet people and will make many friends. But you must be able to handle being alone, sometimes very alone. This part actually seems to enthuse Tony, who hardly expresses himself to another soul as it is. His aversion to interaction is evident while he serves us our meals in the employee-dining hall. Even while complimenting him over a savory prime rib and potato dish, you’ll be lucky to receive more than a nod in return, one that acknowledges your existence and implies you can move along now. I’ve come to know Tony pretty well over the course of this summer, though, as we both enjoy hiking and jabbering over some beers. Alcohol doesn’t bring out more speech, for he’s just as quiet a dozen beers in, but it can bring about more authoritative stares implying that you could move along now, which you’ll likely do upon looking into his high-browed gaze at the top of a six-foot-four frame, along with heavy hands that look like they could carry out his wish just fine if need be. He’s not confrontational; he can just hold his own, and makes a damn good companion in the local dives along the road to Colombia Falls.
Logan Pass was thick in in fog and smoke when we passed through. East from there to Siyeh Bend wasn’t much better, but we were going to hike, scenic or not, for we both need to detoxify from the booze and processed Cisco food we consume all week long.
We started hiking at 11:30. From the left, Piegan Mountain casted its shadow over the trail until the pass was reached. What remains of Piegan Glacier was easily seen, sitting within its hanging valley, which has been sculpted over the course of millennia . A tall waterfall trickles away from the bowl’s lip, along the sheer, steep slope falling to the more prominent valley’s floor.
The trail takes you along the southern base of Mt. Siyeh until you arrive at Piegan Pass, where we arrived in just under two hours after our start. I had seen its dazzling view at its crest the week prior, but for Tony, it was all new and plenty special.
We had to get up to the saddle, which was high above us and bridges Piegan Mountain to Mt. Polluck. In order to start our way up, we had to look for the first cairn, which is a stacked pile of rock left by other hikers to indicate the way to your destination. Upon reaching one, you look for the next, and so on. Eventually, after Tony and I had followed a dozen of them up the arid, rocky slope, we ran into an identifiable trail, taking us all the way up to the saddle.
From the saddle, you view thirty-two peaks stretching over the two horizons you’re straddling. Looking south, you see the Going to the Sun Road snake its way along far below, eventually meeting with the visible sliver of Logan Pass’s parking lot. It was windy, but we sat within sizable cavernous slits carved into the rock ridge to eat lunch.
Being able to see a long ways up Piegan Mountain from where we sat, we surmised we had less than thirty minutes of climbing left until the summit. Leaving our packs behind, we started our way up, at times perceiving a trail to follow. It was mostly a scramble, with big flakes of purple and red rock moving beneath each step. It took much longer than we had guessed, and a few times, it seemed just above us, unleashing a fury of quick steps, though only to reveal a long ways left to go. Our route up seemed a comfortable way down, so I built a few cairns to lead us back.
We were finally at the top. From here we could see the source of all of the smoke we were breathing in, the Thompson Creek Fire in Two Medicine. There wasn’t a smoke plume to signal its location, just a dark orange glow above its share of the southern horizon, simmering into black fog that darkened the sky above it.
We now had bird eye’s view of the glacier. I could see partly into its cavernous cracks brought on by movement, and being well above it put into perspective how high we had climbed, for it towered from the valley below. We walked along the ridgeline towards Mt. Siyeh, pausing for some photos here and there.
Our way back down went smoothly. Scaling a mountain heartens you with feelings of accomplishment, and we were looking forward to getting back to lodge and enjoying some burgers and beers at the pizza parlor. We’d been on the trail for more than seven hours and didn’t get back to the lodge until 9:00.
I only have one week of work left in Glacier National Park. My contract ends this Saturday, then I’m headed back to Missoula to start school the following Monday. I only have one more day off work to spare for one more hike, and one last blog post to wrap up this marvelous summer.
Thanks for reading.