Glacier County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Cleveland (10,466 feet)

Date: August 2003
Author: Dave Covill

participants: Bob Packard, Tim Worth, Edward Earl, and Dave Covill

On Monday, August 11th, 2003, Bob Packard, Tim Worth, Edward Earl, and Dave Covill trudged, tip-toed, and scree-slogged to the summit of 10,466 foot Mount Cleveland, highpoint of Glacier National Park. Tim and I drove from Colorado to Glacier Friday and Saturday, meeting Bob Packard in Saint Marys Saturday evening. We drove up to the Going To The Sun Road top at Logan Pass (about 6,900 feet), and enjoyed a nice steak dinner in town after.

Town was dry, as the Blackfoot Indian Reservation is in the middle of a festival, and they stop all sales of any booze during festival time outside the Park boundary, which is 100% Indian land. We awoke and drove north into Canada and met Edward Earl, fresh from a successful summit of Mount Olympus and Mount Daniel in Washington. Bob Packard had come directly from Alaska after his own WA cohp adventures, and had done dayhikes in Glacier for the 3 days leading up to our meeting. He managed to score the Bristol Bay Borough highpoint up there.

The entire state of Montana is on fire, and there were brown clouds everywhere. We couldn't see too much til our summit day, at which point visibility was reduced to about 1.5 miles. This was as bad as I have ever seen visibility over a wide area.

Legendary National Park peakbagger Greg Griffith had been here recently, and had taken the Southwest Basin approach, which is a brutal bushwhack followed by thousands of feet of scree climbing. We chose to go further albeit on trail to get above timberline, and prayed that our route would not be too difficult to follow, as it apparently was only climbed once a year or less frequently according to rangers and the guidebook.

We took the ferry boat south from Waterton, a small village in Canada, down Waterton Lake and into Montana, about 8 miles maybe, over about an hour. Saw bald eagles in both directions. We disembarked about 11:10 AM, checked in with the Rangers, showed them our passports/birth certificates (mandatory!), then headed south down the gentle valley trail past Kootenai Lakes to the turnoff for Stoney Indian Lake/Pass/Campground.

A word about Glacier NP: the valleys are long, U-shaped and glacially carved, and gain little or no elevation til you either reach a headwall, or a cutoff side trail climbing out, then BAM, straight up for thousands of feet.

Another word: 95% of the rock is shale or limestone sedimentary strata, interspersed with a few basalt flows here and there. The scree that results from this crap is little platelets; about the size of a deck of cards, and is hideous to walk up.

We reached Stoney Indian Campground at the Lake around 4 PM, and scored a nice site, higher than the other 3, perhaps 40 feet above the lake and 150 feet from it. As I was approaching the lake, last by a few minutes, I rounded the final corner and was startled to find 2 lovely young ladies in bikinis and sandals admiring the view on the trail. Turns out they were part of a family unit who were hiking through the park. You never know what you're going to run into in the mountains..... We ate in the communal dining area, which is a nice experience to chat with others, hung our food on the metal bear pole, and crashed.

We got going at 6:30 Monday morning, and quickly made it up 600 feet to Stoney Indian Pass. Here the trail was "no-mas", and we turned north and headed up a steep scree slope to the summit area of the first Stoney Indian Peak on the ridge system, which goes for 2 miles and has 3 other higher peaks on it. Once high enough, we located a tiny goat path and, following the same exact sedimentray outcrop layer for a half mile, and traversed the west side of the north-south ridge to it's low point. Just prior to the saddle, we encountered the toughest part of the climb; a narrow ledge of about 40 feet in length, perhaps 6-12" deep, with great underclings throughout. You had to trust yourself and lean out from the rock face, but it wasn't too bad. It would have been perhaps 20-30 feet straight down, then a sloping scree slope below. Bob and Edward agreed it was Class 4.

From the end of this, we carefully picked our way up a 50 foot sloping chute to the saddle, one at a time as the falling rock was bad. Now out on the east face of the ridge, we traversed over a mile on this side by again finding a cairned tiny ledge system, and we followed the precise strata north for over a mile, just above and below steeper faces. In spots, it may have been fatal to slip off, but it was reasonably wide here; 2-5 feet always at least. We finally reached the saddle at the base of Cleveland's south side at around 9,000 feet, and started up, leaving behind crampons and ice axes here, which were not necessary at all. This part looks easy on the topo map, but is a steep scree slog upwards for over 1,000 feet. We finally reached the shoulder of the south end of the summit plateau, and Edward and Tim glimpsed two bears at the summit flipping over talus looking for butterflies. Cool.

We summited at 1:30, 7 hours from the start. We returned the same way, and all felt the Class 4 ledge system was a bit easier second time through. We all started to run out of water near Stoney Indian Pass or before, and we agreed that we each had needed to bring not 3 but 4 liters of water along. Zero available above the Lake. We crashed out upon our return and a quick meal, and were fortunate that no one had come along to claim our campsite, for which we only had 1 night on the permit. Going down with a full pack would have been brutal at that point.

We needed to be at Goat Haunt at the south end of Waterton Lake by 11 AM, and made it by 10 minutes or so. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of burgers in Waterton, and said our goodbyes. Edward was headed for Crazy Peak near Helena, the Montana prom point. Bob and Tim had decided to attempt Mount Stimson, highpoint of Flathead Co, in the west side of the park. I drove home alone, making it to Billings Tuesday, then home late afternoon Wednesday.

I heard from Bob Friday night in Wyoming; he and Tim had been completely stymied by miserable bushwhacking on their chosen route at Stimson, and they will try a different route next summer on trail, but longer. They did manage to get a few Nebraska cohps and a Nebraska prom point. Bob actually drove by my house, just off of I-70 enroute to Arizona, to have breakfast with Beckie and myself Saturday morning.

Cleveland was tough, it beat us all up, and required many continuous hours of total concentration. It epitomizes the term "off-trail". While others may be technically harder, it is a worthy Apex peak, considering the total effort required.