Monday, August 20, 2012

TR: Mt. Siyeh

Peak: Mt. Siyeh
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Elevation: 10,014 ft (3052m)
Route: South Slopes (Class 2-3 scrambling)
Distance/Elevation Gain: ~11 miles (RT) / 4200'

My mom and sister were in town for a week, and since there's fuck-all to do here, we took a 3-day trip over to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. I'd been wanting to visit Glacier ever since reading The Journey Home, and this seemed like as good an opportunity as any.

At around 07:15 on Thursday, August 16, I started up the Piegan Pass trail from Siyeh (pronounced "sigh-YE") Bend, just off Going-to-the-Sun Road. As a side-note, I'm not sure how much the bear danger in Glacier is over-hyped, considering it attracts tourists all across the spectrum of backcountry-savvyness and rangers (understandably) would likely err on the side of caution when giving people information about bear activity. I'd seen bear scat in two or three different places on the short hike up to the Mt. Brown Lookout the previous day, so I brought my pistol along and periodically made noise just in case I stumbled upon one.

The trail is initially very mellow as it meanders through the forest up towards the first trail junction. Frost coated the bushes and grass, and silence filled the cool, still air as I strolled through the trees and meadows. About a mile up the trail, there's a junction for the trail that leads to Piegan Pass and Preston Park and one that leads back to Going-to-the-Sun road. Shortly after this junction (maybe about 1/4 mile more), I got the first and biggest adrenaline rush of the day when I heard a noise that sounded like a rather large animal.
"Hello?" I yelled.
No response. I drew my pistol and chambered a round, not sure how far away whatever it was was.
A second noise -- this one considerably more human -- echoed from somewhere further up the trail.
"Are you human?" I yelled.
"Mostly!"
"Cool, man. Sorry," I laughed. "I'm a little paranoid about bears."
I put my gun away and continued up the trail, greeting my fellow hiker when I caught up to him in a couple minutes. We both had a good laugh about the whole thing, and he complimented my noise-making efforts and claimed responsibility for the fake growl that had kept me on my toes there for a moment.

Continuing up the trail, I reached the second junction, where the left trail leads up to Piegan Pass and the right trail leads to Preston Park and Siyeh Pass. Taking the right trail (towards Preston Park/Siyeh Pass), I hiked for about another half-mile before leaving the trail and heading towards the talus fields at the base of Mt. Siyeh. 

 Looking back across Preston Park after reaching the talus field.

After a hundred yards or so of bushwacking, I reached the talus and continued on up towards the gullies that lead to the upper slopes. 

 Looking up at the gullies. The "route" is a little to climber's left, where the arrow is pointing.

There are a few cairns, but they're sparse enough that they don't spoil the routefinding fun. The climbing can easily be kept at difficult class 2/easy class 3, but there are plenty of spots for more difficult moves on terrain that isn't terribly exposed. Looking back from a little way up the slope, one can identify an obvious landslide deposit directly below the gully that could be useful for making sure you're in the "right" place, but the climb is pretty straightforward.


The obvious landslide deposit below the south slopes.


The rock in the gully is mostly limestone and shale, and there's a fair amount of loose scree, though it's nothing like the Maroon Bells. I saw two other parties on the mountain, and I was the only one with a helmet. Possibly over-prepared, but it's not like 4oz of extra weight was that much of a burden. Overall, the scrambling is pretty fun, and easier options usually exist when faced with a more difficult move.

A fun class 4 option in a corner...

...or a class 2 option to the right (east). 

 Easy scrambling in the gully

 More easy scrambling on fractured limestone

Further up the gully, there's an obvious sill of black diorite that offers some more fun scrambling. I scrambled up the sill to the upper contact with a white/tan limestone unit, where I traversed a little to climber's right to continue up the gully toward the exit to the upper slopes.

The route leading around to climber's right at the diorite/limestone contact.

Later, on my descent, I noticed some cairns leading around the top of this gully to climber's right, but I exited the gully on the left, which put me on the scree field anyway. It's pretty much a "choose-your-own-adventure" kind of thing.

The exit from the gully onto the scree field
 
A little ways up the scree field, there's a semi-permanent snowfield just below the ridge to the summit. Initially, I tried going around this to climber's right, essentially making a beeline for the top. While the scrambling over there isn't difficult, the scree is pretty loose, and it's much easier to go around the snowfield to climber's left and gain the ridge immediately after the snowfield.


The ridge to the summit

From here, it's an easy walk up to the summit. There's a trail through the rock bands just below the top. In a few places, there was some verglas on the rocks, a sign of how short-lived summer is in the high country, especially this far north.

 Verglas on the rocks near the summit

Nearing the summit, I was greeted with a 3000' drop-off on the north side of the peak -- quite a contrast from the gentle slopes that I'd just ascended. Looking down the vertical wall, one can see beautiful Cracker Lake -- a small tarn given it's milky turquoise color from glacial sediment.

 Looking out over Cracker Lake and the 3000' of exposure from the summit

I chilled out on the summit and enjoyed the views for 15 minutes or so, before heading back down. I took my time descending, and was back at the trailhead by 15:30. I sat in Siyeh Creek -- a glacially-fed stream is as good an option as any for icing one's muscles after a long hike.

Also, I didn't see any bears -- black or grizzly -- at all, nor even any sign (scat, digging, etc) of them. Other tourists said that they'd heard most of the bears were over in the Many Glacier area, though they're often seen around Preston Park in late July. There weren't any berry bushes up there (that I saw), so that's probably why they weren't around. 

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