After all the hot weather here in the Flathead, a rainstorm sans lightening bolts slammed the door on fire season–at least for a bit. It also happened to arrive right over the weekend of my first outing with the Glacier Mountaineering Society.
The trip plan was to head up Mt. McPartland, a relatively obscure peak that sits between Mt. Vaught and Heavens Peak in the Going to the Sun Road corridor. Only visible for a mile or so from car, it’s seldom seen and generally not on the radar. Easily the biggest factor is that there’s no easy way to get to it. Not the gnarliest bushwhacking I’ve encountered, but it takes the prize for the wettest.
We met up at 6am in Apgar. Stars were out over the Flathead Valley, but as I drove north, it became obvious that the storm was still soaking Glacier. As if to reinforce that, the rain started at the turnoff into West Glacier. Some introductions and a quick carpool up the road to a turnoff by McDonald Creek followed. Armed with wading shoes, fording the creek wasn’t too hard.
GMS is an organization of climbers and hikers interested in the climbing of things in, of course, Glacier. My motive for joining up was to become more integrated into the climbing establishment here. And to get route information that’s hard to find online or missing from the often outdated guide to Glacier. Once signed up, you can register for events via an online calendar. Most of them were full, but a couple caught my eye, including this McPartland trip. As the weather forecast blackened, spots opened up, and I found myself bumped from the waitlist.
Once in our boots on the west side of McDonald Creek, we followed traces of the old trail there until turning uphill and into the brush. By this point, it was actively pouring, and we were all pretty wet.
Perhaps it was an exceptional group. Perhaps everyone just didn’t care that the spigots in the clouds were fully open. Perhaps it was a case where each person thought it a bit ridiculous that we were there, but didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else. In the back of my head, I remembered and hoped on the clear sky to the south.
After a while, we moved back into an avalanche chute, working our way up through brush and a number of slick cliff bands. Huckleberries and sarviceberries were everywhere. With purple hands and tongues we headed up.
Somewhere near the top of the chute, it finally stopped raining. The cloud level rose in front of us, enough that some sun showed up at our first real lunch spot. Wringing the water out of my socks made things much less squishy.
Following the drainage that runs up to the summit of Mt. Vaught, we climbed up into the clouds.
Following a GPS, we ended up a bit too high up in the drainage. Fog obscured sight navigation, but eventually we dropped back down and over to the large basin beneath McPartland. Tim, the trip coordinator and brush guide extraordinaire, had welcomed us to Jurassic Park while the rain poured down early on. Given that there’s a Floral Park, Preston Park, and Granite Park in Glacier, it seems fair and indeed necessary to call that big basin Jurassic Park.
By the time we got there though, our route detour in the clouds had cost us the time needed to make the summit. So we hung out in Jurassic Park, ate our sandwiches, and watched the clouds come and go.
Eventually, we packed up. On the way down, we confirmed the connectedness of the Glacier climbing community; Tim grew up on the same block as my mom, and Greg roomed with an uncle of mine while working for the park.
Thankfully, the hucks were still everywhere on the route down. Mountain candy at its finest.
Much dryer on the way down, the schwack seemed to go a lot faster. Some forest walking, and there were our sandals in the tree.
It’s pretty impressive that GMS can take groups of individuals who don’t necessarily know each other and offer Glacier as a social experience. Kudos to Tim for putting everything together and all the work he did to find what I’d call the easiest looking route through some tough country. Thank to Rodney, Greg, and Cecilia for a stellar day in the rain and sun. Stoked to do more with GMS.