Vaught did you say?

In the madness of life, there come moments where it’s possible to suspend our bother with the goings on around us, such that our true position gleams as if amidst a dull wreckage. Clarity comes. And with that, a gratitude to simply be alive to survey the life being lived. 

Either that, or the huckleberries were really good after a week spent at summer OR. Whichever proves more accurate, I took a break from the Continental Divide climbs last week to wander up Mt. Stanton and Mt. Vaught. 

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The approach was of the the fruit stand variety–teeming numbers of huckleberries bracketed the trail, interspersed by patches of thimbleberries. I’d credit the speed with which I hit treeline to the trail snacks. 

Like many peaks in Glacier, Stanton features a fairly worn game trail/climbers’ trail in some places. The entrance was obvious, and covered in deadfall, so I crashed around in the brush for a bit before finding it. I don’t know if it’s just me, or that climbing has become more popular in the past five years, or maybe that I’ve been doing some peaks that see more traffic–but they’re more worn in than I remember. 

Wildfires in some nearby vicinity (Idaho, Alberta, Washington, other parts of western Montana) giving a bit more gravitas to the SE summit views from Stanton. Flying ants had completely mobbed the summit prior to my sweaty arrival, and they managed to get all over me and my gear, some of them doing so even in the act of procreating. Pretty impressive little buggers. 

I’m still new to this mountaintop selfie sans timed shutter thing. So that discomfort comes out in the humor of upside down sunglasses. Believe it or not, they work just fine this way. 

The route leads over the summit of Stanton, and then down the ridge to connect with Vaught. From here forward, a few cairns were the only signs that somebody else had passed this way. 


Along the ridge, one particular spot falls off enough to deserve the seldom mention of a rope in the Edwards climbing guide. These sorts of thoughts are always complicated by the amount of time that has passed since Edwards compiled the route info, the natural erosion of these peaks, and made still looser by the varying levels of acceptable risk to any given climber or party. I’ll often shortcut the full discovery by talking to friends or family for their thoughts. In this case, Carl Kohnstamm told me that a chute on the east side afforded a spot to descend and traverse beneath the step. Still, it’s fun to visit these things that leap from a few words in a route description to grow large in the vacuum of the mind. My own estimation was that it looked no worse than 5.6, but the twenty feet of fall would make for a difficult down climb. Probably fine to climb up. And with the lore inspected, I traversed the rest of the ridge. 

A light breeze and another cloud of flying ants greeted me on the summit. 
Views to the west, with Trout Lake in the foreground. 

To the East:

A ptarmigan stays cool on the summit snowfield with Sperry Glacier behind:

And the most inspiring view is easily to the north, with McPartland and Heavens Peak rearing up along the ridge. Apparently, the W face of Heavens has been skied before, and I’ve a newfound respect for that feat. 

Atop the summit, the thunderheads built, but didn’t do anything more than threaten and look on. The ants flew everywhere. It was still. Peaceful. A quiet serenity pervaded the whole scene, the largeness of space and the towers punctuating it serving to dwarf me–to make me small yet again. Perhaps it is the lightness that comes with the shedding of cares. Perhaps it’s truly fresh each time, if one is open to receive it. But in that exposed place, so naked to the volatility of nature and everything that could possibly go wrong on the rocky descent and in the bear-food infested woods alone, the clarity that started this post enveloped me. Maybe it’s something hokey, or maybe the endorphins talking. But there was a burbling geyser of joy to just be there, flying ants and all. Joy to be able to feel that joy. To live out the life I have, I am given, I make. 



Showy asters on the straightforward descent. 

Crossing the ridge for the second time, I took note of the ledge that cuts across the west side of the summit block. It hadn’t been mentioned at all in the climbers guide, but seemed a reasonable thing to try. A faint game trail lead me across, saving the up and down of revisiting the flying ant orgy that was doubtless still in full swing up top. 

Somewhere right after I took this shot, I ran out of water. This time of year usually spells dry alpine conditions–most of the snow has gone down to be lakes and rivers and flush toilets. Thankfully, I found a source of water with some serious sugar in it too:

It went on like this. A stomach ache replaced the thirst, but I kept eating until I hit the stream, and eventually the lake. Where I took off my socks to find the full proof of the full, delicious day.

Open for business on Great Northern

First of all, thanks for stopping by. It’s been about a year since I started this blog, with no real ideas about what I wanted it to be other than a place to put things that didn’t fit elsewhere. Since then, it’s become another creative outlet. A way to share stories. A way to link people all over the world to the time I get to spend outdoors.

If I had one wish for this little piece of internet, it would be that these words and photos make their readers interested in closing their computer, turning off the phone, and disappearing into the veil of nature. That what I’m doing serves to inspire. There are as many callings as people under the sun; mine seems to be to chase the dream. Thanks for tuning in.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

At the top of the page, it says “The adventure blog”. People have suggested that I add other aspects of my life, but there’s a purity of purpose here that I cherish. However much I’d like to rant about politics or grammar or whatever, this is a place dedicated solely to adventure. This is a question of spirit, of style. Mountains and wilderness are places free from the immediate influence of entities too far away or different in character to know them properly. It’s good to know there’s nobody looking over your shoulder. So in writing about that feeling, the content should reflect that singular sense of freedom from noise.

I bring this up because the shuttered US government is now affecting where we get to play. While the unpleasant side effects of the shutdown are multifarious and hardly knowable in full, one seemingly small aspect of closed government are the closed gates and makeshift barricades now blocking the entrances to our national parks. My usual destinations of interest are located inside a place that technically belongs to me, as a citizen, but is currently sealed off because of brinksmanship and inability to compromise. Which means that for a weekend climb like the one I planned last weekend, Glacier was off limits.

Photographer and all around gentleman Myke Hermsmeyer had been kicking around a weekend climb during the work week. We headed out of Kalispell pretty early on Saturday morning. The night before had been a scramble to find some extra gear, and I hadn’t been able to come up with a pair of spikes for him. With new snow in the alpine, it meant that we had to keep it mellow, and if it was too hard and scoured, we’d be turning around. A few wrong turns and a bit of dirt road later, and the peak was glowing in the dawn.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Great Northern by name, it’s a pretty popular summer destination for fit day hikers. When not drifted under the snow we found, there’s a goat trail that runs all the way to the summit. Located in the northern Great Bear Wilderness, which abuts the southern boundary of Glacier, it is separated by only an imaginary line drawn along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The trail isn’t official or maintained—and hence goes practically straight up for the first mile.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

After a bit of sweating in the forest, we popped out into the alpine, the wind, and better views.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Somewhere in there, we hit snow. Though up and down for a bit, we hit the summit ridge after some easy walking.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

In the distance, all the peaks in view are part of Glacier. It’s strange to think that such majesty can be considered “closed.” That a place that is specifically purposed for exploration and wonder could be walled off to prevent those very activities. That the people who caused this may have never seen the places they are closing. That any government or human entity pretends to exercise judgment or control over these places. Staring across the valley, such assertions seemed utterly laughable in contrast to the stately snowcaps adorning each peak.  Which made me smile.

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Once on the summit ridge, the wind did not let up. We made steady progress for quite a while over the various bumps and drifts. As often happens, the snow got deeper as we ascended. Footing was good until a route finding error saw me on a narrowing, slippery ledge. Scoured and refrozen ice made my explorations crampon worthy, and with Myke behind me with none of his own, we went back to try another option on the direct spine.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Something like an hour was wasted in all this. However, we did find a neat window of rock in the top of the ridge as the first fruit of our labors.

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

And after that and a quick posthole up some drifted snow, we were again on our way. Long gone was the trail. My left leg was punching through wind buff up to my thigh. Navigating slopes that now held enough snow to create slide potential but kept Myke’s footing secure, a couple false summits came and went.

Not remembering how many high points there were, I suggested that Myke go ahead to shoot back down the ridge at me.

It turned out that the mountain didn’t go any higher, and it’s safe to say that we were both stoked.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

I put out the usual squeals of excitement, while Myke didn’t have to say anything—he’d climbed in a pair of Carhartt work pants, no spikes, and gaitors that my dad could have pulled from an ‘80s gear drawer. Quite badass.

For my part, I was decked out in Mountain Equipment softshell goodness (Centurion Jacket, Mountain Stretch glove, Epic Touring pant, Mountain Stretch gaitor), and I’ve got to say that it was nothing short of cozy. Long gone are the days of sweat soaked hardshells and imaginary breathability. These fabrics and constructions allow a supremely sweaty climber (namely, me) to move hard and still stay totally content under my layers. Totally astonished by how well the Centurion worked; I can’t wait to ski tour in it this winter. Yay Neoshell.


Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Wind pushed us off the summit, and it was really nice to be headed down in the sun. To my left, Hungry Horse Reservoir glittered. To the right, the “closed” peaks mutely stated that they didn’t care one way or another what the silly humans have to say.
To me, the need for wilderness is primal—to have places that are unregulatable, wild, far beyond the control of people. Summits and vales and vast woods that dwarf us puny humans and keep us humble, remind us how small we really are. For me, I need their shadow, looming. And as we delayered after heading into the trees, the views slipping away, it seemed reasonable to say thanks, once again, for all the mountains give us.

Great Northern, like many things around here, takes its name from the railway that comes through Whitefish. There happens to be bar and brewery that share the name with the mountain, so once back in town, we set out to the other “summits” of Great Northern. I’ll let the next three photos tell the story.


Huge thanks to Myke for being a sorcerer with his camera and a stand up climbing buddy. No thanks to the jerks that caused the shutdown. May packrats make nests in the kitchens of their summerhomes.