Swift Current Trail Hike, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. October 8, 2005. Leads to the Horse Thief Trail, which the Blackfoot Indians would use to bring 'stolen' (or borrowed, in the event they read this blog) horses from the valley on the other side of the mountain. Wait till you see the trail! I have put summaries on the pictures; the entire hike description is at the end of this page. Photos have been reduced to speed up loading.

http://www.nps.gov/glac/images/bigmap.gif Map of the area. Click on the symbol in the bottom right corner of map to expand. Trail starts in the Many Glacier section and goes from east to west across Continental Divide.

Start off with a hot breakfast every day. Oats, eggs, toast and coffee Then pack a hearty lunch and survival gear (the toque). Bit of a late start today. Not a good idea when getting ready for a 10 hour hike.

I am heading up the valley to the left of the mountain. Later, on the hike I will be looking at eye level at that mountain peak from another peak. I will be following a beautiful river into the valley and go past Red Rock Falls.

  Just outside camp in the foothills. They ignored me. Mother and calf.
So I got closer and they still didn't 'moove'. One hour in. I will end up on the other side of those mountains and back again, today!
It's now two o'clock and I hardly seemed to have covered any distance. An hour later later and finally I see the start of the pass in the mountain. behind me in the picture. This is a rockslide. One of many.

I am still climbing from left to right up the zig zag. I will eventually go over the top of the mountain pass in the middle of the picture - in two hours time.

Around every corner a surprise. The trail heads from left to right -just above my head in the picture. It's covered in snow and washed away in places (the dark spots). I will be going around the mountain onto the snowy side as in the next picture below. I'm heading up the path. It's quite a drop, or is a slide? Never did find out, luckily.
Looking back. I have come around the 'mountain' onto the snowy side. Notice the landslides. I would crawl across the loose rocks very carefully.

In the snow belt. Still a long way to the peak. Hard to find the trail in the snow. Lots of false starts. See write up detail of how I found the trail in the snow. Note, its 4 PM. I hit the pass an hour later. Hard slugging in deep snow drifts. Added one complete layer of clothing.

I have company. I would say Mountain Lions? Snack time. Lots of whole fruit and nut mixes.
Across the Pass. I am coming from right to left. Snow is deep and I decide not to go to the Look out Tower which is on the peak. The path is/was through the trees on the left. Wind is howling and temp. is near 0 F.
I am on the Continental Divide and heading into the valley to the lodge about a mile down. That's the Livingstone Range in the background. I hike into those mountains another day. Very windy and cold.
The 'Granite Lodge' is closed. The other hikers Julie, Eric and Russ came the easy way from the Sun Road. (About a four hour return hike). They were surprised to see me and the route that I took. If the Indians could bring stolen horses through the pass while being pursued I figured I could make it too. The other hikers take my picture. That's the 'Garden Wall' on the far right. Now I have to go back up this side of the mountain and through the pass again. It's nearly six PM.

And we're off. Through the pass. I got lost again trying to find the trail. Every where you look there are mountains, trees, snow. Very confusing.

The signposts are always buried in the snow, but they are made of metal so they won't rot or blow away. The trail maps, say follow the signposts.

I have a compass with me. Don't use it. I follow the streams.

I have now come back up the mountain from the Garden Wall side, through the pass and am ready to descend. This starts the long journey home. Note the wind and sunburn on my face. I have to go down past the lakes and to the end of the valley in the far distance. It will be very dark when I get back. Light is already beginning to drop. Not to worry. Stay focussed. Use energy for planning and execution, nothing negative. I decided to jog back to camp to save some time-wherever there is a clear path. This is grizzly and black bear country. They are looking for berries. I will be singing really loud to scare them off. And of course pepper spray at the ready. It takes five seconds to remove from holster, uncap the safety, and make sure nozzle is aimed in the right direction, and check which way the wind is blowing.
Snow grouse. They didn't move as I went by. I couldn't zoom in, battery too cold. And I still have to be careful. Lots of sheer drops like this one. That's a lake 2400 feet straight down.


No more pictures. No time. Too dark and batteries dying.. The relative warmth of the valley was comforting. I have a head lamp with Infra red to help me see the paths. I only needed to cross one stream in the dark. Bridge was washed out. That's the scary time because the sound of the water overrides the noise one makes to scare away the bears. So usually you meet them on the other side of the water. This time I was lucky. None. But I could hear wolves everywhere.

So overall a great hike. Not much wild life though. About 10 hours in total 15 miles, 2400 vertical. I'm getting one good hike like this every day this week.



The following is the full write up for the Swift Current hike day from my web blog which is at http://pentneyperspectives.blogspot.com/2005/10/glacier-hikesgrizzlies-st-marys-swift.html

At the campsite. Chatted with Cathy and Larry from Kalispell about their experiences in the park then set off on my hike. They had a great grizzly come right into campsite. Larry had a business card with the bear’s photographs as the background. Swift Current Pass was the destination and the Granite Park Chalet if I had time. 15 mile total both ways and a steep 2400 foot climb in the last third of the hike. Started off following a series of lake on an easy gradual slope into a dead end canyon. Took pictures of a mother moose and her young one. They totally ignored my bear calls. The trail went through a lot of dense brush and I sung, clapped and made hooting noises so as not to disturb a bear, especially one that might be sleeping on the path. This was a piece of information provided by Bill. Bears like to sleep in the day time and the ‘crash’ anywhere they want to. Because all animals use the trails the hiker’s do it is not unusual to fond one sleeping on the paths. They don’t like to be surprised or woken out of their sleep – I suppose that’s the same thing. Then they get nasty. The path out of the canyon to the pass was a zig zag goat uphill trail and it disappeared into snow. some where up the mountain. The climb was a steady slog but the fun part was where small avalanches had wiped out the goat path. One had to clamber over loose rocks and shale. There was absolutely no room for error. If one slipped on the shale it was a thousand foot sheer drop or very steep slope. Managed to navigate over two of those and then the path, which is only one to two feet wide was buried under a series of snow drifts with the snow hanging over the edge of the precipice. The drifts were up to four foot deep and about 10 feet long. The only way to traverse the path at these points was to push ones foot into the snow and deep as it would go and get a balance on one leg and then do the same with the other leg. Any loss of balance would result in tumbling down the mountain. There is no exaggeration in this account. It was with utmost concentration that I had plan and then execute the moves to make it through the drifts. On one side of the path were sheer walls of craggy rocks. Where possible I held ledges to get balance. Because the path was going up and around a mountain the wind would howl as I turned a corner. I finally made it off the zig zags and found myself in a winter wonderland. Of frozen snow. It festooned the treed and hid the rocks. Other than tiny tufts of grass pocking up here and then it was sheet ice and still going up. I lost the trail a number of time and wasted time and energy backtracking. Snow drifts up to four feet made going slow. I finally decided to follow the running stream up the mountain and came across small glacial ponds. I finally could see where the pass went through to mountain walls and was rewarded once again with a spectacular view of the Livingston Range and many other mountains across a deep valley. I decided head for the Granite Lodge but had to hurry because the climb up had taken me 4 hours. The lodge and a few outbuildings was perched on a cliff and afforded magnificent views. And lo and behold who should I meet at the Granite Park Chalet, three intrepid travelers Julie, Eric and Russ. And what a warm welcome they gave me. They had hiked in from the Sun Road and traveled just a few miles. A much easier route. They knew my route, having done it before and they encouraged me to start heading home soon. So I left them at 4.30PM with about two and a half hours before dark. I definitely had to get into the valley and off the mountain before nightfall. I was going to climb to the Swift Current Lookout Tower but it was a torturous slope and covered in deep snow drifts. I wisely decided to give it a pass. The first part of the climb to the pass was up hill and through the winter wonderland it was flat for a short distance and then the descent. I stopped to eat an orange and there about 6 feet in front of me were 6 White Ptarmigan. They were feeding on the tufts of grasses and flowers poking through the snow. They looked at me with curiosity but not fear so I was able to get a get photo of them with the valley and lakes thousand of feet below. I also took pictures of a glacier to my left and the reflection of clouds I a glacial pond a few hindered feet below me. I looked up at the Lookout Station hundreds of feet above me on Swift Current Mountain with a small tinge of regret. I would have liked to meet the challenge of climbing up there, but with the drifts if could have taken hours. Julie had mentioned their friend used to be a look out at the tower and was in it when forest fires were raging on the mountain. There was the danger she could be asphyxiated by the smoke. Apparently they didn't rescue her and she survived.

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