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September 27th, 2009 – Dawson and Pitamakan Passes

May 30, 2010

After a nice short twenty mile/4k feet elevation gain hike, I decided to spend my second day relaxing with, umm, an even longer hike. 

Going to the Sun Road was closed, so I’m up at 4 to make the long drive around the park on US Highway 2.  It’s a long but beautiful drive, and I wind up pulling in to Two Medicine Lake for my next hike just before the sun pops up over the Eastern ridge.  Unfortunately, while a week earlier I was in 90 degree weather in Southern Utah, I now find myself in freezing temperatures in Montana.  It’s COLD as I start the day’s hike, but I know I need to get moving, as the hike will take me most of the day.

The hike itself is simple – I just go to Rising Wolf Mountain, circle it clockwise, and make every right hand turn I can.  Piece of cake.  This takes me over several passes but, more importantly, gives me a few miles of exposed, beautiful ridgewalking on the Continental divide:

Two Medicine Lake is a beautiful area, and I recommend hitting this part of the park if you want to avoid some of the crowds that gather at Apgar, Logan Pass and Many Glacier.  The scenery is nice, too – here’s a view from the north shore, looking south towards Painted Teepee (middle); Sinopah Mountain (which rises abruptly from the western shore); and, off in the distance, the top of Grizzly Peak. 

Did I mention it’s cold?  Once the sun started hitting the lake, there was some nice steam effects:

The first couple of miles are very flat as it follows the north shore, but soon starts a decent climb upwards at about this point – in the distance you can see Lone Walker Mountain (which looms over Upper Two Medicine Lake), and Pumpelly Pillar to the right:

The trail is ridiculously well-maintained; it’s impossible to go off trail in National Parks if you have any iota of orienteering skills.  Seriously, how can you lose a trail like this?  This is looking back down the path, with Rising Wolf in the left foreground.

Dawson pass is easily reached, and offers a simply breathtaking view of the Nyack Valley, which hardly any visiters to the park ever see.  This is mainly because the southern portion of the park A) doesn’t have any major trailheads; B) the trailheads that DO exist require a very dangerous fjord (OK, swim) over a river and C) the trails are not maintained, at all.  Lots of blowdown, pure wilderness.  It’s my next major goal in the park.  Any rate, the picture – this is a view looking almost south.  The very prominent peak in the middle is Mt. St. Nicholas (which I’ll get a better view of on a later day); the Cloudcroft Peaks are in front of it; and the southern part of Phillips Mountain is on the right. You can see the very steep scree fields at the bottom, and I should mention that it is two and a half miles across the valley to Mt. Phillips, and it is over 3000 vertical feet to the bottom.

A view due west of Mt. Phillips, with Lupfer Glacier in the middle.  The valley here is at 5000 feet, and Phillips rises to about 9350 feet; the glacier is centered at about 6000 feet of elevation.  I’m somewhere around 8000 feet elevation.

The view north shows an expansive, lush valley with nary a bit of civilization in it.  The mountain with the glacier WAY in the distance is Blackfoot Mountain, with Pumpelly Glacier clearly on display; the peak right foreground is Tinkham Mountain; and on the far left are the seldom seen giants Mt. Pinchot, Mt. Thompson and Mt. Stimson. You can also see prominent avalanche chutes on every peak – not a place to hike lightly in winter!  Oh, and the distance from where I’m at and Blackfoot Mountain, which looks somewhat close, is over 11 miles away:

The trail then starts heading north on the ridge high above the valley; I must first contour around the west face of Flinsch Peak (near right foreground) and get to Mt. Morgan (on the ridge in the distance; you can see portions of the trail between):

Here’s a better view of Mt. Stimson from farther north on the ridge; Stimson, at 10,142 feet, is the second highest peak in the park:

O hai there!

Past the bighorn sheep, the ridgewalk is a bit precipitous; a misstep will easily send you sliding down several thousand feet of loose scree and talus, and even if you somehow survived, getting back to the trail would probably kill you.  That is to say:  walk these trails carefully, especially if alone!  I would also add, I saw ZERO other people all day, except at the campground.

Approaching Mt. Morgan, the trail manages to hit the ridgeline, affording a nice view of Oldman Lake (with the aptly named Red Mountain in the background). From here, the trail contours all the way around Mt. Morgan (to the left); attains the far ridge above the lake; switchbacks down close to the lake; then heads east through the huge open valley to the right.

The impressive matterhorn of Flinsch Peak:

Turning around, the south face of Mt. Morgan.  OK, it’s a long way to contour clockwise around this peak, but it does look like going counterclockwise encounters multiple sheer cliffs:

One final look at the upper Nyack Valley; Eagle mountain to the left; the folded summit of Mt. Pinchot; Mt. Stimson (with unnamed glacier); and Tinkham Mountain.

To the north, Razoredge Mountain; right foreground, Mt. McClintock:

And a good view looking back south along the ridgewalk – did I mention you really don’t want to fall?

I finally start heading east, and get some outstanding views of the Pitamakan Lakes below me; left to right is Bad Marriage Mountain, Eagle Plume Mountain and Red Mountain (which is less red than Eagle Plume from this angle):

Pitamakan Lake is again beautiful, turquoise and insanely clear; I could make out a lot of detail from above.  Oh, and the distance from here to to the water is about 600 vertical feet – about the same height as St. Louis’ Gateway Arch:

To the south, Flinsch Peak really looms over Oldman Lake – again, lots of vertical here, a bit over 3000 vertical feet from the lake to summit.  That’s two Sears Towers on top of each other:

From here it’s just a LONG walk downhill and around to the car; one last pic just to show how clear the water is:

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