Ascent of Mount Cleveland on 2019-08-02

Climber: Mark Smith

Others in Party:Austin D. Smith -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Friday, August 2, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Cleveland
    Elevation:10466 ft / 3190 m

Ascent Trip Report

Most climbers use a ferry to approach Mount Cleveland from Waterton Lake, BC. Given the difficulty of obtaining a backcountry camping permit, a one-day ascent from Goat Haunt might be best for those able to do so. However, Goat Haunt and ferry traffic was unavailable for the 2019 season due to GNP staffing issues. We managed reservations to approach from the east via the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, as described at the end of this report.

The Chief Mountain approach involves a 36.0 mile round trip to reach Stoney Indian Pass and the start of the climbers trail. Advantages of this approach include a better chance of obtaining a permit, avoiding the schedule hassles and cost of the ferry, and fewer mosquitoes.

Starting from the TH, the trail drops 745’ to reach the Belly/Mokowanis River, which is followed past two major lakes to Mokowanis Junction, an ideal basecamp for a 3-day ascent of Cleveland. While the trail along the river only has a net gain of barely three hundred feet, a number of climbs and descents pushes the total climb to about one thousand feet. The trail is in good condition, but has extensive sections of thigh to chest-height plant encroachment that might prove most unpleasant in wet conditions.

From camp, 4.7 miles of good trail reaches Stoney Indian Pass. The trail had one stream ford (early August), which we managed to cross by rock-hopping at an obvious opportunity about 150’ upstream. From the pass we generally followed Ted Ehrlich’s track. At the first of three rock buttresses we followed a climbers trail to the right and chose the second weakness in the cliff, working straight up a water chute with easy scrambling, then diagonaling back left to regain the ridge. Once back to the ridge, the northwest face of Stoney Indian Peak looked intimidating, but can be crossed easily. A path follows the base of a triple band of cliffs. Another trail follows just above the second cliff band.

After passing through the notch to the south side, the trail follows a ledge with almost no elevation gain or loss for a full mile. The ledge is mostly Class 2 with an occasional spot of Class 3.

Once regaining the ridge at the saddle east of Stoney Indian Peak, easy progress leads to a second rock buttress which can again be bypassed to the right (south). Higher up, a third buttress can be taken straight-on through a chute that proves to be easy.

As the angle eased approaching the broad summit, we encountered many piles of bear scat. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter a bear.

A tedious descent took us back to Stoney Indian Pass. Our only mistake was to follow the climbers trail too far before angling to the ridge notch at the east end of southside traverse.

Thoughts on Glacier National Park reservations.

It seems that GNP wants as few humans as possible in the wilderness. Of course, they can’t float the idea of no human entry. But they have the next best alternative, which is to limit the number of entrants to a fraction of what the wilderness will support. In 2019, access was further complicated by the “temporary” closure of Goat Haunt. Cessation of ferry access necessitates a 16-mile round trip hike to reach the US end of the lake.

After a night at Johnson’s RV Park in Saint Mary, we took our place as the 5th party in line at the Saint Mary Ranger Station at 6:15AM, 45 minutes before opening. The doors opened at 6:58. By the time we reached the counter at 7:17, all potential basecamp sites were taken! However, the second person in line had a permit for Mokowanis Junction which he wanted to change. After he made a new reservation, he gave us his old reservation as he left. Without this unlikely help we would have been shut-out. Having traveled 600 miles for the chance to climb Cleveland, we would have considered risking the fine to hike without a permit, but were warned to expect to be 'carded' by a ranger. Indeed, we were asked for our permit TWICE the first day. Thankfully we had one.

In summary, GNP allows very few overnight visitors. While half of the permits are reserved for walk-ins, that half is such a small number that driving to Glacier with the hope of getting a permit is a gamble. Arrival before 6AM in Saint Mary is advised. We have no knowledge of how soon hikers begin to line up at the other three ranger stations which compete with Saint Mary for Cleveland reservations.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:8237 ft / 2510 m
    Total Elevation Loss:8237 ft / 2510 m
    Round-Trip Distance:44 mi / 70.8 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6687 ft / 2038 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5137 ft / 1566 m; Extra: 1550 ft / 472m
    Loss on way in:1550 ft / 472 m
    Distance:22 mi / 35.4 km
    Route:Chief Mtn TH/Stoney Indian Pass
    Start Trailhead:5329 ft / 1624 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6687 ft / 2038 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5137 ft / 1566 m; Extra: 1550 ft / 472m
    Gain on way out:1550 ft / 472 m
    Distance:22 mi / 35.4 km
    End Trailhead:5329 ft / 1624 m

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