Ascent of Mount Cleveland on 2012-08-05

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad
Date:Sunday, August 5, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Boat
Peak:Mount Cleveland
    Elevation:10466 ft / 3190 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Cleveland West Bowl is a gorgeous, spectacular place. We had failed to get a place at Stoney Indian campground despite having applied back in March. So having done some research, finding a GPS track online and a few descriptions including the original Edwards guidebook, we took an undesignated camping permit which was all that was on offer, and decided to give it a try.

As it turns out, we complete a "grand tour", up West Bowl, down South Ridge. We are told that the NW Ridge is gaining in popularity: this too provides access to the Great Basin but the bush whack is easier.

After our Grand Teton ascent we drive up through Montana and spend the night at Elk Horn cabins (N48.91485 W113.43636, very basic but clean), near the US17 turnoff north of Babb, a small town just outside Glacier National Park (there are no vacancies in Waterton).

Sat 4 Aug
We cross into Canada (Chief Mountain crossing opens at 7) and get to Waterton just after 8, giving us just enough time to get the various tasks done. First we call at the visitor centre (xxx) and complete the permit formalities, then while the US ranger service complete the permit and fax it to the Canadian end of the lake we go to the boat dock (xxx) and buy return tickets to Goat Haunt (we hedge for Mon am tickets; there will be room Sunday evening if as we hope we are down before 8pm. Then breakfast and buy a map (xxx, shop opens at 0930) then to the boat for a 10 am departure.

The Waterton Lake cruise is excellent, with superb scenery and a nice low key commentary. We pause briefly at the 49th Parallel where an obelisk marks the international boundary and trees have been felled along the line.

The majority of the passengers are heading straight back to Waterton but a few are staying to day hike; even fewer, like ourselves have large packs and are planning a longer stay, but it seems that we're the only party with Cleveland plans.

We show our passports to the US border officers (who also came across on the first boat). Evidently they expected us to have our ESTA forms with us but we don't have; this isn't a problem. A ranger is there to meet us. There have been only 2 summit bids so far this year with only one person from one team successful. The weather is set fair for today and tomorrow (unlike yesterday's travel day which was cool and showery) so we hope to improve the success rate substantially.

Early in the route there are a couple of signposted forks - L at N48.95670 W113.89259 then R at N48.95585 W113.89150. Then the route is unmistakable, a narrow dirt trail through deep lush vegetation with tall forest providing shade from the warm sunshine. We hike close together noting the Grizzly Bear possibilities.

We reach a smallish bridged creek at N48.92997 W113.89159, 3.1 km from the border post, which seems to meet Edwards' description of Camp Creek although we later realise that the latter is 500m farther on at N48.92638 W113.89642. The downloaded GPS track I have on my instrument starts farther back (north) from the little bridge and we backtrack a little and follow it. We head straight uphill and in about 100m find a narrow clearing which may be the fabled Elk Trail but is choked with dense waist-high bushes, some prickly. We follow its edge and soon reach the small creek which we follow, keeping it to our R. We find the going is generally better in the big trees and clearings are dense and best avoided, but there are a fair few fallen big trees which have to be crossed.

In time the GPS track we're following crosses the little creek and eventually we do the same but initially avoid doing so, ending up a bit too far L, and we eventually make a fairly level traverse R to reach the bowl then descend 50m to reach the camp site, a small grassy bowl at N48.91815 W113.87041. The ascent takes us about 6 hours from the border post, and although it could doubtless be improved upon (with a chain saw!) it was a fairly direct line which is important given the difficult terrain. Thanks to the shade of the big trees the temperature was quite reasonable and on the whole it was a decent hike, in spectacular surroundings.

As we've got higher we've enjoyed superb views, down Waterton Lake and across to Citadel Peak spires. The bowl itself is also very impressive, with the great basin with its waterfall as described by Edwards, towering above. We pitch our 2 tents, filter water from the nearby stream, wash, cook and enjoy the warm sunshine.

Sun 5
The first sign that this might be a difficult day, came early when I discovered that one of my hiking socks has disappeared, assumed abducted by marmots!

We left camp at 0545 and headed across the creek to reach the scree slope far right of the main waterfall, mentioned by Edwards. Instead of the scree we climb a steep grassy gully immediately to its L. Above, we crampon partway up a snow gully before making a loose scramble R onto the main ridge (as it turned out, we could have passed below the snow and got onto the ridge directly). We head up the broad easy rocky ridge then approaching a blocking rock step we take to a shallow stony gully which runs through scrubby pine.

When the gully runs out (N48.91419 W113.86405) we head L following an often exposed ledge, which in typical Glacier N P fashion is covered in loose stones. We then continue on the same line by ascending a steepish rock gully with plenty of loose rock. Above we cross a loose scree slope, at the far (N) side of which we look down into the Great Basin with its waterfalls. Eirik and Melanie decide to turn back here. They are climbers more than peak baggers and being part of a party of four on this chossy route doesn't appeal.

Petter and I continue, descending an animal path crossing a firmer scree slope into the Basin. Over the next couple of hours we ascend the basin, sometimes on snow to 50 deg, mostly scrambling up loose rock (need to push not pull on hand holds!). We stay fairly central and finally exit on decent rock, immediately R of a black outcrop (black volcanic in contrast to the usual sedimentary), just below a minor summit (N48.91755 W113.84695, 3063m), where we dump our packs. On the way up we wondered whether we'd make it up the choss heap alive; then we wondered how we'd make it down again; before completing the Basin ascent we've already agreed we'll descend via the more popular South Ridge route despite the massive amount of extra effort this entails in terms of recovering the tent.

We stroll north along the broad stony ridge marvelling at the views west above a huge drop- an appropriate reward for a tricky ascent. Cleveland summit (N48.92491 W113.84823, 3187m) is marked by a small cairn above a big drop. The weather is superb, with no wind.

We've a very long way to go so we leave at 1208 after 8 mins mostly taking photos. We stop briefly at our packs then head down, following a pre-loaded GPS track as the trail isn't obvious in its upper sections. The trail leaves this lower summit at its SE edge (N48.91568 W113.84666) then winds down through a boulder slope. The GPS trail then runs immediately above the E cliffs although it seems more sensible to follow the broad stony crest down.

Just before the saddle is a rocky nose which the trail bypasses on its E side, zigzagging about 20m back north before descending on exposed ledges. At the saddle (N48.90672 W113.85163) we are misled by a cairn marking a crossing to the E side of the ridge which links with a descending trail which initially heads for an obvious wide ledge... which ends spectacularly at a corner. We backtrack.

Back at the saddle we carefully follow the GPS track as it makes a high traverse. Then we meet 3 people ascending by the route we're descending. We swap notes on the sections we've each traversed then we proceed much more confidently. At the corner (N48.90155 W113.85196) the next section of trail in descent isn't obvious: a cairn marks its start and it follows a goat trail, side-sloping and loose and requiring care, especially in wind.The trail crosses several near-vertical gullies, quite easily- it's a remarkable, spectacular and entertaining route. Views are spectacular, back along the ridge to the summit and especially looking E to the neighbouring pinnacled ridges.

The Stoney Indian Peak saddle (N48.88986 W113.85484) is key to the descent. It's apparently possible to head straight down a scree gully direct to Stoney Indian Lake visible a long way below - potentially saving an hour - although it could be dangerous if there are other climbers above or below, as dislodged rocks can roll a long way. Alternatively, a short way down the gully, a cairn marks the point where a contouring trail heads south. A parallel trail takes off east from the saddle itself. We take the latter. It seems to run out at the S end. We zigzag down a broad scree gully then traverse W following the GPS trail we brought with us. The route isn't obvious, especially the descent through a long low cliff band: we descend a short chimney at N48.88200 W113.85889. Then a short scree traverse leads to a good trail descends to a grassy meadow which is crossed to reach Stoney Indian Pass.

We're at the pass soon after 6 pm and it's clear that if we're to catch the 1125 boat tomorrow morning we'll need to bushwhack up to the tent in the West Bowl in the dark and bring it down in the morning - NOT a nice prospect!

The descent to Stoney Indian Lake is gorgeous, but once past the lake the route to Kootenai is a bit of a slog: into the lowering sun, vegetation often obscuring the view and the sometimes rocky path, hot and humid with incessant mosquito attack.

We go a little way past Camp Creek, cache most of what we're carrying and bushwhack up from N48.92973 W113.89310, aiming to join a GPS trail posted by a Canadian group. We make slow progress for an hour then even slower in the dark, covering about half the distance to camp by 0030. Several times we run into dense intertwined alder bushes which are difficult (and partially avoidable) in daylight but dreadful in the dark when you can't see their extent. We make a fairly unsatisfactory bivouac, recommencing at 0300 by which time the near-full moon has risen. We get across to the upper part of Camp Creek, follow it then its north branch which passes camp (we followed the S bank of the E branch: N bank is probably better). (Eirik reports that descending the previous afternoon, they hiked mostly IN Camp Creek, finally leaving it upstream of a set of rapids to bushwhack the final section).

Mon 6
We're at camp about 0630, decamp and descend at 0657. We make a slightly ascending traverse across "meadows" but further down get into large areas of small ?alder trees with a trailing habit which makes travel very difficult except downhill. Getting further R higher up would probably have worked better. However once on more level ground we head R and make a fairly efficient beeline to the main trail and the cached gear, descending in 2h30 - we are told 2-3h is the going rate. We finish the hike out to the boat quay (Gaot Haunt, N48.95949 W113.88858) in about 50 minutes.

While waiting for the boat we chat with a park ranger (we had a similar conversation with another last evening) about our having been refused camping at Stoney Indian despite having filed 4 applications for 8 different dates. They seem to think the system works ok for climbers although it clearly didn't for us.

The boat trip back to Waterton village includes a sighting of a black bear - which even shows off its swimming skills. Eirik and Melanie meet us off the boat and after a much needed lunch (we've missed dinner and breakfast and have hiked for 26 hours on a few energy bars) we drive via the spectacular Road To The Sun (Logan Pass) to the town of Libby ready for our Snowshoe Peak climb scheduled for 2 days time.

Mt Cleveland photo album

There's a nice range of wildflowers. Ones I noted (names are approximate based on UK species) are woodruff, yellow columbine, enchanters nightshade, huckleberry, hogweed, snowberry, solomons seal, achillea, great yellow gentian, yellow sedum, self heal plus a similar slender yellow plant, bellflower, fireweed, red paintbrush, parsley fern, old mans beard, wintergreen, tall red lousewort, catchfly, alpine goldenrod, dwarf elder, white valerian, white cinquefoil, mouse ear, white asphodel, white vetchling, shrubby cinquefoil, golden cinquefoil, allium, saxifrage, grass of parnassus, alpine bistort, mountain sorrel, alpine willowherb, mountain everlasting, locoweed holly fern, cream paintbrush.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:7776 ft / 2369 m
    Total Elevation Loss:7776 ft / 2370 m
    Round-Trip Distance:22.6 mi / 36.3 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 3
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6300 ft / 1920 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 6234 ft / 1901 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Loss on way in:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.6 km
    Route:West Bowl
    Start Trailhead:Goat Haunt, Waterton Lake  4232 ft / 1289 m
    Time:1 Days 0 Hours 35 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:7710 ft / 2350 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 6234 ft / 1901 m; Extra: 1476 ft / 449m
    Gain on way out:1476 ft / 449 m
    Distance:16.6 mi / 26.7 km
    Route:West Bowl
    End Trailhead:Goat Haunt, Waterton Lake  4232 ft / 1289 m
    Time:22 Hours 17 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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