With a full weekend, we thought it would be interesting to do something with glacier travel/general mountaineering etc. After considering various options, we decided to try Mt. Blackfoot in GNP. We were able to snag the required permits for back country camping (one night at Gunsight Lake and one night at an undesignated spot at our high camp below Mt. Jackson).
Our plan was to take off right after work on Friday, hike in via the Gunsight Lake trail and camp... Since success on Blackfoot was far from guaranteed, the plan was to make a quick ascent of Logan to ensure we got up at least one peak, then try and follow the ridge from Logan to Blackfoot... or alternatively climb Logan and descend to the glacier and then try the glacier route on Blackfoot as far as we could go, knowing that the crux of the route was probably pretty dicy and beyond our level of comfort.
Day 1: Hiked to Gunsight lake. Hustled to drive to the park after work and arrived at the Jackson glacier overlook trailhead at around 6:45 PM. Had eaten a sandwich for supper during the car ride and got going around 7:15ish... Saw a moose en route and bumped into some scrambling acquaintances - Andrew Nugara and Raff-the Mountain-Ninja, who mentioned casually that they had just summitted Mt. Jackson as a daytrip. (Some people are just in too good shape!)
We arrived at the avalanche debris field just before Gunsight Lake in full-on darkness. I had been warned at the back country office that the trail had been wiped out by an avalanche at some point and some route finding was necessary, but holy crap! Crossing that debris field in the dark was like something from a nightmare! It was like a dozen large dozers had run amuck - huge, broken trees scattered in piles willy nilly all over the trail with a mix of mud and snow gluing the entire mess together.
After some messing around, Chris and I somehow lucked out into finding the faint hiker's trail that (mostly) skirts around/above all of the deadfall, while James suffered through his own personal hell as he muscled through the debris field lower down and ended up having to bushwhack accross a little ravine to regain the trail. Arriving at the camp in darkness, we were happy to find an open campsite waiting for us. We set up our tents and went to sleep under a crisp starry night.
Day 2. Mt. Logan. Awoke to find Bullwinkle in our camp. A HUGE bull moose with a full rack was wandering around. Tired from our approach with full packs the previous night, we slept in and only left camp at 8 AM. It took a couple of hours to hike to our high camp and so it was 10 AM by the time we got going. Mistake #1. Note to self. Next time get going early, as in an alpine start...
|Photo 1. Hiking past Blackfoot glacier. False summit to right. True summit on left|
|Photo 2. Chris hiking with Mt. Jackson in background.|
|Photo 3. Mt. Jackson. We set up a high camp below Jackson below the snow|
|Photo 4. Snowy slopes in landscape below Mt. Logan and Mt. Blackfoot|
|Photo 5. Classic shot of Blackfoot Glacier. Edwards route somehow goes past the bergschrund and cliff.|
|Photo 6. Mt. Blackfoot from ridge of Logan.|
|Photo 7. View down next valley.|
|Photo 7. James Yearous making his way on ledges below Mt Logan.|
|Photo 8. Looking past snow towards Blackfoot|
|Photo 9. James working his way on snow towards the col between Logan and|
To sum up the day - the approach was long! It took a couple of hours to get accross the little valley to the lunar-esque bowl at the foot of Logan/Blackfoot, then it took another couple of hours to cross past the dozens of little ledges/waterfalls/snowfields to gain Almost a Dog Pass. We followed Edward's West face route (as described in some detail on summitpost) to a tee. Class III all the way? I think Edwards was laughing at us from Heaven as we s*** ourselves on those goat ledges. It would have been a time saver to ascend the snow fields to gain the ridge, but we were somewhat unsure of our ability to self arrest due to their steepness. Plus we wanted to bag the peak, so ultimately we decided to stick to the easiest known route.
The west face route is by no means direct, but it was cool. The goat trail ledges were reminiscent of the diagonal route on Reymolds and the class 3 cliffs below the summit were a blast. Finally, we topped out at 4 pm. It had taken us 6 hours to summit from our high camp, and it had been 8 hours since we had left Gunsight lake. We were hard pressed to get back to our tents before nightfall. The ridge from Logan to Blackfoot looked beautiful - so close but yet so far away. An attempt of Blackfoot would have to wait for another day.
We did a minor variation on the return trip. After descending to the base of the mountain, we decided to walk across the snow fields skirting the bottom of the glacier in order to stay high enough to get around the bowl. This didn't save us any time as we took a lot of pix and it still took us a couple of hours to get across. As daylight faded we thrashed our way down through the alders to the snow bridged stream emanating from Jackson glacier. For the second night in a row, we were hiking in full darkness! Our camp was nearby, but the problem was we had chosen a room with a view (above the valley floor, adjacent to Jackson glacier). Someone suddenly yelled, "ROCK" and I felt like a blind man playing dodgeball as the rock whizzed through some nearby bushes. Finding the smooth, rocky slabs that we had scoped out earlier from afar, up we went. Finally we hit the familiar snow patch that lead us right to our tents. Made it back at 10:30, 14.5 hours after having left Gunsight lake. Exhausted, we chowed down for a quick supper under the milky way.
Day 3. Hiked up Jackson glacier to Blackfoot/Jackson col. Had a surprisingly decent sleep. Chris found a good spot for his little one man tent. Tent options for me and James were either lumpy or sloped... We went for lumpy. My $50 3 man tent was battered by wind all night, but what else is new! Note to self: get new tent!
After breakfast, we roped up and practiced some glacier travel. We reviewed the basics of crevasse rescue and probed around carefully as we hiked up. There were some fantastic snow nuggets that had fallen onto the glacier, and we had heard rockfall at times during breakfast and were mindful to avoid those runout zones.
It did not take much time at all to hike up the Jackson glacier to the col between Jackson and Blackfoot. From that vantage point, it looked difficult to gain the false summit of Blackfoot by that route.... something I had always wanted to check out. The glacier was littered with thousands and thousands of little dead moths... At the col there were hundreds of white butterflies (not moths) flying about, perhaps a migration?
Views were great; Harrison glacier was splendid. Mt. Walton and the views down the other valley were fantastic. We made good time back down the glacier and quickly passed under some hazard from above and got back to our campsite at 12:45 and were on our way at 1:30.
Return via the Gunsight lake trail was mostly without incident. Chris, who has a decade plus in reserve on me and james and is quite athletic, got ahead of us as we descended to the Jackson glacier overlook trail. Out of view, Chris hadn't succeeded in finding the trail as we had surmised, and unknownst to us he started to work his way back upwards and got a tad lost, probably at the same time as James and I had spotted the trail below and had dropped straight down. Hitting the trail, we passed underneath Chris as he searched for the trail in a forested area below Mt. Jackson. Thinking that Chris had found the trail and could smell the home beers, we hustled to try and catch up. Chris, in the meantime, thought we were waiting for him and went a bit apes*** crazy searching for us, hiking down to Gunsight lake campground, then running back up the entire glacier overlook trail, not believing that we would have ditched him. Despite spending at least an hour looking for us, he still caught up to us at the end of the trail.
Note to self. Owe Chris beer. Also have group discussion before heading out about group travel and what to do about getting separated! Also be more organized. Chris was always waiting for us in the AM as he was the first one ready and the only one with the route description, which was needed... And bring map!
Note to self: can get onto Jackson glacier and skirt edge of snow and ascend steep snow fields to get onto Blackfoot glacier to avoid the crappy approach to Blackfoot glacier bowl, however some exposure to icefall/rockfall so would need to start early, might only save an hour. Alternatively camp in Blackfoot glacier bowl. Beautiful. Take 3 full days. Practice a couple of cookie cutter routes on glaciated peaks in Banff like St. Nic or Rhonda, etc. False summit of blackfoot might go still, study pix.
Notable quotable (James): Women and huckleberries are a lot alike - except one gives you s*** and the other gives you the s***s.
(re: various discussions on length of ice screws and their depth of insertion, etc.) "That's what she said!"
(Me, on stream crossing going past Gunsight): Well, that was still better than a kick to the groin.
(James): There is nothing worse than a kick to the groin
(Me, on approach in the dark up to our camp after 14 hours on Logan:) THAT was worse than a kick to the nuts!
(James) I agree.