Brother Dear grabs the reins and tries to keep the wagon out of the ditch…this is a climbing log, so if you’re looking for babies or honey or dogs you should probably just check back in tomorrow:

Spring arrived in Glacier County this weekend!  Maybe we didn’t have daffodils or sweet clover emerging from the frosted-mud of the prairie (or even our usual crop of dandelions) but there was a delightful sensation of life and change and (relative) warmth around the east side of Glacier Park for the first time since…I don’t even know.  It got really, really wintry in October, but when was it warm?  Not last summer.  The summer before?  Doesn’t matter.  It’s really nice right now.

So nice in fact, that I decided to be marginally ambitious, a notion I have not experienced since the last time it was warm…  I tossed a couple ideas around the old noggin’ and was repeatedly self-encouraged to shelve my grande schemes.  I try to keep these grande schemes from public knowledge, blogs, and most pertinently, maternal cognizance.  Mom isn’t fond of her children wandering off on snowbound solo adventures, and she has made some very keen points over the years in regards to the intelligence behind such missions.  Unfortunately for her innate sense of “don’t let the child put his hand on the stove’s coils, his head behind the bull’s hooves, or his entire being in a crevasse,” I could not contain myself and set out on the most beautiful day in the history of Glacier County, circa 2011.

Destination: Divide Mountain

That’s Divde in the background.  I think the base is two or three miles away but I couldn’t say exactly.  Seemed like a long way in deep snow.

I’ve climbed Divide probably dozens of times, mostly in the summer.  When there isn’t 6 or 8 feet of solidish snow on the ground, you can pretty much drive a vehicle to the base of the mountain (and I’ve seen some remarkably ON-road vehicles up there).  I took Mom and Dad up to the summit a couple years ago.  I always think of it as “easy” because it is so oft climbed that there is basically a trail up it.  In reality, it isn’t a cake walk.  It’s steep and exhausting.  One of my heroes, J. Gordan Edwards, died on the approach during the summer of 2004 at an advanced age.  JGE was the “patron saint” of mountaineering in Glacier Park, and it is pretty incredible that his lifetime of adventuring ended due to a massive heart attack, surrounded by friends and family, while approaching a summit in the place that he loved.

I skipped the “road” approach and did my best to beeline it, cross-country, to the start of the primary ascent.  The going wasn’t too bad, almost all uphill and with the occasional plunge deep into a soft spot in the snow.  No crevasses though.

I eventually made it to what I’ve always called “the shoulder” by which one accesses “the ridge.”  Basically from where I’m standing, one heads up and left and then up and right at that treeline shoulder.  Winter complicates this, as the treeline is really just the very top of the trees sticking out.  It’s pretty steep so you either need an ice ax or could possibly (worked for me 5 years ago) pull yourself up by tree branches.  The latter is not recommended, because when you get close to the trees you encounter a miserably wet and chilly situation.  The tree trunks and limbs absorb the warmth of the sun and melt out the snow around them, but leave the snow on top.  So you think you are grabbing onto a branch and pulling yourself forward…and then fall down through three or four feet of snow.  It isn’t fun getting back up.  Believe me.

The way up was very challenging.  Five or six or seven steps at a time was a cause for self-congratulation.  Two or three steps was not reason for ridicule.  The snow was deep and very soft.  In years past, I’ve simply removed my snowshoes and chipped in steps up to the top.  This time around I sunk up to my gut with each labored lurch forward, so I had to climb with the snowshoes on, which can be very awkward on steep terrain.  I made it, managed to avoid a couple of nasty looking overhanging cornices, and never felt in any danger significant enough to lie to my Mom about.

Upon reaching the ridge, usually there is smooth sailing all the way to the summit.  This time around the ridge was miserable.  Snow, ice, rocks, drifts, wind, water.  I couldn’t tell what was an inch of snow on top of rock and what was several feet.  The ax was almost useless as a means to steady myself without a little snow depth.  But…I could see the Lookout and wasn’t about to miss out on a chance to recarve my usual graffiti.

I kinda messed up the R…whoops. The lookout itself was in terrible shape.  (Divide Lookout is an old fire lookout, by the way.  A fixture of Parks and Forests, they served as a method of spotting fires and warning the necessary responders.  Divide, even its heyday, must have been one of the least comfortable.   There are still a few functioning lookouts in Glacier, and throughout the west.)  Every year the building is in slightly worse shape, and I’m always a little amazed that it still stands on its stone foundation, bolted to the surrounding crumbling rock by frayed and broken wires. I’m saddened to report that the old lookout lost some more floorboards this winter, and some of a wall, and had a corner blown in by the wind.  Actually I’m not that saddened.  I love the lookout, and the many stories I know about it that are various shades of true (some of which are mine), but it isn’t a bad thing to see it tumble down back to it’s origins.  Only the rocks live forever, right Dad?

  

I snapped a cheesy self portrait and almost talked myself into going to the top. The guy in the photo looks like he could handle it.  Unlike the persona captured on digital film, Sanford had promised his mother that he’d be careful…and to be honest I’d been scared enough getting up to the ridge and then slipping my way to the lookout and then considering just how far it was back to the truck that I decided that it might make sense to honor my promise at that point.  So I turned around, wearing every article of clothing I’d brought, and was happy to do so.

Here are a few snapshots of the retreat:

Tracks of some sort. I suspect wolverine, because I want everything to be a wolverine.  Also, it has some serious claws and the track lead directly across the 80 degree east face of the mountain.

A ptarmigan in full winter plumage…poor guy doesn’t believe it is really spring either.

Looking back up at where I snuck around a nasty overhanging cornice.

You can now see what I was talking about before in regards to the route.  I like that my tracks are the only tracks around.  Except the wolverine, of course.

And here’s the final trek omitting most of the actual approach from the road.  The circle is the lookout and final destination, so you can see that I was still a fair ways from the top.  If you’ve done the hike before, you know it is pretty clear sailing from the lookout to the summit.  That’s the idea but usually that route isn’t covered with ice.  Winter/spring/summer/fall the section in red is what is really hard about the hike.

I hiked back to the truck and checked the map.  The highway is at exactly 6000 feet and the lookout is right around 7800 ft.  The summit is up at 8665 ft.  Don’t worry Divide, I’ll be back, and maybe I’ll bring some blog readers with me.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All rights reserved to Sanford Stone.

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