Climbing Great Northern Mountain

Great Northern Mountain just south of Glacier National Park is a beast of a mountain. Kristen and I tried summiting it a few weeks ago, but the weather was terrible and we wanted to do it when we could enjoy the views.

While the day started off with the mountain shrouded in the clouds, they parted and we ended up with a cool climb.

Mountain weather is always funny. The forecast for the valleys can be great, but the mountains can stay shrouded in clouds all day. Like our first attempt at Great Northern Mountain, the day started cool and cloudy. Similarly, the trail was brutally steep up to the ridge.

Wingless female moth laying eggs

After about 2,500 ft in almost 2 miles, we finally made the ridge. Along the way, we passed numerous squirrels, chipmunks, huckleberries, and a wingless female moth laying eggs.

As we climbed up, we started to get some views looking out at the Hungry Horse Reservoir and a look at the cool Firefighter Mountain Lookout. The trees changed to more subalpine fir carpeted by loaded huckleberry plants with leaves changing into fall colors.

Great Northern Mountain, however, still had clouds shrouding its summit, but we could see the cloud ceiling rising. We waited around for a bit before continuing on as there was no point in clinging to the exposed ridge in the clouds.

After about 45 minutes, we decided to move along the ridge which went up and down a bit. I spied a griz feasting on huckleberries down in the bowl to the north. He moved over the ridge to the other side. We found him continuing his feeding frenzy as we worked our way up.

Eventually, the route comes alongside a precipitous drop to the north with encroaching trees to the south. For those with a fear of heights, this section would be the limit. The route picks its way along the ridge and we worked our way above the trees.

Moist air raced up the mountain turning into clouds as it got higher, then rolled over the leeward side, filling the valley to the north. Drainages appeared and disappeared. As we got higher, and the clouds lifted little by little, we began to get glimpses of Stanton Glacier below us. Those climbing on a clear day would have seen it much sooner than us (as well as the elusive summit).

A summit appeared before us, only to tease us as it was just a point along the way. We endured the chilly wind and marched upward through the brown rock, eventually getting to the summit. We sat on limestone, embedded with Stromatolites as the clouds danced around us. It still played peek-a-boo with the vantages, but we were higher up and began to see all the way into the south end of Glacier National Park.

After a chilly lunch, we began our descent and the clouds continued to lift giving us incredible views all the way down. We stopped and snacked on more huckleberries, watched the grizzly do the same, then dropped back to our car.

Tree Squirrel

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6 responses to “Climbing Great Northern Mountain”

  1. What do you recommend for hiking boots? I hike in Salomon X-ultra that are Goretex. That and a pair of worn out LLBean boots. I will be in Montana for the first time this week and hope to do some short trips day hikes around Glacier.

    1. So I’m a huge fan of hiking in trail runners. The biggest thing is always to make sure that they fit your feet well. Not sure if you saw Mike Harrington’s comment below as well, but he recommends bringing two pairs just in case you end up with soaking shoes…. Anyway, if you’re hiking trails, trail runners are great. The other caveat is that, if it starts to snow or something like that, boots will be warmer and rumor has it that we might get some! Yikes!

  2. I recently got back from Glacier. We had some rain days and I was glad I brought 2 pair of hiking boots. So bring both the Salomon and the Bean boots!

  3. Thanks for all the great info on your site! What are your thoughts on hiking Great Northern with a dog? We do a lot of hiking with our dog – she’s extremely athletic, well-conditioned, and a good climber – but weren’t sure about how safe Great Northern would be (both for her and us, as the ones holding the leash if we need to scramble). Thanks!

  4. I went up there in 1998 with a friend and my dog Maggie. I would say: The Most Impressive experience ever. We spent the night up high and witnessed an awesome starry sky with the Milky Way clearly visible. The hike up wasn’t too difficult and with my Golden exploring in front of us we didn’t have any scary Bear encounters. However Maggie decided to take a dip in a lake on the way and I had to deal with a sopping wet dog in my sleeping bag that night. Wonderfull memories. When it’s my time to leave, I’d like someone to throw my ashes from this mountain top so I can hang there forever.

  5. What a great hike!…just did it for the first time yesterday. I think the first part of the trail was created before switchbacks were invented ;-)…2k straight up the fall line. The scramble over the first notch in the ridgeline was a little nerve racking, but so worth it. Just a wonderful hike all around. Thanks, Jake.

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