A little Throwback Thursday cuz we’re feeling nostalgic for dry trails
Not sure if it gets any better than a crisp, fall morning in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park when Two Medicine Lake is glass. Sinopah Mountain stands tall at the head of the lake, reflecting in the mirror at its feet. Today wasn’t for reflection, however, we had our eyes to the heavens as we were planning on climbing Never Laughs Mountain and Mt Ellsworth.
As we headed out on the South Shore Trail, another park visitor was coming back down the trail. She said that she saw a huge bull moose just up the trail and didn’t feel comfortable going around it. We at least wanted to see it (at a distance of course), so we volunteered to go with her to be in a group. I know, so generous of us.
She was headed to Paradise Point as that’s where she saw him, so we walked down that spur about 30 yards and there he was, just standing in the trees. He was a huge, mature bull and, after observing his unwillingness to leave the trailside, we recommended that she choose a different hike that day.
For us, however, we returned to the South Shore trail and continued past the marshy areas and forest where the leaves were changing in the wonderful hues of oranges, yellows, and purples.
There are a couple of routes up to Never Laughs and, based upon Blake Passmore’s Climb Glacier National Park Vol 2 book (you can pick it up at his store), we were looking for the old, abandoned Buttercup Park Trail. We found it, as described, just before the bridge going over Paradise Creek (easily missed if you weren’t actively looking for it).
We hopped on the “trail”, now an overgrown shadow of its former self. Some moments we felt like we were cruising and knew where we were while the next minute, downfall and overgrowth had us bushwhacking around and looking for it again. Eventually it petered out and we navigated between forest and small meadows.
I knew that there was a decent game trail above the shrubbery, so we found a good avalanche chute/meadow area and turned our feet uphill. After a bit of heavy breathing, we found the game trail and worked our way further up and south along Never Laughs Mountain. The views looking over at the long ridge of Mt Rockwell and Sinopah Mountain were jaw-dropping. Below, we spotted a cow moose feeding in the wetlands along the meandering Paradise Creek.
Scores of migrating songbirds kept us company as we climbed up to the fields of shale at the base of the cliffs. A few pikas “eeeeped!” at us as we worked our way around to the chute that would take us up to the ridgeline just north of the summit.
We found the chute and began slowly stepping up alongside the soft scree slope that gave way to picking our way through boulders and outcroppings until we reached the ridgeline. Views across Aster Park over to Appistoki Peak and up to Mt Ellsworth greeted us as we crested. We picked our way up along the ridge to the summit of Never Laughs Mountain and sat down for some lunch enjoying the panoramic views and swatting at a few summit bugs. The end of September is a great time for migrating raptors and we saw quite a few Sharp-shinned Hawks and Golden Eagles. While we ate lunch a Northern Harrier floated by just underneath us.
After consuming some calories, we continued south along the ridge, dropping down onto the large plates of rock that gave way to smaller boulders and softer rock as we climbed up the western flanks of Mt. Ellsworth. After gaining almost 1,000 feet, we wrapped around the south side of the summit and picked our way up to the small platform that is the summit of Mt. Ellsworth. We signed the registry while enjoying unobstructed, panoramic views. The red rock of the surrounding peaks (including the one we were on) is so magical.
We still had plenty of ground left to cover, so we continued east down the mountain and wrapped our way north. Looking back at the cliffy, north face of Mt. Ellsworth, we saw a mountain goat navigating the terrain. We climbed the slow, long incline up to the knob that sits between Mt Henry and Appistokie Peak. I thought I could get cute and skirt the knob and save some elevation gain/loss. Instead, I just made that elevation gain/loss more difficult.
Back on track, we arrived at the knob looking down around 1,500 feet to the Appistoki Creek Drainage. This part of the route receives more traffic, so there was a pretty well established climber’s trail where we hopped our way down to the saddle below Appistoki Peak. The steep, grassy descent from the saddle is deceptively hard on tired legs, but we worked our way down past a large herd of bighorn sheep. These were females and younger males, but it didn’t take long to find the large rams further down the diminutive Appistoki Creek.
This creek turned into some delightful cascades as it dropped down through a few cliff sections. It took a bit of route finding, jumping the creek a couple of times, to find safe and easy passage down to where things level out. We continued down the creek a bit further than we should have, resulting in a little bit of elevation gain to get to the Scenic Point Trail (technically the Mt. Henry Trail). Once on that, we were able to make great time as we dropped back down to the Scenic Point Trailhead and then walked the road back to our car.
Such a lovely climb. We love connecting summits along ridgelines and the Two Medicine area is a great place to do that. Of course the red rocks and ridiculous views all day long, coupled with animals and beautiful sunshine made it one for the books. If you’re interested, make sure you pick up Blake’s book. You can download my GPX track here (with the route corrected where I tried to outsmart myself). Remember that this is a climb, not a trail, so route-finding skills, a level of fitness, and experience climbing summits in Glacier National Park is a must.