Climbing Whitecalf Mountain and Kupunkamint Mountain

Straddling the divide between the St Mary Valley and the Cutbank drainage in Glacier National Park lies a great ridgeline. We had already climbed Divide Mountain and we decided to take off and climb both Whitecalf Mountain and Kupunkamint Mountain. It was a big, beautiful day full of epic views, perfect weather, and all the limestone boulders we could handle.

While perusing our climbing books, we came across a cool looking ridgewalk (we LOVE ridge walks). It extended from Whitecalf Mountain all the way over to Curly Bear Mountain. The problem with getting to Curly Bear Mountain is that due to a past fire, getting off of it without having backtrack the whole thing looks to be a disaster of a day (and two vehicles).

What did, however, look really enticing was climbing Whitecalf Mountain, then ridgewalking to Kupunkamint Mountain. Of course things always look a bit easier on your screen with a cup of coffee in your hand, but it suckered us in, we got excited and made plans to give it a go.

The day was perfectly sunny and calm. Not “east side of Glacier” calm, but normal calm which was great. We drove to the top of the ridge on Hwy 89 to the turnoff for the road to the cell towers below Divide Mountain. The road was horrendous and it was slow crawling in my RAV4. Loads of ruts, rocks, and general Jeep-level terrain, but we eventually made it to the top of the grassy ridge, almost to the towers.

As we were getting out of our car, a cow elk was trotting over the meadow to the trees. The bugs were barely tolerable, but not maddening as we stepped out onto the trail.

We began by traversing the meadow to an old jeep trail, then followed that up to a bowl. A pair of friendly horses came over and said hello as we wandered through meadows and small stands of subalpine fir. This first section was on Blackfeet tribal lands and we had purchased a recreation permit (required) from Snappy’s Sport Center before we left a few days prior.

The bowl below the saddle between Divide Mountain and Whitecalf Mountain was gorgeous with large boulders, short trees, and flowers in the meadows (oh and stunning, craggy peaks as backdrops). We worked our way up to the saddle between the two, navigating the limestone boulders along the way. Navigating limestone boulders, we soon found out, was the theme of the day.

Looking across to Whitecalf Mountain from the saddle, we spied a goat trail/climber’s trail across the scree and decided to aim for that for easier going. In between us and the trail, however, was a boulder field. We’d recommend, if you try this, to bring along a pair of gloves. Navigating the limestone boulders was a tricky and pokey affair. They were loosely settled and many of them wanted to roll with us walking over them. Hearing the “eep!!” calls of the pikas and the flowering plants were gorgeous bright spots (along with a rock formation that totally looked like a chocolate Easter bunny).

Once at the climber’s trail, we fairly easily followed that until it fizzled out at the base of a snowfield. From here to the ridgeline, it was slow going. While much of Glacier National Park’s scree fields (also known as talus slopes) are sedimentary rock and their own type of frustration, this scree field was limestone and the rocks tended to be more rounded and less flat “plates”. We struggled our way up the rolling/sliding/pokey field until we reached the bliss of the ridgeline.

Up on the ridgeline, we could catch our breath and admire the views that had been increasing as we climbed. A little “window” gave us our first views looking toward the Cutbank drainage and across the vast plains. We had climbed up past the older limestone rock to the younger sedimentary rock as well. With the more stable ridgeline, we encountered more low growing flowers including a few new flowers like the Mountain Campion (in the pictures below) that we had not seen before!

We strolled our way up past a few false summits before reaching the wide, rounded top of Whitecalf Mountain. To the east, we had the plains, to the north Divide Mountain dominated the view with St. Mary Lake and Lower St. Mary Lake visible in the valley to the northwest. To the west, we looked across the Divide Creek drainage to Curly Bear with a sea of summits in Glacier poking their heads up over the ridgeline in colors of gray, yellow, red.

To the south was our path, the ridgeline to Kupunkamint. This was when we could get a good glimpse at the literal ups and downs we had and we realized that we had much ahead of us, so we had a quick lunch and took off.

We were able to stay true to the ridgeline for most of the walk which afforded us constant views. The occasional Gray-crowned Rosyfinch would fly in and hop around looking for insects which were only prevalent at summits, but fairly absent most of the rest of the time.

The gradual descent took us to a fairly prominent point that towered above us and involved a short scramble up and over. We continued this a few more times with ever changing views. Pocket, alpine lakes tucked below the opposing ridge made their appearance and the headwaters of Divide Creek was a delightful cascade in the valley below. A couple of Golden Eagles soared not above us, but below us causing a stir amongst the marmot population.

A few more ups and downs as the day wore on before we had our final approach to (also rounded) Kupunkamint Mountain. We navigated around some quasi-cliffy sections and stood atop our second summit of the day. The views were more impressive looking down at the Cutbank drainage and out into Glacier. I spied a nursery of eleven Bighorn Sheep below us, many of them this year’s lambs. Kupunkamint represented more than half of the day’s effort, but exactly half of the distance, so we turned around and hustled back.

As we approached the summit of Whitecalf Mountain on the way back, I wanted to investigate some scree noise I’d heard on the way up the mountain. I looked an saw tracks across the snow, so I knew that there was something or somethings down there. On the way out, I heard it again and after a bit of looking around, I spied three more Bighorn Sheep. Always so fun to see either/both them and Mountain Goats.

We got to the edge of the ridgeline where we had to drop down the limestone scree, furrowed our brows and began our descent. After the long descent and the tricky, large, limestone boulders, we made it back to the easy goings of the jeep trail and our car. Big day. Big Views. Good day.

Looking west from Kupunkamint Mountain

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2 responses to “Climbing Whitecalf Mountain and Kupunkamint Mountain”

  1. Chris Vinton Avatar
    Chris Vinton

    Awesome! Heading to Glacier Sept 5th -9th and am really looking forward to the views!

  2. David Chatham Avatar
    David Chatham

    Thanks for sharing another great video of your recent hike! We plan to return to Glacier in September of next year. Five years has been too long. Your posted photos and videos are a real inspiration. Keep them coming!

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