Four Summits on the 4th of July

On the very beautiful, windy 4th of July this year, myself, Kristen and three friends set off to climb Otokomi Mountain, East Flattop Mountain, Singleshot Mountain, and Napi Point.

These summits are all connected via amazing ridge walks with incredible views of the St. Mary area in Glacier National Park.

Since this trip was a point to point trip, we wanted to get the shuttle out of the way in the morning to take pressure off having to rush if things got long. We parked at the St. Mary Visitor Center parking lot and waited for the free shuttle. It only goes every hour, on the hour, and we missed the 8am shuttle by 15 minutes, so we hunkered down until the 9am shuttle. We took the shuttle to Rising Sun and the start of the trail.

The hike starts on the Rose Creek trail that takes you to Otokomi Lake. After about 1.5 miles, we broke off and started climbing up Otokomi Mountain. Last year’s Reynolds Creek Fire has burned the undergrowth and opened this area up, so it’s a perfect time to make it happen. After a short stint in the burned trees, we broke out to the scree slopes. We worked our way through the scree slopes and some easy cliff bands, up to the wide, rounded ridge off the dome shaped Otokomi Mountain.

We followed that ridge with incredible views of St. Mary Lake with Goat Lake coming into view as we got higher. We eventually summited to 360 degree views that took our breath away. The wind was blowing and would be our companion until we got back into the trees towards the end of the day.

Goat Trail on East FlattopFrom there, we dropped down to a saddle between Otokomi Mountain and East Flattop Mountain, gained our elevation back, and then some, then came to a sweet rocky spine. There is a goat trail that works its way first on the west side, then you cross over to the east side of the spine. For those scared of heights, it would be terrifying, but for the rest of us, it’s fantastic.

After the goat trail, we traversed below East Flattop Mountain’s summit and did the gentle ascension to Singleshot Mountain. The destination isn’t the mountain’s actual summit (which is only accessible via technical climbing on sketchy rock), but a high point along the ridge with more sweet views. From here, you can see the foot of St. Mary Lake and the visitor center.

We turned around and headed back up to East Flattop Mountain, this time finding the summit. A small circle of rocks has been arranged to give you respite from the wind. Horned Larks performed fantastic acrobatics as we enjoyed the view, then took off down the approximately three miles of broad ridgeline.

We saw a herd of Bighorn Sheep as we walked the ridge out. A sea of peaks dominated most of the views with the plains stretching out to the east. The Boulder Creek drainage is immediately to the north and is remote and wild as there are no trails in there. This vantage gives you a peek into that area.

On the way to Napi Point, at the far end of the ridge, there is a saddle with a stand of trees. This stand isn’t a terrible bushwhack, but the fresh grizzly diggings (looking for plant bulbs) had us on edge. We made a lot of noise as we worked our way through the dense trees and were happy to emerge to better visibility.

The approach on the other side is short to the summit. It passes a huge rift in the ridge as the point continues to separate and calve off from the rest of the ridge as it’s done for millennia. Thankfully, the geology held up as we crossed over it and looked at more stunning views, then turned around to descend.

The path back to our car involved dropping off the mountain, then following the park boundary to the St. Mary Campground. We followed the east ridge of the mountain which was great, until it came to a beautiful flowery meadow that was extremely steep. It was brutal with tired legs and footing was lost numerous times until we reached the bottom. A little wandering and some help from our GPS got us on the park boundary that was visible from above via the swath cut from the trees.

This area was cleared out long ago and is growing back. While the top section of the boundary is pretty smooth sailing, the bottom two thirds is an overgrown mess despite the easy review from Gordon Edward’s book, “A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park”. The other thing to note is that this is a straight line drawn on a map, that doesn’t take into account terrain like most trails do. So if that means level, it’s level. If it means dropping straight down, it will do that too.

Once at St. Mary Campground, we had sore feet, scratched legs, and full hearts and spirits. Epic ridge walks will do that to a person. Thanks to Kristen, Mark, Ashley, and Tiffany for a sweet day in the alpine. The trip was approximately 14 miles and 5,000ft elevation gain/loss.

The GPS tracks of our trip can be downloaded by clicking here. Special thanks to Blake Passmore of Climb Glacier National Park for beta on the trip. Look at his amazing climbing books for great route descriptions, photos, etc before you head out for one (or more) of Glacier National Park’s summits.

Posted on 5 Comments

5 thoughts on “Four Summits on the 4th of July

  1. Thanks, Jake! Your photos and personal narratives keep the fire burning for next month’s backcountry trip. Also, the post-fire pics are very cool. I was there last year when they were burning and I often wondered what the area would look like this year.

    Cheers.

    Jeff

    1. I like it the year following. Not a fan a couple of years down the road when a burn is an awkward teenager, full of small lodgepole pines. 😉

  2. I love everything about this – your description, the photos and video. What a sweet way to spend the 4th of July weekend. I’ve made this journey three times but I think the last one was about 15 years ago. It is really a joy to experience through your words. I really hope to hike this with my kids sometime.

    1. You should!

  3. I’ve so often looked at those impressive mountains from the road and meadows below. I have always wanted to summit there. I hope to get with a few people who are familiar with them and get up top. Beautiful narrative and great pictures. You really are living the dream!

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