If you would have told me that it was going to be raining when we reached the ridgeline, we wouldn’t have even started. Great Northern Mountain just south of Glacier National Park is a fairly popular climb that I have yet to do for some reason. Kristen and I set out on Sunday morning to give it a go.
The forecast called for thunderstorms at 1pm, so we figured we’d try and be up and down before they came. We arrived at the trailhead to a mostly overcast sky and started the brutal slog up to the ridgeline. After 2,600ft in less than two miles, we reached the ridgeline.
Looking east towards the summit, everything looked fine. There was a mild drizzle happening, but we could see the whole ridgeline (which is basically the route) and it was clear. The problem is, as you can see from the above photo, that there is a long section that’s very exposed to the weather with no cover.
To the west, however, it was a different story. The drizzle we were experiencing was just the beginning. The weather comes from the west and it was full of “adventure”.
The problem at this point is what makes good decisions hard. Like I said before, had I known the weather was going to come this early, the decision would have been easy. Don’t go. But since we had invested so much effort already, and we could see the summit, suddenly sound judgement was clouded.
As we looked south, we could see the rain move across. We got out our rain gear and went down a little bit into the trees to talk more and see if this was just a wave or the system was arriving.
To complicate matters, as we waited, a group of four, young hikers slogged their way up the ridge. We all discussed the weather that was happening and the frustrating call it was making. They decided to go up to the ridgeline and then make their call. We heard their voices for a bit, then we didn’t. They had decided to go on.
This brings in the second reason that making good decisions is hard. When you see someone making bad decisions in front of you, you begin to think that you’re soft, or maybe it’s actually okay. We looked towards the once clear summit to one that was now obscured.
We decided to walk along the ridge for a little bit “just to see”. It was windy and rainy. The summit was obscured and you could see the clouds climbing up and over the ridgeline. Essentially what was awaiting us was a sufferfest at best and dangerous at worst.
If we summited, we would be able to say that we were “tough” and did it. We would have been freezing, soaked, and in the clouds without a view. We’d have to do the whole stupid thing over again so we could actually experience the incredible views at the top.
Ultimately, we realized that, despite the effort already expended and despite the social pressure, we would be better served by simply heading down the ridge and doing the slog again when the weather was more accommodating. As we returned along the ridge, I pictured what it would be like on a beautiful fall day and realized that that was how I wanted to experience this mountain.
I’ve climbed two other mountains where I’ve summited in the clouds. I’ve since re-climbed Mt. Jackson, but still need to climb Heavens Peak again… because I didn’t really feel like I climbed it yet.
One ditch to fall in is to simply give up when it becomes hard. Inclement weather, a challenging climb, etc doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to turn around on an adventure. Some people simply bail too early.
The other ditch, however, is where people get into trouble. Make sure that when you’re making decisions, you’re being driven by the right criteria.
As we headed down, the first wave of rain had passed, but the clouds still sat on the summit. More rain followed that day with the addition of thunder and lightning. We’ll be back to climb it again…. when the sun’s out.