Forecast called for a sunny day and with the fall colors poppin’, the trail was calling. We hadn’t been to Piegan Pass for a bit and thought that we might climb Cataract Mountain if we had time/energy/desire. It turned out to be a glorious day of colors, birds, mammals, and views in Glacier National Park
The colors were glowing everywhere we turned. Maples and burning bushes decorated the neighborhoods in town, birches and huckleberry bushes decorated the mountains. We knew that we needed to get out before everything fell to the ground and the snow started falling. Going-to-the-Sun Road was still open and we decided that Piegan Pass sounded swell, so we packed up and headed out.
October is a sneaky great time of year. The weather, of course, can pretty much be anything. 75 degrees and sunny? Yup! Snowy and below freezing? You got it! Thankfully we were in the former camp with not a cloud in the sky. The drive up and over Logan Pass was simply stunning as the sun streamed through the golden leaves of cottonwoods and birches along the road. Up along the avalanche chutes, huckleberry bushes glowed red, false huckleberry bushes popped lemon yellow, and mountain ash sat in the middle with a vibrant orange.
Upon reaching Siyeh Bend, we got out of our car and into a stiff wind that chased Siyeh Creek down the drainage. Snow had fallen earlier in the month and was now melting reviving creeks and streams. As we worked our way up the trail and through the forest, Golden-crowned Kinglets called out to each other as they flitted below branches, hovering to catch an insect.
We spied a lone Steller’s Jay then a few Canada Jays as we worked our way up the trail where it began breaking up, giving us views of Mahtapi Peak and Piegan Mountain. We eventually broke out into the meadows of the lower part of Preston Park giving fantastic views of Mt. Siyeh in front of us and Piegan Mountain to the west with Piegan Glacier perched high above.
Normally, we enter these meadows marveling at the wildflowers, but this late in the year, the color comes not from the flowers, but from the leaves. It was a bit past its prime, but colors still popped everywhere amongst the occasional patch of snow in shaded areas.
We passed the trail junction with Siyeh Pass and broke out into the big open views looking up at Piegan Pass. The trail slicing through the ridgeline as it traverses below Mt. Siyeh. We met a few folks coming down from the pass and received word that we should keep our eyes out for some Bighorn Sheep up ahead.
As we got close to the pass, we spied the sheep, counting five rams, as well as a couple of Mountain Goats perched up on the east face of Piegan Mountain. American Pikas welcomed us with their adorable “Eeeep!” calls. At the pass, we found snow drifts across the trail that heads down into the Many Glacier valley as well as a stiff wind as the air rushed over the pass. We found a semi-sheltered spot and had lunch as flocks of Gray-crowned Rosyfinches flew over our heads.
After a short debate, we decided to scramble up to Cataract Mountain, so named because the top of it has a gray-ish cap of limestone. It feels like a big pile of rocks which makes for tricky footing (and excellent pika habitat). We carefully worked our way up the short climb along the edge of the ridge. Views looking into both drainages are stunning. After a couple hundred feet, we traded the large boulders for limestone housing (or made of) stromatolites, an ancient fossil of cyanobacteria colony blooms.
The summit is a lower summit than the ones around it, so it doesn’t give you that “views looking forever in all directions”, but it does pop you right in the center of things and gives you a fun panorama of the peaks and the cliffy, east face of the Garden Wall. While the south side of the summit is an easy grade, the north side of the summit is a vertigo-inducing cliff that drops straight down about 1,000ft.
The stiff, chilly wind told us we shouldn’t linger long, so we took our photos and worked back down the ridge to the pass, then continued on back to our car. The setting sun lit up the Garden Wall, giving us one last look at the vibrant colors before dropping below Heavens Peak.