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Pitamakan – Dawson Loop 2017
If you were to ask me which hike is my favorite hike, I probably would tell you the Pitamakan-Dawson Loop. I set out with a group of donors and staff from the Glacier Conservancy to do this loop and the sunny day, fantastic loop, and a boat ride was one for the books.
Sinopah Mountain reflected in the glassy Two Medicine Lake as we started out hike. We were planning on taking the boat back to our cars, so we parked at the parking lot near the dock and walked the road over to the campground. I was hiking with some donors and staff of the Glacier Conservancy and we decided on one of my favorites, the Pitamakan – Dawson Loop.
So there are differing opinions of which direction to hike the loop. My preference is to do it counter-clockwise. I like how the grade is gradual and how the landscape unfolds. You get to sneak up to Oldman Lake, then see it from above, then from the overlook. Seeing it from the overlook, then the other way seems to be less stunning. Others like to go clockwise by either taking the boat or just getting an earlier start and walking the shoreline. The big benefit to doing it that way is that you get a lot of the elevation gain out of the way earlier in the day. What I don’t like is that there is a little 100ft rise with a trail that stretches forever if you go that way. Either way, however, is a great way.
We crossed over the river and wrapped around Rising Wolf Mountain and met up with creek coming out of Dry Fork which still had some water flowing through it. From there, we headed up the beautiful drainage looking up at all of the rugged peaks lining the head of valley. As we got higher, we spent more and more time out of the trees with views of little waterfalls pouring out of various side valleys.
The trees began to get thick as the trail leveled off and we neared Oldman Lake. We wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time for the boat, so we passed on the lake knowing we’d see it from above shortly. At the trail junction we had a quick snack, then began the steep climb up to Pitamakan Pass. That ridge always brings a “Whoa!!” from those seeing it for the first time and those seeing it for the 20th time. Not only are you looking down the drainage that you left, you can now see down the Cutbank drainage with Pitamakan Lake and Seven Winds of the Lake nestled down below you.
Lunch was consumed and we traversed across the northern flanks of Mt. Morgan through the alpine meadow on our way to Pitamakan Overlook. Once there, the views expanded even further. This was the beginning of the goat traverse. This infamous traverse features a few miles of exposure, so for those with a fear or heights, this isn’t always a highlight, but a section to endure.
From here, you can see the results of the Thompson Fire that blew through here a few years ago. Halfway through the traverse, we came to one of my favorite features that is the saddle between Flinsch Peak and Mt. Morgan where you look down at Oldman Lake and out the Dry Fork drainage. After admiring with our eyes and taking a few photos, we moved on towards Dawson Pass. Along the way, a few Bighorn Sheep were spotted well below the trail.
After rounding Flinsch Peak to its southern aspect, we dropped down to Dawson Pass, then dropped down into the Two Medicine valley. This steep section can be brutal on tired legs, but everyone made it down. Thankfully we were taking the boat down as a large Grizzly had closed the north shore trail. Half were able to make it on the first boat while the rest of us sunned ourselves on the dock like a bunch of Sea Lions.
Eventually, the Sinopah, a boat run by the Glacier Boat Company, came back and picked us up. If you’ve never ridden on any of the boats that they pilot, you really are missing out. They operate and maintain boats on most of the larger lakes in Glacier (Lake McDonald, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake, St. Mary Lake, and Two Medicine Lake). Their staff are friendly and knowledgeable while the old wooden boats are delightful in and of themselves. On top of that, the setting isn’t bad either. 😉
Overall, a great day. That hike doesn’t disappoint… as long as it’s not trying to blow you off the trail (which it mercifully wasn’t for us)!
Lastly, if you are a lover of Glacier National Park, swing over to the Glacier Conservancy’s website. While the park service’s budget covers it’s staff and basic functionality, there are numerous ways where it falls short. In these gaps, the Conservancy steps in and does great work. They do that through educational initiatives such as bringing students to the park, through science such as funding citizen science programs, glacier surveys, etc, and through preservation which involves structure and trail rehabilitation.
They receive their funds from folks that care about the park and wish to leave it better for those that follow. Visit their site and consider being part of that legacy to pass on the experiences you’ve received to others.