The Pitamakan-Dawson Loop is one of our favorite hikes in Glacier that we try to do once a year. With the North Shore Trail of Two Medicine Lake closed, we ended up having a slightly longer day doing the South Shore Trail. We donned our running packs to do a faster version of the hike and headed out on a perfectly sunny day.
In an avalanche chute across the Two Medicine River and visible from the Two Medicine Campground, we spotted a black bear foraging for berries. This time of year bears, both grizzly and black, are eating as much as they can and sometimes frequenting certain sections of trail.
It was for this reason that we were unable to do the classic Pitamakan-Dawson Loop with the North Shore Trail, but would have to come back either by boat or via the South Shore Trail.
We still held out a small sliver of hope that they would open the trail, but it was apparent from the beginning that it was probably not going to happen. The North Shore Trail was roped off as we set out and followed the trail up and over the ridge coming off Rising Wolf Mountain and into the Dry Fork drainage.
The sun was shining and the air had that cool feel that the end of August and all of September have. Fall is just around the corner and we love hiking this time of year. Dry Fork was (mostly) living up to its namesake where we crossed it before beginning the steady climb up the valley.
Our preference is to hike up to Pitamakan Pass first because the mountains are perfectly front lit and the views gradually open up (instead of finishing looking out this drainage, you finish walking along the shores of Two Medicine Lake). With no smokey haze to speak of, the valley was in excellent form as the triangular Flinsch Peak came into view.
Huckleberries along the way kept slowing us down as we couldn’t help ourselves to their delicious fruits. We kept thinking we’d see a bear at some point, but none showed up. The berries were the thickest as we entered the haunted forest of dead whitebark pines near Oldman Lake.
We skipped the lake this time and started climbing up towards the pass knowing that we’d see the lake from above. It takes no time at all to the stunning views of the valley which continue as elevation is gained. We passed a small herd of bighorn sheep containing ewes and lambs along the switchbacks.
Once at Pitamakan Pass, we could see down into the Cutbank area with Pitamakan Lake and Seven Winds of the Lake sparkling below us. A slight dusting of snow on Red Mountain reminded us of what was in store in the near-ish future. Marmots whistling notified us of the immature golden eagle and prairie falcon that we zipping along in the breeze.
The wind was stiff and chilly as we worked our way up to Pitamakan Overlook, but was bearable as long as we kept moving. Once at the overlook, the upper stretches of the Nyack area exploded below us.
One of our favorite sections starts here (although it’s not everyone’s favorite due to the narrow ledges). We love traveling across the narrow ledge of the goat travers that stretches from the overlook most of the way to Dawson Pass. Views for days with glacier, towering summits and U-shaped valley.
We ate our lunch while we walked and stopped at the various overlooks including the saddle between Flinsch Peak and Mt Morgan with stunning views back down on Oldman Lake. A bit more goat traversing and we arrived on the southern flanks of Flinsch Peak and started switchbacking down to Dawson Pass. The southern facing slope was welcomingly warmer.
From the pass we traversed through Bighorn Basin and saw one of its namesake animals. A little ways down and we found the level of flowers with gentians and sulphur flowers in full array.
Shale gave way to beargrass and subalpine fir which gave way to douglas fir and lodgepole pines. We got small views of No Name Lake and increasingly better views of Two Medicine Lake as we descended into the valley. Turning back, we saw Pumpelly’s Pillar (really just the end of a ridge, but from a certain vantage looks like a cool spire) and looked up at Mt. Rockwell.
We hustled down the rest of the way, stopped by the boat dock and decided not to wait for over an hour for the boat. The North Shore Trail was still closed so we began the climb up and over the ridge that comes off Sinopah Mountain and joined up with the South Shore Trail. Along the way, we got more fantastic views of the lake and Rising Wolf Mountain which we’d been circumnavigating all day.
Once on the South Shore Trail, it was a quick cruise back to the foot of the lake, followed by a road walk to our cars. It was a long day, but a gorgeous one. We were sore with big smiles.