With a significant number of wildfires burning in B.C., Montana, and Idaho, the skies have been thick with smoke and haze for the past few weeks. Indeed, Calgary just broke the record for consecutive smoke at 322 hours and Lethbridge is probably getting close to that. Not wanting to hike and feel like I’ve inhaled a pack of cigarettes – or hike up a new destination and not be able to see anything – I set my sights on finding an area where I’ve already been. After checking firesmoke.ca, I discovered that Pollock Mountain and Piegan Mountain in Glacier National Park would have the least smoky conditions in the region thanks to expected light winds from the east.
Last month, Nathan and I summited Piegan but could see that the couloir leading to the summit of Pollock Mountain was still covered in snow. Not even considering the Great Cleft route – which did not have snow at that time – we decided to forgo Pollock and instead, spent the rest of the day fishing. However, I decided that I would return once the snow had cleared and if it hadn’t, I’d use the Great Cleft route as my alternate – though importantly, this route shouldn’t be confused with the one to the “left of the cleftal horizon” if I may conjure a little IT Crowd humour. 😉 So, with my hopes resting on the modelling accuracy of firesmoke.ca, I set off on a late morning solo trip .
Perhaps the most surprising development of the day, was the sheer lack of people in GNP. I had expected the Lunch Creek parking area to be full, especially because of my late start, yet there was only one other car that belonged to a group of four friendly hikers who were starting off at the same time as me. Unlike our July trip up Piegan, I was able to use the gully at the end of the upper bowl to reach the saddle between Pollock and Piegan, as it was now snow free. The couloir up to the summit of Pollock was also snow free and I was able to follow the route described by Sonny Bou and Bob Spirko. In fact, the scramble up the couloir was the highlight of my entire day.
From the summit, I had contemplated continuing on to Bishops Cap, but had neglected to memorize or even bring a route description, and so, I thought it best to wait for a clear day when I had a partner in crime. Instead, I decided to re-tag the summit of Piegan because I haven’t been able to get out as much as I’d like to lately, and a two-peak day is the best remedy for this condition – and I’m glad I did, because I ran into a group from the Chinook Outdoor Club in Lethbridge, who I knew would be ascending Piegan via Piegan Pass that same day. They were just coming down as I was starting up. After spending some time chatting near the saddle, we parted ways and I made quick work of the hike to the summit, where unlike my last windy visit, I was able to venture further to the northeast and take more comprehensive pictures of Piegan Glacier.
All in all, this ended up being an excellent day for a solo trip with the only let down being that I didn’t have time to take the Chinook Club up on their invitation for a post-hike beer – next time friends! 🙂
To get to Pollock Mountain from Lethbridge, enter Glacier National Park at the Saint Mary Entrance and follow the Going-To-The-Sun Road for ~27km until you come to the Lunch Creek pullout. This is where you park and the trailhead begins next to the creek on the other side of the road. From here, follow any one of a myriad of small trails alongside Lunch Creek until they converge into a main trail. From the trailhead, it’s a ~500m hike to reach the large waterfall that sits at the entrance to the bowl beneath Pollock and Piegan. Using a faint path, ascend to climber’s right of the large waterfall.
From the top of the waterfall, walk ~550m and past a smaller waterfall, until you reach the upper section of the bowl beneath Pollock. A noticeable path heads up towards the headwall where a gully then leads to the saddle between Pollock and Piegan. From the entrance of the gully to the saddle, it’s approximately ~250m in distance with an elevation gain of ~210m. I found that it was easier to stick to the sides of the gully and as soon as it was possible, I left the gully and ascended better terrain to climber’s right. Near the top, I cut across the gully to climber’s left as I headed towards Pollock Mountain.
From the point where the gully meets the saddle, it’s a ~200m walk to where the path begins to head north. However, on the way back I discovered that if I had continued angling climber’s left for another ~90m, I would’ve found an easier way to reach the notch and the trail to the couloir. No matter, after turning north, I walked for ~95m until I looked up and could see the notch described by Bob Spirko. After ascending the to the notch, I found myself at the base of the cliffs on Pollock’s east end. Here, a cairn marked a faint trail that leads ~60m around the mountain to the base of the couloir.
The couloir is class 3 and I had no difficulty ascending or descending, but I definitely made sure that I took the time to secure my holds. After climbing for ~72m in elevation, I emerged about 50m from the summit and enjoyed an easy walk to the cairn. I returned to the saddle the same way I came with the exception of the going down the side opposite the notch.
Taking my GPS with a grain of salt, my distance travelled from the parking lot at Lunch Creek to the summit of Pollock Mountain was ~2.6km with a total elevation gain of 845m. The complete trip including Piegan Mountain ended up being just over 8km in total distance with a total elevation gain of 1063m. My total roundtrip time was 5 hours and 44 minutes.
Pollock Mountain (centre) can be seen through the smoke from the Lunch Creek parking area.
With over 500 wildfires burning in B.C. and a large fire burning just over the Divide near Lake McDonald, the Going-To-The-Sun Road was only open to the Visitor Centre at Logan Pass. This probably explains why there was only my 4Runner and a car belonging to four other hikers in the parking lot.
Looking up Lunch Creek from the trailhead. This is a short, but scenic approach.
Arriving at the large waterfall not long after starting.
The trail goes up to the right of the waterfall near the light coloured rocks.
Even though there wasn’t the same volume of water as there was a month ago, the waterfall was still beautiful.
The view back from the edge of the bowl. Heavy Runner Mountain is on the left and Reynolds Mountain is on the right. The Lunch Creek parking area is near the bottom centre. From the trailhead, it’s a little over ~500m to reach this point.
Arriving at the bowl beneath Pollock Mountain. The trail can be seen on the right.
The bi-coloured fur of this marmot allows it to blend into the surrounding terrain.
At the end of the bowl, the trail leads to a gully that allows passage through the headwall and up to the saddle between Pollock and Piegan. When we were here in July, there was too much snow in the gully for it to be safely navigated, so we ascended Piegan further to climber’s right (not shown).
Arriving at the gully to much fanfare…
Looking up from the entrance to the gully. To reach the saddle from here, it requires an elevation gain of ~210m over a distance of ~250m.
Looking back from the entrance to the gully. On a clear day, these views are spectacular. Today, not so much…
The view back from the point where I left the gully and to ascend better terrain found to climber’s right (or in this picture, skier’s left).
Once free of the loose scree inside the gully (left), travel became a little easier.
Near the top, I cut across the gully to climber’s left as I headed towards Pollock Mountain.
On the saddle and looking towards Piegan Mountain – my second destination of the day.
Heading towards the impressive summit block of Pollock Mountain.
This is point where I began to follow a faint trail to climber’s right (north), though on the way back, I discovered that if I had continued angling climber’s left for another ~90m, I would’ve found an easier way to reach the notch and the trail to the couloir.
Heading north along the trail.
Mount Siyeh and Piegan Pass Trail from the slopes of Pollock.
I walked along the trail for ~95m until I looked up and could see the notch (left of centre) described by Bob Spirko.
Heading up the ramp towards the notch.
A small cairn (foreground) sits at the top of the notch and beneath the impressive, and brightly coloured cliffs of Pollock.
From the notch, a cairn marks the faint trail that leads ~60m around the mountain to the couloir.
The couloir is found immediately behind this outcrop.
A small fossil.
Looking up the class 3 couloir from the base. This was a fun section of scrambling!
For reference, this is the view back along the trail from the base of the couloir…
…and this is view looking further to the northwest.
Looking back shortly after starting up the couloir. I wisely decided to leave my pack at the base.
The scrambling definitely kept me on my toes!
Though it looks like a continuous ramp from above, the couloir is really a series of scree-covered ledges.
Getting closer to the top.
After climbing for ~72m in elevation, I emerged about 50m from the summit and enjoyed an easy walk to the cairn.
The summit of Pollock Mountain (2802m).
Despite the smoky skies, I could still see to the east, Mount Siyeh (left of centre), Matahpi Peak (centre), Going-To-The-Sun Mountain (distant right of centre) and Piegan Mountain (foreground).
To the southwest I could see Reynolds Mountain (left) Bearhat Mountain (centre), Clements Mountain (right of centre), and Mount Oberlin (foreground right).
Gazing northwest towards Bishops Cap (foreground) and Mount Gould. At this point I was still considering heading over to Bishops Cap, but I had neglected to memorize or even bring a route description with me, and after a good look from the summit of Pollock, I thought it best to wait for a clear day when I had a partner in crime.
Looking to the northeast at Mount Siyeh and Piegan Pass.
A closer look at what ended up being my next objective for the day, Piegan Mountain.
My only companion on the summit.
Summit selfie with Bishops Cap and Mount Gould in the background. Somewhere between here and the saddle, I lost my sunglasses. Doh!
Heading back to the couloir. Click to continue my trip report to Piegan Mountain.