Triple Divide Peak, 31 August 2019

Located in Glacier National Park, Triple Divide Peak (2444 m; foreground centre) is one of only two hydrological apex points in North America, where water may flow into three distinct drainages, eventually ending up in the Pacific, the Atlantic, or Arctic Oceans. This was a big 34 km day that also included an ascent of Norris Mountain and some white-knuckled ledge walking. I will gladly make a return trip to Triple Divide Pass to ascend more mountains, as this is truly an amazingly part of the world.

My summer of exploration in Glacier National Park continued today with ascents of Triple Divide Peak and Norris Mountain.  Less than a week after summiting Mad Wolf Mountain in the pouring rain, Andrew and I once again found ourselves at the Cut Bank Trailhead, only this time, armed with a much better forecast.  As we stood looking at the map laid out on the hood on Andrew’s car, we contemplated finishing the Mad Wolf Grand Circuit.  However, an overnight thunderstorm had left the surrounding vegetation sopping wet and the thought of soaking ourselves on the overgrown Mad Wolf Boundary Trail was unappealing to say the least.  We then contemplated attempting Kupunkamint Mountain with a ridge walk to White Calf Mountain, but again, bushwhacking through wet vegetation was not something we wanted to experience.

That’s when Andrew suggested the route up Triple Divide Peak and Norris Mountain as described by Blake Passmore in Volume 5 of Climb Glacier National Park.  Andrew had previously been to Triple Divide Pass when he summited Mount James, Ampitheatre Peak, and “Little Amp” in 2010 and raved about the trail.  As far as I was concerned, if it meant that we’d still be dry by the time we reached the mountain, I was game!  🙂

Triple Divide Peak is a unique destination because it is one of only two hydrological apexes in North America – Snow Dome in Jasper is the other – where “the Great Divide and Laurentian Divide meet at the summit.”  (92)  This means that beneath it, water flows to three different oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay.

We started out around 8:30 am and covered the 11.6 km to Triple Divide Pass quickly, arriving just before 11:00 am.  One of the things that I noticed as we were approaching Triple Divide, was that unlike other peaks that look intimidating from afar but then grow tame as you approach the base, Triple never loses its edge.  It’s not a big peak by any means, but the scramble up its east face is definitely not for the inexperienced or faint of heart!  Passmore lays out the options for ascent and includes the much easier South Ridge Route that we used on descent.  However, as detailed as Passmore is in his description of the east face scramble route, his brief note stating “After reaching the goat trail the climb gets easier.  Follow the goat trail southwest to the ridge and ascend to the summit” (94) neglects to mention that the ledge the goat trail utilizes, narrows considerably as you progress, making for some EXTREME exposure.  Therefore, I would not recommend using this route unless you are an experienced scrambler who has no issues with vertigo, because once you have committed to the upper section of the east face, changing your mind would make for a challenging down-climb.

Fortunately, all went well and we arrived safely on the summit of Triple where we enjoyed the amazing views.  After our toes (and other body parts) unclenched from our experience on the ledge, we then set off for the much higher Norris Mountain that Passmore notes is ~1.6 km to the west.  We tried to follow the vague route description given by Passmore, but ended up abandoning it just shy of the summit when the prospect of down-climbing became daunting.  Instead, we headed further to the south and to an obvious gully that we had instinctually thought of using as we approached the mountain.  Had we used this gully at the beginning, we would have saved ourselves at least an hour.  I’m sure that Passmore’s route exists as Edwards himself in, A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park, notes “There are many class 3 routes to the summit” (309), but we ultimately found ourselves in what I would consider class 4 territory as we neared the point where we turned back.  Thankfully, it was a only a moderate scramble up the gully to the summit, as I would’ve been choked if Norris had ‘Chuck Norris’d’ us after investing all that time and effort.  😉

Glacier is truly a hiker and scrambler’s paradise and though it ultimately ended up being an 11 hour plus, 34 km day trip, I’d gladly make the pleasant hike back to Triple Divide Pass to attempt Mount James or Razoredge Mountain.  Finally, a HUGE kudos to Andrew for making such a great choice of destinations for the day!

Be sure to read Andrew’s awesome trip report!

To get to Triple Divide Peak and Norris Mountain from Lethbridge, drive south on Highway 5 to Cardston, then take Highway 2 to the Piegan-Carway Border Crossing.  Once across, continue on Highway 89 for ~53 km until you come to the turnoff for the Cut Bank Creek Road.  Turn right onto the gravel road and follow it for ~8 km until you arrive at the parking area just prior to the campground.  This is the trailhead for the Pitamakin Pass Trail (for reference, I’ve included our GPS track for last week’s trip up Mad Wolf Mountain on the map).  Follow the trail for 6.3 km (the sign says 6.3 km though my GPS indicated it was 6.46 km) until you arrive at the junction for the Triple Divide Pass Trail.  Up to this point, the trail gains very little elevation and can be hiked quite quickly. Turn onto Triple Divide Pass Trail and hike another ~1.1 km to the junction with the Medicine Grizzly Trail.  Again, the elevation gain is light. Remain on the Triple Divide Pass Trail and hike another ~4.2 km to reach Triple Divide Pass.  Here is where the trail begins to gain significant elevation.  We covered the entire distance from the Cut Bank trailhead to Triple Divide Pass in 2.5 hours.

Triple Divide Peak rises above the Pass and we decided to use Passmore’s scramble route up the east face.  I will reiterate again that I would not recommend this route for inexperienced scramblers or those with vertigo.  Passmore rates it as class III (4) and the 4 comes just prior to reaching the ledge where the goat trail is.  The entire route is chossy with lots of loose scree and a steep angle of attack in the middle- to upper-section.  For me, the crux of the trip was getting onto the ledge and for Andrew, it was following the goat trail along the ledge.  The ledge looks fairly wide once you get onto it, but as you round a corner and begin to head southeast, it narrow in spots to less than 30 cm.  Be warned that the exposure is extreme.

After summiting Triple Divide, we made the ~1.6 km hike to the base of the summit block of Norris Mountain, detouring along the way to check out the views from a prominence that we nicknamed, “Chuck”.  The gully that we used to get to the summit was brutally obvious as we approached the base.  Unfortunately, we wasted an hour or so trying to ascend directly beneath the summit when the gully would’ve gotten us up right away.  There is plenty of loose scree on the lower section of the gully, but the rock gets better the further up you go.  Once on the ridge, we had no difficulties scrambling up a short section of solid rock before walking to the summit.

We descended using the gully and then traversed beneath the summit of Triple Divide to reach the south ridge that connects to Razoredge Mountain.  We followed the ridge almost to its end before finding the gully used for the much easier, South Ridge Route described by Passmore and Edwards.  Here is where we descended to the base of the cliffs before following an obvious trail back to Triple Divide Pass.  We then returned the way.

Including the time spent on our initial route up Norris, our total distance travelled was 34.2 km with total elevation gains of 1572 m.  Our total roundtrip time was 11 hours and 42 minutes.

Gearing up at the Cut Bank Trailhead.  The weather was substantially better than it was last Sunday when we were here to ascend Mad Wolf Mountain.

Andrew leads the way as we start along the Pitamakin Pass Trail.  The middle peak in the distance is Bad Marriage Mountain, so we decided to nickname the two peaks on either side, ‘Divorcé’ and ‘Divorcée’.  😉

Not long after starting, we came across this great view of ‘Divorcé’ and ‘Divorcée with Bad Marriage in the background.

Kupunkamint Mountain was one of the other destinations that we had considered for the day.

Pitamakin Pass Trail gains little elevation and we were able to make great time for the first ~6.3 km.

Arriving at the junction with Triple Divide Pass Trail (right).  The sign at the trailhead said it was 6.3 km to this point but my GPS pinged it at 6.46 km.

The following ~1.1 km was also an easy hike.

Arriving at the junction with Medicine Grizzly Trail (left).  From here, the trail heads to the right and begins to gain significant elevation as it covers another 4.2 km to Triple Divide Pass.

Such a gorgeous morning!  In the distant centre is Razoredge Mountain with Triple Divide Peak to its right.  On the left is Medicine Grizzly Peak.

Some stunning crimson argillite alongside the trail.

Fantastic hiking on the Triple Divide Pass Trail!  I will definitely come back here again.  (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Medicine Grizzly Lake sits beneath Razoredge Mountain and Triple Divide Peak.  Fittingly, the stream flowing out of Medicine Grizzly is called Atlantic Creek to indicate ocean it flows toward.

Our first clear view of Triple Divide Peak.  The east face looks intimidating from this vantage – and guess what?  It never really loses that edge.

A beautiful waterfall (centre) falls from the lush cliffs beneath Razoredge Mountain.  The much tamer South Ridge Route to Triple Divide is where the scree stretches up to the ridge on the far right.  We used this to descend.

Meanwhile, that east face still looks nasty…  (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

A very rough approximation of our route.  The lower and middle sections are comprised of small, scree-covered ledges.  The angle of attack becomes increasingly steep the closer you get to the main ledge where a goat trail allows you to traverse to the southeast across the face.

The view to the northwest and Split Mountain (right) from Triple Divide Pass.  Norris Mountain (left) is completely obfuscated, but the visible prominence is what we nicknamed, “Chuck”.

A pano to the southeast from the Pass.  The trail that leads to the South Ridge route is between the very large cliffs of the ridge and the first small cliff band.

Andrew heads towards the east face of Triple Divide Peak.

The view north as we draw closer to the east face.  The creek leading out of this valley is called Hudson Bay Creek to indicate where it will flow.  Yay for Canada!  😉

Looking back at Triple Divide Pass and Mount James as we gain a little more elevation.

Almost at the face.

Every one of those shelves is covered in loose scree.

Finding our way up the lower section.

More loose terrain on the lower section.  (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Almost at the fun stuff.  Note the small cairn on the bottom right. We found a few of these, but nothing that would mark out a direct or clear path.

The upper section of the route is quite steep and would be challenging to down-climb.  The ledge with the goat trail is directly beneath the yellow lichen.

Andrew climbing what I thought to be the crux of the trip – the climb onto the ledge.

Andrew arrives on the ledge after scrambling up the rock behind him.

At first the ledge looked fairly wide…

…then we rounded the corner and saw this.  (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Andrew follows me around the corner and onto the very narrow and crumbly section of the ledge.

After arriving safely on the ridge, I snapped this shot of Andrew as he carefully negotiates his footing.  To say that the exposure is extreme would be an understatement.  We were so focused on our footing and holds that we didn’t notice the alternate gully that Passmore describes as leading to the summit from the ledge, so I have no idea where it is.

Gazing down the south ridge to Razoredge Mountain while I wait for the blood to begin flowing back to my knuckles, toes, and various other body parts.

Andrew skillfully steps over a particularly narrow section just prior to reaching the ridge.

On the ridge and looking at the walkup to the summit.

Medicine Owl Peak through a neat little window near the summit.

As we drew near to the summit of Triple, the clouds lifted and we finally got our first good look at Norris Mountain.

The summit of Triple Divide Peak (2408 m).  This is one of only two hydrological apexes in North America where water will flow into three different oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay.  The other apex is Snow Dome in Jasper.

A pano to the east and our approach route in along the Triple Divide Trail.  All the water in this valley will drain to the Atlantic.

A pano to the southwest.  The aptly named, Pacific Creek will take the water in this valley to the Pacific drainage.

A pano to the north and the drainage that will lead back to Canada and the Hudson Bay.

Triple Divide Pass from the summit.

A closer look at Norris Mountain (left) and Split Mountain (right).  This is such a gorgeous valley!

Another view to the north with Medicine Owl Peak on the right and Red Eagle Mountain in the centre.  St. Mary Lake is also noticeable in the distance.

I want to return someday and ascend Mount James.

Medicine Grizzly Lake and the beautiful tarn beneath Medicine Grizzly Peak (centre).  Bad Marriage Mountain is on the left with Eagle Plume Mountain immediately behind Medicine Grizzly Peak.

A telephoto of the what Passmore calls the ‘Mad Wolf Grand Circuit’.  We tried this last Sunday, but terrible weather forced us to turn back after reaching the summit of Mad Wolf Mountain (far distance and to the left of centre).  The other two peaks on the circuit are Eagle Plume Mountain (right) and Bad Marriage Mountain (left of centre).

Razoredge Mountain is a fitting name.

A telephoto of Mount Stimson.  Unfortunately, its summit was beclouded the entire day.

Our next destination for the day.  At 2707 m, Norris Mountain sits 263 m higher than Triple Divide.

Andrew on the summit of Triple Divide Peak.

Just glad to have survived the ledge!  😉

Though it was tempting to stay longer on the summit to enjoy the views, we had to keep moving if we wanted to summit Norris and still hike out before dark.  Click to continue to my Norris Mountain report.

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