Elk Mountain

On 20 May 2017, Eva B., John Bence, Marta Wojnarowska, Zosia Zgolak and I ascended Elk Mountain in the southeast corner of Montana's Glacier National Park.  Marta, Zosia and I left Calgary very early that morning and met Eva and John at the Brownies Hostel & Bakery in East Glacier.  Originally, Elk Mountain was not even on our radar, but after seeing how much snow was still covering all the local mountains, we consulted our topo map to look for alternative objectives.  The map shows a trail running up the south ridge of Elk Mountain all the way to the summit, and we figured that our best bet for tagging a summit would be a Class 1 ascent on some sort of south-facing aspect.  Although we were not aware of it at the time, the summit of Elk Mountain is the site of a former fire lookout, and there is a lot of information available online describing the hiking route to the top.  This site in particular is an excellent resource.

Unfortunately, we did not have the benefit of researching this trip beforehand, and it took a bit of trial and error to find the turnoff to the trailhead (turn off the northwest side of US Highway 2 onto an unsigned gravel road about 8.8 kilometres southwest of Marias Pass Obelisk or 3.0 kilometres northeast of Devil Creek Campground; the signed trailhead is about 1 kilometre from the highway).  The trail initially cuts through private land before entering Glacier National Park beyond double train tracks.  It is worth noting that trains roll through here very frequently.  A few hundred metres beyond the train tracks is Fielding Patrol Cabin, and there is a convenient pit toilet here.  We found the signed junction for Elk Mountain just past the cabin, and after crossing a somewhat marshy section, we settled into an unrelentingly steep climb up the southwest slopes.  We eventually lost the trail in a lingering snow pack, but unfazed, we simply headed uphill aiming for the crest of the south ridge.  Thankfully, the snow was still supportive enough for us to walk on, and a brief but heavy rainstorm was not enough to deter us from continuing upwards.  The crest of the south ridge was mostly snow-free, and we picked up the trail again here and followed it without further difficulties to the summit.

After an extended break at the summit, we followed the trail down the south ridge before losing it again as it dropped off the crest onto the snowy southwest slopes.  Taking advantage of the great snow conditions, we plunge-stepped down the line of least resistance and eventually regained our up-track and subsequently the trail lower down the mountain.  The remainder of our descent and hike out was uneventful.  Upon returning to the hostel in East Glacier, we checked-in (Eva and John had already checked-in the night before) and had a refreshing shower and a satisfying dinner before enjoying an evening sing-along with Marta playing her guitar.
Looks like we have a well-maintained trail to follow which is awesome! The group starts hiking from the trailhead.
Interesting little holes on the back of this thing! Right off the bat, a tick is found crawling on Sonny.
Oddly enough, the trail doesn't go up the open slopes on this side of the ridge... The south ridge of Elk Mountain is visible at right on the approach.
Did anyone remember to bring bear spray??

This is a good reminder to be vigilant when hiking in and around Glacier National Park.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Are we near Hell on Wheels?? The group quickly crosses double railroad tracks.  The trail continues into the forest near the aspen trees at centre.
Pretty boring-looking cabin! Marta checks out the Fielding Patrol Cabin.
If you miss the train I'm on, then you'll know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles... A train rolls through the valley bottom in this view from the lower slopes of Elk Mountain.
Token flower photo. Here is one of the many glacier lilies in bloom on the open slopes of Elk Mountain.
It's a great no-nonsense trail--no dips or undulations! John leads the way as the group climbs up the relentlessly steep trail.
We don't need no stinkin' trail!! The group heads directly uphill after losing the trail in the snow.
It's not really worth hauling ski gear up here, but a Krazy carpet would be an awesome thing to try out here! A little wet after a brief rainstorm, Zosia follows the others into the trees just below the ridge crest.
Looks easy from here...

Zosia and Eva ascend the south ridge of Elk Mountain.

At least the rain is starting to peter out... Even on the upper mountain, the trail is relentlessly steep.
Or like a big oven mitt! Mount Saint Nicholas sticks up like a sore thumb to the northwest.
I don't usually like dogs, but that's one beautiful "Little Dog"! The mist clears to reveal Little Dog Mountain to the northeast.

Aren't we colour-coordinated??

Marta, Eva, Sonny, John and Zosia stand together on the summit of Elk Mountain (2391 metres).


We would tag the summit of Mount Furlong the next day. Behind John and Eva are the southernmost peaks in Glacier National Park.  Most of the remaining peaks on the horizon are outside the park in Flathead National Forest including Mount Furlong at far left.
The 4,679,385th mountain named, "Sheep"!! Recognizable peaks to the north include (L to R) Sheep Mountain, Brave Dog Mountain, Mount Despair (centre) and Grizzly Mountain.
It's all downhill from here! The group descends the south ridge of Elk Mountain.
It's turning out to be a really nice day! This is looking back at the snowy east face of Elk Mountain from the south ridge.
Just as good as skiing! Zosia leads the others in plunge-stepping down the southwest slopes.
Actually, this slope was too shallow to pick up any serious speed! Zosia and John have a glissade race while Marta and Eva prepare for the second heat.
I'm not sure that the designers of this tandem pit toilet were thinking... Back at Fielding Patrol Cabin, Zosia and Marta hold hands while taking a 'test drive' on the tandem pit toilet.
A great early season objective! Total Distance:  11.8 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  6 hours 29 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1021 metres

GPX Data