Kintla/Kinnerly Peak Backpack, Glacier National Park, Montana - August 2010
Day 1

Added 28 January 2011

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Thursday, 19 August 2010, Glacier National Park, Montana

We were up early this morning to give us more time for the ascent up Kintla Peak. We were up and about at six oíclock for a quick breakfast before heading out, but as it turned out we didn't start hiking until nine o'clock. Andrea had been contemplating doing Kintla with us, but she decided to stay at base camp while the rest of us did the summit. Since she was just going to hang around camp, she offered to let me use her trekking poles, an offer I gladly accepted. We had two main options for getting up to what Iíll call the base of the mountain, by which I mean the base of the climb. One way was the forested north side of Agassiz Creek, the other was to gain some elevation on the south side of the creek before crossing over the creek on the bedrock slopes above the waterfall. The later route avoided the wooded area, which, after our experience from the previous day, seemed like a prudent choice.We climbed around the south end of the waterfall cliff and up a glacial valley that was scoured down to bedrock. We ascended up smooth rock slopes punctuated here and there by small to medium sized ledges that gave the valley the effect of being an amphitheater. The large waterfall was the symphony and we, it's only audience. Water flowed in rivulets or rushing torrents all over the slope, complementing the beauty and directing our footsteps.

Every other footstep was painful for me. My left boot was still grinding away at the back of my achilles. The pain waxed and waned throughout the day, but it never went away, and it was bad enough that I was a bit worried. My first worry was that I would need to plant that foot at some critical moment in the climb and it would fail me. My second worry was that I was doing lasting damage. I knew I wasn't doing permanent damage, but knew that it could take me out of commision for a while. There were a few other things I knew at this point. Z's knee was bothering him and he might not be able to finish the climb. (Yesterday, it had even been questionable whether Z would even attempt the climb.) Jerry is a machine, a very goal-oriented machine whose goal was Kintla Peak, and while I fully trusted he wouldn't do anything stupid to get there, I suspected he would try it solo if Z and I were too injured to make the ascent. The last thing I knew was that I wasn't about to let Jerry do the climb solo, whatever that meant for me. But first we just had to get across that darn creek!

We kept trying to find a place to cross the main flow safely and dryly, but that proved far more difficult than we had anticipated earlier when we looked at the area from camp. The wet rocks were extremely slick so even though there were many places where the water was shallow enough to cross, the slopes were such that, if one were to fall, it would be a really fun waterslide with a potentially nasty ending. We remained cautious. In the end, we were probably overly cautious. We should have just taken our boots off and crossed the stream at a location where there was little hazard in falling. What we did, however, was keep climbing up the southern side of the creek looking for a nice crossing, knowing weíd have to gain the elevation anyway.

At some point, we came to the conclusion that we had ascended far enough up the creek that we might as well just go around the top of it and ascend to the pass between Kintla Peak and Mount Peabody. That required ascending progressively longer and steeper snow banks that, while not hazardous, made me a bit nervous.I am a desert rat, afterall! A fall and the resulting slide would have been merely frustrating rather than hazardous, but I was definitely intent on not falling, so I lagged behind Jerry a bit on the snow banks and pushed to catch up when back on solid ground. He was definitely more at home on the snow than I.

One thing is certain, I was glad I had taken Andrea up on her offer to let me borrow her trekking poles. I never hike with poles, but I was definitely glad to have them today.

At the saddle, the views down from whence we had come and to the west down the Akokala valley were stunning, and we spent a little time there admiring them. By this time the wind had arrived, and it was energetic to say the least.

One of the routes up Kintla started from the pass we were currently at, so we read over it to see if it was one we wanted to try instead of going up from the Great Notch between Kintla and Kinnerly Peaks. The brief description made the ascent sound easy, but we couldnít reconcile it with what we were looking at and we decided to try one of the other two routes. To do so required us to cross the base of Agassiz Glacier, which was a neat experience. While Iíve been on Saint Maryís Glacier in Colorado, it isnít a true glacier, so Agassiz was the first glacier Iíd ever stepped foot on. There are certainly larger and more dramatic glaciers in the world (and even in the park), but it was a great experience nonetheless.

I'm not sure Z was so happy though. His knee and/or ankle were giving him problems, and I think he was frustrated. The snow and ice was not something we had planned on crossing so much of. We had actually brought crampons and ice axes to Montana for snow/ice conditions, but we were told that there was hardly any snow and ice in the high country so we'd decided to save weight in our packs and left them at Jerry and Andrea's property. In retrospect, that was a mistake.

While the snow slowed me down, I was still able to go faster than Z's knee would allow, so it was a rather time consuming hike to get to the second described route up Kintla, and it was mid-day by the time we got there. Time was not on our side at this point. The description of the south ridge route also didnít seem to make sense based on what we were seeing, and we had to read it several times before we were convinced we were even in the right spot. By this time the wind had become more gusty, and a few times it nearly knocked us over, forcing us to hunker down and brace against it. The wind was often coming straight down the mountain, as if Kintla itself was trying to dissuade us from climbing it.

This route started out with a fairly short vertical climb to a ledge then over to an adjacent gully.

With the wind pouring down on us, I didnít feel particularly confident in that first part of the ascent and expressed my concerns. Even though my injured achilles was a factor in my concern, at this point, I also came to two additional glaring conclusions. One, I am definitely not a mountaineer. Two, Iím a wuss. This was, of course, an inopportune moment to come to these conclusions. At any rate, I have to say that looking up at the mountain didnít fill me with a burning desire to get to the top of it. But then, Iíve never really had the peak bagger mentality. I was there largely because Jerry needed a climbing partner and it had looked for a while like Z wasnít going to be able to make the trip. As it turned out, my presence wasnít turning out to be even the slightest bit helpful to Jerry in attaining his goal.

Once Jerry decided not to try the south ridge route, I suspect based on my balking at it, it was fairly certain that we had run out of time to make the climb. I felt really bad. Still, we headed for the third and final route up the Great Notch, if for no other reason than to scout it out for a future attempt. The climb down to the tarn was a continuous stretch of talus that was fairly treacherous and required careful foot placement.

We had lunch at the tarn lake below the Great Notch, which is where we had originally hoped to camp at the previous night, and looked at our potential route. As we ate I was amused by a lone bird that stood on a rock nearby and scolded us the entire time we sat there intruding on his territory.

The snowfield just below the notch looked like it might be too steep to climb without the crampons and ice axes we left back at the property, but we were going to try it anyway. Then, while we were eating, I guess Jerry decided that the likelihood of us getting stopped short of the notch by our not having the right equipment made the effort not worth making. Our new goal was to merely find a better route to the tarn lake for a future ascent. From this area we also had a good vantage point to look at the slope we hiked in on the day before. My feeling then was definitely that the high route would have been a better choice, though it would have required walking on a lot of rock and talus.

We continued in an easterly direction, descending the southern flank of Kinnerly Peak. We continued to encounter talus, then got the additional benefit of encountering cliffs. We skirted most of the cliffs but had to descend through one by doing a controlled butt slide down a chute of rotten rock. It was there that I had my only mishap of the day, though minor, when I smacked my knee into a sharp bit of cliff face and put a nice gash in it.

After descending the talus slope below the cliff we crossed a neat area in which sloping areas were bounded by short (as in not tall) walls of bedrock. It reminded me of reverse mud cracks on a huge scale. Upon traversing this area we were above the cliffs on the north side of Agassiz Creek overlooking our camp. We descended the ridge eastward looking for a break in the cliff and eventually found one. While on a steep part of the descent, Z took a slight spill. When I heard the fall I turned around in time to see Jerry sliding down the hill on his shoulder after falling himself. He blamed his fall on looking back at Z after his fall. Likely story! The irony was that I was just about to make a comment about Jerry being as sure-footed as a mountain goat (which is nearly true despite the fall).

When we got to where we could see camp Jerry radioed Andrea to see if she could see us and give us some direction for finding the best way down the mountainside. She eventually saw us and said that all we really had to do was just go straight down. When we got to Agassiz Creek, Andrea met us with our sandals so we would be able to ford the creek without getting our boots wet. Jerry threw a rope to Andrea, she tied all of our sandals on it and threw them over to us. It was then just a short walk back to camp. It was, I believe, around five oíclock when we returned from our circumnavigation of the Agassiz Glacier basin.

While the hike was not successful in the strictest sense, and despite my achilles problem, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn't really bothered that Kintla Peak had evaded us, as it was a nice hike through stunning terrain. I don't believe Jerry felt quite the same though. He was definitely bummed about not getting to the top of the mountain. For that reason, I had mixed feelings about our day.

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