Tough Climb Challenges Gals, But All Make Top for Eclipse Viewing
The GiG has had quite a year: The Chinese Wall, Crypt Lake and now Cataract Peak for the eclipse. Wow.
We decided to make Cataract an overnight. The only place that we could find rooms was in East Glacier, so we made reservations with Katie’s friend Terry Sherburne at the Mountain Pine motel. We left Great Falls at 11 a.m. on Sunday to give us a leisurely start but also provide a little time for a small hike in Two Med before the big day on Monday of the eclipse and our mountain climb.
We arrived at Two Medicine Lake around 2 p.m. and hiked to Aster Falls and then Paradise Point, stopping at the pond both coming and going to view a mama moose. On the way in, she was resting by a tree and then on the way back, she was eating in the pond. We did not see her baby but others had seen the young one before. We figured she had her little one stashed in the willows surrounding the lake. We also enjoyed observing the trees down by –and almost downed by—beavers along with their lodge.
The flowers were mostly dried up, due to no rain since June, but a few showy asters and harebells brightened our path with a splash of purple along with a few yellow groundsel.
After our hike, we headed into East Glacier to queue up at Serrano’s. While a few held our place in line (we were first and got there at 4:35), the others shopped at the Mercantile and the Little Brown Pottery house. The gals bought huckleberry and lupine earrings, unique.
After our dinner, we checked in and got all our gear prepared for an early start the next day.
On Monday morning, we got on the road just before 6 a.m. with the sun just starting to give us some daylight. We had to watch for free-range black angus on the way in addition to wildlife. We stopped at St. Mary Lodge to leave some eclipse glasses at the desk for the Canadian gals to pick up on their way as they would be meeting us at Piegan pass, but not before we climbed the peak. We wanted to make sure they had glasses for viewing the eclipse.
We got on trail at Siyeh Bend at 7:30 a.m. under smoky skies that cast an eerie, but pretty red, light on the lake and surrounding mountains as we drove the Going to the Sun highway.
And we booked it to Piegan pass, with only three parties passing us on the way. One bad thing: Sue Michels didn’t have her expensive ($280) down jacket secured to her lumbar pack. While she was looking for items in her pack, it went tumbling 50 feet down the side of the mountain. We knew we didn’t have time to retrieve it, if anyone dared do so, so we marked the spot to assess the dangers on the way back. And Catherine lost the cover to her bite-valve on her water bladder.
We arrived at the pass in 2.5 hours, took a a quick 10-minute break looking over the pass into the Many Glacier valley and snapped some pictures of ourselves in front of the back side of the Garden Wall before starting our ascent. Another party also decided to climb Cataract, which disappointed Katie a bit as she had thought no one else would think to climb this mountain. However, the other party turned out to be a blessing as one of the men guided us to what he called a “full frontal attack,” which proved to be a better way than what Katie usually does. This is quite a challenging climb as it passes through the Diorite Sill, an igneous intrusion in the Siyeh limestone. The talus is quite large with many loose boulders to navigate and rough rock that can cuts and scrapes hands.
Maddie and Catherine looked like they might give up several times due to the rough rocks, but they kept going, so we all made it to the top!It took us exactly an hour to climb the peak, as we arrived at just after 11 a.m., stopping a few times to pull out the eclipse glasses to view the start of moon covering the sun since it started at 10:35. At the top, Anita realized she had lost her bear spray from the holster somewhere during the climb, making it three items lost so far on this trip. We all sat down (some lay down) and settled in for some eclipse viewing.
On the top, it was windy; and as we approached the height of the 89.9 percent eclipse that we would see, the temperature dropped noticeably. At its height, the sun cast an eerie greenish-colored light with odd shadows, and the wind picked up.
Several of us put on two or more layers. We were grateful that we already had gloves on from the climbing.
In fact, it was so cold, we decided to head back down before the entire eclipse was over but not before having our picture taken by the other party. And we asked them to keep their eyes open for Anita’s bear spray on their descent. On a side note, the other party was using double garbage-bag plastic for viewing the eclipse. We didn’t think this too safe.
It took us a while to navigate the boulders on the way down, so we were very happy to reach the grassy vegetation on stable ground once again. We were also happy to see our Canadian friends waiting for us at the pass. And we were happy that the other party found Anita’s bear spray. We said a quick “hi,” and “goodbye,” to our friends as they headed back down to find out what happened to the rest of their party. They think they accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up at Siyeh instead of Piegan Pass. Unfortunately, they hadn’t given each gal her own glasses, so the “lost gals” didn’t get to view the eclipse.
We took some photos of us pointing to our peak and then found the spot where Sue lost her jacket. It took us a while to locate it and were afraid someone else had retrieved it but then we did see it. Mary S volunteered to climb over the steep side and get the jacket. We all told her not to risk it if she thought the angle too steep, but she was able to get the jacket in its stuff sack and climb back up with the strap over her wrist.
We never did find Catherine’s bite-valve cover, but we felt good to retrieve two out of three lost items.
We arrived back at the cars by 3:30 p.m., a half hour before our anticipated time. We drove to St. Mary lodge for a break, some sodas and coffee as well as for Katie to leave a nice note and tip for Alfred, the desk attendant who had given the package of eclipse glasses to the Canadians. Unfortunately, he had just left for the day so sh couldn’t do it in person.
Being Monday, many small restaurants were closed, but Buffalo Joe’s was open, so we headed back via Dupuyer and Choteau. Our meal was good, finshed off with “Piegan” pie (really “pecan”); the drive back was fun as we were still high from the exciting day we just had.
We got back into Great Falls around 8:15 p.m.
Who went: Sue, Mary S, Mary N, Catherine, Maddie, Anita, Katie