Glacier National Park (GNP) is called the ‘crown of the continent’ for a reason. GNP is impossibly scenic, with every turn in the trail providing an amazing view of mountains, jagged peaks, waterfalls, glacier-carved valleys, lakes, wildlife, and, of course, glaciers. The 1.4 million acre park contains some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the west. These are the views you will never forget! Of the estimated 150 glaciers which existed in the park during the mid-19th century, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010. Scientists estimate that all the active glaciers may disappear by 2030 if current climate patterns persist.
Hike Distance: 10.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
Siyeh Pass Hike in the Saint Mary area was our premier hike for this trip to GNP. Although the distance hiked was the basically the same as Grinnell Glacier hike, Siyeh Pass is a more difficult hike for the following reasons:
Maximum elevation is 8,100 (the highest in GNP) vs 6,600 feet for Grinnell
Elevation gain of 2,300 vs 1,600 feet for Grinnell, but the elevation gain is over a much shorter distance
Wind, snow, and temperature changes can be more extreme on Siyeh
More remote and less trafficked
Even the drive into the Saint Mary area of GNP provided epic views. The jagged mountain ridge slightly right of center is Little Chief Mountain which rises to an elevation of 9,456 feet.
Almost-a-Dog Mountain (8,922 ft) visible through a matchstick forest. This mountain is named for a Blackfoot warrior, Imazí-imita, who was a survivor of the 1870 Marias Massacre.
Of course, we knew the Siyeh Pass hike started at the 'Piegan Pass' sign on Going-to-the-Sun Road. It was actually pretty cold when we started the hike at 8:30. You can't tell, but Dave had two layers of clothing under the jacket.
The trail started out with a gentle incline through dense forest bordered by a creek.
Even though we started in a dense forest, we could occasionally sneak a view of the surrounding mountains.
After a couple of miles the forest began thinning out. It was no time to speak in whispers since we were entering grizzly bear territory - it's loud voice, bear spray, and bear bell time.
I really like this picture with the blue sky, multicolor striated mountain, green trees and the fall colors in the grasses. A perfect photo capturing fall in GNP.
The forest was gone and our view was of Preston Park, a glacial-carved valley with meadows favored by grizzly bears. Off in the distance was the 9,215 foot peak of Reynolds Mountain partially covered in clouds.
A great view of Piegan Mountain and Piegan Glacier as we started gaining elevations above Preston Park. To put this picture in perspective, Piegan Mountain stands at an elevation of 9,220 feet. Piegan Glacier is one of the few glaciers in GNP that has not decreased in size when compared to photographs taken in the 1930s.
It was time for a short break as we climbed the 700 foot elevation gain through steep switchbacks up the rocky slopes of Matahpi Peak. Here we were left exposed to wind and colder temperatures.
Mount Siyeh, at 10,019 feet, is the fifth tallest and one of six peaks over 10,000 feet in GNP. It towered above the trail opposite the switchbacks we are climbing. n this picture, the summit is just out of view but the photo provides a glimpse of the mountain's infamous North Face. It is a 4,200 foot vertical wall, which is one of the largest walls in North America. Cracker Lake lies at the bottom of this gigantic north face.
A fully attributed view of Mount Siyeh since I missed getting a clear shot of the mountain.
Dave making final adjustment to his gear. The temperature was dropping, winds were getting stronger and we began feeling the effects of the 7,800 foot elevation.
We were moving a little slower but we still took the time to enjoy the surroundings.
Pollack Mountain (9,195 feet) is the flat-top mountain located behind Piegan Mountain.
Oops, time to reverse course. Deep snow cover in a section of the climb caused us to lose the trail. But we decided to split up; I reversed course and searched above the snowfield while Dave reversed course and searched below the snowfield. The plan worked, we found the trail and continued uphill. This was a proud moment for us because in the past with these weather conditions and this remote location, we would have turned back - but not this time!
Back on track with a little less snow on the trail!
The trail became significantly more narrow as it clung to the ledge. Drifting snow added another layer of challenge here.
Right around the corner, we reached the high point of the trail. Topping out at 8,100 feet, this is one the highest maintained trails in the park. Mount Siyeh and Siyeh Pass were named by George Bird Grinnell for a Blackfoot Indian by the name of "Sai-yeh," Grinnell was influential in establishing Glacier National Park in 1910.
It took a few minutes to find an area protected from the wind so we could eat lunch.
Sitting here made those damn switchbacks worth every step. It was a lunch spot we won't soon forget.
Lunchtime view into Boulder Creek Valley
After lunch we packed up and began walking through the pass. We had magnificent views of the jagged peak of Point 8490 (no other name) and the pyramid peak of Goat Mountain (8,831 feet) to the right.
The path began to curve around the other side of Mahatpi Peak as we began our descent to the valley.
Soon we were greeted by Going-to-the-Sun Mountain that reaches an elevation of a 9,647 foot and Sexton Glacier. The glacier is situated in a cirque north of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and on the southeast slope of Matahpi Peak at an elevation of approximately 8,000 feet. Sexton Glacier covers an area of approximately 68 acres.
It wasn't long before grasses, ground cover and small trees began to crop up along the trail. Looking across the valley we could see a small sliver of St. Mary Lake in the valley far below.
Fortunately, the path skirted this scree covered slope.
Somehow no matter where we were on the trail, Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and Sexton Glacier were always visible. I never tired of the view.
Late fall colors as we get closer to the valley. We ran into two other hikers on the trail in this area. It was incredible that we had hiked almost the entire 10+ miles without running into a soul.
This trail from the pass was long and steep dropping almost 1,450 feet in roughly 2.5 miles. The good news - the terrain now became less steep.
The bad news - we were reentering bear country. Time to make some noise again.
Walking through a forest of stunted trees, also known as krummholz.
Looking back at the trail we had descended: Going-to-the-Sun left of center; Sexton Glacier clinging to the ledge between Going-to-the-Sun and Mahatpi Peak; and far right of center the saddle where Siyeh Pass entered the valley.
As we approached the end of the trail we entered another 'match stick forest' with the charred tree trunks but colorful ground cover.
What a great hike and a perfect GNP day. We finished the hike in 5.5 hours. After a short wait we caught the shuttle bus back to the car. Before driving back to the hotel, we kicked up our feet and enjoyed the sights once again.
Day 6 is our last available hiking day on the trip. Weather permitting, we planned to hike the Iceberg Lake trail. Click here to navigate to the Day 6 blog.