Glacier National Park Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Cleveland (10,466 feet)

Date: September 2, 1997
Author: Jim Egan

In pursuit of my goal of climbing all the 10,000-foot peaks in Glacier National Park, I set out with my climbing partner Vern Ingraham of Whitefish, MT to climb Mount Cleveland on August 31st from the Belly River trailhead just below the Canadian border near Chief Mountain customs station. I had obtained the necessary permit to camp at Lake Mokowanis which is 14.4 miles from the trailhead. Two other friends, Marvin Parker and Roger Dokken, joined us at the last minute for the climb and hiked in with us.

From Lake Mokowanis we resumed our trip at dawn on September 1st, hiking up to Stoney Indian Pass, which is 6.1 miles of one of the most beautiful trails in Glacier Park, before leaving the trail to ascend the ridge that runs south from Mount Cleveland and has the Stoney Indian Peaks along its crest. Following the route description contained in Gordon Edwards' "Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park", we traversed the southernmost Stoney Indian Peak on the west side and then scrambled across the saddle on its north side to the ledge system on the east side of the ridge. From there it is about 2 miles to the summit and the route finding is easy if you have good visibility. At this point we separated into two teams due to speed differences and Vern and I went ahead.

This is a class 3 route with incredible scenery and unforgiving exposure along the ledges which are generally several feet wide, but have loose scree in spots and thousands of feet of air below if you should stumble while you take in the sights. This route has been used many times since the first known traverse by Norman Clyde and party in 1937. My reason for choosing it was the desire to reach the summit by the least dangerous route after having suffered a broken foot attempting the west face route the prior summer.

We reached the summit without incident and took in the magnificent views in all directions since Cleveland is the highest peak in Glacier Park. After enjoying a brief lunch, we headed back to see how Roger and Marvin were doing. They were just reaching the final climb up from the ledges when we encountered them and they were losing enthusiasm due to the mistaken belief that Cleveland was much farther ahead on the long ledge traverse. On learning that they were just at the base of the peak and faced only a scramble up and hike along the summit block, they found renewed spirit and decided to press on. There was plenty of time for them to summit and return to the trail before dark and they were equipped to bivy if needed.

Vern and I proceeded back to camp and were resting there about 7 pm as the sun was starting to drop behind the Continental Divide. We had a good view of the traverse route we had used earlier and just about that time Marvin was in the lead along those very ledges below Stoney Indian Peak when he heard a strange sound and turned around to spot Roger disappearing over the edge without a shout. There was no way to climb down thousands of feet of cliffs nor would it have helped. After gathering his wits, Marvin proceeded with extreme caution to Stoney Indian pass where he reached the trail and headed 8.5 miles to the Goat Haunt ranger station to report the accident when he arrived about midnight.

Vern and I waited for their return to camp and after it grew dark, we decided that they must have decided to bivy rather than attempt to continue in the darkness. It was not until first light that we realized that there was a problem -- a helicopter began searching along the route we had traversed and we knew that something had happened and one of them had been able to report it. We broke camp and headed for the Belly River Ranger station, but no one was there to give us any news, so we continued the final 6 miles to our vehicle where the rangers had left us a note requesting that we contact them. By then, they had recovered Roger's body and we learned that we had lost a good friend.

Marvin later recalled how they had reached the summit and that the wind had died while they were enjoying the incredible views. They had started back with plenty of time to reach the trail before dark and Roger was elated to have reached this mighty summit. He died doing something he enjoyed tremendously.