The Glacier Divide route: a sketch


A trend has emerged lately, to construct a high route through a given range, the idea being to create a rugged backpacking path which is non or minimally technical, and maximizes scenic value.  No route will ever be definitive, but a high route should be as close to a one-stop-shop for an experienced visiting hiker as is practical.

Roper’s effort in the Sierra got things started, and recently at least two proposals for the Wind Rivers have emerged.  The following is my proposal for Glacier National Park.  A detailed map can be examined here.


I’m not going to present exhaustive information, as such effort quite simply take the fun out of life.  I did try to draw that Hillmap line as well as I could in the places (i.e. off trail) where it will matter.  The following are a few routes-specific details for consideration.

-I have not done the east ridge up to Grizzly Mountain, but on the map and from the saddle by Bearhead it doesn’t look too bad.

-The chimney between Red Eagle Meadows and Almost-a-dog Pass is an unavoidable technical crux, and may have aspirants carrying an axe and crampons well into August on some years.  There is no alternative, and when properly prepared it isn’t a big deal.

-The diversion east to Florance Falls is inelegant and introduces the only real bushwacking on the route.  The south ridge of Gunsight Mountain may well go at a reasonable standard, in which case it would be the preferred route.  A diversion over the Sperry Chalet, Comeau Pass, and the Floral Park route is also an option, but longer.

-There are a large number of potential diversions from the Highline Trail, but none of them are more elegant than the trail itself.

-There are a number of potential variations in the route between West Flattop and the Guardhouse traverse.

-I have not done the final stretch from Hole-in-the-Wall around Custer to the border.

-Generally speaking, aside from the Almost-a-dog chimney and sections of the Guardhouse traverse, and perhaps the ridges detailed above, nothing on this route requires spikes on a normal August 1st, and nothing is harder than class 3 (if the correct route is taken).

Some broader, logistical details.

-GNP does issue undesignated backcountry permits for trips such as these.  Expect to be asked to carry a bear can, and to be viewed with some skepticism and be questioned accordingly.  If you can present well, you will get permits to camp up high in the good stuff.

-The obvious best way to handle the northern end of this is to drop down to Cameron Lake and bushwack around the lake to the road, but this requires an illegal entry into Canada.  Backtracking and hiking out either Boulder Pass or back to Bowman Lake is probably preferred.  Bushwacking directly down to Upper Kintla is a very, very bad idea.

-No point in Glacier is come summer very far from a road, and thus doing chunks of this route is very appealing.  Logan Pass to Highway 2 is the better half, and quite a bit harder overall.

-A fit and experienced crew will do this onsight in 7-9 days if they manage to not get hosed by the weather.  Less motivated folks could easily spend the same time on the southern half.  I’ll throw out a challenge and say that sub 100 hours for the whole thing is quite possible with proper fitness and experience.

-Though water is quite abundant, there will be a number of 2-7 hour dry stretches.

-Though not really technical, and with stretches of surprisingly mild terrain in many stretches, the extensive scree and sidehilling will be quite wearing for even the best prepared hikers.  Light loads are recommended.

Have at it people.


7 responses to “The Glacier Divide route: a sketch”

  1. Is it easier to locate the chute going north? I am assuming the cliffs coming out of the meadow is where it is located.

    1. Yes, the first stretch of cliffs going up out of the meadows is the problematic section. Likely easier to locate going up, but not hard to find going down either. The first time I did that section I was going N to S and deliberately brought minimal beta. If you’re following your nose the ramps leading down to the chute/chimney are the only likely looking way down anyway.

      Some friends got shut down by snow in the chute going S to N a few weeks ago, so it’s a hazard worth taking seriously. See this photo ( for what we found in mid July last year.

  2. Overall, spectacular suggested link-up. I’m curious what Don at RMO’s suggested route would look like. The Floral Park option would be a worthy one. The Flattop area choice you made makes about as much sense as any of the other IMO. And as for the Highline options, yes someday Garibotti and Haley can come in and walk along that knife.

  3. I’m not sure that the way I took is the best way, but I made a few variations to the suggested route on Hillmap. I descended in Buttercup Park and rejoined ridgeline at Painted Tepee Peak. In between Rockwell and Lone Walker, I descended towards Upper Two Medicine and took a notch up to the Lone Walker-Helen saddle. There is a way up the south ridge of Gunsight Mountain, though difficulty is largely dependent on snow conditions, and the descent into the Sperry Glacier Basin isn’t bad. From Custer to Forum it’s difficult to stay on the ridge, but a good goat trail exists (for part of the way) on the west side of the ridge. Water availability can be difficult in some sections (Lone Walker-Helen saddle to Triple Divide, Brown Pass to Cameron Lake) if late in the summer. I did this over three scouting trips and the combined on route time was about five days, but it’s certainly doable faster, especially if one knows the route.

    1. Good stuff Jeffery. Thanks.

  4. […] be shocking just how hard and time consuming it can be to get over there.  Most of the details I laid out two years ago, and all of the time estimates, I still believe, but we did not nail all the details, which put 100 […]

  5. […] Glacier Divide High Route. Wow! This one seems like a real wild card. Not for the faint of heart. An accomplished adventurer […]

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