Sneaking the Guardhouse


Andrew Skurka is a more meticulous navigator than I am. This isn’t saying much, as after identifying an area of interest and a plausible route through it postulating details bores me quickly. Thus I put off his amazement, and seeming discombobulation, at the depth and immediacy of the traverse around Thunderbird Peak and The Guardhouse as fitting given the environment and his fresh eyes for it. This route is massive and intimate at the same time, twisting a big S that goes almost 180 degrees around first one mountain and then the other, over the course of shockingly few straight-line miles. The traveler here is simultaneously stuck in with nose grinding to the intimate rocky folds, least you slip and roll the 4000′ to the forest below, and looking the full ultramarine length of lakes which took hours to walk along the day before. It was only after a weeks’ mind’s worth of walking in 12 hours to a meadow camp between rock folds that he noticed the line on the map. Which denoted that the right half, and all of the previous one, on which we had virtually crawled that day, were drawn in 80 foot contour intervals, rather than 40. I’d never seen nor heard of such a thing, and it tells a lot about both Andrew’s disorientation, and the lengths to which cartographers were forced when they reduced those bowls and shelves and little lakes to 1:24,000 scale.

Ascending out of the basin NW of The Guardhouse was particularly improbable from distance.  The pass leading into Valentine Creek, the largest untrailed drainage in Glacier National Park, was the supposed end of our worst difficulties, both for the day and for the whole trip.  The high goat trail was draped with snowfields, bent by a cool early summer into improbable angles, and the pass itself plugged with a 15 foot vertical cornice which admitted no ambiguity.  Our line involved several rock chimneys and multiple wormhole passages under melting snowfields, and the most unlikely of which required substantial ice removal before a human could fit through, avoiding steep and exposed step cutting I really didn’t want to do.  I’ve been up and down longer, and more technically difficult, exits, but none quite so intricate, unique, and unlikely.

Our grand traverse was cut short, by a pace which may have pushed the number of days I had available and an achilles tendon which flared so suddenly I lost hours of sleep the third night.  The full story must wait, because among other reasons Andrew is (as I type wearing shorts in a dark room) still out there.  But we had a heck of backcountry blind date, and found that the walk through Glacier’s most remote ridges is wild and unrelenting.


6 responses to “Sneaking the Guardhouse”

  1. Man, your whole blog is just killer.

  2. […] of more rigorous and effective ways to macro-navigate (Skurka had role modeled his data sheets this past summer, a level of trip planning detail I’d never before been involved in).  If you’re a […]

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