Mount Cleveland, MT

Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington + Hawaii.
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Gary Neben
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Mount Cleveland, MT

Post by Gary Neben » Tue Aug 15, 2017 3:01 pm

Mount Cleveland is a USA Lower 48 Ultra, one of 57 peaks with 5000 feet of prominence. It also features on many other peak bagger lists. Thus if you check this one off, you may find yourself pursuing many new peak bagging lists. :roll:

Cleveland is a complicated peak to summit. The most popular route via Stoney Indian Pass, which we did, involves route finding, crappy rock, and sustained exposure. Although no rope is required and the exposed sections are probably no harder than class 3+, you can expect the climb to be mentally and physically challenging.

The other complication in completing this peak is obtaining camping permits from Glacier National Park. It is incredibly difficult to get camping permits. :bash: The park is overrun with tourists and backpackers which contributes to the demand for permits and the ability for the Park to manage this process. Even if you wind up snagging the correct permits, they only let you stay in a CG for 1 night. Most CG’s are limited to 3 or 4 sites and each site is limited to 4 people. The sites are small and tend to accommodate up to 2 tents. (There are even more limitations that you’ll learn when applying for a permit.) :dizzy:

Although I do find it commendable that the Park reserves 50% of the CG sites for walk-ins, I do not understand their reasoning for the severe limitations of number of sites, the way walk-in and reserved permits are issued, nor some of the CG restrictions. For just one example, the hugely popular Stoney Indian CG is limited to 3 sites! This CG is a natural staging point for climbing Cleveland as well as for backpackers travelling over Stoney Indian Pass. I could list many other grievances about the permitting process, but let’s just get on with a nice TR.

Glacier is a grizzly bear and black bear habitat. Thus you should carry bear spray. Surprisingly to me you don’t need bear cans. Poles are provided to string up your smelly stuff such as food and Stoney Indian CG also has a bear locker you can use.

The problem with doing Cleveland in a day and/or by yourself are the distances involved (~26 miles RT from the lowest camp via Stoney Indian Pass) and grizzlies. That is, starting during the early morning hours also means you're more likely to have a grizzly (or black bear) encounter. I had considered a long day solo but the bear issue convinced me otherwise.

2017/08/07, Monday (Day 1)
Steve Mueller, Patrick Thornley, and I leave the Denver area early afternoon and carpool to Sheridan(?), WY for the 1st hotel night.

2017/08/08, Tuesday (Day 2)
We continue to Shelby, MT for the 2nd hotel night and rendezvous with John Hamann, another team member.

2017/08/09, Wednesday (Day 3)
Steve, Patrick, and I leave early for a pre-7:00 AM arrival at Saint Mary Visitor Center to pick up one reserved permit and attempt to get another permit. (Goat Haunt does not issue permits.) At 6:40 there is already a line at the door which opens at 7:00. We wind up getting a 2nd permit for Kootenai Lakes CG (KOO) for Friday night after purposely getting a Waterton River CG (WAT) for Thursday which we had no intention of using. We continue through the Canadian border to Waterton Park where we buy ferry tickets: leaving on the 1:00 ferry for Goat Haunt and returning on the 2:30 ferry on Saturday. We can use the 2:30 ticket for standby on an earlier ferry if we get out earlier. Assuming you are returning on the ferry, you must buy the return ticket here at Waterton Park. We debark the ferry at Goat Haunt, go through U.S. customs, pass park rangers who question us, and hike the short but annoying circuitous distance to WAT where Patrick has the reserved permit to camp. Goat Haunt has running water where we filled our bottles. John and the final member of our team, Robert Mills, are camping outside of the park and will join us tomorrow at Stoney Indian CG (STO) where John has a permit. This last permit at STO is the critical one that enabled us to do the trip.
2017/08/10, Thursday (Day 4)
Un 7949

Steve, Patrick, and I backpack the ~7 miles and ~2200 feet to STO from WAT where we take one of the 3 sites and drop our loads. I’m still burning with energy from all the driving and non-activity so I go for the nearby summit 7949 shortly after setting up camp. We’re all in camp when John and Robert arrive close to dinner time. John and Robert share a 2nd tent at the site. An amazing thunderstorm blazes through shortly after dinner. Apparently this is the storm that ignites the fires in Glacier that closed trails and evacuated people. Luckily the fires did not affect us on this side of the park.
Following stats for climbing Un 7949 from STO
Start/End Loc: Stoney Indian CG, Glacier National Park
Distance/Elevation: 2.8 miles RT/1618 feet elevation gain

2017/08/11, Friday (Day 5)
Mount Cleveland 10466

The big day has arrived. All week the forecast had been great for today and we find that although the forecast is still good, there’s now a small chance for late afternoon or evening storms. We leave camp ~6:20 AM for Stoney Indian Pass, a solid mile of switchbacks that gains ~600 feet. From there the idea is to follow Greg Slayden’s GPX tracks that John said to download from I think four of us, if not everyone, had the tracks in their GPS’s.
From the Pass we head up E to the first tier headwall, following a light trail through the grass and then the gravel. Avoid this headwall by traversing right ~.1 miles until you come to an opening of steep loose rock. Go up this to a 3rd class open book and ledges in a low angle rock band at upper right or traverse 50 feet further right and find the path of least resistance up the loose slope and ledges, also about 3rd class, winding up in the same area. We found a faint trail during the traverse but nothing else going through the rock band.
Continue up the steep slope of loose dirt and rock, angling first right up the wide gully and then back left to the original ridge. We did find an occasional light trail through the dirt and rock and maybe 1 or 2 cairns. You’re now above the second tier headwall and ready to begin the contouring traverse on the W side of 8848. This traverse passes through a short one-step down climb into a narrow gully, maybe class 3+. Continue traversing until a fairly obvious, easy 30-foot descent allows you to continue the remaining short traverse to the chute. The entire contouring traverse follows a decent path, making things obvious, and the descent point was marked with a cairn.
Begin walking up the steep chute on loose rock, climb an 8-foot class 4 chimney on solid rock, then walk the last 20 feet or so to the South Stoney Indian - 8848 saddle. From this small notch you can survey the E side traverse that comes next. Consider the W side traverse that you just completed a warm-up for what’s to come.
The W side traverse follows an exposed, snaking ledge system across the entire face below the three Stoney Indian summits. Expect to take ~1½ hours for the traverse, from the saddle above the chute to the Cleveland - North Stoney Indian saddle. The ledges can be narrow at times or slopey. The footing can be on solid rock or, most of the time, on gravelly dirt. I found two distinct crux sections, both about class 3+: a step-around protruding rock problem on a narrow ledge and a 10-foot walk on a narrow rock ledge. There are many places that are do-not-fall zones. In summary I’d say, again, not too hard but stressful and the anxiety level is definitely ratcheted up for a long while. We followed a light path the entire way that was marked by a cairn near the beginning of the traverse and near the end where you contour up and away from the ledges.
The last ~.3 miles to the Cleveland - North Stoney Indian saddle eases up quite a bit, mostly side-hilling until you reach the good rock of the ridge. Continue on a good path just left of the ridge and then stay mostly on the ridge until the obvious cliff band higher up blocking your way. Equally obvious, take the upward contouring rock ledge to climber’s right for several hundred feet and then climb through some rock ledges, two possible paths at class 3 or class 4, until you can regain the ridge. There are lots of cairns in this area. There is definitely some exposure on the initial contouring ledge as well as the vertical rock ledges.
Once back on the ridge the remaining climbing is straightforward. Continue up the ridge to a final short rock band, avoid it to the right trying to minimize your stay in the loose boulder field, then pop out suddenly on the false summit. The final ¾ mile to the summit is an easy walk. :yahoo:
We returned the way we came and made our way back to STO. Steve, Patrick, and I packed up and walked ~½ mile down the trail to a nice place along the creek where we made dinner. Then we had ~5 miles left to KOO where we had our last permit. We pitched our tent, hung our food, and fell instantly to sleep.
It would turn out that John and Robert stayed at STO one more night, camping in an unofficial site. They would then hike out to a later ferry than us on Saturday.

Following stats for climbing Mt Cleveland from STO
Start/End Loc: Stoney Indian CG, Glacier National Park
Distance/Elevation: 12 miles RT/4515 feet elevation gain

2017/08/12, Saturday (Day 6)
From KOO we hiked the ~2.5 miles to Goat Haunt where we caught the 11:30 ferry (on standby) back to Waterton Park, got some ice cream and began driving. We drove to Bozeman, MT for an hotel night.

2017/08/13, Sunday (Day 7)
Long drive home.
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