When I climbed Great Northern on a cloudy summer day in 2014, I was super-impressed by the variety of conditions along the 2-mile ridge to the summit – mostly good trail, with some scrambling, a couple short class 3 climbs, and a fair amount of exposure. I was hoping to do it again with friends, but especially wanted to climb it with my adventurous daughter Amy. I am back to teaching in Hays in a couple weeks (8/13/22), so when we found out that she had Monday off (8/1/22) we decided to go for it. I drove over to spend Sunday night with her in Missoula, then we left her house at 5:30 am Monday, made the 145-mile drive to the trailhead, and started hiking at 8:30 am.
Piece of cake?
Great Northern Mountain is a beautiful peak situated between Hungry Horse Reservoir and the southwestern edge of Glacier Park. It’s a dusty 16-mile drive on a corrugated gravel road from Highway #2 to the trailhead. From there, it’s just 4 miles to the summit with the last 2.5 miles along a spectacular ridge that provides fantastic views of Glacier Park and Hungry Horse Reservoir. So, you’re thinking “sign me up,” right? . . . Not so fast. The other important detail is that you will be ascending almost 5,000 feet over those four miles, with half of that (2,500 feet) coming in the first 1.5 miles – one of the steepest stretches of trail you’ll find anywhere!
If you can handle the brutal first 1.5 miles, the slope becomes more reasonable for the final 2.5 miles, plus you’ll be rewarded by amazing views the rest of the way. The trail is mostly discernable, but you’ll have to make a few choices (climber trails) and will have to do some scrambling and climbing to navigate both the false summit and the actual one. Keep in mind that you’re going to have to walk down those last steep 1.5 miles of trail on tired legs – for me (by far) the most challenging part of the day. I have healthy knees, but my quads were spent by the time we reached the car. Do not attempt if you have knee issues, and if you go, make sure your boots have plenty of space to keep your toes happy – and trim those nails before you start! (Photo Tour)
Picked a winner.
Despite the heat wave that inundated much of Montana and the big Elmo 2 Fire on the southwestern edge Flathead Lake (40 miles SSW of us), we enjoyed comfortable temperatures and clear skies, and there was just enough breeze to keep the bugs away. Despite the miserable final 1.5 miles down to the trailhead, it was a great day! We got back to the car at 3:45 pm.