Saturday, November 22, 2014

Siyeh Pass, USA


Siyeh Pass, USA
The Siyeh Pass loop in Glacier National Park is one of the park's best trails for day trips. In fact, I would argue that no other trail (remember, for day trips) offers as much. Over the course of about 10.5 miles, you get all of the following and more: a high pass, mountain views, glaciers, gem-like tarns, tundra slopes, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, rushing streams, a spectacular gorge enclosed by red cliffs, and outstanding wildlife habitat. And although it's not a secret and you will probably see many other people, this loop doesn't see anywhere close to the traffic that the Hidden Lake and Highline trails, both originating from nearby Logan Pass, do.

And in addition to all that, there is an unnamed peak east of the highest point on the trail. The peak is less than a mile from the trail, and it offers a pleasant hike or scramble along an exposed ridge while delivering expanded views.

This peak is Point 8490 on 1:24,000-scale topo maps. On all sides but its western one, it is guarded by cliffs that drop hundreds of feet to more-level ground. By prominence standards, it qualifies as an official peak, but for some reason it does not have a name. And because the major peaks in Glacier do tend to have official names, which is not always the case in the ranges of the Northern Rockies, I have chosen to present this peak as a route objective and not as a separate mountain. Furthermore, the peak does not appear on the Glacier Mountaineering Society's list of officially and unofficially named peaks in the park, all the more reason not to make this a mountain page.

Two trivia bits about the route:

--The Siyeh Pass Trail, breaking 8100', is the highest maintained trail in Glacier National Park.
--Although it is called Siyeh Pass Trail, the trail does not actually cross Siyeh Pass; Siyeh Pass is to the north of the trail as it climbs from Preston Park to its highest point, and you actually look down on Siyeh Pass as you make that climb; interestingly, nearby Piegan Pass Trail does not actually cross its namesake, either.

The hike to Siyeh Pass begins from the Siyeh Bend Trailhead, located 2.2 miles east of Logan Pass on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. Hikers also have the option of using the Piegan Pass Trailhead from the Jackson Glacier Overlook, but this would add a little more distance to your hike, and several hundred more feet of climbing. The Siyeh Bend Trail offers hikers a much more gradual climb to their destination.

The first two hundred yards of the Siyeh Bend Trail travels beside Siyeh Creek, before it makes a sharp turn to the right and into the forest. At roughly 1.1 miles from the trailhead hikers will reach the Piegan Pass Trail junction. A turn to the right would take you down to the Jackson Glacier Overlook. To continue on towards Siyeh Pass, hikers should turn left here. The trail passes through a dense spruce-fir forest along the lower elevations of the hike. The forest, however, begins to thin out as you get closer to the Siyeh Pass Trail junction, located roughly 2.7 miles from the trailhead. For those wishing to continue on towards the pass you should turn right onto the Siyeh Pass Trail at this intersection.

Roughly two-tenths of a mile from the junction hikers will enter Preston Park, a glacially-carved valley known for its incredibly beautiful meadows and abundant wildflowers. Preston Park is actually a series of high alpine meadows interspersed by groves of pine trees. The meadows become larger as you hike further up the valley. If Siyeh Pass is impassable due to snow or bad weather, this would still be an excellent destination in and of itself. You should note that bears are known to frequent the Preston Park area, so make sure you make a lot of noise, carry bear spray, and hike in groups.  As you continue up the trail you’ll have commanding views of 9365-foot Matahpi Peak towards the south. Piegan Mountain will dominate the view towards the west, while the pyramid-shaped Heavy Runner Mountain can be seen towards the southwest. Your destination becomes visible at this point as well. Siyeh Pass sits on the saddle between Matahpi Peak on your right, and 10,014-foot Mount Siyeh towards the north.

As if climbing the mountain wasn't enough of a thrill, a parachutist jumped off Mt. Siyeh in 1997, intending to land near Cracker Lake on the other side of the peak. Almost immediately after jumping the man hit a wall and his chute became caught on a rock, roughly 400 feet below the summit. A daring rescue involving 8 rangers and several other park employees pulled the man to safety, who suffered only minor injuries. At roughly 3.5 miles the trail crosses Siyeh Creek, and soon after you’ll begin the final climb up to the pass. Over the course of the next 0.9 miles hikers will climb almost 700 feet along a series of switchbacks. This will be the toughest section of the entire hike.

The top of the saddle represents the end of this hike. You’ll reach your destination when you see a slightly faint side trail branching off near the south end of the saddle. This very short spur trail heads due east from a switchback on the main trail at an elevation of roughly 7900 feet. From this location the main trail continues to climb steeply for another 200 feet. From this vantage point you’ll be standing above a large snowfield that sits along the east side of the pass. You’ll also have commanding views of 8826-foot Goat Mountain, which dominates the view towards the east, as well as the Boulder Creek drainage towards the northeast. The mountain and the pass were named by George Bird Grinnell for a Blackfoot Indian by the name of "Sai-yeh," which in the Blackfeet language means Crazy Dog, or Mad Wolf.

Siyeh Pass also has the distinction of being one of four sites in Glacier to have had a locomotive bell installed on it. In 1925, W. R. Mills, an advertising agent with the Great Northern Railway, and H. A. Noble, manager of the Glacier Park Hotel Company, requested permission from the park to place locomotive bells on the summits of several passes in Glacier. According to Donald H. Robinson’s Administrative History of Glacier National Park, the request was based on the old Swiss custom of placing bells on mountain tops and passes in order to allow hikers or horseback riders the unusual experience of ringing loud bells high in the mountains. In September of 1926 the request was finally granted to place bells at Swiftcurrent, Piegan and Siyeh passes. Three years later a fourth bell was added at Scenic Point in Two Medicine. The bells remained in place until the fall of 1943, when they were removed by the Hotel Company and donated to a World War II scrap metal drive.

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