I'm thinking hard about how to do something today that is (a) not too hard, and (b) allows Ewart to participate and get out into this great scenery, but (c) still involves an interesting scramble to a summit.
I finally seize on a couple of relatively easy peaks (Pollock and Piegan mountains) that are close to a nice easy trail (the Piegan pass trail). If the 5 of us go up a climbing route on one side while Ewart starts hiking up the Piegan pass trail, we can do the peaks from one side and then descend down the other side to Piegan pass where we can meet Ewart and all hike back together. Seems like a good plan!
The day has dawned with remarkably little smoke haze in the air. Looks like the wind is blowing strongly from the south, keeping the northern smoke away from our area. We park one vehicle at Siyeh Bend on the Going-to-the-sun Road (which is where the Piegan Pass trail starts), and another vehicle higher up at a place called Lunch Creek.
Lunch Creek Drainage
We leave Ewart to start hiking at the lower point (the Piegan Pass trail) and the rest of us don helmets and hike up the Lunch Creek drainage (no real trail). We encounter some small cliffs and are soon in a wonderful wide, grassy cirque filled with alpine meadow vegetation. The views back towards logan pass and Reynolds Mountain and beyond are as usual spectacular. So close to the park road yet even here the feeling is one of solitary beauty.
Higher up in the cirque the terrain changes to straight rocky scree. We pass a bunch of Rams sunning themselves and then start up the northeast headwall of the cirque (class 3 relatively easy scrambling). We turn around many many times to take pictures of the ever-increasing panorama behind us.
We reach a gentle saddle separating Piegan and Pollock mountains. From here, we can see down to Piegan pass and see the trail Ewart will be coming up on. Of the two peaks we want to climb, Pollock looks a bit more challenging (it has summit cliffs), so we decide that it is best that we tackle that one first.
The route up Pollock requires us to 'pace 110 steps beyond a rock pinnacle on the south side of the summit block, and then scramble up' . Turns out that not all of our paces are the same, and we are all in different places at the end of 110 steps. Still, the way up is fairly obvious, and leads to exactly what the guidebook describes: a narrow steep chimney nestled in behind the pinnacle, allowing us to breach the cliffs guarding the summit. I personally find chimneys to be very reassuring and easy to climb, but Markus does not.
Pollock Climbing Route
It isn't long before we are above the chimney (taking GREAT
care not to dislodge rocks
that would get funnelled down the chimney onto others), and from there
it is a few easy minutes to the top and another supremely spectacular
view. A smokey haze is very visible to the
north from here, making
it impossible to make out much beyond a kilometre or two to the north.
Mount Siyeh, the fourth highest peak in the park, looks very interesting
from this angle, as a hint of its sheer 4000-foot north face can be
seen. Looks like someone took a mound and sliced off half of it.
It is indeed very windy, with a strong south wind. In fact, it is sort of cold, and we don our shells even though it is a nice summer day. We have established radio communication with Ewart, who, to our surprise, has reached Piegan pass and is even climbing a little higher to meet us. Way to go Ewart!
Just below Pollock's summit
Cinnamon Cookies and Siyeh
The way down is fairly straightforward, although Markus is quite worried about the chimney. Strange, because normally he is unfazed by matters of height, and in general a chimney is the safest way to ascend or descend something.
Unfortunately, as we are
descending, a very large rock is dislodged and goes careening through the chimney. Fortunately, 'ROCK' is shouted loudly and
Heading back to saddle
everyone gets out of the way in time, but Peter is a bit shaken by the closeness of it all. Apart from that the descent is smooth and uneventful an we are back at the gentle saddle between Pollock and Piegan.
Heading back to saddle
and Peter eye Piegan but finally conclude they are a bit too tired
to go for it. Luc is still up for it, and I wouldn't mind summitting
it either, so we agree to split up (with radios, of course). Markus,
Caroline and Peter will head down to the pass and start hiking back
with Ewart, while Luc and I go for Piegan.
The Piegan Glacier
When done from the Piegan-Pollock saddle, the route to the summit of Piegan is nothing more than a scree slope. Luc and I make best speed up it, managing it in less than an hour. From the summit, there is a fantastic view of the Piegan Glacier, which fits entirely within its cirque not far below the summit of the mountain. The way it has carved itself into the side of the mountain is quite striking. We establish radio contact with everyone down at Piegan pass. They are all about to start going back down the trail to the car.
Radio contact with compatriots
Luc and Glacier panorama.
Hoping to make up the distance between Luc and I and the rest of the group, we hop and skip down the long scree slopes from the summit, around to the north and down to Piegan pass, where we pick up the trail. We are still in radio contact with Markus & co., and they inform us that further down below treeline are the most wonderful meadows, filled with wildflowers.
Hiking/running down to Pass
Luc and I run/speed walk/trot/jog to try and catch up to the rest of the group. And the meadows, when we get to them, do not disappoint. Wildflowers of every kind in massive profusion are everywhere. Simply amazing. The pictures will do the talking here. A truly wonderful trail, this.
Endless Endless Wildflowers
We determine via radio exchanges that we are rapidly catching up. What is not said on the radio, though, is that ever since heading back down, Ewart has been in increasingly severe pain in his lower back and rear. By the time we catch up to them, he is going slowly and is clearly hurting. We are all a bit worried about what this means and start to think that maybe we should get Ewart to a real hospital, and one in Canada, if possible (so we can avoid the US medical system).
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Pollock and Piegan Mtns - click map to view
Hike Data - Pollock and Piegan Climbs
* : +/ 75 feet
For Maps and Graphs of the Pollock/Piegan climb, click here
For the GPS tracklog from this climb, click here
New seating class
Luc and I offer to speed ahead so that we can gather the vehicles at the hike's end point, which we do. When Ewart and the rest of
the group arrive, we have a hasty conference and decide to pack up camp right away and head to Canada (which is only about 45 minutes' drive away) so that we can get Ewart looked at.
We drive back to the campsite to quickly pack up our stuff and head out. The pain is so bad in Ewart's rear that we stop at the Park's entrance station and set up a 'bed' of sorts in the back of the van using duffel bags and Markus' air mattress. With the weight off of his rear, Ewart feels much better. We head north up to the border (which is pretty rinky-dink - no duty free shop, much to the disappointment of many), which is crossed without incident, even with Ewart delivering his passport from his prone position. We decide to head to the nearest large center, which in this case is Lethbridge, AB.
Ewart - Guest of honor?
The Emergency area in the hospital in Lethbridge, is, thankfully, almost totally empty, and they see to Ewart in short order. Eventually Ewart comes back out with a thumbs up - nothing majorly wrong - no bone or spine problems. Just soreness from the exertion and bruising.
Ewart has developed an interesting insertion/extraction procedure whereby he carefully slides into position via the rear hatch. The elaborate "cargo loading" experience is actually quite humorous. We have dinner at a local Montana's restaurant (hey, didn't we just come from Montana?), at which Ewart takes a liking to the 'moose helmet' they have for special events. Afterwards it is off to bed at a local motel.
In Their Own Words...
Peter: "The next day I felt somewhat better and headed toward Pollock and Piegan. I was determined to have at least one hiking experience in GNP. Lots of crappy loose shale and a really neat chimney scramble got us to the summit of Pollock. Pretty good views, but a bit obscured by smokey haze. Very strong winds were present, which I tried to record, but the it just created clipping noise in the camera's mike.
During the decent, I verbally lost my temper when Markus loosed a large boulder down the chimney and only luck prevented injury. With recent events my nerves were getting more and more frayed. The rest of the decent to the saddle was uneventful. Eventually it was decided that the rest of use would go down to Ewart (who was hiking the meadow trails), while Andrew and Luc would go for a quick ascent of Piegan.
We met up with Ewart on the trail below and took a few pictures and then began our slow hike out. We made our way through lovely alpine meadows covered in multi-coloured flowers, to the tree line with strong pine scents, to babbling stream crossings. When Luc and Andrew caught us they continued on to get the cars with Markus, while Caroline and myself paced Ewart out. It was clear he had over-exerted himself in his condition and he was moving slower as time passed. He was in much worse shape than on his hike out of Teewinot after his injuries. We took his gear, but this seemed to make little difference, we settled in for the slow grind out.
This hike also seemed to be an over-exertion for my knee, what had previously been painful only in certain situations turned into a constant ache regardless of activity. This was my last planned hike before my plane out, so the timing of my exit worked out very well.
After the hike in GNP, Ewart was rough shape and it was decided to get him to a Canadian hospital ASAP. The van was arranged so he could lie down as we headed north, toward Lethbridge. After the checkup at the hospital we went for some grub at Montana's, which turned out to be a carbon copy of the one in Ottawa. The smokey sky was still with us, but produced a beautiful red sun."
Ewart: "After two full days of complete rest following the accident, I felt capable of doing some walking, but nothing steep. Andrew suggests a hike up to Piegan pass, returning via the same route. The contour lines on the map show a gentle slope, and the path goes substantially through Alpine meadows. I decide to give it a go - if it is too much, I can always return back to the trailhead and wait in the car for the others to return. The hike up the path is indeed very beautiful, with all the flowers in full bloom. I take numerous photos (Luc also has a Nikon camera, and so lent me one of his spare lenses for the remainder of the trip - thanks Luc!). Unfortunately, the roll of film with these photos is still in my camera and will probably not be developed for some weeks yet, too late to be included in this trip log.
When I get to the pass, I ascend some ways up to the saddle between Piegan and Pollock with a view to getting some photos of the valley running due north. It is here that I make visual and audio contact with Andrew & Markus atop Pollock mountain. I then descend down to the pass, where I have left my backpack, as there are marmots about and I don't want them to gnaw at it. Once at the pass, I head toward a nearby snowfield so that I can rest and tank up with melt-water. Whilst doing so, high above I see a group of mountain goats descending from Piegan onto the snowfield, frolicking their way down like little kids - even the parents! As the others make their descent to the saddle, I get up and work my way to a place where I can be seen. However, something is afoot - I have a pain right at the bottom of my spine, and walking is not comfortable.
Once Markus, Peter and Caroline have reached the pass, we gingerly start our descent back to the trailhead - we leave Andrew and Luc to catch up in due course, which should not be too difficult given the slow pace I am setting. The last 2 miles of the hike are a killer, and I am concerned that there is something seriously wrong with my back. On reaching the trailhead, I inform Andrew that I need to go to the nearest A & E centre once we cross over into Canada. I sat in the van, but as we proceed to exit the park enroute to Canada, the pain is too great and I request to lie on my stomach in the back so as to get all the pressure off my back. This, embarrassingly, becomes my mode of transit for pretty much the remainder of the trip, the Dodge caravan effectively turned into a semi-hygienic ambulance with F1 drivers! I also know that there will be no more hiking for me this trip.
[crossing into Canada]
On crossing over into Canada, we make for Lethbridge which is a nice university town with a hospital. On entering the A & E facility, I am led to a receptionist who starts to take some details. She offers me a seat - "I'd rather not thanks - it is one of the reasons I am here". I get checked out - the doctor confirms nothing broken, and no back damage, just very bad bruising that will take 2-3 weeks to subside. He issues me with a prescription for more powerful pain killers, but I decide not to take them."