A record number of people visited the park this summer, which, depending on the time of day, made it difficult to find a decent parking spot along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. This was the case on the afternoon we decided to hike to Piegan Pass. Unable to find parking at the traihead, we parked at a pull out along the road at Siyeh Bend.
It was a blue-bird kind of day and the clear skies were stunning. As I loaded my backpack with essentials and strapped bear spray to my belt, I watched a teenager handling the water in a stream across the road. He questioned the other people with him whether they thought the water was safe to drink. I know it wasn’t any of my business, but I took the liberty of answering “no” as I thought I could spare him a serious belly-ache. A few minutes later, he scooped up some water and said how good it tasted.
Cold water in streams and brooks may be tempting refreshment on a hot summer day, but due to the risk of giardia, it is not a good idea to drink it, unless it’s been filtered.
The Trail Begins
Several years had passed since hiking to Piegan Pass and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. We walked past Siyeh Creek at the beginning of the trail, then made the right turn which led into the woods.
Gradually the dense forest began to thin out. We were yet to arrive at the most spectacular part of the trail, but the meadows were lush and beautiful with the last of summer’s wildflowers.
It may not be the most awesome part of the trail, but who would think this anything but gorgeous!
At about 2.7 miles, we took the left at the trail junction for Piegan Pass. This is where we broke out of the forest and emerged above the treeline to the scree slopes. The most difficult part of the trail was now behind us. Piegan Pass awaited us about a mile and a half ahead.
Scenery on this trail is out of this world and you can look down to the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to see where you parked your car.
Every direction on the trail offers a different and wondrous view.
Most often we see bighorn sheep on this trail, but this time it was mountain goats grazing in the distance.
At this point, the trail began to seem endless, but The Garden Wall loomed larger so I knew the end was near.
Finally, we crossed over the saddle and I started looking for marmots. (I’m sorry to say that my family saw a couple of hikers turn around at this point. I imagine they crossed the pass and thought that was it. They should have gone the short distance to see the views of the Many Glacier Valley).
Looking for the Historic Locomotive Bell
One of the goals on this hike was to find the foundation of the historic locomotive bell that had been installed by the Great Northern Railway in 1925.
Mallory and Eileen scrambled up the rocks in pursuit. Remember, if you go in search of the bell’s foundation, it is past the saddle and on the rocks to the north side of the trail.
They found it!
The following information taken from Hiking Glacier.com gives a summary of the bell’s history.
Piegan Pass 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 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.
War propaganda is big business. It’s a shame that the hotel manager thought it redeeming to dismantle the bells and donate the metal to the war effort.
Lunch at Piegan Pass
It was time to head to our picnic spot, take a break, and have lunch.
Lunch was in our regular spot, and as we ate I expected marmots to come bounding up the hill, but they did not; only a chipmunk waiting for falling crumbs.
The wind on the slopes was not as fierce as usual, which was a bit surprising, and no one put on a jacket.
This was our stopping point, but, from here, hikers can continue the trail into the Many Glacier Valley. We watched some little people on the trail below before departing back down the trail.
Heading Back Down the Trail
Before we really got moving, we took time for a photo-op in the snow. This was our only encounter with snow on the Piegan Pass Trail. Because it was a late season hike, snowfields that ordinarily cover parts of the trail had melted.
Evening time was upon us. It was past 5 p.m and the light slowly began to wane.
The sun began sinking behind us, below the mountains in the west.
Somewhere along the trail during our descent, the girls found a can of bear spray that had been forgotten, I believe, by the couple that had turned around too soon. Mallory carried it back down the trail.
At some point, not having passed any other hikers, I realized we were the only ones left on the trail. That is not uncommon for us, and the benefit to that is we oftentimes see more wildlife, but that did not happen on the Piegan Pass Trail.
Going down took about half the time as the ascent.
It was nice to reach the last little stretch along Siyeh Creek.
Dusk was approaching as Mallory placed the lost can of bear spray at the trailhead sign and we walked to the truck.
We were tired, but content.
The hike was 9 miles round trip and took us approximately 6 hours to complete. When recently I was asked how I stay fit, someone else piped up and said, “It’s all of the walking she does.”
Yep, I’d say that’s part of it.