Rising abruptly out of the prairie on the north east edge of Glacier National Park is Chief Mountain. While not one of Glacier's higher peaks, (9080'), it is a spectacular mountain nonetheless. Besides its obvious visual amenities, it holds considerable additional allure to those interested in the historical and cultural aspects of the area.
Chief Mountain is visible and easily distinguishable from most points in southern Alberta. As such it becomes one of those "I've got to climb that one" mountains. In years past and to some extent today, Blackfoot youths used to climb this mountain as a rite of passage into manhood, to fast and experience their 'vision quest'. We just wanted to climb it.
The trail is mostly of your own design, although in some places an actual trail does exist. Due to recent rock slides (the mountain is apparently very unstable), there is a lot of rubble to negotiate. The trail starts on the ridge just above and to the right of the camp ground where the short road ends. There is no trail head marker, but the trail is plainly visible. There are often prayer flags tied to trees along the trail. Be respectful of the traditions of others by not disturbing these flags.
The trail is narrow and well travelled here, but not very wide. It wanders down the ridge and up through dense trees for about 3/4 of a mile and then levels off into a sub-alpine area where there are some small till lakes.
From here, the trail becomes a bit difficult to follow, due to a rock fall that caused a lot of destruction several years ago. The trail runs up through the open meadow along the right shoulder (north side) of the peak, and around to a large talus slope on the side opposite the trail head. Just keep the mountain on your left and stay low and you should be fine. For those that like to boulder hop, you can go higher, but be careful.
The hiker should work around the mountain to the top of the ridge which joins Chief Mountain to some smaller pointed peaks to the south. The trail up the scree slope begins at this point, straight up.
The next 300 to 400 yards is a scramble up through loose, softball sized rocks, to a large set of ledges. The ledges are a bit loose and require some handwork, but they are welcomed relief from the scree slope below. The climber moves up the ledges, to the left, through a wide, obvious route that leads to an area called the gap. The "Gap" is just what it sounds like, a gap or a saddle in the rocks where you can look down the east side of the peak toward the trail head. This area is fairly exposed and the wind can be quite strong.
After moving through the gap, to the right, the climber needs to stay to the left and climb up through the rocks. The route moves up through some cliffs, around the east side of the peak. Ropes are not required for the ascent, but can be used for safety, to calm a concerned climber. The drop off is sharp and the ground is loose, so care must be taken. There are 2 Summits about 8 feet wide and usually windy. The views are spectacular of the Belly River Valley to the west, Swiftcurrent Valley to the south, and the prairies to the east.
Return the way you came. Although the scree was a pain going up, it makes for a quick, fun descent, just not long enough.
Photos courtesy of Wally Chinn and Chris Coffey.
The trail head for the climb of Chief Mountain is located at a Native American camp ground near the base of the mountain. Travel on highway 89 about 4.5 miles north of Babb Montana and turn left on highway 12 (Chief Mountain Highway). At about 9 miles turn left on a dirt road (West). Alternately, travel south from the Chief Mt. border crossing to where you cross a cattle guard. The access road is soon after, on the right. There is a signboard referring to the camp ground ("Non-tribal camping is prohibited"). This road can be travelled by car if careful for about 3 miles to the camp ground. As the road enters the camping area a small road will turn up the hill to the right for about 100 yards to the trail head and parking spot back in the trees. This short road is VERY rough. Climbers in cars may want to park along side the road before entering the camping area. Remember, this is private property and care should be taken not to intrude in the camping area.
The Blackfeet require a permit ($10) to enter tribal lands, but we seem to have forgotten that part. It's up to you.
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Posted By: hiker59
- Mon Aug 24 12:14:36 UTC 2015
CommentWe wanted to hike to on a decent trail to scree slope on the south side of the mountain and then scramble to the top.
The map on this website led us into a dangerous and difficult route through large and sometimes shifting boulders at the base of the mountain on the north, west and south west side.
There is a good trail that goes around the rock slide on the west side of the mountain if you want to hike to the base of the scree slope on the south side of the mountain. Everyone in our group felt that the map route posted on this site is an extremely difficult hike and at times quite dangerous and probably should be considered more of a mountaineering trail than a hiking trail. We felt lucky to negotiate the map route without being injured and I was personally upset that this map was posted without more clear information.
Posted By: maeganwf
- Sun Feb 19 07:13:02 UTC 2012
Upside the rock cairns are alters and some have been there for over a thousand years. please dont touch, please have respect...
Posted By: iamnirt
- Tue Sep 06 04:35:30 UTC 2011
UpsideHiking a very recognizeable mountain - every time i see it in the horizon i think wow i hiked that mountain! Was a variety of fitness in our group, many stayed where the scree started and waited for the rest of us to make it to the summit. DownsideTricky getting up the scree and beyond - especially for new hikers without someone who has been there before. Can get windy and there was snow when we went up which can make things a bit slippery (September long weekend). CommentThis site really helped us find our route up to the top - thanks! as we were all new to this hike and faily new hikers. The scree was tough but we made it! Really glad i had a hiking pole and brought gloves for scrambling - saved my hands from taking a beating! You'll need the water so pack it but we drank lots so it got lighter for the way down.
Posted By: edwinknox
- Wed Oct 08 17:03:27 UTC 2008
Commentto clarify comment I made regards access during hunting season - hunters are not permitted to drive in - hikers can drive in from the highway.
Posted By: edwinknox
- Thu Sep 25 22:24:26 UTC 2008
CommentPermit to enter Blackfeet Tribal Lands (Chief Mountain) can now (Sept 2008) be purchased at St. Mary's Store, Leaning Tree Cafe in Babb or Wagner's Duckl Lake Lodge ...$10.00 - additional info from Fish And Game at 406-338-7207 ie road closed during hunting season therefore having to walk in from the paved road adding quite a lot of time to your hike.
Posted By: newbie51
- Thu Jun 05 15:57:32 UTC 2008
UpsideWe found the trail to go up to the sacred area. DownsideWe went at the wrong time of the year. CommentHighway 12 that is spoken of is actually Highway 17, 4.5 miles north of Babb (Chief Mtn Highway). Was it once the # 12 Hway? At the entrance of the trail to go up to the sacred area is a green New Holland bailer which marks the entrance as well as the signboard which is faded and has nothing on it as a marker. (June5/08).
Posted By: Trevbo
- Tue Jul 11 02:45:01 UTC 2006
CommentThe person to contact re: access from the reservation... Mr. John Murray THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Office) Blackfeet Nation P.O. Box 2809/527 Browning, MT 59417 406-338-7406
Posted By: Trevbo
- Tue Jul 11 02:35:04 UTC 2006
UpsideHiked up Chief on July 9th, 2006. Ages in our motley crew ranged from 19 yr old Chris C. to 70 year old Valerie. All summitted! DownsideI don't know if I will scramble Chief Mtn again as the Blackfeet (yes, they are the 'Blackfoot' in Canada) are discouraging climbers from accessing the Chief accross tribal land... I think it might be a touchy issue and it was hard to get the final word on what the status is regarding access from the reservation. A dude from Glacier National Park told me that the Blackfeet Business development council has recently voted to stop allowing public access to area at the bottom of the Chief on Blackfeet property... even though currently you are allowed access if you (1) ask permission (I called the Blackfoot Tribal Heritage protection office in Browning) and (2) purchase a 10$ conservation pass available at Glacier Park and surrounding areas. I was told by the Park and by the BF Heritage office that Chief is considered a sacred mountain etc. and the Blackfeet still visit the mountain and surrounding area as a sort of spiritual retreat. CommentThe Chief has perhaps become too popular a scramble... there was an embarassment of rock cairns and tracks left by hikers. Oh well. I would advise to check with the office for permission, otherwise to access the Chief via the Slide Lake approach.