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North America, United States, Montana, Mt. Brown, Mile of Smiles

Mt. Brown, Mile of Smiles. The gullies on the lower northwest face of Mt. Brown (8,365'), in Glacier National Park, have become popular early-season climbs. They offer endless WI 2-4 climbing 15 minutes from the road. Many climbers announce they’re headed to the summit 5,200 feet above, only to run out of time or energy before they run out of ice. Include me among those suitors, at least until November 2, when everything fell into place. My route took me up the west (right) gully to the prominent falls, through a hidden cleft where the gully forks at 6,200', up the west side of the face above, and out the summit ridge. The 2,500 feet of climbing below the fork consisted of a frozen creek bed and short steps, followed by a 75-foot WI 3+ curtain and nearly 1,000 feet of WI 3 gullies and steps. At the fork, I climbed left up a series of beautiful, narrow pillars to a deep chimney with rotten-looking ice. Lower-angle terrain to the right seemed to offer better ice, but mixed moves on snow-covered rock led onto a series of sloping ledges and steps frosted with thin, brittle ice. The climbing was delicate and committing. My mom would have nightmares, if she knew. The ice eventually improved, and after 200 feet I exited over a short pillar of good ice at 6,900'. The next 1,200 feet consisted of third class climbing up snow, rock, and intermittent WI 2-3 ice on the west side of the face. I exited the face just west of the false summit, at 8,200'. From the false summit, I traversed out the summit ridge and back, which proved the slowest part of the climb. The ridge involved over a quarter mile of 4th- and easy 5th-class climbing on snow-covered rock. Strong winds and single-digit temperatures kept me from lingering at the summit. I regained the false summit eight hours after I started climbing, then trotted down to the fire lookout and the trail. I reached my car (thankfully shuttled by friends) two hours later, just at dark. The climb was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever spent in the mountains. Mile of Smiles, 5,200 feet, IV 5.2 WI3+.

Blase Reardon