American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Montana, Mt. Siyeh, Upward Descent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Mt. Siyeh, Upward Descent. Glacier National Park is home to many alpine faces, but there is one that stands above the rest: the north face of Mt. Siyeh. We knew little about this face; allegedly it had only been climbed once, back in the 70s by Dirty Sox Club members Terry Kennedy and Jim Kanzler. I then found out, though, that my friend Justin Woods climbed it with Ben Smith in 2005. Ryan Hokanson and I were on our summer “Tour de Crap,” having just finished long limestone routes on Howse and Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, so we figured we were ready.

When we saw the face after the one-hour approach, it didn’t appear any worse than others we’d climbed. In fact, it looked less sustained. Having no idea where the other routes were, Ryan and I decided on what appeared to be the most obvious line: a prominent spine on the left side of the face that went directly to the skyline.

On September 6 we started simul-soloing up the low-angle flanks, quickly finding that Glaciers rock was indeed much worse than that of the routes we had done in the Canadian Rockies. Within a few hundred feet we roped up for a steep bulge, and kept simul-climbing. The climbing remained easy, but was too loose to safely free solo. Ropelengths disappeared below us, and we found ourselves part way up the headwall.

It was my lead. I began looking for a weakness through a crux, but every path proved to be some of the worst rock I had ever tried to climb. Eventually I passed the lead to Ryan. He repeatedly tried, but every time was turned back by terrifying rock quality. After hours of effort, we accepted defeat.

Knowing that our light rack and single rope were inadequate for rapping 2,500' the way we came, we searched for another way off. The only way seemed to be a mile-long ledge that led to a huge choss gully far away.

With one rappel and a short bit of downclimbing, Ryan and I made it to the ledge. The day was ending, so we made haste and started our mile-long traverse off the mountain. A few hundred meters of traversing to the east granted us a new view. Ryan spied what he thought was a weakness above. With the remaining rays of light, we scrambled to the base of the head wall and spent the night.

Out of water and with only dry food, we suffered a night of agony. Desperate for water, we racked up and began climbing. Immediately we knew this weakness would take us to the top of the face. The line was loose but manageable. After some 4th-class, then six or seven pitches of delicate 5.9, I chimneyed up a gash onto the summit ridge.

The summit was a short distance away, and melting snow shimmered in the sunlight. After much-needed water, Ryan and I were standing on the summit. (Upward Descent, 750m, V 5.9)

Chris Gibisch

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