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Backpacker Magazine – September 2010

The Peak: Triple Divide Peak, Glacier NP

In Glacier National Park, summit a mountain that feeds three oceans.

by: Jason D.B. Kauffman

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Triple Divide Pass.
Triple Divide Pass.

If mountains are the birthplaces of rivers, then 8,020-foot Triple Divide Peak in southern Glacier National Park’s Lewis Range is having triplets. Raindrops that fall mere inches apart on the peak’s sedimentary summit can end up separated by thousands of miles in the Pacific, Atlantic, or Arctic Oceans. Only one other peak in North America duplicates this phenomenon.

You’ll need two days and nearly 3,000 feet of climbing to complete the 16-mile out-and-back to the top. Start at the Cut Bank trailhead and gradually ascend along crystalline Cut Bank Creek for 3.9 miles to the Triple Divide Pass junction. Hang a right and hike .5 mile to Atlantic Creek Campground and stay at one of the lower two campsites near the creek for the best solitude. Get an early start on your second morning. The trail climbs steadily—without any switchbacks—across the sheer southern flanks of 9,375-foot Mt. James. Watch for the numerous cascades whose snowmelt-fed torrents dive straight down the mountain’s flank. Gazing south as you climb west toward Triple Divide Pass, enjoy views of the sapphire-blue waters of Medicine Grizzly Lake.

The path reaches the 7,397-foot pass with views north into the Hudson Bay Creek drainage at 7.2 miles. At the pass, begin the final summit push by angling uphill across Triple Divide’s steepening east face (pick the easiest route through the shallow vertical chutes and moderate-size ledges) to its less-precipitous south ridge. From there, reach the top after a class 3 ridgeline walk. Once at the summit, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views, including the trailless headwaters of plunging Pacific Creek to the southwest. Return the same way you came. 

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Sep 24, 2013

Just finished this hike/summit in Sept. '13. Heads up on the final ascent, it looks sketchier and more daunting than it actually is. Everyone else in my party bailed on summiting once we reached the pass. If you have patience and can shutout the fear of climbing without protection, it's a great summit. It's just a big puzzle that you have to find the best path up (and down). Onward and upward!

Sep 30, 2010

Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories of a beautiful spot in Glacier! I LOVED the summers I spent working at Johnson's Cafe in St. Mary during college and spending free time hiking the wonders of the park!

Ed Morgan
Sep 30, 2010

I was suprised to hear that the North American triple drainage point (Atlantic, Pacific and Artic Oceans) is in Glacier National Park. The article does mention that another peak in N. America that shares that distinction. When my wife Liz and I visited Jasper N. Park we wre told that Jasper contains the triple drainage point for N. America. It turns out that it depends on whether Hudson Bay is considered a part of the Atlantic or the Artic Oceans!


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