Mission Range Climbs: Mt. Calowahcan
Very little guidebook information is currently available for the Mission Range despite its proximity to Missoula (population 72,000+), Kalispell-Whitefish (population 30,000+), and Glacier National Park (3 million visitors/year). The lack of info is due to its location on the Flathead Indian Reservation (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), limited trail system (<50 miles), and proximity to the national park and Bob Marshall Wilderness (1700 miles of trail including the CDT). Past rumors of vandalism of vehicles at trailheads may also be a contributing factor.
Relief on Calowahcan's north face is more than 5700'.
The elevation gain from the Cheff Guest Ranch (3313', 1010m) to Calowahcan's summit (9061', 2762m) is 5764' in 3.5 miles (1757m in 5.6km) as the crow flies.
PERMITS Non-tribal members need a Tribal Permit to recreate here ($17/year), which is just enough of a hassle to keep visitor numbers down. Permits apply to the west flank of the range only. USFS Swan Lake Ranger District manages the east side.
GUIDEBOOKS & MAPS
Mission Range Trails Map: Bigfork to Jocko Road, Cairn Cartographics, 1:60,000 scale
Climbers Guide to Montana, Pat Caffrey, 1986 (out of print)
- Used bookstores online (>$35)
- University of Montana Mansfield Library (796.5223 C129c)
- Missoula College Payne Library (917.86 CAF)
Theisen, A., 2018, Day Hiking Glacier National Park and Western Montana: Cabinets, Mission and Swan Ranges, Missoula Bitterroots, Mountaineer Books, 332 pgs.
Photos of Mission Range https://www.summitpost.org/mission-range-mt/images/p-171043
Google Earth image from the northwest.
The vertical north face of Mt. Calowahcan as seen from North Crow Road near the Dupuis barn (Ronan Airport). Prior to 1922, it was called "Teton Peak". From 1922 to 1991, "Mount Harding". In 1991, it was renamed "Calowahcan" after a local family. Calowahcan means "beaverhead".
A good view of the summit block can be had from Cheff Lane, the closest road to the peak.
Writing in The Alpine Journal (1931), Harold Palmer notes,
The other ranges in this general latitude are of secondary importance but may be mentioned for completeness. They are the Galton (White Fish), Swan and Mission ranges. The latter (60 miles long) lies south of Flathead Lake. Mt. MacDonald (9,800 ft.), the highest summit, supports a well-conditioned glacier and rises some 6,800 ft. above its base. Between the Mission range and the Lewis range is the Swan range, which attains an elevation of 10,400 ft. in Mt. Holland, northeast of Flathead Lake. The Galton range extends in the same line west of the upper valley of Flathead River.
A brief mention in the 1943 AAJ by Hans Moldenhauer,
From Flathead Lake, of deep-blue color, we saw inspiring mountains in the Mission Range, and a fast journey through the prairies and from Ravalli all along the Clark Fork River...
The southern Mission Range with Mt. Calowahcan and McDonald Peak left of center. Big Arm bay (Flathead Lake) is in the foreground. Pablo Reservoir is seen in the valley, a far right. View is to the SE from Blacktail Mountain Ski Area above Lakeside, MT.
View looking SE from Foothills Road near Ronan.
Trails on the west flank of the Missions are unmaintained. Downed trees and brush are common. Trailheads are not clearly signed; there is often a maze of ATV tracks in the places where trailheads should be. Just look around and you'll find where you need to go.
There are grizzly bears in the Missions, so carrying bear spray is a good idea. Expect to see tracks and scat on trails. Calowahcan is located within CSKT Tribal Wilderness, but not within the Special Grizzly Bear Conservation Zone, to the south. This area, which maps also call the Special Grizzly Bear Management Zone and McDonald Peak Grizzly Bear Closure Area, surrounds McDonald Peak and the Ashley Lakes drainage. The area is closed to all recreational use from July 15 to October 1 each year (unless posted otherwise) in order to minimize disturbance to bears.
The cirque basin and North, Middle, and South summits of Calowahcan viewed from the west.
From Eagle Pass ascend the south summit directly up its southwest ridge. The last 15 feet are reported to be Class 4. From the south summit, traverse northward on the ridgeline and southeast side. The traverse is overall Class 4 with snow that may require a rope (certainly an ice ax) in early season. The middle summit can be climbed via a chimney on its east side – Class 4. Caffrey states that there are Class 5 routes on the east side above Summit Lake, but does not describe them.
According to Fred Spicker,
The shortest approaches to the mountain are from the west. To climb from the south or to reach Summit Lake and climb from the east, the most logical route is over Eagle Pass via the Eagle Pass Trail. The Northwest Ridge can be approached from the road north of the Eagle Pass Trailhead. Old maps show trails reaching Summit Lake from Elk Lake to the northeast and from Spider Lake to the southeast. These trails are not shown on newer maps.
About his ascent of the northwest ridge, Johnathan Bardsley writes,
We left the Eagle Pass trail about 1/2 mile in and followed a creek through an unusual canyon filled with cedar, where little-to-no sun hits the forest floor, so that there's very little ground vegetation. We gained the [northwest] ridge (on the left) too soon and had to suffer through some pretty bad bushwacking before gaining the upper ridge. On the way back down, Dan dropped us into the canyon further up and it was much easier going, so in hindsight, it would have been better to walk further along the creek before gaining the ridge. The total elevation gain to the summit is 5700 feet, most of which occurs after the first mile-plus along [Eagle Pass] trail and creek. So after leaving the creek you climb fast to the ridge, where eventually things open up, and then on steeply to the summit.
Backcountry skier Brian Story writes,
The Eagle pass trail is well maintained, and provides good access to the West, Southwest, Southeast faces of Mount Calowahcan, and miscellaneous terrain near Eagle Pass. The West face of mount Calowahcan sports an excellent, difficult ski run from the main summit (probable first descent Brian Story and Chris Spurgeon, May 2009). The West face of the south summit of Calowachan also provides an excellent, steep ski challenge. The basin from below the west face of Calowachan is most easily accessed via a steep north facing gully below the south summit. The South face of Calowachan has an enjoyable, rolling ski run on the South face. It can be skied from a point about 200 feet below the summit.
From a group trip announcement by Dan Sexton of the Rocky Mountaineers (2014 The Mountain Ear),
It looks like we will start at the Eagle Pass trailhead along the canal at the bottom of the Missions, follow the trail for a little bit, and then bushwhack to the WNW ridge of Calowahcan, making a direct frontal assault upon its pinnacle. It is fairly straightforward up the ridge to within a few hundred feet of the summit, from which a notch blocks direct progress, forcing us into the west face. There, we must endure thousands of feet of exposure below, scrambling up ledges with loose rock - definitely a solid Class 4, but it can be done without technical equipment in good weather. Once atop the summit, we can revel in the grand view over the Mission Valley 6,000 feet below and over to McDonald Peak’s glacier-clad northern face!
Mt. Calowahcan 9065' (Mt. Harding)
Climb of Mt. Calowahcan Report by John Bardsley
Ascent of Mount Calowahcan Report by Tony Brown, August 2009
Images of Mt. Calowahcan
An Eagle Pass/Summit Lake Hiking/Camping Trip Report
American Alpine Journal
Palmer, H., 1931, The Rocky Mountains of the United States (feature article), American Alpine Journal
Moldenhauer, H., 1943, Song of Wandering (feature article), American Alpine Journal