Triple Divide Pass
|Trail Features:||Outstanding views|
|Trail Location:||Cut Bank|
|Roundtrip Length:||14.6 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2400 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||329 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||7397 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||19.40 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.60242|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.38355|
The hike to Triple Divide Pass begins from Cut Bank on the east side of Glacier National Park. To reach the trailhead drive 16 miles north of East Glacier, or 13.8 miles south of St. Mary, and turn onto Cut Bank Road heading westbound. Drive another 5 miles to the end of the gravel road, just past the ranger residence building, and turn into the small parking area just off the side of the road. The hike begins from the Pitamakan Pass Trailhead.
Looking towards the south, 8341-foot Mad Wolf Mountain and 8350-foot Bad Marriage Mountain will be the dominating features during the early segments of the hike.
Less than a quarter mile from the trailhead hikers will reach the North Fork of the Cut Bank Creek, and will more or less follow it over the next several miles. Shortly after reaching the creek you'll likely notice a section of the stream that flows through a large flat area choked with willows. This area, in addition to several other locations further up the trail, is considered to be prime moose habitat. Gray wolves are also known to frequent this area of the park as well.
Throughout the entire hike the trail meanders in and out of conifer forests and open meadows that feature several varieties of beautiful wildflowers. During the early portions of the hike the trail also passes through several patches of thimbleberries, huckleberries, and other edible (but not so tasty) wild berries. This part of Glacier National Park is prime grizzly bear habitat as well, so it's important to make a lot of noise, carry bear spray, and travel in groups of three or more.
For the most part this portion of the hike travels over relatively flat terrain; however, there are a couple of short climbs you'll have to tackle along the way. As you proceed further up the trail you'll likely notice 8569-foot Razoredge Mountain standing prominently at the end of the valley (see the photograph on the right).
At roughly 4 miles from the trailhead hikers will arrive at the Triple Divide Pass Trail junction. Hikers should turn right here to continue towards the pass. From this point forward the trail begins to follow Atlantic Creek.
Just beyond the junction hikers will pass the Atlantic Creek Campground. Three-quarters of a mile past the junction is the Medicine Grizzly Trail junction. A turn towards the left would lead you to Medicine Grizzly Lake. To continue on towards Triple Divide Pass hikers should stay to the right at this junction. From this point forward the trail climbs almost 1860 feet over the next 2.6 miles to reach the pass. For the most part the trail is a steady, moderately strenuous climb.
Just beyond the junction the terrain begins to open and you'll begin to enjoy great views of the mountains and the headwall that surrounds Medicine Grizzly Lake. This section of the hike travels along the steep slopes of Mt. James. The trail along this stretch is fairly narrow, with exposure to steep drop-offs in some areas. If you have a fear of heights you may feel a little uncomfortable. In my opinion, however, I really didn't feel that it was exceedingly dangerous. This part of the park is also known for high winds, so you may want to consider bringing trekking poles to help with balance. If high winds are present, and conditions appear to be too dangerous, you may want to consider turning around.
During our return trip we had heard from another group that there was a grizzly bear grazing in the valley below. As we proceeded down the mountain we stopped every so often to see if we could see it. Though we never saw the bear, we did see a white wolf making a beeline up the valley floor. This was the first wolf any of us had ever seen in Glacier National Park. After our hike we verified with a park biologist that white wolves have been seen in the park in recent years.
At 7.3 miles hikers will finally reach the pass, which sits on the saddle between 8020-foot Triple Divide Peak and 9375-foot Mt. James. The peak immediately towards the west of Triple Divide Peak is 8882-foot Norris Mountain, and towards the south is 8569-foot Razoredge Mountain. On the other side of the pass is the Hudson Bay Creek valley.
Triple Divide Peak has the rare distinction of marking the spot where water flowing off the various sides of the mountain empties into three separate oceans. Known as a hydrological apex, water draining off Triple Divide Peak eventually reaches the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic Oceans. It should be noted, however, that there's a debate among hydrologists as to whether Hudson Bay is mainly part of the Arctic Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, with the implication that Triple Divide Peak may not be a true hydrological apex.