Tag Archives: Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake – the story behind the name

The History

It is difficult to say how many people visit Avalanche Lake during a busy summer in Glacier National Park.  Countless pairs of shoes have trod the trail 2.3 miles from the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the magical shores of this lake nestled in a glacial cirque.

Many of the lucky ones have made more than one trip to Avalanche Lake and this writer remembers his first trip to Avalanche Lake with his family in the early 1970s.  I actually fell into the creek at the outlet only to have my uncle rescue me out of the cold water.  Since that time I have made numerous trips to the lake and enjoyed the views.

Avalanche Lake

In the past the area around Avalanche was known as Avalanche Camp.

Waterfalls flowing down from Floral Park.

Waterfalls flowing down from Floral Park.

In 1894, the Sperry party attempted to reach the glacier basin above Avalanche Lake which Schultz called Beaverhead Lake.

Avalanche Creek was called Beaverhead Creek.

Other names associated with this area include Royal Gorge for Avalanche Gorge and Glacier Lake for Avalanche Lake.

Still to others Avalanche Lake was know as Lost Lake.  Now there is a Lost Lake is near Rising Sun Point.

Avalanche Basin was called Beaverhead Basin by the Kotennai1 and Snow-slide-on-the Mountains.  That is an avalanche folks.


A beautiful stream that crosses the Avalanche Lake Trail.

So when did the Sperry party visit Avalanche Lake?

Sperry’s party of six, lead by Frank Geduhn, reached the lake after an arduous journey through tangled brush and deep forests.

They camped on the shore of the lake on June 3, 1895.  The area was named “Avalanche” because of the number of avalanches both seen and heard during their stay.

Sperry also wrote that in July of the same year a trail was cut from Lake McDonald to Avalanche Lake.  He expected to be in the first party to use the completed trail in August, but Mr. J. H. Edwards and his wife beat them to the lake by a few hours.  Mrs. Edwards became the first woman to see Avalanche Lake and she got a peak named for her as well.

An expenditure of $75 was provided to cut the trail by a Mr. Whitney from St. Paul, Minnesota.

A year later Sperry returned and actually reached the Sperry Glacier Basin via the Snyder Lakes Basin.

Hikers on the Avalanche Lake Trail

Hikers on the Avalanche Lake Trail

While you are at Avalanche Lake look for the peaks that early visitors called Sphinx, The Dome, The Castle, and Cathedral Spires.  All named by the Sperry party on their first visit to the lake.

Obviously, they did not make the Glacier National Park map.


1) This is a must see.  Hike the 2.3 miles and suffer through the 600 feet of elevation gain and loss.

2) Travel light but not too light.  It is always amazing to me when I see folks hiking with just a water bottle.  Prudent adventures will take rain gear and a little bit to eat as well as water.

3) Bears.  Every year people see bears along this trail.  Take your bear deterrent spray and you probably will not need it.

4) People.  Expect to share the trail with folks who walk slower than you and with other who travel at a bit faster pace.  Play nice with others.

5) Camera. Take one and use it.

6) Fish. There are native Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Avalanche Lake.  Take your fishing rod or fly rod and catch a few.  Release them so others can enjoy them as well.

7) Stay away from the edge of Avalanche Gorge.  Falling in there could really ruin your vacation.

What piece of Glacier National Park real estate do you want to learn more about?

Send me a message and I will get to work.

Thanks for joining in for this small bit of fun history about Glacier National Park.  Not all of it is true but it is interesting.


© Montana Outdoor Guidebooks, 2014

Schultz, W. R., Signposts of Adventure, Glacier National Park As the Indians Know It, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926
Robinson, D. H., Through The Years In Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT, Glacier Natural History Association, 1960
Elmore, Francis, Collection from Glacier National Park Archives
Vaught, L. O., manuscript, Unpublished works


Looking For The Head Of A Dragon

Headers On RouteDragon’s Tail is an unofficially named portion of the Continental Divide perched high above the southeastern shore of Hidden Lake.  This serpent’s tail-like ridge was thus named “Dragon’s Tail” by a local climber while climbing Reynolds Mountain.

Long noted by some climbers to be difficult due a convincing goat trail that leads

The Dragon's Tail

The Dragon’s Tail

directly from a shared saddle with Reynolds Mountain that ends in G.M.S. Class IV (5) cliffs after imparting just a degree of hope for an easy route to the summit.

After reaching the top of the small hump in the tail climber’s dreams are quickly shattered unexpected swing from the Dragon.  Many mountaineers have turned around and looked for another mountain to climb with a sense of failure in utter despair.

Take heart you can slay this dragon as well.  Look for the route in Volume 1 of the Climb Glacier National Park series.

Members of the group on the summit

Members of the group on the summit

On an August day I set off from Logan Pass with three companions to summit the Dragon’s Tail.  Present in the company that day were my climbing buddy, John, and his son Mike.  Mike’s friend Scott was the fourth in this party.

The photos are from the actual day of this trip.

Having climbed Dragon’s Tail before we held the keys to the correct route and soon we were standing on the summit congratulating each other as well as enjoying the better than fair weather day.

The young men decided that they vanquished the Dragon and celebrated the event as only youth can do.

Finding that alternate route

Finding that alternate route

Then someone asked … ”Where is the Dragon’s head?”

We decided to find a way off Dragon’s Tail without retracing our steps. J. Gordon Edwards wrote in his climber’s guide that it is possible to traverse from the summit of Dragon’s Tail to the pass on the north side of Floral Park and then return to the outlet at Hidden Lake where the Hidden Lake Trail can be followed back to Logan Pass. Surely we would locate the head of the Dragon somewhere along this route.

The Class VI cliffs on the west side of The Dragon's Tail

The Class VI cliffs on the west side of The Dragon’s Tail

Exploring new terrain in Glacier is not without its false starts.

A quick jaunt to the end of the southern ridge revealed serious G.M.S. Class V (6) cliffs that required more skills, equipment and rope then we had.  We eventually located four G.M.S. Class III (4) couloirs that effectively lead us to a scree ramp about 400 feet below the summit.  The climbing was not technically difficult but required some advance route finding ability.  It was challenging due to the loose scree and the steep angle of the descent.

Ascending to the head of The Dragon's Tail

Ascending to the head of The Dragon’s Tail

Edwards was right when he wrote that it could be done.

The route finding was challenging and there appeared to be little human traffic in the area. We did find one cairn high on the eastern cliffs but no other signs of human use.

After reaching the scree ramp we had to once again regain all but 100 feet of the elevation that we had lost to reach a saddle between Dragon’s Tail and an unnamed elevated point to the south.

Surprise Pass from the Continental Divide

Surprise Pass from the Continental Divide

There is a long portion of the Continental Divide between Reynolds Mountain and Gunsight Mountain that is quite unusual; it has not been named.

Traversing from Reynolds Mountain to Gunsight Mountain would be a challenge due to many intervening points and unseen cliffs.  Although the Dragon’s Tail is part of this section it is not named on any map.

Perhaps the head lies to the west of Dragon’s Tail.

An elevated knob below Dragon’s Tail was guarded by loose scree that rolled with each step we took.  Surely it was guarding the location of the Dragon’s head.  But alas after traversing across its northeastern slope all we found was more scree and cliffs that needed to be navigated through.

Avalanche Lake from Surprise Pass

Avalanche Lake from Surprise Pass

There is no head to this dragon perhaps someone who had passed this way before had already dispatched the Dragon.

With the difficult climbing behind us we were able to enjoy a brief rest the pass between Floral Park and the Hidden Lake basin that Edwards described as a “surprise”.

He described the “Floral Park Traverse” from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald Lodge via the Sperry Glacier Basin as “an interesting way to get to new places”.  This would be a lovely way to see Glacier National Park if 20 miles (32 km) and an elevation gain of 3,500 feet (1066 m) of yo-yo like trekking is an enjoyable to spend the day.

Hidden Lake from Surprise Pass

Hidden Lake from Surprise Pass

After hanging out at Surprise Pass we returned to the outlet at Hidden Lake and then hike the Hidden Lake Trail back to Logan Pass.

No dragons were harmed on this August day.

It was just four guys from Montana spending a glorious day traversing around Hidden Lake.

A total of nearly 5,200 feet of elevation change and about 10 miles were required to complete this trip.

To use a cliche’: The views were amazing and the memories are priceless.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure.

Find your own epic adventures in Glacier National Park.  Travel off trail and see Glacier National Park from a new perspective.


Source: Edwards, J. Gordon, A Climber’s Guide To Glacier National Park, used with permission from Glacier National Park Conservancy

© Montana Outdoor Guidebooks, 2013