©Bert Gildart: The spectacular and regionally-recognized monolith known as Chief Mountain has the distinction of straddling the border between Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Just recently The Chief has been in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. Though the Blackfeet say the mountain is a spiritual mountain, Nations Energy LLC convinced some members of the tribe’s Business Council that it should be allowed to plow up the land around the chief and drill for oil. According to some, authorization enraged so many members of the tribe at large that duly elected members of the council cancelled the lease. Cancellation occurred three days ago and that is significant as devotees of The Chief had scheduled an anti-drilling protest for this Saturday, August 17.
The gathering was to be held at the base of this historic and scenic mountain, and its purpose was not to stop nation-wide oil exploration, rather it was to stop explorations that would have undermined lands most tribal members consider to be spiritual. The gathering intended to call attention to the area’s immense beauty and to its history. It intended to point out that the lofty escarpments contained by The Chief are administered by Glacier National Park, and explorations would have compromised this spectacular Montana national park.
Because the mountain assumes such classic proportions, it attracts climbers who respectfully approach The Chief from the park side rather than from across the tribe’s spiritual lands. Over the years I have climbed the Chief on four separate occasions and reported on my climbs for the Parade Section of the Great Falls Tribune. As well, my relatively new book Glacier Icons, contains an essay on The Chief.
Though the lease has been cancelled for now, greed always looms large, and down the road you can be assured oil companies will attempt to wheedle their way back to the tribal council. I hope my book entry will encourage you to follow the ways of the Chief and help the tribe’s majority who serve as watchdogs for The Chief. I hope it will acquaint you with area history. And now an excerpt from that essay.
©Bert Gildart: It is weather patterns that help make Chief Mountain—that giant monolith located along the park’s northeastern flanks—appear to be such an imposing and intriguing structure. On some days the mountain is back-dropped by robin-blue skies while on others it is shrouded in clouds and then swirled by winds that screech like a predatory bird.
Despite its challenging appearance, many have climbed the mountain, but the first was an Indian who was lured to the mountain for his vision quest. Though he knew others before him had not returned, the warrior dragged himself and a bison skull to the Chief’s summit and began fasting.
He remained for four nights, using the skull for his pillow, pacing the rocky pinnacle, chanting warrior songs while attempting to make peace with the gods who were to decide his destiny.
The Spirit of the Mountain attempted to drive him off the peak but, at last, on the fourth night, it yielded. The Mountain Spirit assured the brave that no peril of battle or of the hunt could overcome him. He died of old age, the greatest of Flathead warriors. But just before his death he told the young men of the tribe the source of his powerful medicine.
No white man climbed the peak until 1891, when Henry L. Stimpson (Secretary of State under President Hoover and Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt) and two friends, one a full-blooded Blackfeet Indian, made the second documented ascent. Stimpson found the weathered remains of an old bison skull, which he left on the very summit where his party found it, wedged among the rocks.
Today, many have come to realize that there remain reasons other than the chance discovery of an aged skull to make the very long-day’s climb to the mountain’s peak. There are the incredible views and the immensity of geological time. But there is also a sense of accomplishments, knowing you have followed in the path of a great chief.
AIRSTREAM TRAVELS TWO YEARS AGO:
BOOKS THAT WILL HELP YOU ENJOY YOUR TRAVELS
4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
Hiking Shenandoah National Park
Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.
Big Sky Country is beautiful
Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State
Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
What makes Glacier, Glacier?
Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent
Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy