The Rich History of Glacier Mountaineering

COLUMBIA FALLS – The picture is stunning. Three climbers, quaintly dressed in old-fashioned clothing and without helmets, gaze up at the summit of Grinnell Point in Glacier National Park. The middle climber, Dorothy Pilley, is calm, if not stoic.

In the background, the breathtaking view of one of the most beautiful national parks in America. However, the gaze returns to Pilley, the centerpiece of the photo. Here she is, climbing 25 peaks in 19 days and hanging from a rocky mountain, and she couldn’t look more relaxed.

The photo, taken by Ray Bell in 1926, is featured in an exhibit called “Mountaineering in Glacier National Park” at Glacier Discovery Square in Columbia Falls. The inauguration of the exhibition will take place on Saturday July 30 during Heritage Days.

Then, the public will be able to see the showcase from Tuesday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. or on request outside these hours. Hours will be extended on Thursday for the farmers market. The project is the result of a partnership between First Best Place, Glacier Mountaineering Society and Northwest Historical Society.

Barry Conger, executive director of First Best Place, said the exhibit is the second in an ongoing series to highlight the area’s history and outdoor lifestyle. The first in the series featured Joe Cosley, a legendary Glacier Park outlaw.

The Cosley exhibit moved to the Kalispell Central School Museum, as did the mountaineering show after spending a year in Columbia Falls. The next exhibit, which will open in the summer of 2012 at Glacier Discovery Square, will focus on the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.

“It’s part of a long-term effort to make sure we preserve local history,” Conger said.

Along with photographs, from the 1920s to recent, the exhibit also features historic mountaineering gear, newspaper clippings highlighting climbing achievements, and information relating to the Glacier Mountaineering Society, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

According to its website, the Glacier Mountaineering Society, founded in 1981, “is a group of people dedicated to the mountain environment of Glacier National Park, Waterton National Park, and the Northern Rockies of Montana and Alberta.” . These mountaineers are “motivated to discover, explore and protect the varied landscapes of the region”.

Among the exhibits are the annual journals of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, which come out each spring and provide, among other information, the schedules of the ascents planned by the group. The company includes a range of mountaineers, from beginners who simply enjoy hiking to hardcore technical climbers.

“The Glacier Mountaineering Society gives people the opportunity to get off the beaten path in the park,” said Larry Hiller, a member of the society who was instrumental in organizing the exhibit.

There is a strong mountaineering community in the Flathead Valley, most of whom share an affinity for Glacier National Park, Hiller said.

“People who do it develop a great affection for Glacier,” Hiller said. “It’s that closeness and concentration of peaks.”

But it’s not just locals who seek out Glacier, as the exhibit shows. Pilley, who climbed all over the world and was known for mountaineering in the Alps, embarked on her glacier adventure just a few years after Norman Clyde first spent more than a month in the park.

In 1923, Clyde climbed 36 peaks in 36 days at Glacier, including many first ascents. Clyde returned to climbing in 1924 and 1937 and is featured in a section of the exhibit.

No regional mountaineering showcase would be complete without the late J. Gordon Edwards, the famous mountaineer who wrote “A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park.” This book has been the glacier mountaineer’s standard for 50 years. Edwards passed away in 2004, but his legacy lives on both through his lasting influence and now on display.

Edwards, Clyde and Pilley all shared the same spirit of adventure found in many members of the Glacier Mountaineering Society today. Hiller knows this spirit.

“I don’t know if you want to call it an addiction,” Hiller said of mountaineering, “but I guess that’s what it is.”

For more information about the exhibit at Glacier Discovery Square, contact First Best Place at (406) 892-1363 or email [email protected] It’s free but donations are encouraged.