Since there were no 10,000 footers on the schedule in 2000, I decided to coordinate one, and the Park’s advanced reservation system made it fairly painless. The route for this climb was via Mokowanis Lake, 36 miles roundtrip with vertical gains over 7,000 feet altogether. We camped at the lake for two nights, a 14.5-mile hike one-way in itself. The Belly River Valley is a “must-see” with great views not only of the river but of Chief Mountain, Mount Cleveland, Stoney Indian Peaks and finally Mount Merritt. The original hand-hewn log ranger station (ca. 1906) is 6.5 miles in and provides a great lunch spot.
Day 2 was summit day. Brett had been on Merritt before and suggested we take a modified route from camp to the Great Basin. Brett’s route left the trail about a quarter-mile north of camp (versus south in Edwards’ book) and gained elevation quickly while gradually leading us east-northeast to the Basin mostly on game trails. This route put our team near the far southern edge of the Basin and was a great choice. We proceeded to sidehill to the couloirs mentioned in the book. This is the part of the climb that we should have executed differently by accessing the Basin dead-on in the center to avoid the sidehilling (we took this way on the descent).
At the top of the Basin’s scree field, we had a choice of three main couloirs. Most of us took Edwards’ recommended farright couloir while others took the adjacent one to the north, and we all met up at the summit ridge above Old Sun Glacier to attempt the more difficult part of the climb. The climbing past this point was high above the glacier.
It soon became clear that we would have a controversy on which summit is the highest point on Merritt. All team members stood on the northernmost summit where the egister is which dwards indicates s “slightly higher.” From there the views were exceptional other than some obscurity to the south due to the Moose Fire. Brett and Buck also ascended the middle peak. It was unclear standing on either summit which was taller, but the 1:24,000 map does place the summit on the middle pinnacle.
By this point, most of us didn’t care as we were spent and began heading back to camp. Buck “walked up” 9,476-foot Natoas Peak which neighbors Merritt to the northeast. He caught up with the rest of us while we were still descending the Great Basin. Warning: we encountered no water source on the entire route up to the summit from the lake!
We made the final hike out on Day 3 and enjoyed a hot meal at the Park Cafe. We were thrilled to have gained this remote peak, especially on the first attempt for most of us. Many thanks to Chris Hansen who co-coordinated this grueling outing.
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