Glacier Adventure Guides Explore Kootenai’s Crags

By Beacon Staff

After spending the winter months cooking meals in subzero temperatures and constructing snow caves for clients, Greg Fortin, owner of Glacier Adventure Guides, says the summer outfitting season feels akin to a vacation.

His company has abandoned its usual summer playground of Glacier National Park for the Kootenai National Forest. There, miles away from the hordes congregating for the park’s centennial, Fortin and several guides are leading small groups on rock climbing expeditions and hiking tours.

“It’s one of the better rock climbing areas in our area,” Fortin said of the terrain, which he calls an entryway into the remote Yaak Valley. “We’re excited to introduce it to people.”

The treks concentrate on an area around Lake Koocanusa, west of Eureka. Thick Ponderosa Pine forests surround the man-made reservoir, named for its unique position straddling the Kootenai Forest, Canada and the United States.

Rock climbing takes place at Stone Hill, which offers scenic lake views and quartzite crags. The area features over 250 climbs, most of which are bolted and have fixed anchors. Fortin says that while climbers of all skill levels will find a climb to their liking, the area is a great place for the uninitiated.

“It’s a real good introduction for people who are slightly interested in rock climbing but have never really been excited to hang themselves out there on their own,” he said. “I have spots that are specifically oriented toward people who have never done it before.”

Fortin says this group might include locals who have found it intimidating to explore the wilderness without a guide.

“Lately we’ve been getting more calls from locals with family coming in, who have always wanted to go to Stone Hill,” he said. “As an alternative to mini golf or shopping, it’s definitely something people will remember for a long time.”

If scaling cliffs is not quite their cup of tea, clients can choose instead to hike through the Whitefish Range, an area rich in flora and fauna. The hikes include stops at the historic Webb lookout tower and the McGuire lookout cabin, built in 1959 and 1924, respectively. If a group wishes to venture on an overnight hike, Glacier Adventure Guides has secured permits that allow them to stay overnight at the buildings.

“That takes a lot of weight off of us in that we don’t have to carry a tent,” Fortin said. “In the summer we’re spoiled.”

The lookout buildings offer spectacular panoramic views and while Fortin says some snow remains nearby, it’s nearly finished melting out. Fortin notes that the area’s weather in general is a different breed from that of the Flathead Valley.

“It’s an interesting weather pattern that they have there as it’s a little drier and more arid,” he said. “When things are cold and dreary down this way, it’s usually sunny in the Tobacco Valley up there.”

Glacier Adventure Company’s tours are all–inclusive. In past years, Fortin’s clients would meet him at the intended activity site after renting their own gear and packing their own lunches.

“We’ve found in the past, that it frustrated people,” he said. “They were on vacation and didn’t want to think about those things.”

Now guides drive a 15-seat mini-bus as far as Bigfork and Kalispell to pick up customers. Glacier Adventure Guides also provides all the gear, including children’s sizes, packs lunches and provides all necessary permits.

“That makes us a little bit different than is typical,” Fortin said. “We’re very flexible and we try to make it as personal as possible.”

Helping to make the outings more personable are the small group sizes. Rock climbing trips are limited to eight people while the hiking trips can contain twelve.

“We don’t mix groups with one another, “ Fortin said. “I won’t mix one family with another family just because often they want to do different things at different levels.”

But whatever the level his groups’ athletic abilities are, Fortin hopes everyone comes away feeling empowered at the end of the day.

“In general, people will really feel like they’ve accomplished something, something that they never considered they’d ever do,” he said.

Glacier Adventure Guide’s summer season ends Oct. 31.

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