Dawson-Pitamakan Loop Trail 09-07-15 (GNP)

Gary, Bruce, and I planned a bucket list trip to Glacier National Park that was practically last-minute. You really should start planning a year in advance but we put it together only about 6 months prior mostly due to Gary’s expert planning skills. The park has some of the best hikes a hiker could want to do, and we targeted as many as we thought we could realistically do.

Our first hike was going to be our longest – the loop trail up to Dawson Pass, across the spine of the Continental Divide over to Pitamakan Pass and then back down again. Even using a boat across Two Medicine Lake for a shortcut, it’s still a good 17 miles. The trail is one of the most spectacular the park has to offer and was our most anticipated hike. But it was not to be on this day, however, as the weather would conspire against us.

It had rained the previous two days or so, and we were so focused on the fact the rain had stopped for our planned hike day that we didn’t stop to think that all that rain down here would be snow up there. The high would only be in the 50s which in hindsight would make this a very unappealing day to do this particular hike due to the fact that you lose about 5 degrees for every 1000 feet of elevation (we were gaining about 2500) and that the wind at the top is fierce. We didn’t realize what lay in wait.

We had read about the wind at the top and had planned on it being chilly (emphasis on “chilly” and not sub-freezing). As it was, we all took several layers of clothes though I was the only one who hadn’t brought gloves, but I stopped at the East Glacier Trading Co. and picked up some light ones that I would soon regret. Gah, why did I get the light ones? I can still see the heavier ones I wish I had bought!

We took the boat across Two Medicine Lake and got on the trail around 9am if I recall correctly.

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The calm before the storm.

This was our first walk in grizzly country and with bear spray so I remember feeling wary in a way that I normally don’t feel on hikes back home in PA. The vegetation was lush and green but it was a chilly, grey day so I wasn’t in my usual bright, “happy to be in the woods” hiking spirits. Plus, I knew I had a big climb ahead of me and I was out of shape after recuperating from a knee injury the previous six weeks.

See, this hike would be my first exercise in over a month as I had been resting a sprained knee (stupid disc golf), and I had picked a doozy, for sure. Consequently, I was having trouble keeping up with my two friends. I’m normally out in front on our hikes but here I was laboring early and often.

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That’s the lake where our hike started. That’s me in business mode.

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Snow covered Sinopah Mountain that dominates the view. On a good day there might be bighorn out but they had better sense than we did.

Early on in the hike I realized I was overdressed and was already in a full sweat; not good. I didn’t want to get cold so I was, ironically, shedding layers. I dressed in a t-shirt with a long-sleeved thermal shirt underneath and had a fleece, windbreaker, and hoodie as well. I also had a toque for my head.

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In hindsight, I needed every bit of all that on the hike (up at the top) and only messed up on the gloves.

I remember us seeing the snow up higher on the mountain and saying we certainly wouldn’t be going into THAT so the trail must reach the pass before we get up there. But after a few miles in the tree line, we went from seeing snow next to the trail to walking in snow and slush on the trail to walking in three-foot snow drifts. How the hell did that happen?

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I didn’t sign up for this.

I just checked the trail description and it says you clear the treeline at about 3.9 miles and then go up to 4.7 to the summit. That’s stunning to me because it must’ve taken us a good hour to do that last 0.8 mile due to the snowdrifts. I’m not the tallest guy and I was in snow up to my thighs in some parts. My feet were slipping from walking on fresh snow and I was having to redo the same steps which made things more taxing.

Don’t think this was all it was; I got no photos of the snowdrifts as I was laboring too hard. This was the “easy” part below the treeline.

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If you asked me to describe this hike in a word, I would say: court-ordered.

The footing, in general, was treacherous. Not that a fall would have killed you, but a slip could lead to you sliding 100 yards or more down and then having to labor your way back up. I made sure to lean to the right so if I fell, I would at least remain on the trail. Gary was pushing double digits on falls that would lead to some bruises but fortunately no rides down the slope.

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Oh great, on top of snow I have THIS to worry about too?

In some parts, due to both the difficult treading and my being out of shape, I was walking one foot directly in front of the other. I mean, I was having serious trouble catching my breath. Don’t get me wrong, on a normal day, this is a fun, challengingly steep hike, but the snow — and elevation gain — made it downright exhausting.

At one point, I started seeing stars, little green and red “jimmies” floating in front of me, and I reached out to grab them. Gary saw me and asked if I was OK and I said something to the effect of I knew I was hallucinating but was just going with it.

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Kinda like this.

I really was in no shape for this trail this day with this weather, but my stubbornness, er, internal fortitude, can be pretty strong so I pushed on ahead. Unfortunately, I had no energy for pictures any longer.

[PICTURES STOP HERE UNTIL THE RETURN]

Now, I hate the cold. I’m resolved to retiring somewhere where people complain about the heat and being perfectly happy, so hiking in these conditions is just about my worst nightmare, and I was questioning what the hell we were doing before we got to this dreadful part. Afterwards, we would all say that had we known these were the conditions, none of us would have wanted to do this hike on this day, but I think we fell into the phenomenon of “let’s just go a little farther / oh well, we’ve come this far, let’s just go on” that is a standard element of disaster stories.

Anyway, somewhere near the top with winds whipping around me and nothing but deep snow in front of me, I was past discomfort and into pain in both my lungs and my hands, and I decided to turn around and stopped to tell Gary when a guy coming down the trail from the summit told me I was only 5 minutes away from the top and I could make it. Those words of encouragement from a stranger were the extra juice I needed. I pulled my hoodie on tighter, gripped my pole as hard as my frozen fingers would allow, and pushed on up. In a few minutes of high steps in deep snow, I made it to the top where Bruce was already waiting. I exhaled a sigh of relief so hard that turned into a half-laugh, half cry.

I took a look down into the Nyack Creek area far below and the looming peaks of Mount Stimson (one of the tallest peaks in Glacier National Park), Mount Phillips, and Flinsch Peak, but the incredible wind gusts and dark, foreboding sky didn’t put me in the mind to appreciate the view as much as I would have liked. You’re on the Continental Divide at this point which is pretty unique and have views of two different valleys. It’s something you would normally like to sit and absorb.

The fingers of both hands were stiff but I managed to get my iPhone out for a panoramic video of this special view. I wanted to take a few photos too but … was just too cold so I shoved it back in my pocket, rushed my gloves back on, and started heading down. I’d had enough.

With the temperature and wind gusts, the wind chill must’ve been in the 20s or lower. Unfortunately, I would later discover that my video did not come out nor did Gary’s. It’s easy to think it was operator error but I remember seeing the timer recording. Gary’s video at least starts but then just cuts out. We presume it was due to the extreme temps. At least Gary got a single picture that came out so we have some record of having been to the top.

Dawson Summit

I’m on top of the world, Ma!

We were at the top for less than 5 minutes. Even if we were in the mood to continue our plan across the Divide over to Pitamakan Pass, the trail itself was covered in snow and unfindable. We had seen three guys pass us on the trail earlier and we never saw them come back down. Did they endeavor to go across the Divide? Had the snow covered their tracks already or had they turned off somewhere we hadn’t seen?

On that note, we passed two young girls, not heavily dressed, heading up on our way down. One of them didn’t even have any gloves. We told them what was waiting for them up top but they were insistent on making it up. We never saw them on the 5:20 boat so I can’t help but wonder about them. I didn’t hear of any missing hikers so I presume they came down later and walked around the lake back to the dock.

I guess I’ll never know, but I do know I was happy as hell to be heading down. I carelessly allowed myself to slide down the trail in an effort to make some speed and get back to the treeline as quickly as possible.

We finally reached a switchback where some rocks sheltered from the wind where we’d stopped on the way up to refit ourselves and stopped for lunch. I was ravenous and practically inhaled my PBJ and coconut water. Looking at my pictures I realize they stop before the worst of the snow on the way up and don’t resume until right here. It’s like there’s a whole deleted scene from the pictorial record of the hike.

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PBJ to the rescue!

Soon enough we were back in the treeline with the sun occasionally shining on us and 55 degrees feeling downright balmy and we could laugh at what we’d just done. We even had enough energy to sidetrack over to No Name Lake were we stopped for another snack.

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Mood = lifted.

We made a push back to the dock for the 3:20 boat but were too late (which prompted me to rename No Name Lake to “Miss the Boat Lake”). I decided to wait in the shelter while Gary and Bruce went back out to Twin Falls. I stretched out on the thin bench and had my bear spray next to me within reach.

I had my hoodie over my eyes and think I could’ve taken a nap but was soon startled by a low growl just a few feet away. I jumped up and lunged for my bear spray just in time – to realize it was simply the moaning of the dock in the water. I had a much needed laugh at myself and the sun suddenly broke through as if to join me.

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Don’t forget your dock spray!

I got some great shots of the late afternoon sun on the mountain across the lake then stepped out onto the dock and laid down in the warm sunshine and waited till the boys got back.

Side note: I chatted with a young guy from Wilmington, DE. Think he said he was 22 and too young to rent a car so he drove his car all the way to the park. He’d spend the last few days in dreadful weather with high rain. He’d attempted the pass once previously a few days prior when the snow was coming down and had to turn around. Today he made it up the top finally but was unable to find the trail to cross over to Pitamakan. Nice kid; hope his trip home was good.

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After all that, I was simply content to sit in the sun and enjoy the view.

NOTABLES:

  • I need to go back to the park and do this hike on a warm day. A good 70+ degree day should mean the top is cool though I’d still take extra layers. I would definitely pay attention to the weather in the preceding days and be sure you’re not heading up into snow the way we were.
  • On that note, we weren’t the only ones unprepared for the snow. The other people we talked to were similarly surprised by the snowdrifts (so we weren’t the only n00bs).
  • We would bump into Mark, the guy who encouraged me to get to the top, and his wife, Rebecca, three more times during our trip at various places and realized we must’ve been meant to meet up so we made plans to hike Grinnell Glacier together which we did; see that post for more.
  • I would bring heavy gloves just in case.
  • Note that the boat on Two Medicine stops running a week before the boats on other lakes (our boat ride was the last of the season).
  • This hike was the only regret I have from the trip because I didn’t get to walk along the top of the Divide and see the spectacular views nor did I get to experience the Pitamakan Overlook, one of my most anticipated features on our agenda. Oh well, I guess it’s good incentive to get back to my most favorite park ever.

Miles: 9.5

Elevation Gain: 2450

Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake 09-09-15 (GNP)

Trail of the Cedars is basically a nature walk on a boardwalk that is accessible to anyone and even handicap accessible. At the far end of this short loop trail, however, is the turn-off to head on a mild, 2-mile trail in the woods to Avalanche Lake. We had heard that parking fills up early since this trail is an “all skate” so we got there before 10am and had no problem getting a spot (though already a fair bit down the lot).

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A vast variety of verdant vegetation.

You start off by passing a stream with some water-carved rock formations.

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Always beautiful to see, always hard to photograph.

Then you pass some nice peek-throughs of waterfalls that are photo worthy.

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Going for a “fog over the waterfall” effect here.

Two miles in, you pop out of the woods onto a stone beach in a natural amphitheater that is quite stunning. Directly in front of you is the “stage,” a small lake, and surrounding it in a ring-like formation are mountain peaks featuring no fewer than four waterfalls.

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Please take your seats; the show is about to begin.

The overall effect of popping out of the woods into this unexpected scene is quite dramatic, and as I had not read up on this hike beforehand, it came as a wonderful surprise to me. I peeled away from Gary and Bruce and sat for a few minutes appreciating the intense serenity of this beautiful view. I think others did as well as it seemed rather quiet.

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The chipmunks are very friendly here. One took this picture for us.

After a few minutes of silent time and then pictures on the beach, we headed down the side of the lake to the far end via rock hopping. From there, we had a different perspective on the lake and a closer look at the waterfalls.

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In hindsight, the trail would’ve been easier than hopping the rocks the entire way.

We found a trail leading deeper away from the lake and took that for a while to see how close to the falls we could get, but like everything in a forest, they were much farther away than we realized and we didn’t want to make a day of this so we turned around and headed back.

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Still a mile, mile and a half away.

On the trail back, some mule deer silently appeared from the brush to join the trail with us just a few feet ahead. They must find using the trail is easier than the woods because they walked along ahead of us for quite a while before we finally decided try and pass them. Only then did they scamper off to the side, though they didn’t go far.

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Cut in front of us without using his turn signal.

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This boardwalk gets damaged each winter from falling trees (Trail of the Cedars).

NOTABLES:

  • I strongly suggest getting there before 10am as the parking spaces fill up fast and they bus people in for the Trail of the Cedars
  • The trail is listed at only 2.2 to the falls but we extended it a good bit by going to the other end of the lake and beyond.

Miles: 7.6

Elevation Gain: 730

Hidden Lake 09-09-15 (GNP)

We left the Avalanche Lake area and headed up towards Logan Pass. It was a chilly day which must’ve been why we were able to get a parking spot in the afternoon as we would learn the next day how quickly the LP visitor center lot fills up. It was chilly and windy and I was less enthusiastic about any kind of significant hiking than Bruce and Gary. Nonetheless, we all geared up for not just the 1.5m hike to the lake overlook but the additional 1.5m down to the lake itself.

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The trail starts off on boardwalk that has replaced the original tarmac trail up to the overlook. Seriously, who “hikes” on asphalt?

The boardwalk takes you up most of the 540 elevation gain to just about the top of hill and puts you on a gravel trail. At least, I think it’s gravel, for us it was snow and slush covered. Once again, here we were walking in snow, skirting the trail proper and walking the periphery for dry spots along with everybody else. Footing was very slippery at times, especially going up.

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Again with the snow…

And here’s where I digress to call out the people we saw walking this trail not just in inappropriate footwear, that’s one thing, but walking the trail in inappropriate footwear AND carrying a small child or an infant! It was unfathomable to see people with children cradled in their arms or on their shoulders walking on this slippery trail in sneakers or sandals. One infant in particular was a father’s slip away from slamming its head onto the ice.

We felt the Park Service should have put up a sign warning people of the trail’s condition that day and advising them not to take children/infants who need to be carried. Why common sense hadn’t kicked in I don’t know, but our jaws dropped at what we saw. Oddly enough, we bumped into a couple the next day on Highline who mentioned the very same thing. People is dumb.

[WISH I HAD PICS]

Anyway, snow proved a great retardant to progress once again as what should’ve been a mildly rigorous 1.5m hike up a hill turned felt like twice that much effort.

On the way, we bumped into Mark and Rebecca for the third time and exchanged stories. It was fun to see some friendly faces. They’d actually gone all the way down to the lake but by the time we made it to the overlook, Gary and Bruce both said they were already nixing the idea of continuing down to the lake. We were all tired of hiking in snow.

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People were cutting a new path around the snow-covered trail parts.

The sight at the top stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was spectacular to look down onto Hidden Lake with Bearhat Mountain looming in the center. Apparently, mountain goats are fairly common in the area, however, they were all nestled somewhere warm on this day.

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I think that’s Sperry Glacier in the distance.

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Gary had to jump over a log to get into the shot before the timer went off.

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The vantage point offered a terrific view south towards Gunsight Mountain in the far off distance.

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We may or may not have gone where we weren’t supposed to to get this shot.

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Is it me or did it suddenly get warmer?

In the middle of the trek back, the promised warm front that was finally moving in to bless our vacation must’ve made its entrance because it suddenly got much, much warmer, and we started shedding layers.

Gary and I stopped several places along the way for pictures in the wide open northern side of the trail. As a city dweller, it felt incredibly refreshing to be on a spot of earth that had no boundary for miles in any direction.

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I wanted to stretch myself to fill the space.

NOTABLES:

  • On a nice day, this has got to be the most popular trail in the park, I imagine, at least in terms of number of visitors due to its relative ease. Expect a lot of people going up to the overlook. I would suspect far fewer go down to the lake, however.
  • The Logan Pass visitor center attracts people stopping for the Highline Trail, Hidden Lake, and pictures in general, so if this is on your list, be sure to get there early. In hindsight, the weather that day afforded us the opportunity to get on this trail that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do on another day.

Miles: 3

Elevation Gain: 540

Highline Loop Trail 09-10-15 (GNP)

Highline Trail has the reputation for being perhaps the favorite trail for hikers and deservedly so. It’s emblematic of the park in how uniquely beautiful its views are. If I could only do one trail in the park and it had to be Highline, I’d be perfectly happy with that. It’s a wonderful trail that I hope to hike at least one more time in my life.

You start off with something incredible right off the bat as about 5 minutes into the trail (we left from Logan Pass) you walk across a ledge on the Garden Wall (what this part of the Continental Divide is called in this area) that’s about six feet wide and drops 100 feet to the GttSR road below. I have a problem with heights and was encouraged to hear they’d installed a handrail, but I’m happy to report that I had no problem with this part.

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It’s not too scary if you just don’t look down.

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The trail itself was wide enough for me and there’s even a handrail. I have a reasonable fear of heights but had no problem here, even passing people. You can do it!

In addition to the view looking down from the ledge area, you have a spectacular shot straight south down the GttSR. It’s rare that a trail starts off so spectacularly with so many reasons to stop and take photos. We took a lot of time here.

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I have so many pictures of this area. We’d just started the hike and had to stop to soak up the views.

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Like this…

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And this…

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And this.

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The views were fantastic of the GttSR valley up to Logan Pass and Mt. Cannon, Mt. Oberlin, and Heavens Peak.

From there, the trail winds along the Garden Wall for several miles, taking you left and right into different vistas. As I said in another post, I’m fine walking up the same valley and getting different perspectives as I go, but I do prefer a hike like this where I turn a corner and enter a whole new valley.

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The terrain varies from meadows to wooded areas of lodgepole pine, but my favorite was skirting the rock face.

About 3.5m in you reach the switchback to Haystack Pass. This is the only steep part of the trail, about 275 feet up. On the rocky area to the right, we saw a bighorn and a couple of babies. My iPhone is not good at long-distance shots so I didn’t get great photos of them, especially in light of how amazing their natural camouflage works among the rocks.

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The parent was standing proud on a boulder when we arrived.

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Gary brought a tripod to use with his camera timer for group shots which made for many “Isitdunyet?” moments.

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Haystack Pass is a popular spot for lunch but not for bathroom breaks.

We found a nice flat rock to sit on and set about having lunch while the Pikas ran under our feet.The park strongly exhorts people not to feed any of the wildlife (and for good reason), and we were careful not to leave them any crumbs. It wasn’t easy though as they were awfully cute.

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We invaded his rock house, apparently. Sorry, dude.

After a good eat, rest, and pee out in the open (there just wasn’t any cover, so whatya gonna do?), we headed back on the trail. At this point, Bruce pointed out how poorly we were doing on time.

See, we’d gotten to the LP parking lot at noon only to realize to our chagrin that on nice days, this lot fills up early. And it’s not like people come and go; most people are there for several hours like we were. There was a big “LOT OPEN” sign out front and cars were streaming in only to find they were now stuck in lines going nowhere. Why didn’t the Park Service have a “LOT CLOSED” sign?

We eventually escaped and headed down to the Goat Study area a bit down the road. No luck there either as people already had the same idea. After 45 minutes of waiting, we finally pulled our Durango rental onto the side of the road on some rocks and called it a parking spot. Daylight was burning!

But that delay plus all the time we’d spent taking photos along the way meant we were behind schedule. We were only about 4 miles into a 12 mile hike and it was 3:00. We knew we’d better start hoofing it.

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Even though we were making up time, we had to stop to appreciate views like this. I find myself relaxing just in remembrance of it.

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My most photographed trail. I could post dozens more.

Fortunately, the up part of the hike was behind us and we started making some time. We reached the turnoff to the Grinnell Overlook which is an extremely steep 0.9m climb to look down on the Grinnell Glacier area but we had to pass to stay on schedule. I will plan to hit that next time as it sounds like a great view.

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The trail over Bruce’s shoulder leads up 900 feet in a hurry!

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In the distance, you can see the Granite Park Chalet. The 7.6 mile mark and turning point back out.

I hit over-drive once I saw the chalet and practically ran to it. We’d read somewhere that snacks and refreshments were available, and I had a hot chocolate or coffee on my mind — but in fact they were not. There was food and beverages for sale but only to people staying at the chalet not passers-through like us. So much for that idea!

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It’s just a hostel but would make a nice one-night layover.

Side note: This chalet was built in 1915 and makes a great overnight rest stop for continuing onto the Swiftcurrent Trail. It has a notorious history that is recounted in the book, “Night of the Grizzlies” and elsewhere. Apparently, back in the 1960s they used to throw garbage into a nearby ravine. Of course, this attracted bears and people would come to see them. The chalet only holds 12 people so an unofficial camping area was created.

One night the unthinkable happened and two young girls were dragged away by a bear to their deaths. Since then the Park Service has cracked down on garbage and unofficial camping areas, but it’s a shame it took a tragedy like that to enforce what is just common sense. Don’t feed the bears, people!

From the chalet back to the Loop is an unremarkable four mile trek. Quite frankly, the trail isn’t much to speak of; none of us took pictures. You go through countless switchbacks in a valley with a lot of dead trees that look like old fire damage. It was total “get me out of here” hiking and my feet were aching.

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The unofficial end of the hike. Just a tenth of a mile to the Loop parking lot.

When we got to the Loop, we knew one of us would have to hitchhike back up to Logan Pass to get the car (about a 20 minute ride). We’d heard that hitchhiking was no problem, but we hadn’t considered getting off the trail so late (about 7:00pm) which meant far less traffic on the road. We saw some other guys there who’d been waiting for 20 minutes which didn’t bode well.

Amazingly, just then a couple pulled in for a quick picture and I approached them. They offered to move some stuff around in the back and let me slide in. I think I was gone before Gary and Bruce realized it. Jeremy and Laura from Seattle, thank you!

NOTABLES:

  • As I said above, hitchhiking is very doable but it’s probably best to get off the trail late afternoon rather than early evening for better odds. You may want to pack some extra clothes in case you get stuck waiting
  • Some people park at the Loop and hitchhike up to LP such that that part is over and they’re at their car when done. This is a nice idea but depends on how many people you have in your group.
  • Some people seem to hike to just below Haystack Pass and then back out the way they came. The hike from the chalet out is not much to speak of but I do like the hike to the chalet (and would like to hit the Grinnell Overlook).
  • I think the idea of staying overnight at the chalet then doing Swiftcurrent is a great way to do it. You would need to preload a car at the other end which is doable by renting one from the KOA campground.
  • We got pretty good at doing bear calls especially around blind corners. Gary started doing calls inspired by the movie, “Cool Hand Luke.” Pretty soon we all were shouting, “Coming ‘round the corner, boss!” or “Still shakin’ it, boss!” or some such thing. It made doing the bear calls a lot of fun.
  • Bear calls can actually be difficult to remember. Sometimes I’d be entranced in the view or my own thoughts and forget as the front man I needed to be calling out. It takes a lot of concentration to stay on it, so any kind of device to make them more fun and easier to do is highly recommended.
  • We had incredible weather with a high near 80 and perfectly clear skies.

Miles: 12

Elevation Gain: 1950

Grinnell Glacier 09-12-15 (GNP)

The night before this day’s hike we stayed at St. Mary’s Lodge and hit the bar for some drinks while watching the sun set over the nearby ridge. And lo and behold, we bumped into Mark and Rebecca for the fourth time. We all sat together and had drinks and decided we must’ve been meant to meet and hike together, so Gary, Bruce, and I decided to flip our Saturday-Sunday hikes to go to Grinnell with them the next day. So glad we did as we had a blast spending the day with them.

We’d actually had boat tickets for a Friday but they went unused as our plans changed. Gary went to the boat to see if they’d do anything for us, and sure enough they gave us tickets for this day in exchange at no fee. We decided to walk the length out (and maybe see some moose, but nada) and then boat back to save our tired feet. It worked great.

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Swiftcurrent Lake on the way up. Beautiful even without seeing any moose.

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Group shot with lower Grinnell Lake in the background.

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Me and Mark.

The trail itself is fantastic. It rivaled Highline in how fun it was because you hardly walk on any meadows but are mostly skirting ledges which is always fun and offers dramatic views.

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For someone who has a fear of heights, I sure do like walking on rock ledges.

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No need for bear calls with this many people on the trail!

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We came upon a den of snakes (just garter snakes but still kinda creepy if you don’t like snakes).

We stopped many times for a shot of the waterfall that faces you as you make your way along the trail.

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We would later cross that stream.

Side note: apparently, the day after we hiked this trail, a bear was seen on it. It was in an area where people could look down on the bear from above. The bear then started climbing the hillside up to the people looking down but it was now out of their view due to a blind spot. The people down below were shouting to the people above to back away but they didn’t get it. The bear popped up at the top and the people ran away (not supposed to run, people!) and the bear scampered off with no incident. A woman who saw all this related the story to me around the fire at the Many Glacier Hotel.

We saw no bears, fortunately or unfortunately. We did see, however, some more bighorn sheep grazing in an area near the pit toilet stop right before the last push to the top.

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Once again, I wish I’d had a better camera for closeups.

We pushed on up to the top and were rewarded with a stunning view of the greenish lake with icebergs, the Grinnell and Salamander glaciers, and two waterfalls. I had intentionally not researched what to expect on the hikes much so I would be surprised and I certainly was here. I didn’t expect something so amazing.

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Mountains? Check. Wateralls? Check. Lake with icebergs? Check. What more do you need?

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Apparently, this is what Iceberg Lake used to look like.

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The Salamander Glacier up top.

We each went our separate ways for different views.

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Gary, reflecting on the meaning of life.

I took myself down onto the rock beach, took off my shoes and socks and stuck my feet in. I think I could put them in for about 5 seconds before reflexively pulling them out due to the extreme cold, but it felt great for my tired feet.

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Me, reflecting on how much my feet hurt.

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As far in as I’d want to go.

The sun was directly overhead at this point so I stretched out, closed my eyes, and started to doze comfortably. After a while, Gary came by and he and I decided to make our way over left to Grinnell Glacier.

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I think I can see a trail. Let’s go.

There’s a way to get over to the glacier but you have to traverse the stream the turns into the waterfall that you view on the way up. It’s doable but was a little tricky trying to keep one’s feet dry.

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Started off easy…

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… and then got a little tricky.

We bumped into Rebecca along the way and she joined us.

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Jazz hands for safety!

We made it over without incident, checked out the glacier, actually stepped on it, and then made our way back.

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This foot has now walked on both lava and a glacier.

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Obligatory selfie.

Along the way I stopped for a tremendous view of the three lakes that you can see all in a row: Lower Grinnell, St. Josephine, and Swiftcurrent. This is one of my most favorite views in all the park.

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Oops. One of the lakes is missing (lower Grinnell Lake is below the ridge line).

We caught the 3:45 boat back and had celebratory drinks on the deck while watching the sun set; a highly recommended activity whether or not you just completed a hike!

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Wise man say: Friends who bring stocked cooler are good friends.

NOTABLES:

  • The trail from Many Glacier Hotel to Grinnell starts along the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. This trail is known for attracting moose, and although we didn’t see one, I saw pictures of one that someone took from the boat.
  • While you can purchase tickets on the boat, they do prioritize people who already have tickets. We saw people turned away.
  • We stood briefly on the edge of Grinnell Glacier but were careful not to damage it nor to walk out on it as there could be crevasses hidden underneath and nobody needs a rescue as part of their vacation.
  • It was super neat to bump into M&R the way we did and then get to spend a day hiking and getting to know them. I get the feeling we would be fast friends if we lived in the same city.
  • On a similar note, we found people consistently friendly and helpful. I guess everyone there is a hiking geek and happy to meet people of a similar nature.

Ptarmigan Tunnell 09-13-15 (GNP)

After the Pitamakan Overlook (that we didn’t get to do due to weather), this was my next most anticipated destination. I loved the idea of hiking up to a tunnel and going through to see what’s on the other side. I would not be disappointed.

The day started off rather grey and chilly but 20 minutes into the hike the clouds burned off and the sky turned a clear, brilliant blue.

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Take that, grey skies!

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We had great views to our left of the Salamander and Grinnell glaciers that we’d hiked the day before.

A few miles in we came upon a waterfall whose view was mostly obstructed by trees. There was a flat rock area where you could walk out on to look down, and some guy had inexplicably decided to use that area to operate his burner and heat some water(?). We ignored his dirty looks and walked around him to get a look down.

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Well, Gary and Bruce did, it was too precipitous for me.

The trail winds left and right, right and left for a good while in a heavily wooded area. We were doing bear calls every few yards it seemed.

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Comin’ ’round the corner, boss!

We hit the pit toilet along the way and eventually reached the intersection of the Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel trails. Along the way we saw a young girl walking by herself with no bear spray. Sure, it was a popular trail and there were probably no bears, but I don’t understand why some people don’t take the possibility seriously.

Side note: Back in 1991, an elderly couple was returning on this trail when they startled a mother bear and her cubs. The man took the brunt of the attack and was saved only by the woman beating the bear off by smashing her binoculars on her snout. The man was left bleeding and going into diabetic shock while the woman called for help. In an amazing case of good fortune, they were happened upon by two nurses, a physician, an Israeli commando, and a German distance runner. They all used their talents to go get help, clear an area for the rescue helicopter, and stabilize his condition. The man was airlifted out, and after 7 hours of surgery made a full recovery.

From the intersection, we turned right and headed up. And I mean up. As any hiker knows, switchbacks are how trails handle steep inclines but not here. Here, we walked straight up for a good bit (about 200 feet in only a quarter mile). This was a serious test of endurance and while Bruce had no problem, Gary and I stopped along the way to rest. We kept leap-frogging a family who we would see all the way up and back on the trail. It was great to see some fit children getting out for such a rigorous hike.

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Finally, it leveled off for a bit and I started taking pictures again.

The post-intersection trail felt like it was constantly up at least to some degree. At a little over mile 4 of the 5.3 miles to the tunnel, you reach Ptarmigan Lake and the barren, Mars-like hillside with the final grand switchbacks that lead to the tunnel. It’s a good place to rest for the final push.

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Get ready…

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It’s coming…

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… time to head up!

Gary and I settled into a slow-but-steady pace while Bruce raced on up ahead and would wait for us to catch up. It didn’t look all that steep but it’s deceptively so as you gain 500 feet in less than two-thirds of a mile. This area was mercurial in its temperature as there might be sun and no wind one minute and then clouds and a strong wind the next. I kept adjusting my clothing every few minutes.

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The last big stretch of switchback; the tunnel is just above me.

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Looking back at Ptarmigan Lake from the switchback. Photo ops also make good excuses to rest, you know.

We reached the top where Bruce was waiting for us to all go into the tunnel together. We got some pics out front and headed inside.

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The tunnel door beckons…

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… and through you must go…

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… to get to the other side.

I was blown away; the tunnel exceeded my expectations. From the front, you turn around and have a great view of the valley featuring the lake, a barren grey, rocky hillside, and the trail you just ascended. On the other side, a completely different view explodes as you exit the tunnel.

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Things looks even more Mars-ish here with a smooth, swooping hillside of red rocks.

You can see the trail continuing along the mountainside and leading down towards Elizabeth Lake about 5 miles in the distance. A group of guys were on their way down, in fact.

Side note 1: The young kid working behind the counter at Granite Park Chalet came through the tunnel with a friend on their way past even Elizabeth Lake to Cosley Lake. He said they’d been up at GPC since June 24 and came down when their shift ended a few days ago but found civilization too much to handle and had gotten a back country permit and wanted to spend some time camping in a remote part of the park.

I recently watched a documentary on people who spend an entire year working in Antarctica and noticed that the longer they were away from people the more they wanted it to stay that way. That phenomenon seemed to be in effect here. I wonder how they’re doing with their eventual reintegration.

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Side note 2: One of, if not the worst, tragedies to ever occur in the park happened on the north side of the tunnel. The trail is carved along the mountainside with a short safety wall. It’s plenty wide but the dropoff is certainly fatal. One unfortunate woman was on a horseback tour when, after walking their horses through the tunnel, they stopped here for pictures. She stood between her horse and the wall. Something spooked the horse and it tumbled over the wall, taking her with it, as she fell to her death in front of her husband. Such a freak accident that leaves one wondering.

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Looking back at Gary on the back side.

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Mines of Moria anyone?

The north side was much colder than the south side (like 10 degrees or more) as there was no direct sun and it was much, much windier. I spent about 20 minutes there walking down the trail a bit for different perspectives and photos but then went back to the other side with Bruce. Gary continued down the trail for a good while to get more photos while Bruce and I lunched. We chuckled seeing the young boy running around enjoying himself while his sister was bundled up against the wall, sheltering herself against the wind saying “I’m going to die!”

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It started to get a little chilly at this point.

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I was just huddling together for warmth.

All told, we were in the tunnel area for a good 50 minutes before deciding it was time to head down. I told the boys to go on ahead as I wanted to be alone for a bit. My feet didn’t want to move because I knew that my trip was coming to an end. This was the return leg of the last hike of our vacation. I’m a sentimental type and started to feel emotional about it, but I knew the trip had to end. I couldn’t keep on with the kind of hikes we were doing.

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Con te partiro.

It was time, so I made a brief goodbye video and walked alone a good way behind the guys reflecting on all that I’d accomplished on the trip and how momentous it was. I truly felt like I’d “vacated” my regular life as each day I had to be focused on the details of preparations, travel, and weather. I had no time to think about other things and very little phone service to be tempted to do so. Each day was its own adventure that required my full attention and rewarded me with an incredible experience. I was living in the moment.

It’s hard to have an experience like this and not sound like you’re hyperbolizing, but this adventure was truly the vacation of a lifetime with some of the best moments of my life. I wish everyone something similar.

NOTABLES:

  • Regardless of the weather at trail start, be ready for winds up at the tunnel, especially the north side, and a significant temperature drop as well.
  • Be ready to do a lot of bear calls on the winding, wooded part of the trail.

Miles: 11.3

Elevation: 2300

Brandywine Creek State Park 07-12-15

Bruce, Gary, and I headed over to Brandywine Creek Park (BCP) on this 90 degree, July day to do a 20 mile hike in preparation for our trip to Glacier National Park (GNP) in September. We had a near 20 mile hike planned at GNP and wanted to test our endurance, gear, and planning. We figured if we could do 20 miles in heat and humidity, then whatever GNP has in store for us should be easier.

We chose BCP because it was close and convenient. The hiking was going to take a good 8 hours so why add on travel time? Gary had already done this 20 mile prep hike himself an incomprehensible three(!) times previously by himself. He was our guide on this day.

The park was a lot nicer than I expected with nice views of the creek and then eventually the Delaware River. We actually came across some deer for the first time on any of our hikes, though I didn’t have my glasses on and as such, the pictures came out correspondingly:

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There’s a deer in there, trust me.

We crossed a lot of different terrain including bridges, meadows, cornfields, and typical forests.

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One of the bridges we crossed.

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An oddly beautiful three-pronged tree.

The terrain was mostly flat which is not good for my feet. About 8.5 miles in, I was having problems. We stopped around mile 9 for lunch by popping out of the forest into a business park parking lot and sat on a bench. I put my feet up for a good 25 minutes which reduced the swelling and pain.

We got on the trail again and I got another mile or so in before my feet were aching again, so I started asking for 2 mile “feet” breaks to give them a rest. I’d put them up for 5-10 minutes to reduce the swelling. It being a hot and humid 90 degree day probably did not help matters. I was constantly wiping sweat off my face and did not urinate till almost 13 miles in. Water was just constantly coming out of me despite my best efforts to put it back in.

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Can you sense the heat and humidity?

Walking for 8.5 hours gives you plenty of time to talk about things, and we covered everything from politics to sports to weight loss to women.

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Bruce and Gary arguing over an Eagles trade near one of the many farms we passed.

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Near a winery we passed.

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And now we go under a bridge.

We just kept going and stopping to rest as needed. I finally tried out my water filter in a stream that we crossed and it worked great. Fresh, cold water mid-trail is rare. I made sure to choose clear, moving water just in case, but the filter did its job and I had no problems. Neither G nor B would dare try any.

There was an awful lot of storm damage and we constantly had to climb over downed trees. We made it back to the area where the bridge in the picture above is and realize we were a bit shore on our goal, so we walked back another mile and turned around. That mile was one of those miles that just … wouldn’t … end. I had my phone app on with my phone in my hand waiting for it to tick over 1 mile so we could finally turn around. We went back to the bridge area where I rested my feet one last time, then made the final 3 mile push out and home. By this time, even Bruce and Gary were complaining of sore feet, so they knew what I’d been dealing with.

As we got close to where we’d started our day 8.5 hours earlier, I started picking up like a trail horse who senses it’s close to getting back to the barn. I could’ve run out of those woods at the end, foot pain or no, as I was so excited for it to be over. I learned that I could carry enough water/coconut water and food for the hike, that my stamina and legs were perfectly fine, but my feet do not like long flat hikes at all. I’d put my outer limit at 15 miles for a hike. Just no need for me to push on beyond that. As a result, Gary, Bruce, and I have decided to avail ourselves of a boat ride on our Dawson Pass hike in GNP and shave it down to 15 miles.

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Here’s what I look like after a 20 mile hike.

20.3 miles (according to my Map My Tracks app. Gary’s app said only 19.48 so we went with mine!)
5L of water, 68oz of coconut water, 16oz of filtered stream water

MMT Stats:

http://www.mapmytracks.com/explore/activity/1909035

While we live, let us play