TandemHearts

Glacier National Park – 2007

August 16th, 2007

We drove to Glacier National Park as part of our Work is Over Rated Tour 2007 for 5 days of camping and hiking. This park has some of the most jaw dropping views (and tamest animals) we’ve ever seen.

Glacier National Park is in Montana, on the Canadian border. The park is tied to Waterton National Park in Canada, so if you go, take you passport so you can visit “the other side”. We didn’t have time for that, so saved the Canadian side for our next visit. The park is named not for the glaciers that it has, but for the ancient glaciers that carved the dramatic landscape. Even so, the glaciers are a rare treat. Global warming threatens these glaciers, with some sources estimating that there will be no more glaciers in the park by 2030. In 1850 there were 150 glaciers in the park; today there are 35. There is some irony in lamenting the loss of the glaciers and then driving 1,000 miles to see them. The park has added a shuttle bus system to limit crowding and pollution, but if you are going to visit the park, leave the gas hog at home.

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  • Speeding downhill.
The major road through the park is “Going to the Sun Road”. This is a narrow, moderately steep climb that we rode on our bicycles. The park service restricts the GttSR to non-RVs and limits bikes on the climb to early morning and late afternoon, to avoid congestion. We started about 8am and would have made the 11am time cut off to reach the pass, but Veronica wasn’t feeling well. After struggling to get up what should have been a moderate climb (3,500 feet in 15 miles), Veronica finally told Thom to forge on ahead and she would keep plugging away until a ranger made her stop. Thom missed the time cut off by about 20 minutes and did get a warning from a ranger at the top of the pass. Veronica stopped about 3/4 of a mile below the summit when Thom met her as he came back down. She never saw a ranger on the climb. This ride is amazing. It is a good thing that the park service forces bicyclists to tackle it early in the day, because once the traffic starts moving, it does get crowded. As you ride along the valley floor, you can look up and see what might be the road above you. For a while you debate whether that could be the road “way up there”. Eventually it becomes clear that there is no where to go but up and that you will get there – eventually. This ride offers generally unobstructed views of the valley as you climb, so as long as you remember to pace yourself, there is lots to look at while you climb – for 2+ hours. There is no time restriction on bicycles descending because they are as fast (or often faster) than the motor vehicles. In fact, we got stuck behind some Harley Davidson motor bikes. At least we were stuck until a guy on a sports touring motor bike pulled into the lane next to Thom – who was already in the middle of the lane. When the touring bike started to thread his way between the cruisers, Thom decided that there was plenty of room. Thom chased the sports touring guy – passing the 3 HDs, until they both came around a corner to find a car stopped because of a mid-sized black bear in the road. The motor bike hardly waited for the bear to get out of the way, but Thom stopped (a good ways back) to enjoy the view. Veronica eventually caught up, showing better judgment than to pass the motor bikes.

  • Looking up the valley to Logan Pass.The trail is on the left with Going to the Sun Road below it and the stream at the bottom of the valley.

This is a park that you need to hike to enjoy. We camped for couple of days on the west side and then shifted to the east side to camp at Many Glacier where we found the hikes more interesting. While hiking we saw moose, black bears, marmots, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We did see a grizzly bear, but we were on a boat, while the bear foraged a few hundred feet from the trail at water’s edge. We did 3 major hikes – Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier and the Swiftcurrent Trail to Bullhead Lake. Each trail offered great views and weren’t too strenuous. The Highline trail runs parallel to GttSR from Logan Pass, high above the road and is home to several mountain goats. The Swiftcurrent and Grinnell Glacier Trails leave from Many Glacier, each following one of the two valleys that feed into Swiftcurrent Lake. The trail to Grinnell Glacier climbs up to Upper Grinnell Lake, where water from Salamander Glacier falls into the lake, which is full of glacial icebergs from Grinnell Glacier.

Although the park gets 2 million visitors per year, it doesn’t feel very crowded – once you get out of the visitor centers. We often went 15 or more minutes without passing people on the trail. The opportunity to feel very remote and the enjoy the quiet without interruption was great.

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