Monday August 18, 2014
My father has been excited about my visit to Glacier since I first told him about the Montana tour early this year. When I was home in Indiana, he described the trips he and my mom took there in 1999 and 2004. He has lots of funny stories and happy memories. Glacier is his favourite national park. He loves the scenery, the trails and the ever-present potential to see a mammal that could take your life. My mother is less enthusiastic about Glacier. Her memories are that it rains a lot, is cold, and there is an ever-present potential to be killed by a large mammal, particularly when your husband hikes far ahead of you.
The one item from my Dad’s Glacier bucket list that he has yet to accomplish is hiking the Highline Trail. Several parts of this trail stay iced-in until mid-late July each year, and it has always been too snowy and icy to hike when he was there. He doesn’t have the technical experience to go with cramp-ons, etc. So he is very excited for me that I should be able to hike the trail.
The Highline Trail is one of the most popular in the park. Most hikers start the trail at Logan Pass and hike down to the Loop via Granite Park Chalet, a distance of about 11 miles. The trail is carved out of the steep valley walls high above the Going-to-the-Sun Road for the first three or four miles. Then it crosses the Haystack Chute. Snow lingers here late into the year (there is still a patch to cross when I hike it) and is the source of many of the avalanches that close the road. After crossing the Chute and climbing steeply to the base of Haystack Butte, the trail carves along the valley wall, below the crest of the Continental Divide the rest of the way to the Granite Park Chalet. The terrain on the trail gets gentler again closer to the Chalet as it crosses lava pillows and meadows.
I’m very excited to do the trail – but mostly I’m doing it for my Dad. Its popularity means it is a little more peopled than I prefer, but at least it means I’m less likely to have a bear encounter than if I did another trail. But, this one is for my Dad, and he is in the forefront of my thoughts all day today. I absorb the immense scale and grandeur for him. I hold him close in my heart and imagine him taking a million pictures of where we’ve been and where we’re going. I try to take a bunch of these shots for him. For me, my goals for the day are to find fossil stromatolites in the Helena formation, the line of the Purcell sill in the Helena formation, the transition zone from glaciated to unglaciated rock on the valley walls, and a good long look at the Grinnell Glacier from above.
I set off at a rapid pace. There may be storms this afternoon, and my goal is to get out to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and back to Logan Pass on this same trail, a distance of 15-16 miles, before the storms arrive. My plan is to book it out there, and hike back more leisurely. I’m still coughing up errant phlegm from the asthma adventure last week, but my lungs are pretty good. And I’m in good shape 4,000 miles into a bike tour. I’m almost constantly overtaking groups of hikers who are gasping along on flat bits ‘because of the elevation’ as their little bear bells jingle. I find it humorous that these are probably all the same people who blew by me in cars on the way up to Avalanche Campground, and now I’m blowing back by them on the trail. I love the feeling of pushing myself physically and working hard for the miles. If I went any faster, I’d be jogging. After feeling so incapacitated last week, it’s a joy to feel healthy and alive.
The scenery really is grand and immense. How privileged am I to be out here hiking this today! It is good, good stuff. A chick could get hooked on this sort of stuff. Who am I kidding? I already am. I’m long gone down the road of addiction to self-propelled travel.
The hike up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook branches off from the Highline Trail within view of the Granite Park Chalet. The trail doubles back and climbs very steeply to the crest of the Continental Divide. I have to take a few breaks on this bit. Based on the look of a young-ish chick coming back down, the slippery, steep rock is no more fun going that way! As I climb, I watch bits of fog, which have detached and risen from the valleys, go flying through the gap above in wisps of white-out cloud. Once to the top, I find some shelter behind a rock and eat my lunch while enjoying views down over the lake and glacier. It is phenomenal to think about the forces and time scales at work here! You can even see little dots down on the rocks a couple thousand feet below that are people enjoying their lunch by the lake.
I then discover a problem with hiking in the direction opposite to the dominant direction of travel on a very popular trail: you have to keep stepping off to let people by. Sometimes I feel like I’m standing more than walking! You also keep getting the question from exhausted and unfit people, “How far is it to the Chalet”? Some poor hikers thought it was going to be a downhill hike the whole way. Some of the people are ones I passed earlier who can’t believe I’m not hiking down to the Loop and that I’m already on my way back. One woman wants to know what my fitness plan is so she can do it, too. I laugh and say, “Well, I’ve been riding a bicycle with 35 pounds of gear on it nearly every day for about six hours a day for the past three months”. She looks at me, looks at her husband, and says, “Okay, I’m not doing that.”
Once I get back to Haystack Butte, most people’s turn-around point if not doing the whole trail, I start overtaking people on their way back to Logan Pass, even though my pace is much more leisurely now. The entire day, I’ve been getting lots of comments about Verne and Kermit. They ride in my Camelbak when not in the handlebar bag. Lots of people have said, “Love your mascots”, “Look she has a little turtle” and such, as I’ve passed them. Finally, one lady says, as I go by, “So you have to tell me the story about your little friends.” I reply, “Well, they go with me on my travels so I can take pictures of them, instead of me. They’ve done about 12,000 miles of bicycle touring with me and hundreds of miles of hiking so far. They’ve got a pretty big following among my family and friends. People get upset if I don’t do Verne and Kermit updates. My husband loves turtles and accidently won this little guy out of a crane game for me, and I’m a big fan of Kermit and the Muppets”. She thinks that is just so cool, and thinks it must be the greatest conversation starter. She loves it so much, she has to take my picture. It makes me laugh that the guys and I are now stored on someone’s computer in the ‘vacation pics’ folder!
I don’t have to wait for a shuttle at Logan Pass, so I’m cruising back down to the campground fairly quickly. I can see why that trail is on so many peoples’ bucket lists. I have purposely not tried to describe the grandeur – it is too incredible for words, really, and it is just something you have to see for yourself. Or see for your Dad. Love you Dad, this one’s for you.