This was the day we’d been waiting for: hiking in Glacier National Park. To beat the crowds, we planned on being at the park by 7 am. Around 5:30 am, I looked out from our cabin’s deck and was greeted with this wonderful view.
Entering Glacier National Park
We drove into the park and, well, parked. Our plan was to leave the van at The Loop (which was confusing for someone from Chicago), take a shuttle up to the top of Logan Pass, and then walk back along the Garden Wall path.
On the shuttle, we had a great conversation with the driver. He informed us that, on our route, the National Park Service recommended we have two liters of water per person for the last four miles. The entire hike was 11 miles, but apparently those last four were killer. “They have to extract hikers about once a month because they don’t have enough water.”
We figured he was being cautious and that we’d be fine with our two liters per person we each had on us for the whole hike.
Hiking Garden Wall
Beginning at Logan Pass Visitor Center, we started hiking the path known as Garden Wall. It isn’t for those with vertigo issues.
From the beginning, it gave us great views of the park. On one side was the gaping valley and on the other were steep jagged mountain tops for which this park is famous.
Eventually the path widened out. While it was still narrow (and not ADA compliant) a slip wouldn’t have been rapidly fatal as it was before. Now, if you fell, you’d tumble a bit before dying slowly.
Take a look at that last picture, and you’ll see the sky is beginning to blow out in my pictures. That’s because of smoke. This particular morning was very clear of smoke from the nearby wildfires, but the summer of 2017 was particularly bad for wildfires. Some days, it was clear, others had a dense fog that obscured the mountains entirely.
We Made A Buddy
I’ve never really traveled alone, at least not for pleasure. But we met someone who did just that. His name was Zach (spelling?). He was from the Bay area and worked in finance. He traveled alone to Montana and nicely asked if he could join our group. The entire time, he was friendly, pleasant, and engaging. He had more water than we did too, and shared when the going got rough.
This is the only photo I have of him. When we finished the hike, he went on his merry way, and that was that. I wish that we’d learned a little more about him, but maybe it’s better this way.
My dad and I joked that it took a certain type of person to do a solo trip. If either one of us did it, it could easily be summarized as “I took a solo trip. I saw great things, but talked to no one for two weeks.”
Wherever you are, Zach, hope things are going well.
The Last Four Miles
We reached the Granite Park Chalet in the early afternoon. It could easily be mistaken for the Alps (as someone who has never been to the Alps). But notice that smoke.
At this point, unfortunately my camera battery was dying. I didn’t take many photos, so I have to use my eloquent verse to paint you a picture.
Supplies at the Granite Park Chalet are understandably expensive. It isn’t accessible by car at all meaning everything is ‘packed in’. I’m unsure if everything in the chalet was carried on someone’s back or by something like a pack mule, but the point remains that it’s labor intensive. 1 liter of water was $6. Gatorade was $3.
By the time we left the chalet, the mountains across the valley (pictured above) were only about 50% visible and the campfire smell lingered in the air.
We only had four miles left in the hike and it was mostly downhill. The last third (give or take) had most of the downhill gradient which to most people sounds like a blessing. It sounds easy.
But it wasn’t.
Going downhill constantly an incredible quadricep workout, and after a while my legs began to shake. Also, this section of the path had been burned by previous forest fires in 2003. The trees had yet to grow back meaning it was all exposed with no shade. After about 15 minutes, we all began to remember the shuttle driver at the beginning of the day: two liters of water just for the last four miles, one extraction per month.
The hike dragged on as we ran low on water. We started off by joking about the people who had to be rescued from the forest, but we quickly stopped because it became apparent how easy it was to underestimate the risks.
But we made it back to The Loop without needing to be rescued though we were all pretty dehydrated. We said goodbye to Zach and made our way back to the cabins where there were gallons of water with our names on them.
I mentioned this was a family trip. My parents live in Montana. And every year, we go out into the wilderness to camp. I look up at the stars and am amazed. Usually, we’re about an hour away from Helena, so I can see thousands of stars that I can’t see in Chicago. And every time, I think to myself “I want to bring my tripod and take a long-exposure shot of these stars. People have gotta see this.”
Well, this time, I actually brought my tripod. My battery was on its last legs but I had enough to at least try this one time to get a shot of the starry sky. At 1:30 am, I went onto the balcony of the cabin, set up my tripod, set the shutter speed to 30 seconds, the ISO to 1600, and the aperture as wide as it’d go.
I was able to get one usable photo before my battery went completely flat (I took about five where the settings were wrong). In that one photo, you can’t see the stars. But you can see the glow from the fires in Glacier National Park that weren’t visible to the naked eye.
The next morning, we went back to Helena. There were no beautiful mountains this time; the smoke was too thick to see anything.
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