Glacier National Park 2015
A last minute impulse results in a trip to Glacier National Park. Unlike the Sierra where one can camp freely, each and every campsite in Glacier must be reserved in advance, which a logistical mess. Advance reservation attempts often result in disappointment. However if one goes in the mid-September shoulder season, a walk-in permit is more feasible. My desired 55-mile route starts and ends in Waterton, Canada, and a LAX-Calgary flight is my best option for getting there. The plains along the way are endless, the agricultural buildings amazing.
This map shows the completed trip, with the dots representing the initial boatride. The last two days of the return loop represented by the yellow were not completed...more on that later.
Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton.
The view is great, the food not so great.
Bear mania. Bear on the brain. All visitors must watch a video about bears as a condition for getting a permit. Note the bear spray canisters attached to the belts of the actors in the video. Some people walk down the trail with the canister in hand expecting a bear to pop out behind every tree.
The boat ride down Waterton Lake comes complete with the local comedian guide who-does-not-ever-shut-up.
In case you are uncertain about the line between Canada and the United States, our government maintains one. Hot deserts and walls in the South, forests and lines in the North.
At the end of the lake I am greeted by both Canadian and US agents for a passport check. Later on about four miles along the trail there are two roaming US Customs trail agents who diligently check my permit and itinerary.
OK, will my new Italian Sportivas perform as well as they are fashionable?
I carry no bear spray and leave the firearms at home. I do however tap my poles to make noise in some of the thicker growth areas on the trail to avoid a surprise encounter.
I begin to understand why they call Glacier the "Switzerland of the United States."
Food preparation areas are designated and located some distance from the tents.
The September shoulder season means potential rain and snow, and cold nights.
The designated bog.
Descending from the pass, a gigantic cleft in the land reveals dramatic waterfalls.
Glacier is much more moist and therefore more colorful than the Sierra.
Glacier campgrounds offer three methods of food storage; a single metal pole with hooks for bags on top; double-poles as shown above; and metal lockers. In the Sierra I always understood that an easily accessible tie-back line like the one on the left above is an invitation for a bear to snag your food, so I wrap my line around the pole. But exposed lines must not be an issue or there would have been some instruction about tie-offs; perhaps our California brown bears are smarter than those northern grizzlies.
Concentrated food preparation areas summon educated and tenacious pests. They quickly become irritating, and do successfully pilfer my food one night.
Large paw prints from some unknown animal appear on the trail. I never see the animal who produced these.
Blustery cold wind on the approach to Ptarmigan Tunnel.
Many Glacier Hotel.
Many Glacier Hotel lobby.
This morning brings unusual light conditions and a very strong wind.
Several miles up the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass.
The trail up to Swiftcurrent Pass is steep, and on this particular day there are very strong irregular wind blasts that require dropping to hands and knees to avoid being blown off the mountain. As I climb higher with Margi, the wind blasts become so severe that we are crawling on all fours, progress is painfully slow and every blast is intense. And then we turn the corner...
We turn the corner to see what is called "deadman's elbow." The trail disintegrates into scree, the drop more vertical than the photo might suggest, and the wind blasts are terrifying. Margi has shown great bravery up to this point, but as we assess the situation we know that there is no choice but to turn around, and that the trip as planned is over.
Fortunately the Many Glacier Hotel is open tonight, for the last night of the season. On the extremely windy approach I must hold onto the bridge rail while crossing, and the intense wind is kicking up whitecaps on the lake.
The Many Glacier Hotel is a real throwback to another time. A few times during the night the winds are so intense that the entire building begins to rack and make giant creaking noises like the Titanic. I do not mind being off the trail.
I am able to arrange a ride back to Waterton for the next afternoon, and take hikes to local lakes while spending some unplanned extra days in Waterton.
In this hike up to Crypt Lake one climbs a ladder to pass through a vertiginous tunnel.
Sunset on Waterton Lake.