We made it to Glacier NP on August 25th, for our 6 year wedding anniversary. As we were headed there we knew that half of Glacier NP was literally on fire. The west side of the park was closed off to visitors. Due to the forest fires, there was a huge possibility of the east side being covered in smoke, but we took our chances anyway. The drive in was pretty smokey and we both kept saying “Man, could you imagine the view if it wasn’t smokey?” Rain was in the forecast over the next few days, which would hopefully disperse some of the smoke.
We decided to splurge for our wedding anniversary and book a hotel room for the night. The thought of a hot shower (it had been 6 days since our last one) that wasn’t in a campground and a real bed to sleep in sounded perfect. Most people book up to a year in advance to stay at the lodges in and around the national parks. Since our travel schedule is so fluid we booked about 2 weeks in advance. It is hard to spend over $30 for a place to sleep when that is about the most we have spent to stay anywhere on this trip. For that reason we both decided on St. Mary Lodge – Main Value Room. Taxes included it was about $130 for a “no-frills accommodations perfect for a value-oriented traveler.” Little did we know that “no-frills” meant a room in the basement of the lodge, the smallest bathroom on the planet, concrete floors and an egress window view of the underside of a deck. Kate was not happy but there was nothing we could do about it. So we made cocktails in the room and headed across the street to split a pizza, Kate refused to give this lodge any more of our money.
After that debacle, we both said we would have rather slept in MichelVangelo. Lesson learned. Next day we made our way into the park to the Rising Sun campground. This campground usually allows RVs and tents but, due to “increased bear activity” tents were not allowed. It was a bit rainy so we were pretty much confined to the van and Jason had a very important fantasy football draft (eye roll), so we stayed at the campground. While we were relaxing we heard the sound of an air horn followed by claps and yelling. Peeking out, we saw a few park rangers and… a black bear. Turns out “increased bear activity” was still true. The two park rangers spent the next few hours trying to get the bear to leave the campground. This song and dance happened each day we were at this campground which provided great entertainment during those rainy days.
All of the rain made our drive on the Going to the Sun road incredible! It completely cleared the smoke so we could enjoy all of the spectacular views around every turn. Due to the fires on the west side of the park, the Going to the Sun road was only open to Logan Pass visitor center. For MichelVangelo’s sake that was a good thing as this road gets very steep and winding after Logan Pass. It became cold enough that the rain turned into snow, yes you read that correctly. Our goal was to avoid the “S-Word” over our year of traveling and 6 weeks into this trip we failed. Luckily it was a light dusting, but that made for a chilly night of sleeping in the van.
Tuesday morning, we decided to do a shorter hike to see how my leg was doing. We haven’t hiked for about two weeks due to our river-tubing trip in Montana where Kate bashed her leg on some river rocks. She was unable to put a lot of weight on her leg for a few days and that followed with a significant limp and lots of ice/ibuprofen. The five mile hike from Baring Falls to St. Mary’s Falls to Victoria Falls was a little troublesome with Kate’s leg but manageable. Definitely start this hike at Sun Rift Gorge, this gives you an amazing view of St. Mary Lake and make sure you hike all the way to Victoria Falls which were (in our opinion) the biggest and best of the waterfalls.
Wednesday morning we made our way back to Logan Pass visitor center to hike the Highline Trail. It was very windy and very cold, which made for an interesting start as you walk along a narrow ledge with a steep drop to the ravine down below. If you’re afraid of heights, this hike is not for you, although for a short time at the beginning there is a cable rail to hang on to. The trail in it’s entirety is 28.4 miles, that many people backpack over a few days. We wanted just a day hike and decided to hike 3.5 miles in to Haystack Butte, making it 7 miles round trip.
Even with a smokey haze, the views were absolutely stunning. The trail is overall pretty flat, but rocky and literally on the edge of a mountain for the majority until you get to the butte. A steep set of a few switchbacks gets you to the valley of the butte and a good place for a breather. After the hike we drove to Many Glacier Hotel to have a drink on their deck (thank you Kacie for the recommendation!). It is the perfect place to sit with a backpack full of beers and watch the sunset. A New York couple next to us visited about all of their RV travels and invited us to stop by when we’re there next spring. Jason, after a few drinks on the deck, noticed a group of people looking through scopes. He went to up the group and found out they were looking at grizzly bears on the side of the mountain. Somehow Jason butts his way in to take a peak at the grizzlies. Kate pretended not to know him, as this definitely seemed like a tour group that paid a lot of money to be there. Our night was spent sleeping in the parking lot of Many Glacier (a few other campers had the same idea). Up early the next morning to hike Grinnell Glacier trail, a total of 11 miles. Probably shouldn’t have had so many beers the night before but, here we are. The New York couple we met on the porch had given us a few pointers about the hike and told us that there would be a group of workers doing trail maintenance. The guy apparently had jokingly promised them a six pack on his way up and with a big smile on his face, asked us if we would take one to them. Not really knowing what to say, we happily obliged.
So, that morning, with 96 extra ounces in Jason’s pack, we started our trek. Most hikers take the ferry across the lake to save a couple miles hiking around the lake. Not us! We wanted
to save the $26 bucks the FULL experience. The hike around the lake was flat and had great views of Swiftcurrent and Joesphine Lake. At the ferry drop off point, the trail starts its seemingly never-ending upward slope. Passing a few large groups of “ferry-hikers” we trudged our way up. About half way up, the view of Grinnell Glacier, the surrounding peaks, and Grinnell Lake below is breathtaking. Somewhere during the last third, Jason started to wonder if he would ever see any trail workers. “Maybe they took the day off.” “I’m drinking all these at the top if we don’t see them.” “Why the hell did we get them tallboys?!”
Once above the treeline, the trail turned to a steep, rocky incline. It was there, when we finally found the the trail crew. Jason handed over the six-pack to a group of grateful guys. “You seriously hiked this all the way up here?” “I could hug you right now.” Our good deed done, we climbed the remaining .2 miles to the top. A powder blue glacial lake and views down the valley were our reward. The glacier itself is much, much smaller than it was almost 100 years ago. We won’t be tackling a global warming debate on this blog but, we feel lucky that we were able to see it now.
Our hike back down was fueled by PB&Js and Pringles. Once at the bottom we decided to add on about 2 miles to our hike and see Grinnell Lake from below to get both perspectives. Our feet were blistered and sore but it was worth the hike as we had our first moose sighting! Ended our hiking excursion with a paid shower that only allowed you 8.5 minutes, let’s just say Kate could have used more time.
Katie & Jason