Glorious Glacier

Article and photos by Jack Olson

Grinnell Lake below Continental Divide
Grinnell Lake below Continental Divide

We might.  It’s possible. We could. RMOWP is investigating the possibility that we would hold a conference in Glacier National Park, Montana. We’ve asked for comments and have received a few responses. Let’s hear some more, and especially if you think you would attend a conference up there.

Mountain goats near Logan Pass
Mountain goats near Logan Pass

I’ve reveled in a great many of the U.S. National Parks and Glacier would probably be in my top ten favorites. But I’m hesitant to pontificate too much on Glacier because our long-time member, Tom Ulrich, lives up there. There’s not a nook, let alone a cranny, unexplored by Tom. He calls every creature by name, is personally acquainted with every rock and flower. And he’s a superlative photographer. So I’ll just venture a general overview from my four or five trips to the park.

Glacier National Park straddles the Continental Divide in the northern Rockies. Similar to what we see in Rocky Mountain National Park, the sharpest, most spectacular effects of past glaciation lie on the east side of the park. Warming has reduced the size of the glaciers in the park, but the stunning results of past glaciation remain.

Mt. Gould from trail to Grinnell Glacie
Mt. Gould from trail to
Grinnell Glacie

A high point, literally, in Glacier is Logan Pass, at 6,646 feet the highest elevation on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s very popular, so the parking area may be crowded, but there’s a good reason. Hidden Lake Nature Trail welcomes the visitor to sweeping views of the park’s most iconic vistas. Highline Trail, heading into the backcountry, begins with a knee-knocking wobble on a narrow path looking a little too far down to the road. Once, as I began hiking the trail I became unsettled to discover fresh bear scat immediately ahead, in the narrowest, can’t-turn-around spot. I inched forward cautiously, uttering friendly comments about bears.

Cascades above Grinnell Lake
Cascades above Grinnell Lake

There are hundreds of waterfalls, and so much water to fall, in Glacier. Just two, St. Mary and Virginia Falls, are easy hikes from a lower section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Right down here, so long, so narrow, stretches St. Mary Lake. Whether we have a conference in Glacier, or if you go on your own, you should never, ever, miss at least one sunrise at St. Mary Lake.

Another favorite location of mine is the Many Glacier area. Oh my, what gorgeous views, what adventurous trails. An intrepid outdoor person could spend weeks exploring this region. Lake Josephine is the quintessential calendar photo. A trail circles it and heads to Grinnell Lake, tucked below Grinnell Glacier, Mt. Gould, and the Continental Divide. If you want, there’s a boat at Lake Josephine which makes the remaining hike to Grinnell Lake an easy mile. Also out of Many Glacier, I have twice hiked to Iceberg Lake, with quite a gap of time between. The glacier there has certainly receded but the hike is still wonderful.

Mt. Gould is a stunning backdrop for Lake Josephine from Many Glacier
Mt. Gould is a stunning backdrop for
Lake Josephine from Many Glacier

I haven’t even mentioned the wildlife. That is one of the delights of discovery you’re bound to encounter throughout the park. If you don’t see mountain goats you aren’t trying. Elk, bighorn sheep, birds, other fuzzy creatures.  And, of course, the grizzly bear. I was hiking once and at a trail intersection stood a grizzly warning sign. A big bite was taken from it. I just bet the Park Service did that. It quickened my pace.

One more thing. Glacier is right on the Canadian border. The park adjoins Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Sister park to Glacier, it’s half of the International Peace Park. Waterton Lakes may be worth at least a day trip from a base in Glacier. It offers additional hikes and views in the Canadian Rockies.

Get those cards, letters, and emails coming in with your comments. And voice them at the conference in Fruita. We’re taking a look at Glacier and would appreciate your opinions and if you’d be likely to go.