Sunday, September 25, 2011
Had a wonderful time in Glacier National Park last week -- it's a spectacular place. You can see some of its splendor in the pictures I took, though of course they never completely capture it.
Lisa, Stacey and I had a six-day backcountry itinerary mapped out, about 55 miles. The first day was up and over the Ptarmigan Wall (where we ate lunch in snow flurries), about 10 miles, camping at the foot of Lake Elizabeth. Our second day was another 10 miles around the Belly River, camping at the head of Glenns Lake. There was a big rainstorm that lasted all night and into the third day. In the morning we saw that what had been cold rain at our elevation was the first new snow of the season on the surrounding peaks, starting perhaps 1,000 feet above us. Meanwhile, Stacey's ankle had swelled quite a bit, and we decided it wouldn't be wise to press further into the backcountry. We doubled back to the Belly River ranger station on the third day. The rainstorm wrapped up at midday with a burst of big, wet snowflakes, just before the sun came out -- the weather felt compelled to match the drama of the landscape, it seemed. At the ranger station, we got directions on how to hike out to a highway and catch a shuttle, which we did the following day. (The ranger was great. He was already planning to pack out an injured hiker by horse the same day, and he volunteered to take some of Stacy's gear to avoid aggravating her ankle.) So in the end, we only spent four days in the backcountry, but Stacey's ankle didn't get any worse, so we were able to spend our remaining couple days doing some great day hikes elsewhere in the park.
Bears take up a lot of mental space in Glacier and I found the range of attitudes toward them interesting. Of the several locals I spoke with about our plans before we headed out (on the plane, at the hotel), bears were the first thing they mentioned, and they all more or less indicated that we had a high risk of being devoured by a grizzly. ("I wouldn't go anywhere in Montana without protection," said the guy on the plane.) However, none of them had traveled in the backcountry. In contrast, once on the trail, most people seemed less concerned about bears than us -- some didn't carry bear spray, and most didn't routinely make noise to alert bears of their presence as we did.* One couple that we shared a campground with apparently didn't even hang up their food overnight (eek!). In any case, we didn't encounter any bears during our time in the park.
A great trip. I definitely recommend Glacier if you have a chance to get to Montana. If you don't mind the colder nights, this is a great time of year to do it, with lovely daytime temperatures and fewer people.
*This is a recommended practice, as bears will typically leave an area if they know humans are approaching...the danger comes with surprising a bear or when they are attracted to you by food smells.