Fall 2016: Glacier National Park

I straddled the end of the season here.  The weather ended up being cooler than normal and much cloudier than I would have liked.  I was very happy to be safely ensconced in a lodge on the east side not too far from St. Mary, from whence I launched dayhikes instead of being hunkered down in a cold tent in the backcountry – assuming I had been fortunate(?) enough to get a reservation.  Even then, I failed to dress for the cool temperatures. My hands especially suffered, to the point that they could not perform simple tasks. Lesson learned. So the circumstances were less than ideal, but the rewards were much greater.  See for yourself.

Note: Glacier National Park is definitely worth visiting.  But, for me, the pictures I took lagged behind the experience by much more than they do in other places. Perhaps it was the everpresent clouds while I was there.  Perhaps it was because the immense scale does not translate well into a photograph.  Whatever the cause, the result is that I ended up with fewer pictures worth of this blog than I had would have liked. Perhaps I’ll be able to return some day and rectify the problem.

Click here to see the photos from my Summer 2017 trip to Glacier.

My visit began under a cloud, literally and figuratively, at Logan Pass, seen above. The clouds were not far above the parking lot, while the sunrise glowed around the mountains. I would venture across the mountains along the justly famous Highline Trail under a cloud of uncertainty about the weather. The morning clouds obscured the large majority of the view, but I was determine to persevere. Here, I will not show you any of the relatively boring scenery along the way. But when I reached my turnaround point at Ahern Pass, the clouds were lifting, and I had a nice return trip in the afternoon that made up for the morning. So, enjoy the following scenes from my return trip back to Logan Pass.
Helen Lake below Ahern Pass, my beautiful halfway point, has enough sunlight to make it enjoyable. Great timing. The return journey would provide many pictures that were unobtainable during the morning clouds.
Even though the afternoon had plenty of blue sky, the clouds only lifted by 1000-2000 feet. They still played games with the mountain peaks including Bear Hat Mountain.


I think this is Lake McDonald

The Chinese supposedly have an expression that is used as a curse: “May you live in interesting times.”  The next three photos illustrate an “interesting” encounter.  As I  walked down the Highline Trail I passed a couple that had stopped.  They said something to me, but I didn’t understand, so I continued since my time was limited.

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Within a minute, I encountered a bighorn sheep on the trail. Now, this is a semi-wild creature which the park rangers will truly tell you is wild, but it is used to seeing humans since this is a heavily used trail. Even though I prefer seeing fully wild animals in the backcountry, I thought this was kind of cool so I took some pictures. (The sheep was not as close as it seems in this picture; it was about 30 feet from me.) Then I noticed the man whose head you can see on behind the sheep just uphill of the trail. Oh oh; trouble! In the sheep’s mind, he was trapped between the two of us. How would he resolve his dilemma? As the person immediately in the path of the sheep, my goal became to give him an opportunity to escape from the entrapment presented by these potential two-legged predators.
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It started walking very slowly toward me. This was potential trouble. In big-animal-speak, the message he was sending was, “Back off! I’m willing to attack if necessary!” Remembering what 300-lb male bighorn sheep do to each other during the rutting season, I didn’t want to be on the receiving end, especially since I was on a trail on the side of a mountain. The couple behind me called out, “We’re going uphill.” I responded, “No. Downhill.” (That’s because predators attack from uphill, and I didn’t want the sheep to consider us as potential predators.)
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Despite the thick brush, I went downhill. I assume the couple behind me did the same. The sheep took its opportunity to “escape” from us by going past us and somewhat uphill of the trail. Everyone was a winner. A bad incident was avoided. I continued back to the trailhead without incident.
There is just a dusting of snow on the highest peaks


The rock pattern on these walls are endlessly fascinating
Visible here on the walls above Gunsight Lake, the patterns made by different geological layers are head-scratching.
Lake Ellen Wilson below Gunsight Pass


Virginia Falls


This rock looked red, yellow or brown depending upon the light. It was always interesting.
Looking down on Elizabeth Lake from Ptarmigan Tunnel
I had no idea this lake was hiding back there. It added enormously to my enjoyment of this picture and segment of the day. Only backpackers get to see it. (Plus a few dayhikers like me.)
On the way down to Elizabeth Lake from Ptarmigan Tunnel. But the real show was in the sky. I was sure it was raining back there and that the clouds were moving my way. But in the hours I was in the area, the clouds never actually moved as far as I could tell.
See the trail carved into the rock wall on the upper left? It’s a good thing it’s wide and strong.
Iceberg Lake with no icebergs. Sob. I came during the wrong season. Cool lake but no icebergs. Sorry.

These two bucks were wandering near the Iceberg Trail along with several much smaller bucks.  But I have some questions.  Why were their coats colored so differently.  Their antlers were also so different; why?  Perhaps the reddish ones have just recently lost their velvet.  Rutting season is just around the corner, yet they all seemed so buddy-buddy.

Pitamakan Pass. Note how cloudy it is except in the distance. It’s an interesting effect.

Totals for Glacier National Park: 4 days, 98 miles

Next destination: Capitol Reef National Park