Below is my journal of the Glacier 07.10 trip. This regular-style font is a general accounting of events that my other four adventurers have proofread. Italics indicate my personal experiences, feelings, or thoughts. They may be a bit spicier than the general description, and other members of the group may have seen things a bit differently. You will find more photos by clicking at the upper right “David Phipps photos”. A new window will open.
I sent an e-mail invitation to several men about going to Glacier National Park for a week of hiking. Several showed interest, but only five of us were able to get all the pieces of our lives aligned to go. Thus starts the story of (left to right) Tim, Dan, Richard, Cris, and Phipps in their Glacier National Park adventure.
Tuesday 27 July – At about 2:30pm four of us met at Glacier Park International airport. Dan used a free flight coupon that did not allow him to travel on the day the rest of us arrived. There was quite a list of things to do, and we all jumped to the challenge. After a stop at Walmart, where the car across from us caught on fire while we were in the store, we drove about thirty minutes to our campground and set up our campsite for the night. Next, we drove through the park on the only through-road in the park – Going To The Sun Road. All of us were gasping as we drove past one spectacular view after another. After about ninety minutes, we reached the other side of the park where we hoped to camp for the rest of our stay, Rising Sun Campground. We didn’t stay there tonight because we needed to claim a camp site before noon. We stopped in to view it and understand how to acquire a camp site the next morning. Then we exited the park and drove down and around its east and southern border until we finally came back to our camp for the night. It was after midnight Ohio time, so I was bushed!
Wednesday 28 July – We arose early, ate, packed and entered the park by 6:45am. Driving across the park again, we arrived at Rising Sun Camp before 9am. We captured the arguably best site in the campground. It was awesome. Set back in some trees with good space and a cliff on our west for some weather protection. We took some time to get the camp site arranged and also organize our personal belongings. This may surprise some of you, but I like to have things organized. Once again, we hit the road to drive to the other side of the park to pick up our fifth member, Dan. We had enough time to stop for a short hike (6 miles) to Avalanche Lake. This is one of the most popular, and least difficult, hikes in the park so the trail was crowded with people of varying stages of fitness. The destination was a quiet lake with a horseshoe border of mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. It was really pretty, and I experienced my first photographic frustration of the trip – trying to capture the grandeur of the view with a camera. We picked up Dan, just a little late, and drove back across the park once again. Everyone pitched in as Richard orchestrated an incredibly delicious meal of chicken & rice with beans. Everyone had their fill, and we ended up throwing away the leftovers. This destruction of edible food was totally against my character. But we had no way to keep it, so out it went. We heard about Jack Hanna’s encounter with a bear at another location in the park, but I figured it was more hype than fact. We hit the sack eager for tomorrow, our first full hiking day. My advanced years cause me to have nighttime toilet runs. On this particular run, the first of many during the week, I lost my balance. I was trying to put on my shoes while leaving the tent and got all tangled up. I swerved, twisted, spun, and finally sort of grabbed and fell into the tent. On video, it would have looked like a drunken, dancing bear.
Thursday 29 July – Tim had a book about hikes in Glacier, and Cris had a book about climbs in Glacier. Both of these books were invaluable as we sat around the table discussing what we might do each day. Since we had an easy hike yesterday, we decided to try an easy climb today. We set out to reach the top of Mount Oberlin. The trail started at an altitude of 6,600 feet, the peak was at 8,180 feet and the round trip distance was 6 miles. The trail head was at a ranger station. They encouraged us to check in with them before and after the hike for a “climbing registration”. I thought that was a good idea. Off we went and quickly encountered snow fields, scree (talus) fields, steep climbing, and then lost the trail. At this point, Richard decided that it would be best for him to wait on the rest of us at the trail head. Unknown to me, Richard, Dan, and Tim all had varying degrees of a fear of heights. I commend them for pushing themselves as much as possible in spite of their fears. The rest of us continued on, looking for a trail as we continued toward the peak. Cris was our expert guide. I was so glad he was there with his book. We were pleasantly surprised to have a few mountain goats briefly join us as we topped the last ice field. This was incredible. We stopped and they just meandered past us. The final push required some climbing, even a small jump across a yawning gap in the trail, but we made it to the top. This leap caused some knotted stomachs. Ironically, Dan jumped across three times – so Cris could get a good picture. The view was incredible. We could see some trails below covered by people going to and fro; they resembled ants. We had a quiet, relaxing, lunch on top. Tim commented that this was the highest climb of his life. We posed for pictures, one of us in our underwear, admired the scenery some more, and then had a pleasant climb down arriving at the trail head by 1pm. After another bite to eat, the five of us then crossed the road to the Highline Trail. Part of this trail runs on the ledge of a cliff about 200 yards above the road below. It’s a bit unnerving even though the path is about three feet wide and has a cable attached to the cliff face as a handhold. Each of us walked different distances, I went less than one mile and some others went about three, before returning to the car and then back to the camp site. Once there we had a hearty spaghetti supper (again, too much!), heard news about someone in Yellowstone being killed by a bear, and planned tomorrow’s hike. I sure heard a lot about “bear care” while in Glacier. I would have to say that the rangers do a great job trying to promote bear-smart practices.
Friday 30 July – The trip planned was a trail leading to Iceberg Lake in an area named Many Glacier. Some of the guys spent time helping me to correctly pronounce “many”. “It’s not ‘mini’, it’s ‘many’”. I think I have it down now. It was a popular trail, only ten miles round-trip and less than 1300 feet of elevation gain. “Popular” could be interpreted as “crowded with so many people that you think you’re going to scream”. I thought of the “ants” we saw yesterday and realized that today we were the ants. The trail passed through prime bear country, so we were purposeful in making noise by conversation and bell. The patches of alpine meadow displayed a variety of wildflowers and grasses. True to its name, Iceberg Lake had large chunks of ice floating in it, pieces that had fallen from the glacier above the lake. We heard numerous times about the shrinking of the glaciers. I won’t start on global warming. A few people jumped into the lake (mainly to show-off, in my opinion), but the best any of us could do was putting a hand or foot in for a few seconds. After a relaxing time by the lake, eating our lunch and talking, we headed back to the trailhead. But I wasn’t ready until after I made a visit to the toxic waste-scented pit toilet. On the way, we passed a ranger hiking toward the lake; he was telling people to get off the trail because the park service closed it. We learned that there had been a few “bear encounters” on the trail, including a bluff charge. One hiker had used his pepper spray. Jack Hanna’s bear encounter was right in this area; he wasn’t the only one, just the most famous. We were happy to oblige the request. On the ride home, some of us were able to get cell phone reception and eagerly contacted family. Tonight’s meal was incredible: beef stew, corn beef hash, and herb rice. It was delicious, and again we had more than we could eat. A ranger stopped in our camp right at the end of the meal to tell us that a black bear was traveling along the camping area – right toward our site. Our site became a little spectator area, but the bear choose to keep a distance of about twenty-five feet. We asked the ranger what she did to keep the bear moving. “Verbal hazing.” she replied. She also commented that she enjoyed using her beanbag gun, “It’s like hunting without any of the mess.” We spent extra time preparing our backpacks tonight because tomorrow night we were camping in the backcountry! I was somewhat concerned about tomorrow’s hike. The trail book described it as “strenuous” which it defined as “will give even advanced hikers a challenge requiring ‘Herculean’ effort”. No one has ever described me as looking “Herculean”.
Saturday 31 July – Breakfast was less structured than usual because each of us had last-second packing and rearranging to do before our two-day hike. We drove to the other side of the park for the trail head; it was right across from Lake MacDonald Lodge. The hike in was only seven miles, but the elevation increase was about 3,400 feet. We started at 9am, and the trail quickly turned steep and the skies released a light drizzle. Sometime early in the hike a change occurred that made a huge impact on how our group progressed. Richard took the lead. As the leader, he walked a good, balanced pace that helped keep us all together. We steadily put the miles behind us, energized by beautiful waterfalls, a clearing sky, and a wonderful lunch break. I was the one pleading for the lunch break. I was famished, thirsty, and tired! There is a large inn, named Sperry Chalet, right beside the campsite we intended to use. It has no electric, heat, or flush toilets…meals and restrooms are significant walks from the rooms, which go for $185/night + $125 for each additional person in the same room. Go to www.sperrychalet.com to make your reservation. Some other hikers told us that the end of this grueling hike was near when we could see the chalet. Wrong. It was on the other side of a large canyon! It seemed to take forever to go that last mile. On the way around the canyon, we passed some guys with a jackhammer repairing the trail. It sure looked like work, but they seemed to love it. It wasn’t difficult to select our campsites; there were only four options and we took the two on the edge of a cliff overlooking Lake MacDonald. The view was incredible. When I got up that night for my tinkle, I stared at the clear, star-filled sky. The big dipper looked like I could grab it. And I listened. The only sound I heard was waterfalls – no cars, planes, sirens, barking dogs, air conditioners, or any manmade sound. This was the reason I came to Glacier National Park. I had read that it has the quietest area in the USA. Mountain goats grazed around us, marmots intently watched us, and mosquitoes swarmed us as we set up our tents. Richard, Cris, and Tim went to the dining hall and ended up eating some fried egg sandwiches with bacon and cheese. But it didn’t seem to spoil their appetite for supper. On a side note, a mule train brings supplies up to the chalet – one thousand pounds, twice a week. After a wonderful meal of freeze-dried food, we were all tired enough to go to bed before nightfall. While we were talking that evening, Richard commented that the hike was the hardest he had ever exerted himself. Cris and I agreed that we expected a harder hike, but we’re sure glad it wasn’t! Getting in the tents early ended up being a good thing because a storm blew through, besides, tomorrow promised to be a challenging day. The plan was to get up about 4:30am to pack and eat, by 6am start a six-mile hike to Sperry Glacier, then hike fourteen more miles through Gunsight Pass. Dan and I decided not to do it; we would join Richard and hike out the way we came in. I was still interested in the Sperry Glacier hike, but when all was said and done, Tim and Cris were the only ones who planned to do both Sperry Glacier and Gunsight Pass.
Sunday 1 August – At 4:30am the peaks were socked in so Cris and Tim went back to sleep. No peak today. Later, we all had breakfast then returned to our campsite only to find the marmots nosing through our gear. We shooed them away, finished packing, and broke camp. They did more than nose around. About an hour into the hike down, I heard Dan say, “Those little boogers!” I turned around, and he pointed to the shoulder strap on his new backpack. The marmots had chewed up and down one edge. It seemed that they were interested in the salt from Dan’s sweating. Cris and Tim started their up-and-down 14-mile journey around 9:30am. Richard, Dan, and Phipps left at 9:40am and would travel only half that distance, all of it downhill. We three had a rather uneventful hike. We had seen horses on the trail yesterday, and stopped at the stable to check the price for a ride to where we camped. It was $180! Why would people pay $180 to ride where they could walk? Tim had a saying, “They don’t want to work for it.” We reached the trailhead in about three hours, drove to the opposite side of the park to turn in a canceled climbing registration (in case we would have done Sperry Glacier), dropped Dan off at base camp, and then left to pick up Tim and Cris. They were already there! They hiked through rain and hail, and they soaked their shoes crossing a waterfall. They described it as “kick-ass”, “hard work”, and they loved it. From the planning stages of this trip, Tim had been interested in hiking the Gunsight trial. Mission accomplished. Almost everyone took a hot shower, and we unanimously decided to “eat out”. By the time we were back at camp, we were ready to hit the sack. Everyone tried calling home from the restaurant because the area around the restaurant had cell reception. I realized that the only phone number I knew by heart was my Dad’s. That’s kind of sad.
Monday 2 August – Today the plan was to climb to the top of Clements Mountain – 8,760 feet. Richard decided to do an alternate trail and check out some things we didn’t have time to do previously. Richard’s wife was arriving on the day the rest of us left, so he wanted to get some details ready for her arrival. The weather started with clouds hanging on the peak of Clements, but the higher we went, the more it cleared. The hike up was cold, damp, tough, scary, frustrating, and rewarding. The climber’s handbook said “some hikers are uncomfortable on the ledge portion of the trail”. Picture a ledge of loose shale along a cliff. It varies in width from 6 inches to 18 inches and is over 5,000 feet in the air. Yes, it can be uncomfortable! When we were safely down, Tim commented that he had been “uneasy” the night before about the ledge. “I had a bad feeling.” he said. I did, too, but it was while I was on the ledge! The view at the top was breath-taking, and we shared a tremendous sense of accomplishment. But we had to get down, a storm was coming. We were well over halfway down when the rain/hail and lightening started. We took cover by some rock and shrubs, but, after about thirty minutes, we decided to just “get out of here”. We were soaked, cold, ninety minutes later than expected, and glad to see Richard waiting. We had the heater blasting on the ride back to base camp. Cris said this hike met the requirements for an “epic” adventure – one that presented real danger for harm or death, no one was injured, and we can laugh about it later. I was thinking more along the lines of it was a nice experience I wouldn’t want to do again. This being our last night camping, we had a smorgasbord of leftovers, another awesome meal. And I had a hot shower, the first since I left home a week ago. It was a wonderful feeling. We packed up things as best we could and called it a night.
Tuesday 3 August – We all worked as a team to pack up, doing whatever needed done. Really, it was like this all week. I thought we worked together really well, absorbing personal differences without growing full of frustration. I can’t imagine a better group. It was very, very foggy in the park. There were places we couldn’t see two hundred yards away. One of us commented that not being able to see the mountains made it easier to leave. There was a Model-T convention in the area, and we enjoyed seeing them drive along the Going To The Sun road. My favorite sight was a Model T truck, pulled over beside a beautiful lake, with four seniors sitting in wooden folding chairs around a small table – drinking from tea cups. After reaching Kalispell, we ate lunch at “Five Guys (Burgers & Fries)”, and then headed to the motel. Our room was ready, so we unloaded and gave Richard a farewell as he went to pick up his wife, Cheryl, at the airport. Cris, Tim, and I spent some time in the pool and hot tub. Dan went to the lobby to read and fell asleep. Each of us enjoyed long hot showers. Tim came in the room with a troubled look on his face. “I just weighed myself in the exercise room, and it read ten pounds lighter than when I left home!” It was true for all of us. Later, I asked a stranger to step on the scales to see if he thought they were correct. “Give or take a couple pounds, yes.” he replied. That gave us permission to indulge a bit. We went to a local place for some good pizza and capped it off with dessert… from McDonalds! Back at the hotel, we called home, watched TV, checked e-mail, and Cris worked on getting an earlier flight home. Then we fell asleep on a smooth (no stones or sticks), level (no sliding downhill) bed.
Wednesday 4 August – Cris did get an earlier flight home, leaving the motel at about 6am. None of us got up to say goodbye. When we finally arose, we had breakfast, took showers, checked e-mail, read, packed, and then walked to a thrift store. Lots of stuff that caught our eyes, but none of us bought anything. It was just as I thought. There was “outdoorsy” stuff there. Tim and I decided that next time we were out there: 1) we would take a day and hit all the thrift shops, and 2) we would drive so we could take lots of stuff home. We had a great lunch at the airport, and left for our own destinations. Storms preceded us as we traveled east. Cris got home ahead of them. Tim and I were in a plane that was told to wait over Indiana as the storm passed Dayton’s airport. However, our pilot had to set down in Indy – he was running low on fuel. We finally made it to Dayton– only two hours late. Dan, however, was stuck in Denver over night and made it home over a day late. What a week! It was a wonderful, exceed-my-expectations trip. I had a great time. I’m thankful for the great guys who made up the group. And what’s most important, I think they all had a great time, too.