Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer Vacation part 2

Like I said in my previous post, the next part of our vacation was marked by my brother and I taking a couple very challenging hikes.

Glacier National Park, in northwest Montana, is known for its glaciers (obviously, although they have sharply declined in size in the last 100 years) its towering peaks, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This engineering marvel climbs from the valley floor to Logan Pass with only one switchback. This provides for amazing views as the road is literally carved into the side of the mountain.

My family got up early to drive the road, arriving at Logan Pass around 11am. From there, my parents continued down the road to our hotel for the night at Many Glacier, while my brother and I set off down the trail.

The beginning of the trails follows the western edge of the Garden Wall, with moderately exposed sections offering great views down into the valley. Although it was late July, the trail had only opened the day before. The elevation at Logan Pass is almost 7,000ft, so the snow stays there year-round. Many places on the trail there was evidence of the snow that had been cleared off only a few days before.

One of my favorite parts, however, was the snowfields. Two places along the trail there was so much snow that no effort had been made to clear it.  The first was relatively small, maybe only 75 yards wide, but the slope opened up onto a tremendous view of Logan Pass a few miles back.

The above photo is me crossing the second, much larger snowfield. This one was situated on a spine where you could look off in both directions.

The trail continued several more miles until we reached the Grinell Glacier Overlook. I have mentioned this portion of the trail in an earlier post (Life on the Edge (sort of) part 1), but I will say again that as much as I hated the climb (1,000ft in 0.6miles) the views were worth every bit of it.

As you can see in that picture, I had to put my jacket on because it got a little chilly at over 8,000ft elevation.

The rest of the trail was fairly uneventful, stopping at the Granite Park Chalet, an overnight destination for through hikers, before continuing down towards the Loop (a total of roughly 13 miles) where we caught a series of shuttles back to Logan Pass and then down into Many Glacier.

The next day we hiked the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail, a moderate to strenuous hike of about 12 miles. The beginning of the hike traversed bear country (read more about that adventure in Life on the Edge (sort of) part 2). In case you haven't read it, my brother and I were ridiculously close to a Grizzly, a major highlight for me.

After that encounter we had a long, moderately steep section to reach Ptarmigan Lake. A camera couldn't do justice to the blue and green colors reflecting off the surface. To reach the tunnel itself required a set of brutal switchbacks up the side of a scree slope. The tunnel, only about 50ft long, was created to allow hikers an easier traverse. Walking through the tunnel we were able to look down on Elizabeth Lake while swapping stories of our bear encounters with a hiker from France.

The top picture shows me just outside the Ptarmigan Tunnel with Ptarmigan Lake in the background. If you look closely you can see the trail in the middle right of the picture just above the snowfield shaped like a 7. The bottom picture is Elizabeth Lake as seen from the far mouth of the tunnel.

With two great hikes in two days, Glacier National Park was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

On the next section of our trip, we ventured into Canada and the national parks of the Canadian Rockies.

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