Seeing Glacier, or not....

August 21, 2018

by Steve

Glacier National Park. The "Crown of the Continent," as it is called on the National Park Service website, assuming that you ignore Alaska and all of Canada. Jane had never been there. I had been a couple of times, but it has been over 40 years so it was time for a return visit. As we were planning to be in the Pacific Northwest for much of the summer, it was logical to head east to Glacier in August.

When you hear the name "Glacier," you expect to see a lot of glaciers. That's not exactly the case here. The park got its name not so much for the abundance of glaciers that it currently has, but rather for the immense glaciers that carved its ridges and deep valleys. In 1850, there were around 150 glaciers in the region that is now the park. Now there are just 25, and they are shrinking rapidly. (Read more here) At the present rate, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park by 2030, which is just 12 years away. If you want to see the glaciers, I'd suggest you go sooner rather than later. Bring binoculars, as many are quite far away and getting smaller every year.  Wait a few years, and you'll need to bring a microscope.

Glacier National Park has a rather short season. Due to the deep snow that it can accumulate, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which connects the east and west sides of the park, often doesn't open until June. By September, it can be snowing again, and you generally don't want to get caught on the other side of Logan Pass when it closes because of snow. August tends to be the prime month to visit, as the weather is generally good and the trails are free of snow. But August also tends to be forest-fire season. August is when we went there.

There are a lot of trails in Glacier - over 700 miles of them. Much of the park, however, is quite remote, and you may need to hike a long distance to enjoy the the trails. Fortunately there are a number of nice day-hikes accessible from main roads, and on many of these you can see wildlife in abundance. We saw bighorn sheep, mountain goats, a grizzly bear, deer, osprey, bald eagles, and, of course, the ever-present ground squirrel. This mountain goat was right along the trail; there's no zoom involved in taking this picture.

This bighorn sheep is about 4 years old. Not big enough to challenge the alpha male of the herd, but give him a few years...

This deer didn't really want to get off the trail to let us by, but eventually we came to an agreement and she let uspass.

I mentioned that August is forest-fire season. When we arrived, there were a number of fires burning in the West, particularly in northern California and in British Columbia. That caused a fair bit of smoke and haze in the park. Fortunately, we had planned for a week on the west side of Glacier, and then five days on the east side, so we were sure that we would have a few non-hazy days. Well, we had one, and then a fire broke out.

Here's a view of Avalanche Lake on our clearest day. That afternoon, a fire appeared on Howe Ridge, across Lake McDonald from the lodge. It had been started by lightning and looked fairly small. We watched it for a while from the lodge.

The fire idd not stay small. Winds picked up in the evening, and by 9 pm the park was evacuating Lake McDonald lodge and the Avalanche and Sprague campgrounds, and closing the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Here's what it looked like then.

After that, the west side of the park was essentially closed, and we moved over to the east side, hoping for a change in winds that would clear the air. It was not to be.

One of the iconic views of Glacier is of St. Mary's Lake with Wild Goose Island in the foreground. On a nice clear day, it would look like this.

We did not take this picture; we had to find this one on the internet to see what it should look like.  Here's the pic that we took.

Can you see the difference?  Can you see anything? 

Since all our pictures are going to be grey-toned, we think that using sepia or 60s style filters makes them much more acceptable.  So we'll have to remember this trip like this.

But as for seeing the gorgeous scenery, I guess we'll have to think about a return trip, next time before forest-fire season.

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