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Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
#32312 07/23/13 12:18 AM
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Steve C Offline OP
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Last year, in the "Ten US Day Hikes You Must Do" thread, raphus posted this hike, calling it "One of my best day hikes out of three years spent in the US"

Quote:
Swiftcurrent pass in Glacier national park, Montana.

Start the hike at the Many Glacier TH, enjoy grizzly tracks as you approach Redrock lake, don't miss the moose as you pass Bullhead lake then make your way up to Swiftcurrent pass by crossing numerous falls.
On the way down, take a break from the cold (hot?) weather at the Granite Park chalet before starting your descent toward the Logan Pass trailhead on the Highline trail. If you have enough energy, climb to a small "window" in the beautiful Garden wall to get a glimpse of Grinell glacier on the other side. Enjoy the numerous mountain goat and bighorn sheep sightings since your feet are beginning to hurt as you've now walked close to 16 miles.
End your day by hoping on the shuttle to go back to your car.


If you read no further, this trail, and this park is one everyone should try to see. The greenery, the steep mountains and deep valleys, wildlife and flowers make this a heavenly spot. I may try to go back in a year or two.

My family began planning a Yellowstone and Glacier trip, so I looked into this hike. We were having a dry winter here, so I thought the same would likely be the case there, but I was wrong. Our reservations were set early in the year, and my hike day worked out to be July 5. Unfortunately, there was a steep tongue of slick snow covering a part of the trail, so the park service designated the trail as closed.

I started asking questions on a Glacier park forum, but got no encouragement. Being this might be my only chance to see the trail and the park, I packed my crampons, and located a local rafting company in West Glacier, MT, where I could rent an ice axe (mine wouldn't fit in our luggage). On July 4, we drove the "Going to the Sun Road" and stopped at Logan Pass where the closed trail head was. I hiked with my daughter up a different trail, through lots of snow, to the Hidden Lake overlook. We were treated with seeing about a dozen mountain goats and their kids. Taking pictures of a group, they started walking toward us, so we sat down on a rock as not to disturb them. One proceeded to come over and sniff my boot! Made Charlee's day, for sure. grin



Seeing all the snow, I carried my crampons along on that short hike, and as we descended we came along a woman (it turns out she was from San Diego) who was practically paralyzed with fear trying to get down the steeper snow slope. With the crampons, I was able to walk along and help her down. My daughter shared one of the hiking poles too, so she got down ok then.

After that hike, I went over to the Highline Trail side, and observed the trail above the road, and the steep snow extending down to the road. The trail appeared clear except for that one steep patch. I decided to use the ice axe and crampons and give it a practice try. Turns out it was pretty easy with the equipment, but would have been treacherous without (a hiker without equipment had fallen here just the week before). Apparently my climbing the snow from the road attracted someone's attention, because a ranger came down the road to watch, waiting until I had completed my climb and descent. He was pretty friendly, but advised me to practice somewhere else. I think he didn't want anyone scaring the tourists.

Next morning, I rose early, we drove back up to the pass from St Mary, and I was ready to hike about 6 AM. Fortunately nobody around to be bothered, and I was on my way. Unfortunately, I was too excited to take any pictures of the steep snow -- I wanted to get that part behind me. I think I crossed three snow patches before taking off the crampons. I didn't need them the rest of the day.

Here's the first picture of the hike, looking north. The ridge is the Continental Divide. Going to the Sun Road is the most visible line. The Highline Trail stays horizontal, crossing the snow between the divide and the "Haystack Butte" at the left side of the picture.


Looking back toward Logan Pass, the road crosses the picture on its last loop left over the pass.


There were lots of flowers: Columbine and yellow "violets"


A number of waterfalls and streams crossed the trail


Along with several more snowy obstacles, each I could climb up or down to pass.
           

As the road descended and the trail remained on-contour, I was going ever-higher above the road. This is one of many spots where Bear Grass was blooming magnificently.


Boot tracks. Half a dozen or so have been here before me this year.


The last steep snow slope. This was crossed by cutting footsteps with the ice axe. It is far above the "Weeping Wall" of the road below.


What a view! Notice the road far below on both sides.


Glacier Lillies everywhere.   ...and a tiny Shooting Star.


Looking west toward Lake McDonald. Going to the Sun Road travels through that valley. Heaven's Peak on the right.


Zooming in on the first view of the chalet at Granite Park. When I got there, I bought a soft drink and a Reeses P.B. candy.


There are so many more pics to show... to be continued.

Re: Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
Steve C #32396 07/26/13 12:43 AM
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Part 2 of 2...
Soon after I spotted the Granite Park Chalet, I heard and then spotted several hikers on a trail high above me -- the Garden Wall overlook spur. Rather than walk an extra mile, I climbed directly to the trail, 800 vertical feet above. It took me 40 minutes -- not sure if it saved me much time.

When I made it to the overlook, I was amazed to see the marmot licking the woman's leg. He was apparently enjoying the salt.


This was a great place to enjoy lunch, and the finest view of the day! The Garden Wall overlook, elev. 7500'.

If I am reading the map correctly, that's Mt Gould, 9553', in the clouds on the right, Grinnell Glacier below.

Here is the view (three pictures stitched together) from the ridge in the opposite direction, looking west to north. The peaks farthest north are in Canada.

Click here for a larger view, or this for the maximum.


Heading down to the Chalet, here's the view looking back to Logan Pass where I'd started in the morning. It is far in the distance on the left side.
This is a meadow filled with Glacier Lilies, near Granite Park Chalet.



Heading east over Swiftcurrent pass, hikers informed me I had missed seeing several bighorn sheep obscured in the forest. But I did get t his view of the Swiftcurrent Valley and its lakes. The Many Glacier hotel is on the shore of the next to last lake in the distance. You can see traces of my trail in the forest below. Unfortunately it was built far from the lakes.


Lush bear grass


Pretty flowers


Mama Moose right by the trail. Other hikers saw her with a calf by the lake earlier in the day.


My family walked a ways up the trail to meet me from the Swiftcurrent campground area. We saw this deer near the end.


The Many Glacier Hotel, taken from our rented canoe the next morning. The hotel is old, just under 100 years, completed in 1917.


This hike was truly memorable. I'm sure glad it was mentioned in the top hikes thread. I might talk a friend or two in doing it with me in a couple of years.

Here's the link to my pictures: Highline Trail 7-5-2013, Glacier National Park

From "EnjoyYourParks.com", The Highline Trail (lots of wildlife pictures)






Re: Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
Steve C #32403 07/26/13 12:55 PM
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A couple of weeks ago I was doing some business in Whitefish MT and got to head over to Glacier NP. I didn't get to spend much time there, but have now put it on my to do list. It looks like I will be doing a fair amount of work in Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia falls, so I should have the opportunity.

On the same trip I had business at a mine near the yellowstone west entrance (I drove from Whitefish to Bozeman and then to my mining customer). So I got to take a peek at Yellowstone on the same trip.. First time I had been to yellowstone, though it was cut short due to my need to get back home.

Re: Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
tdtz #32405 07/26/13 01:28 PM
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Steve C Offline OP
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Lucky you!

Kalispell and Columbia Falls are a stone's throw from Glacier -- if you have a spare day, you can probably do this hike, or any number of other shorter ones.

Re: Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
Steve C #32451 07/28/13 06:46 AM
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Great hike and great inspiration, Steve. Maybe now I have a second item for my bucket list. I was there in 1967, but didn't relly appreciate the history of the park until seeing Ken Burn's doc or remember the beauty of it till seeing your pics. thanks


Wherever you go, there you are.
SPOTMe!
Re: Glacier N.P. - Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails
saltydog #32471 07/28/13 03:48 PM
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Steve, great photos! I 've been looking forward to seeing them. Glacier is such a great place! See any Grizzlies?


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