Glacier NP – 8/20/13 – Highline Trail/Garden Wall/Grinnell Overlook – 13.4 Miles
Hikers never “sleep in” and especially in an awesome national park no daylight is wasted. At crack-of-dawn-thirty this morning we pulled up (tent) stakes and relocated to another base camp to access even more incredible trails. Where we’d been staying in St. Mary allows reservations, but most front country campgrounds in the park are first-come-first-served. To score two spots in Avalanche Campground near Lake McDonald, we needed to be waiting as campers departed. So…we enjoyed an early morning drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road through the heart of Glacier NP.
Good news: we set up our new camp and quickly got back on the GTTS Road to…catch a bus shuttle.
Shuttle buses, you hate ‘em when you have to drive behind them, but they do serve important functions. Most people use them to enjoy the scenery between Point A and Point B and then back to Point A. That’s better than everyone driving his own vehicle while gawking. For us, it made possible an end-to-end hike without using our own cars, saving a lot of time at the end of the day. We caught shuttles at The Loop parking area and rode up to Logan Pass where all of humanity was milling about in the parking lot and visitor center. As quickly as possible we walked onto the Highline Trail.
Walked, skipped, danced a little jig – my excitement for today’s hike was bursting out of my boots. We were going to see Grinnell Glacier again, this time looking down from a notch in the Garden Wall where we had seen tiny people yesterday as we squinted upward through binoculars from the shoreline of Upper Grinnell Lake. The Highline Trail is aptly named, like walking a level high wire above the Going-To-The-Sun Road with the longest vistas yet. It’s a popular trail, but so what? Let all the world enjoy and appreciate this magnificent place!
A chain covered with a garden hose was bolted to the rock to hold onto. What a shame to be afraid of heights and miss all this!
I composed a love letter: Dear Glacier National Park – I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.
The Garden Wall is an arête like the Ptarmigan Wall, a long skinny ridge with a sharp edge created by two glaciers sliding down along valleys on either side of a mountain, and the Highline Trail trips blissfully along the Wall with minimal elevation gain. I felt as though I were gliding along on a moving walkway at the airport. Then came our challenge of the day: climbing a steep .8-mile side trail up the Garden Wall to the notch overlooking the Grinnell Glacier.
As I approached the side trail I munched on a Clif Bar, hoping for a magic burst of energy, and then tackled the climb with short heel-to-toe footsteps, going slower than I wanted to but keeping my breathing under control. With this method the climb was easier, and soon I popped over the top of the notch.
Then hundreds of feet farther below that is Grinnell Glacier on the right and Upper Grinnell Lake, the shore of which we walked along yesterday. In the middle left, the mountain with the green stuff, is Angel Wing. Remember how massive it appeared from the trail? This two-dimensional photograph simply cannot convey the vastness of what we were seeing.
After a long period of rest and reflection we backtracked down to the Highline Trail and continued another mile to Granite Park Chalet. I wore my Virginia Tech hat to shield my sunburned scalp, and as often happens I made some friends familiar with my alma mater. Funny, no matter how far away you go, you find someone who knows someone who went to VT.
We checked out Granite Park Chalet’s privy, looked inside the main building, stood out on the front porch and looked at Heaven’s Peak front and center. The Chalet's outward appearance is similar to the 10th Mountain Huts in Colorado but the fees are pretty steep ($97 for the first person in a room, $78 per person after that, bedding is extra, and you must bring and cook your own food, no silverware or dishes). Glad we did not opt to stay there. I’ll take camping for $7 per night, thanks.
The Granite Park Trail descends nearly 2,500 feet back down to The Loop, passing through extensive burn areas left from the Trapper Creek Fire of 2003 which originated from lightning and burned nearly 20,000 acres. What a difference, walking through these areas with few mature trees, no spruce or pine, skeletons of birch that looked starkly beautiful against the deep blue sky. This part of our trek was hot and knee-wrenching, but I’ve read that the wildflowers are especially beautiful here as Mother Nature regenerates.
A wonderful surprise near the end of the hike – a bubbling creek perfect for soaking feet! Cathy and Ken had gotten to the finish line first, but the rest of us stopped to splash and chill.
Yes, each day is better than the one before, but tomorrow’s hike had my nerves jumping. As we ate pizza at Jammer Joe’s at Lake McDonald we discussed the plan, a steep 19-mile round trip up to Sperry Glacier and back. Knowing that I was the slow person in the group, I just wasn’t feeling up to the hard work. So… Sharon decided to take a mid-week “town day” filled with a different kind of fun.