March 31, 2017. Let’s quietly contemplate the beauty of an exhausting, 5,000-calorie-burning 13-mile hike in Glacier National Park, USA.
This is one of those profoundly humbling hikes. Not because you spend the last third of it wondering if you’re gonna make it to the end of the trail. It’s because you can’t imagine the scale of the natural beauty until you’re right in the middle of it and you feel … tiny.
This is a call to action. If you’re in shape to do this hike, get out there and do it while the glaciers are still there. If you’re not, well, get in shape so you can. You’ve only got until 2020 or 2030. The geologists and climatologists say that’s when the still-massive-but-already-shrunken glaciers will disappear. Completely.
I’m not here to harsh your mellow with the global warming news. Let’s just take a hike. Work your Way through the photos. And a really cool Google Map I made for you. Here’s how we go.
Up, up, up to the Granite Chalet
We start at the bottom, on the Loop Trail, because steep hikes up seem easier on the old knees than steep hikes down. We climb up 2,200 feet over the first four miles. An early morning start, when the sun’s low. Most of the trail is heavily wooded. Our legs are fresh. Keep up a good pace and you get to the Granite Chalet in 90 minutes. You can see it in the upper right corner of the photo above. This solid stone structure was built in 1913. $75 for a night in a bunk bed and use of the kitchen. The only amenity is the view, but it’s incredible. Better. Cheaper. And nobody’s in a hurry. But we’re moving on to the connecting trail.
High Line Trail to a really steep detour
I thought it was going to be a fairly flat hike from here. 7.6 miles along the “Garden Wall” to Logan Pass and the National Park Service shuttle bus back to the trailhead where we parked. But, no – it just keeps going uphill. A mile or so on, you see this little sign for the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Sounds good. What’s another 3/4 of a mile?
In this case, it’s 4,000 horizontal and 1,000 vertical feet. It is wicked steep. You actually have to scramble on hands and knees for part of this. Took 45 minutes to go less than a mile. You arrive at the ridge line overlook completely spent. But it’s the biggest bang for the buck you can imagine. You climb through this notch in the sheer rock Garden Wall and look down the other side – way down – onto the Grinnell Glacier and Grinnell Lake. Look down:
Scrambling back down to the Highline Trail’s a lot easier. Six and a half miles behind us; six and a half more to go.
All Along the Garden Wall
Sounds like a stroll through a rose garden, right? But we’re still ascending. Not so steep now, but relentless. The sun’s up high. We stop frequently to sip water. We stop more frequently because we’re stunned by the views around every switchback. Exhausted and exhilarated.
It still amazes me that you can get to these places on foot. That it’s the only Way you can get to them. Do it while you can.
$25 gets a carload of you into the Park for a week. For all the health benefits of exercise. The added health benefits of being in green, natural environment. And a free shot of Vitamin D. In a spectacular Slower setting: took two million years to carve this landscape.
It’s About Time
You’ve got until 2020 or 2030. The geologists and climatologists say that’s when the massive glaciers will disappear, completely. Really. Click to see the U.S. Geological Survey photos taken from 1938 to 2009. They document the gradual disappearance of the Grinnell Glacier, now just 30% of its former self. 70% gone in 70 years. Yikes.
Click to see the big Google Map I made for you
While you’re hiking
Sip water frequently to keep yourself hydrated and fresh. When I hike, I always wear my CamelBak backpack with its built-in water reservoir and conveniently in-my-face water “bite valve” that never drips or leaks. If you don’t have one of these, check out these handy 50-ounce and 100-ounce packs and this kid’s 1-liter Pack. For something smaller, I use CamelBak‘s BPA-free bottle with that cool and highly functional bite valve.