We’ve been busy backpacking, which hasn’t allowed us to edit many photos or write up our trip reports… so we’re about a month behind now! We’re hoping to crank out a couple more trip reports before our last backpacking trip in Havasupai!
Day 30-32: Glacier National Park, MT (9/2-9/4)
Glacier National Park was one of the bigger parks that we haven’t been to, and we had high expectations. Everyone we know that has been there has raved about the beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife, so we were excited to check it out for ourselves.
We only really had two days to explore the park so we decided to day hike the Highline Trail (11.8 miles) along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road one day and the trail to Grinnell Glacier (11 miles) the other. Without the park shuttle running after 9/2, the Highline trail becomes more difficult to do as a through hike… it requires hitch-hiking! Encouraged by park rangers that it’s totally legal and common, we gathered our gear, made a sign, and successfully and safely hitchhiked from ‘the Loop’ to the trailhead at Logan Pass. This was a first for both of us, and we felt a bit silly holding a sign and smiling at empty cars as they passed by without stopping. But after only 10 or so cars passed by, one pulled over and two nice climbers picked us up. They said they had never picked up hitch hikers before, but we looked pretty harmless. I’m sure we did with our well maintained hiking gear and smiling faces. They also seemed pretty harmless as they moved the two kid’s car seats to the trunk of their SUV. It was a short ride and before we knew it we were at the trailhead.
Of course as soon as we began hiking it started to rain, but we were prepared with rain jackets and pack covers, so a little rain wasn’t going to stop us. After the first couple miles the rain turned to a drizzle and pretty much stopped, but the dreary gray clouds remained.
We were quickly distracted once we spotted a small heard of bighorn sheep grazing on the hillside. Nathan tried to climb the hill but the steep grade, loose gravel, and the sheep’s ability to quickly climb prevented him from getting any worthwhile photos. Later we saw a kid (baby mountain goat) and its nanny (mother) also grazing on another hillside. We stopped and watched the little one gallop across the loose rocks as it tried to keep up with its mom.
We were really excited to finally see mountain goats and bighorn sheep (especially rams), but we weren’t close enough to fully capture the moment with our cameras. We continued hiking though the mountains and enjoyed the trail despite the clouds.
Once we reached the Granite Park Chalet and we knew the views of the valleys and open hillsides were over and it was just a matter of hiking back down to the car.
After driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road toward the east we started searching for a campground. Usually Katharine has every campground and hotel booked, but after Labor Day, the campgrounds in Glacier become first-come first-serve. This style of campsite reservation doesn’t work well for us since we spend the days hiking and we only return to the campground to sleep. We circled all the major campgrounds and they were completely full.
Luckily there was a primitive campground a bit farther from the main part of the park. Since it required driving a few miles on a dirt road and didn’t have running water, we figured it wouldn’t be too popular. Sure enough, there were several sites available when we arrived. Plus, the drive on the dirt road through a cattle and horse pasture was beautiful in the sunset.
The campsite was just our style; small, quiet, and had a great view of the mountains.
The next morning we headed to the Many Glacier area to hike to Grinnell Glacier. Finally we had a sunny day, but we quickly found the hike had little to no shade. The first couple miles of trail traveled along side a few lakes, but then quickly climbed to various rocky shelves as it approached the glacier.
Suddenly we came to a small crowd fixed on a ram bighorn sheep only 30 yards away. Nathan and another photographer climbed up the rocks to get a little closer.
You could see the sheep panting in the hot sun, but it continued to forage for food.
While Nathan was taking pictures Katharine was talking to hikers returning from the glacier who said there were more sheep closer to the trail around the corner. We quickly ditched the other photographer and headed up the trail. As the other hikers claimed, these sheep were much closer and more active!
These sheep weren’t too afraid of people as they jumped from ledge to ledge above the trail. Some hikers were unaware of the sheep until they looked up at which point they usually gasped as they fumbled for their camera.
After we took 50+ photos of the sheep we decided to finish the last mile of the hike and check out the glacier, the real focus of the hike.
It was early afternoon and the sun was beating down on us so we thought we would dip our hot feet in the cold glacier melt water. It felt great for the first second until the freezing water felt like needles in your feet. It took minutes to warm our feet up after just seconds in the water. Sadly it took several tries to get this photo.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had 5.5 miles to hike out, and we had forgotten to eat lunch with all the sheep chaos. We hiked just a short while until we reached a small rest area along the trail which has some rustic benches to sit and eat lunch. After 5 minutes we were interrupted by three sheep passing through to reach a creek.
This of course led to more photos and less eating. Amazingly these sheep approached us even closer than the ones before, forcing us to retreat because we felt uncomfortable. It was a bighorn sheep extravaganza!
Finally feeling like we had enough sheep photos and noticing the sun getting lower in the sky, we started hiking quickly back to the trailhead. Of course with the day cooling off, more sheep appeared and it became more of a herding activity than hiking.
Katharine and one ram startled each other as she came around a tree that it was eating. Both of them jumped back and paused for a Katharine-Sheep showdown stare. We slowly backed up and the ram did also until we had reached a safe distance.
Check out the sheep in the background
We enjoyed the rest of the hike down paying more attention to the flowers, rocks, and incredible glacier carved valleys.
Glacier park lived up to the hype with the incredible landscapes, flowers, and animals. We couldn’t have been happier after two 10+ mile hikes in two days.
We couldn’t include all the photos in the trip report so check out more in the gallery below.
Epic Trip Stats:
- Days: 32
- Nights in a tent: 22
- Miles driven: 4563
- Miles hiked: 133
- Bighorn sheep photographed: 18
- Photographs of bighorn sheep: 312
- Mountain goats: 15