Hiking and Bicycling Greeneville & Greene County Tennessee
Glacier National Park
A group from the Greeneville Hiking Club visited Glacier National Park for ten days in July of 2008. Glacier National Park, located on the Montana-Canadian border, is widely known as the most beautiful National Park in the United States. Local members of the club which made the trip were: Andy Daniels, Jackie Duncan, Edd Hodges, Earl and Lillian Keith, Ned Sanders and Pam Shelton. Accompanying the Greeneville members were Evan Hodges and Katrina Rogers both from the Tidewaters area of Virginia.
Flying into Glacier National Airport, near Kalispell, Montana, the group rented a fifteen passenger van for their trip into the park.
The first stop was lunch at Lake McDonald Lodge and a tour of the Apgar Visitor Center. Lake McDonald, at a length of ten miles, is the largest lake in the park and was carved out by to a maximum depth of 472 fee by immense glaciers.
After lunch, the group drove across the famous “Going-to-the-Sun” Road to reach the Rising Sun Motor Inn, their lodging for the first five nights. Built 75 years ago, this mountain road was an engineering marvel of its time. This narrow, winding two lane road is 52 miles of panoramic views, thundering waterfalls, alpine meadows and glacial blue-green lakes. It has been named the most beautiful section of mountain road in the world.
Rising Sun consisted of small cabins without air conditioning, television or phone service. The lodge was adjacent to the beautiful St. Mary’s lake which was bordered by bright red mountains that rose over a thousand feet above the shoreline, making a perfect setting. The nighttime temperatures dipped into the low forties and the daytime highs climbed to the seventies, making for perfect hiking weather.
The first hike, Siyeh Pass, turned out to be the most difficult one of the trip. When the group arrived at the trailhead, there was a sign warning of high snow over the pass. Most of the group decided to attempt the trip in spite of the fact that a park ranger had canceled his scheduled hike. Of the more than 700 miles of trails in Glacier, few can beat the climb to Siyeh Pass, an area that boasts some of the park’s most dramatic mountain landscapes.
The Piegan Pass-Siyeh Pass crossroads were reached after a fairly easy walk through woods and high alpine meadows; then the hike became much more strenuous. Although no heavy snow was encountered on west side of the trail, reaching the pass took several grueling hours in the hot sun, climbing up switchbacks of loose rocks called talus. At one point, near the top, several mountain goats were seen grazing at the bottom of a ravine.
After reaching the pass, at 7,750 feet, the real difficulty began. The trail down the back side of the trail, near Siyeh Glacier, could not be located at many places because of deep snowfall on the trail. The trail could be seen at the base of the slope, but the group had difficulty crossing the snowbanks in an attempt to reach the bottom. Some of the snowbanks were on a very steep incline and a fall could have resulted in a severe injury or worse. The group carefully made their way to the bottom of the trail and at one point they simply sat down on the snow and slid to the bottom of the section, digging in with their hiking sticks to stop short of a steep dropoff.
After an hour and a half spent descending several hundred feet, the snowbanks were finally left behind, and the group hiked down a series of switchbacks until the valley floor was reached. Surrounding the valley, seven different snow-melt waterfalls could be seen adjacent to the famous Siyeh Glacier. The remaining hike out through the valley was much easier and more pleasant as the footpath became smooth and wildflowers covered the trailside. Because of all the time spent locating the trail on the glacier, the twelve mile hike took ten and a half hours to complete.
The next day, the group traveled back across the “Going-to-the-Sun” Road and did much easier hikes on the Avalanche Lake Trail and Trail of the Cedars. These two very popular hikes were approximately 8 miles with little elevation gain.
One of the most beautiful settings in Glacier, Hidden Lake, was hiked the following day. The Hidden Lake Trail, which starts just behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, was almost entirely covered in snow. The trail climbs up over a small mountain pass through an alpine wonderland of pine and wildflowers. The lake is reached by descending the backside of the mountain to a picturesque alpine lake, a distance of about three miles. On the valley floor, adjacent to the lake, mountain goats were everywhere, looking for a handout. In the afternoon, a hike was taken to four beautiful waterfalls near St. Mary’s Lake.
After several days delay, the group was able to hike The Highline and Loop Trails, which had been closed because of a heavy snow in June. The twelve mile section of the trail that was hiked is known as “The Garden Wall’ and much of it parallels the Going-to-the-Sun road at a much higher elevation. This is one of the premier trails in Glacier and offers majestic views of snow covered mountain peaks, glaciers and green valleys thousands of feet below. The first few miles of this trail is a rocky footpath which is on a two to three foot ledge with a sheer bluff both above and below. Some of this section had cable handholds riveted into the wall to help negotiate the parts where the footing was slippery or more narrow
Part way through the hike, several snowbanks had to be crossed and at one point, the hikers had to jump down into a “snow tunnel” which had been opened by the park service. This tunnel had a running creek at the bottom and the footing was very dangerous. The group learned later, that a lady in another group had fallen there later that same day, was severely injured, and had to be rescued by helicopter.
Several members of the group took a side trip to “Grinnell Glacier Overlook’ where five different lakes could be seen in the distance. The rest of the group took a short rest at the Granite Park Chalet before descending through a section burnt out by a recent forest fire.
The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and the Glacier Park Lodge, on the east side of Glacier, were the two other places the group stayed. Several moose were spotted grazing in Swiftcurrent Lake. A tour and evening meal was taken at “Many Glacier” Lodge built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railroad.
A fifteen mile hike was taken to Iceberg Lake, including a side trip to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Iceberg Lake was aptly named due to large chunks of Ice floating in a beautiful high alpine lake surrounded by 2000 foot high cliffs. The Ptarmigan Tunnel, named for a variety of grouse, is a man made tunnel cut through a solid opening of granite, connecting two major valleys. Although the Iceberg Lake Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, it was closed the next day due to grizzly bear activity.
The visit to Glacier would not have been complete without taking a famous “Red Bus” tour. The tour the group chose was called the “International Peace Park” tour that links Glacier with its sister across the border, Waterton Lakes National Parks in Alberta, Canada. While there, the group had a lunch and tour at the famous “Prince of Wales” Hotel, which was build in 1927 on a bluff overlooking Waterton Lake.
The next day, the group visited the museum of the Plains Indian and Heritage Center and Art Gallery in Browning, Montana. The museum also contained an intact skeleton of a juvenile Tyrannosaurs Rex, valued at over five million dollars. Next the Lewis and Clark’s “Camp Disappointment” monument, which sits on a small hill in the middle of a barren field was viewed. The monument, dated July 26, 1806 marked the northernmost point of the expedition. Later in the day, the group made two short hikes to waterfalls in the “Two Medicine” section nearby.
The last day of the trip was saved for the hike to Crypt Lake, rated the top hike in Canada and in the top ten worldwide. The group awoke at 4:00 a.m. and made the long return trip across the border to Waterton NP. Five members of the group boarded the ferry at 9:00 a.m. to be shuttled five miles into the Crypt Lake trailhead, while the rest of the group decided not to hike and took a boat tour back across the US border into the Goat Haunt section of Glacier.
From the boat launch, the 6 mile Crypt Lake Trail begins in a dense forest of fir and spruce trees. The trail begins its climb of 3300 feet steeply on several switchbacks and a couple of miles up the trail, a young grizzly bear was feasting on huckleberries just a hundred feet from the hikers. Passing a couple of beautiful waterfalls, the trail emerged from the woodlands and fields covered with various wildflowers into an open, desertlike scenery of rocks and talus.
The group got its first view of Crypt Falls, a plunge-type falls with a very high volume of water and a tremendous 900 foot drop. Crypt Falls is formed by the runoff of the glacier fed Crypt Lake. After several rocky switchbacks in the hot sun, the hikers reached the most interesting and dangerous part of the hike.
The trail crossed a small creek then narrowed to a foot wide ledge for over a hundred feet. This ledge had no cable handhold and below was a drop of nearly a thousand feet to the valley floor. At the end of this ledge was a metal ladder that had to be climbed, before entering a 90 foot long tunnel with a very low clearance. On the backside of the tunnel, the trail climbs slightly for about two hundred feet on another ledge, smaller. rockier and more dangerous than the one before.
Fortunately, this section did have a cable railing. After this second ledge, the group reached their destination; the picturesque Crypt Lake, an alpine body of water containing many small icebergs. The group took a short break to enjoy their accomplishment, then headed back down the trail being sure to make the boat pickup’s 5:30 deadline. When a side loop trail to Hell Roaring Falls was reached, the hikers took the short detour by this lovely cascade and then returned to the landing.
The total group reunited for a nice dinner in Waterton before returning to the Glacier Park Lodge to prepare for their flight from Kalispell back to Tennessee