Glacier Assurance

Glacier National Park had some big shoes to fill considering we were still riding a Canadian Rocky Mountain high from our past visit to Banff and Jasper National Parks. It’s as if Banff and Jasper were the opening act and killed it, and just as Glacier, the headliner took the stage, the power went out. While I anticipated the beauty that over 4 million park visitors per year have heralded, I was preparing to be disappointed.

If there were gorgeous mountain views present, they belonged to those with x-ray vision. An impenetrable veil of smoke from prevailing wildfires in western Montana and British Columbia had settled on the peaks and deep in the valleys like a “cloak of choke”, elevating the air quality to alert status.

The sun appears

shadow peaks (2)

But there was still a park to discover, so undeterred, we took the high road in search of beauty where we could find it.

In the case of Glacier National Park, the high road is named Going-to the-Sun Road, a marvel of civil engineering completed in 1932. The 50-mile stretch traverses the park from Lake McDonald…

Lake MacDonald Runoff.jpg

to the western point of St. Mary Lake.

view from the hike

The road crosses the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 feet, providing a series of white-knuckle hairpin turns that only a vintage fleet of Red Jammer drivers can negotiate with ease.

red jammer (2)

We drove around The Loop, where a carpet of late-blooming wildflowers painted a swatch of pink across the foothills of Flattop Mountain,

valley of pink1

and beyond the Weeping Wall, where embedded glacial remnants…

Snow on the Mountain

offered an aerial microcosm of the landscape beneath us.

ice sculpture

leftover ice

Yet, excitement was as fleeting as a burst of blue sky…

lost in the clouds

Our plan called for a stop atop Logan Pass, but 30 minutes of switch-backing through rows of parked cars with no possibility of finding a space left us with few options; either we turn back, or we finish the road.

With the gas gauge nearing empty, it seemed a safe bet to continue to the village of St. Mary, so down the mountain we rode, until the glacial green of St. Mary Lake–winking between the trees–became the itch we had to scratch. A turn-out with parking space (yay!) at the trail head of several waterfalls gave us more of a reason to stretch our legs.

We hiked above a shoreline of densely packed trees, giving us picket-fence glimpses of the lake, until we came to a clearing.

Arrow into St. Mary Lake

And in the distance, Mt. Siyeh had shed its shroud and come to life.

Clouds Across the Peaks

Baring Falls was the Hail Mary pass we caught to save our day. While it wasn’t a view of monumental mountains in mirrored waters, it was still a place where pretty happened.

Baring Falls

river rocks

The overnight rain was enough to cleanse the sky, and random patches of morning blue gave us enough faith to run to the Sun for a second chance. This time around, our carma delivered us to a parking space at Logan Pass.

From there, our hike across the alpine slopes to Hidden Lake was enough to erase my doubts about Glacier National Park.

Logan Pass panorama


grazing by a glacier

glacial pond

Bearhat Mountain Hidden Lake (2)

Certainly, while I would have preferred the postcard vistas that leave me slack-jawed and breathless, Glacier proved to be a worthy contender to the Canadian twins, and deserving of a rematch.