Category Archives: Glacier Park General Information

Climbing Glacier Park: Grizzlies on the Summit of Rising Wolf Mountain

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Climbing Glacier Park:
Grizzlies on the Summit of Rising Wolf Mountain
My wife Shannon and I love to climb mountains in Glacier National Park, and having over 100 summits under our belt, we’ve had our share of amazing situations while climbing these incredible peaks. One such amazing situation was when we climbed Rising Wolf Mountain several years ago.

Rising Wolf Mountain is located in the Two Medicine Area of Glacier National Park. We were looking forward to seeing the views from the summit of this famous mountain as it is the tallest mountain in the area. It was mid August, which is prime time for grizzly activity in the high country because of the moth larvae that are located under rocks on the alpine slopes and ridges. Grizzly bears love these larvae because they are packed with protein, and this draws them to these high altitudes. This grizzly behavior is known as “mothing”, and it can make mountain climbing in Glacier National Park quite interesting at times.

As we made our way up to Dawson Pass we were fully aware of the grizzly situation, and we knew that the long ridge between Flinsch Peak and Rising Wolf Mountain commonly had grizzlies “mothing” on it during the month of August, and this was the route that we had chosen. We’ve been around grizzlies our entire lives, and we always do our best to avoid encounters with them by talking loud and letting the grizzlies know we are in the area. We also ALWAYS carry bear spray just in case.

As we began working our way up the south slope of Flinsch Peak from Dawson Pass, and as we eventually reached the long west ridge located between Flinsch Peak and Rising Wolf Mountain, we noticed that there was a lot of evidence of recent “mothing” activity by grizzlies. So we were definitely on the “alert” as we made our way along this long ridge that would eventually take us to the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain.

Along the ridge, we did not see any recent signs of “mothing”, and did not see any other signs of grizzlies in the area, so we were hoping that the grizzly (or grizzlies) that were mothing under Flinsch Peak were not on this ridge as of yet. We didn’t let our guard down, but we were admittedly more relaxed. It was a gorgeous morning, and we were excited to get to the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain early while the light was still good.

Everything was going great as we began scrambling up the last thousand feet above the ridge toward the summit, and the views started to really get good. We saw no signs of grizzlies up to this point, so most of our attention was on getting to the summit so we could enjoy the view and start snapping photographs. We also stopped talking loud, thinking we were “out of the woods” as far as grizzlies were concerned. Shannon and I then reached the final hundred yards of scrambling, and the summit cairn was in sight.

Just as we reached the summit cairn, our day changed in an instant. We had just hiked, scrambled and climbed over 11 miles, and were ready for an enjoyable hour or so on the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain in Glacier National Park, but instead we found ourselves staring at a grizzly sow and young cub who were on the other side of the summit cairn.

We instantly froze and began to softly and gently say “nice bear, nice bear” as we began slowly backing up. As we were backing up we were also removing the safety pins from our bear sprays. The sow and cub both looked at us, and fortunately began to walk away from the cairn (and us) until they reached a snow field about 100 yards east of the summit. The sow then stopped and just stared at us… which made us feel a little uncomfortable. Then the tiny cub began to play with its mom. The mom responded by beginning to “play wrestle” with this tiny little cub, making the cub think it was actually “winning” the wrestling match. It was one of the cutest and most amazing sessions we’ve ever witnessed with grizzlies, and will never forget it.

When the “wrestling match” began to wind down, and the cub then began sliding down the snow field like a little kid on a sled, we quickly stopped video taping, and took about 5 photos from the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain, and then reluctantly began working our way back down the west side of the peak and headed back to where we came from. It was a gorgeous day and the photos would have been wonderful, but we felt that we had already really pushed our luck and needed to quickly and quietly get out of there. We kept looking back to make sure the sow and cub were not coming down off the summit and heading for the same ridge that we were on, and thankfully they did not. We never saw these bears the rest of the day.

What really “diffused” the situation dramatically was when the cub started playing with the sow on the snow field. Prior to that the sow was very concerned and we weren’t sure what decision she was going to make as she stared at us from the snowfield. That tiny little cub literally may have saved the day by starting the wrestling match with its mom. We must admit that this day in Glacier National Park was one that we’d never forget.

CLICK HERE to see our “views from the summits” of Glacier National Park.

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Glacier National Park Beargrass: When and Where?

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Glacier National Park Beargrass
Beargrass Plants in full bloom on the sub-alpine slopes of Glacier National Park is a famous iconic image of Glacier Park, and many visitors ask us when the best time is to visit Glacier Park to witness this beautiful spectacle.  They also ask “where” in Glacier Park is it best place to see these amazing flowers (a member of the Lily Family).  Well, the answers to these questions are not what you probably want to hear….

Every Year is Different
From our experience, we have found that every year seems to be completely different from the year before, and Beargrass blooms at different times and locations throughout Glacier Park during a specific year.  AND, you never know from year to year what the extent of the Beargrass bloom will be.  Some years, we’ve barely seen any Beargrass in bloom, and other years, blooming Beargrass is literally everywhere.

July or August?
We’ve also found that during certain years in Glacier National Park the Beargrass begins to appear in early to mid July, and other years the Beargrass doesn’t appear until late July or early August.  Throughout the years, we’ve tried to “predict” if-and-when the Beargrass will appear, and we usually fail miserably.  The only factor that we’ve seen to somewhat indicate a good year for Beargrass is a slow snow melt, and a cool and wet summer.  For whatever reason, this type of summer has usually a “bumper crop” of Beargrass throughout Glacier National Park.

If we had to pick the most common month to see Beargrass in bloom, it would be July… and typically mid July.  However, we’ve shown up in early July and the Beargrass is already in full bloom, and other years we don’t see a single Beargrass flower until early August.  But if we had to pick the most common time that we see Beargrass in bloom, we would have to say mid to late July.

Each Area of Glacier National Park is Different
Beargrass usually blooms in different areas of Glacier National Park at different times.  So you might not see any Beargrass on Logan Pass, but when you arrive at Many Glacier, the Beargrass is everywhere.  It seems to have something to do with elevation.  Beargrass seems to bloom in lower elevations first, and in time shows up in higher and higher elevations, eventually reaching elevations such as the Logan Pass Area along the Going To The Sun Road.  So if you don’t see Beargrass in a certain area of Glacier National Park, you just might see a “bumper crop” of blooming Beargrass just a few miles down the road.

Short Season of “Blooming”
Once Beargrass blooms in Glacier National Park, each plant stays in bloom for only a few days, so this also makes your timing even more critical (and lucky).  So if you see a wonderful slope of Beargrass in full bloom, take advantage of this opportunity for photos on that day.  Don’t assume this slope in Glacier National Park will look the same the following day…. you never know when the small flowers begin to fall off the stalks.

Beargrass Blooms Every Eight Years!
That’s right!  Each Beargrass plant blooms only once every eight years!  Now of course that doesn’t mean you only see Beargrass in Glacier Park only once every eight years, because every plant is on a different schedule.  But it is fascinating that after a particular Beargrass plant blooms, we won’t see that same exact plant bloom for another 8 years!

Where are the Best Places To See Beargrass?
Beargrass can show up anywhere and everywhere along the sub-alpine slopes of Glacier National Park.  And again, you never know which slopes (and when) these plants will appear.  With this in mind, some of our favorite places to enjoy Beargrass in full bloom is Iceberg Lake Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, Logan Pass Area, Highline Trail, Hidden Lake Trail, and the Two Medicine Area.  Of course, this just gives you an idea of where we typically see Beargrass, but during certain years, we have seen Beargrass on virtually every trail in Glacier National Park.

So with all this being said, it’s really anyone’s guess as to when and where you’ll see blooming Beargrass in Glacier National Park.  It’s all about fortunate timing and a lot of luck.  July is typically the best month, but “when” in July is the million dollar question.  So the bottom  line is this…  Enjoy Glacier National Park in all of its glory, and if the Beargrass is in bloom, then that’s a bonus!

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Glacier Park Lodging

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Glacier Park Lodging
There are several wonderful lodges, hotels, motor inns and cabins to stay in while enjoying your Glacier National Park vacation, and below is a brief summary of these Glacier Park Lodging options.

Many Glacier Hotel
Located in one of the most scenic and awe-inspiring spots in North America,  the historic Many Glacier Hotel is the largest lodge in Glacier Park with 208 rooms.  The Many Glacier Area is known as “The Heart of Glacier National Park”, and the Many Glacier Hotel rests in the center of it all.  Built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, this Swiss style lodge is a National Historic Landmark, and has a restaurant, snack bar, lounge and gift shop.   Just outside the doors of this famous lodge is Swiftcurrent Lake, which is home to the popular Many Glacier Boat Tour.  Also just beyond the Many Glacier Hotel are several of the most scenic and popular hiking trails not only in Glacier National Park, but in all of North America.  The deck just outside the main lobby provides a jaw-dropping view of the incredible Many Glacier Valley.  View landscapes anywhere can rival this magnificent backdrop.   So when it comes to Glacier Park Lodging, the Many Glacier Hotel is definitely an extremely popular destination for Glacier Park visitors.

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn
Just up the road from the Many Glacier Hotel is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, which is yet another popular Glacier Park Lodging opportunity.  Nestled in the Many Glacier Valley with towering mountains on each side, the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn offers 88 rooms and private cabins.  There is also a camp store, gift shop, laundromat, restaurant and public showers.  This popular Glacier Park Lodging destination is right next to the trailheads for Iceberg Lake and Swiftcurrent Pass, both of which are world-class hikes.  The parking lot at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is a great place to watch grizzly bears eating berries on the open slopes of Altyn Peak, which is directly above the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.  Rangers will often times provided spotting scopes for visitors to use to watch these amazing animals.  Across the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot is the Many Glacier Campground, which is one of the most popular campgrounds in Glacier Park.  The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is another excellent Glacier Park Lodging opportunity.

Glacier Park Lodge and Resort
Known as “The Big Tree Lodge”, the amazing Glacier Park Lodge has HUGE Douglas Firs lining its great lobby.  Whenever a visitor first steps into this incredible space, their jaw always drops in amazement.   Located in the tiny town of East Glacier, Montana, the Glacier Park Lodge was completed in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway and is a National Historic Landmark.  Located next to the historic Glacier Park Depot, Amtrak brings visitors from all over the country to this special place.  Hiking opportunities are endless just 11 miles north of the lodge in the Two Medicine Area of Glacier Park.  With 161 rooms, restaurant, snack bar, lounge, swimming pool, golf course and gift shop, the Glacier Park Lodge and Resort is yet another popular Glacier Park Lodging experience.

Rising Sun Motor Inn
Located along the Going To The Sun Road in the St. Mary Valley, the Rising Sun Motor Inn is still another good Glacier Park Lodging choice.  Only about 6 miles inside the West Entrance of Glacier National Park.  There are 76 motel rooms and cabin rooms, as well as a restaurant, camp store, gift shop, public showers, and just across the Going To The Sun Road are enjoyable boat tours of the famous St. Mary Lake.  Just next to the Rising Sun Motor Inn is the Rising Sun Campground.  The mountains of the St. Mary Valley tower over the Rising Sun area, which makes this place a very scenic Glacier Park Lodging experience.

Lake McDonald Lodge and Complex
Located along the shore of the incredible Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald Lodge and Cabins is another wonderful Glacier Park Lodging destination.  This charming lodge was built in 1895, and was constructed of large cedars.  Originally a hunting lodge, the Lake McDonald Lodge has become a very popular destination for Glacier Park visitors and is a National Historic Landmark.  Nestled in the Lake McDonald Valley just off the Going To The Sun Road and along the south shore of Lake McDonald, the view of the lake and mountains are spectacular.   The Lake McDonald Boat Tour is located here, and just up the Going To The Sun Road about 6 miles is the popular Trail of the Cedars.  The Lake McDonald Lodge and Complex has 100 rooms total in the main lodge, cabins and nearby motor inn.   There is a restaurant, pizzeria, lounge, gift shop and camp store also located on the premises.   The deck along the lake side of Lake McDonald Lodge provides a gorgeous view of the lake and the boat dock, which is a very popular place to spend time on a warm summer evening.  The Lake McDonald Lodge and Complex is another wonderful Glacier Park Lodging option during your Glacier Park vacation.

Apgar Village Lodge
Located in Apgar Village along the west shore of Lake McDonald, the Apgar Village Lodge is another Glacier Park lodging option.  This is a privately owned lodge that has 48 units, with 26 kitchenettes.  Each room has showers as well.

Village Inn at Apgar
This 36 room motel located in Apgar Village is yet another popular Glacier Park lodging option for those vacationers wanting to spend time on the west side of Glacier National Park.  Each room has an incredible view of Lake McDonald and the towering mountains of Glacier National Park as a backdrop.  Gift shops and a restaurant are located nearby.  The Village Inn at Apgar is also literally on the beach of Lake McDonald, and is a popular place to swim due to the warmer shallow water located here.

Granite Park Chalet and Sperry Chalet
These backcountry chalets are both National Historic Landmarks, and provide a rare opportunity to spend time in the backcountry of Glacier National Park without having to pack your own tent!  For details on these incredibly charming and historic chalets, please click the following links:

Granite Park Chalet
Sperry Chalet

We hope this brief summary of the Glacier Park Lodging options will prove to be helpful to you as you plan your Glacier National Park vacation.   And remember to book your reservations early!

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Glacier National Park Glaciers: Past, Present and Future

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Glacier National Park Glaciers: Past, Present and Future
Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana, and is well known for its numerous alpine glaciers that are found throughout the park. Much of the focus lately has been the rate of melting that is occurring with these Glacier National Park glaciers, so I just wanted to write an article that discusses Glacier National Park glaciers in general, and the history of these iconic masses of ice and snow. I have always been extremely interested in the geology and glaciation of Glacier National Park. In fact, in college I studied geophysics and geology for over three years prior to switching directions and instead becoming a Doctor of Optometry.

Glacier National Park’s Name-Sake
The incredible landscape that you presently see at Glacier National Park for the most part has nothing to do with the present alpine glaciers that rest on the northern and eastern slopes of the park’s mountains. Rather, the mountains and valleys of Glacier National Park were sculpted by massive glaciers known as “valley glaciers” over ten thousand years ago during the last major Ice Age. These gigantic valley glaciers acted as giant bull-dozers that excavated the land, creating deep U-shaped valleys and incredible mountainous landscapes. These massive glaciers were nearly 6,000 feet thick, and as they moved downward due to gravity, they cut and formed the rock like a knife on butter. This created deep valleys with incredibly tall vertical walls on each side. Once these valley glaciers melted away nearly 10,000 years ago, today’s world-renowned landscape of Glacier National Park was the result.

Glacier National Park was named after this unbelievable excavation by these monstrous valley glaciers of the last Ice Age.  Absolutely every square inch of Glacier National Park shows obvious remnants of this amazing glacial event, which serves as a textbook example of the effects of glaciation for all to see.

Besides the deep U-shaped valleys, these valley glaciers created classic examples of ice age glaciation, such as matterhorns (a.k.a. horns). There are many classic examples of horns in Glacier National Park, such as Reynolds Mountain and Flinsch Peak. These peaks rise thousands of feet into the sky with nearly straight up and down walls on all sides, leaving a very small summit. Horns are a result of three (and sometimes four) valley glaciers cutting away the rock on each side of the mountain, leaving only a very tall, narrow mountain that looks almost like a tower once the glaciers melt away.

Another common formation found after the valley glaciers of Glacier National Park did their work are what is known as aretes. Aretes are long and extremely narrow ridges, that seem to be almost paper-thin. A classic example of an arete in Glacier National Park is the famous Garden Wall which is found near Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road.  Aretes are created by two valley glaciers that are located side-by-side. All that is left after these massive rivers of ice melt away are these extremely narrow ridges that are thousands of feet high.

Yet another formation that is a classic sign of glaciation, are what is known as cirques. Cirques are basically huge “amphitheaters” created by incredibly large glaciers that scoured out the rock like a giant ice cream scoop. There are hundreds of these cirques found throughout the park, and many of them ended up being the home to the smaller alpine glaciers that came into the seen after the colossal Glacier National Park glaciers of the most recent ice age retreated.

Valley glaciers are known as “rivers of ice” because they actually flow like a river down the valley due to gravity. The endless cycle of melting and re-freezing occurs over and over again at the bottom of the glacier (known as the foot), and this action acts like a conveyer belt that piles this rock debris into what’s called a glacial moraine. These moraines resemble large gravel piles, and if you look closely you’ll see all sizes of rocks within these moraines… some rocks being the size of a house, others the size of a small pebble.

Today’s Alpine Glaciers of Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park glaciers of today are distant cousins of the great valley glaciers of the past ice ages. Known as “Alpine Glaciers”, these smaller glaciers formed approximately 7,000 years ago, where many of them appeared in the large cirques that were previous excavated during the last ice age. These small alpine glaciers developed in and around the 8,000 foot elevation mark, and are most commonly found hugging the north or east slopes of the cirques. The 8,000 foot elevation is where most of the snow accumulates in these cirques, and the north and/or east slopes receives the least amount of direct sunlight. Huge amounts of drifting snow due to the high winds of winter also seem to accumulate the most at the 8,000 foot level. Any higher in elevation, the snow is blown off the slopes due to these high winds, and also the rock walls are often too steep to hold snow once you get beyond about 8,300 feet.

These alpine glaciers act as “ice cream scoops” as they cut away the rock as they slowly slide downhill due to gravity. And through the endless cycle of melting and freezing at the foot of these glaciers, glacial moraines are found at the base of all of these glaciers. Some of the rock is ground so small that glacier silt is formed, which is known as “glacial flour”. This glacial silt ends up suspended in streams and lakes, which results in the amazing turquoise color of many of the lakes in Glacier National Park, such as Grinnell Lake and Cracker Lake.

As these glaciers melt during the warmer months each year, the water from this melting is extremely cold as it flows into the streams, rivers and lakes of Glacier National Park, making it very conducive to many forms of cold water aquatic life, such as the native bull trout.

The rock excavation from these small alpine glaciers are a small fraction of the tremendous excavation of the ice age glaciers. It’s like comparing a tiny Tonka toy truck to a giant bulldozer. There really is no comparison. But even though these alpine glaciers do little to shape the landscape, they are still part of an important process in the ecosystem of Glacier National Park.

The Future of Alpine Glaciers in Glacier National Park
The present day Glacier National Park Glaciers have been shrinking at least since the Civil War, and will more than likely keep shrinking until they are no longer considered to be true glaciers. According to the most recent research, Glacier National Park had 150 alpine glaciers in 1850, and now there are only 25 active glaciers. And what is meant by “active” is that the glacier is moving and cutting rock.

One thing that somewhat muddies the water is that the “definition of a glacier” has changed through the years. Presently, the USGS Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Program has established the definition of a glacier as a moving mass of snow, rock, ice and water that is at least 25 acres in size and 100 feet thick. This wasn’t the definition of glaciers in 1850, so there is a bit of a discrepancy occurring here. But the overall picture hasn’t changed and one that has been quite consistent, and that is the fact that these alpine glaciers have been shrinking since the Civil War in the mid 1800s, and are continuing to shrink in size as we speak.

An example of a glacier that has been demoted, even though its size had not changed, is Gem Glacier. Gem Glacier is located above the Grinnell Glacier in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park, and it rests on a huge vertical wall on a small shelf. Gem Glacier looks the same now as it does in the photos of the late 1800’s, but since it is not 25 acres in size (and never has been), Gem Glacier does not fit the modern definition of a glacier and was therefore demoted.

A great example of an “expired” glacier is the snow mass directly below Clements Mountain on Logan Pass. As you hike up the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook, you will see a giant glacial moraine directly to your right, which is located just below the east base of Clements Mountain. If you hike to the top of the moraine, you will see a giant snow field between the moraine and the base of the mountain. This was an active glacier until the 1930’s, when it stopped moving due to its shrinking size. It is now simply a large, permanent snow field.

Once a glacier is no longer heavy enough to be moved by gravity, it is no longer considered a glacier. It is then called a permanent snow field or permanent ice field. My wife Shannon and I climbed over 130 summits in Glacier National Park through the years, and we have explored nearly all of the backcountry regions of Glacier National Park. We’ve observed every location where the retired glaciers are found, and what is now mainly in their place are permanent snow and ice fields. Actually there are a few locations where the snow fields disappear completely by late September of each year, but re-appear during the late fall and winter as the snow begins to fall. These snow fields once again slowly melt into the streams, rivers and lakes until they disappear again in late September of the following year.

Seasonal Snowfall
Glacier National Park receives a TON of seasonal snowfall each autumn, winter and spring, and a fair amount of this snow really piles up in certain areas throughout the higher elevations…especially where there were once alpine glaciers. This creates massive snow fields that quite often survive until late September, if not all year long. That’s actually how all of the mountains of the Rockies operate. The Rockies receive a lot of snow during the fall, winter and spring, and this snow slowly melts through the 3 months of summer, feeding the streams, rivers and lakes with this water. This cycle of seasonal snow fall repeats itself year after year, and is mainly what feeds the streams, rivers and lakes of the Rocky Mountains.

Glacier National Park is a great place to observe the effects of colossal glaciation that occurred over ten thousand years ago during a series of ice ages, and is also a fantastic place to observe the ever-changing alpine glaciers that are found throughout the park. Glacier National Park glaciers are fascinating to see and to discover, and I highly recommend that you come to Glacier National Park to witness them first-hand… The landscape and the grandeur of this amazing place will help you’ll quickly understand why Glacier National Park is known as “The Crown of the Continent”.

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