Glacier National Park Mountains: Higher Than You Think!

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Glacier National Park Mountains: Higher Than You Think!
Glacier National Park has over 200 named peaks and countless un-named peaks, and are truly some of the most majestic mountains found anywhere in North America. And in addition to Glacier’s incredible peaks, Glacier National Park also has some of the tallest walls in North America, such as the North Face of Mount Siyeh and the North Face of Mount Cleveland which are both 4,000+ foot vertical walls. With this being said, it often shocks visitors to learn that the highest peak in Glacier National Park is “only” 10,479 feet above sea level. They are accustomed to thinking that peaks in the rockies need to be 12,000 to 14,000 feet to be considered “tall”.

Visitors are often amazed at the mountains of Glacier National Park because when they are looking at these towering peaks, or standing on their summits, these mountains seem to be absolutely gigantic and seem to nearly disappear into the sky.  But when they see that they only range between 8,500 and 10,500 feet in elevation, it puzzles them.  Well guess what everyone… the mountains of Glacier National Park are indeed gigantic, and it’s all because of their amazingly large “vertical expressions”, rather than their overall vertical elevation.

“Vertical Expression”
Vertical Expression is what truly makes the “height” of a mountain. This term describes the distance between the lowest point that surrounds the mountain (i.e.valleys), and the actual summit. Or put another way, its the distance between the perceived “base” of the mountain, and the very top of the mountain. And Glacier National Park is home to some of the most “vertical expressions” in North America, which is why they appear to be much, much taller than their actual elevation above sea level.

An example of an amazing vertical expression in Glacier National Park is Mount Stimson.  Mount Stimson is “only” 10,479 feet above sea level, but has a vertical expression of nearly 6,000 vertical feet in almost all directions surrounding the mountain. But even though Mount Stimson has this tremendous vertical expression, it’s only 10,479 feet high because the surrounding valleys are EXTREMELY LOW. The Nyack Creek surrounds much of this famous mountain, and is only 3,500 to 4,000 vertical feet in elevation. Therefore, the perception of Mount Stimson is that it’s HUGE, and rightly so. It is huge because of how high it towers over its surroundings, even though it’s overall elevation is 10,479 feet.

Another example which anyone driving on the Going To The Sun Road will definitely notice is the vertical expression of Cannon Mountain from the McDonald Valley. As the Going To The Sun Road winds along McDonald Creek just east of the Avalanche Campground and Trail of the Cedars, you can’t help but notice just how incredibly tall the north face of Cannon Mountain is as it seems to literally disappear into the heavens directly above the road. Seemingly straight up, the summit of Cannon Mountain is over 5,500 vertical feet above the Going To The Sun Road, which is only about 3,200 feet above sea level at that particular spot. It’s an amazing example of the incredible vertical expression that is found in Glacier National Park.

Low Starting Point
So the reason the mountains of Glacier National Park look so incredibly tall but only actually range between 8,000 feet and 10,479 feet in elevation is because they start so low. Their bases are only 3,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation, which is far below the average base of a typical peak in the rockies.

In comparison, the base of the Teton Mountain Range in Grand Teton National Park is about 7,000 feet, but it really doesn’t seem like it. The entire east base of the Tetons is quite flat and is sagebrush prairie land. You’d never think you were “high”, and yet this prairie is 400 feet higher than Logan Pass, which is the highest point along the famous Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park at 6,646 feet above sea level!

So the Teton Mountain Range starts at about 7,000 feet, whereas the mountains of Glacier National Park start between 3,000 to 4,000 feet. That’s why many of the mountains in Grand Teton National Park and Glacier Park seem to be equally impressive, and yet many of mountains of Grand Teton National Park are anywhere between 11,000 and 13,000+ feet in elevation, whereas the mountains of Glacier Park range between 8,000 and 10,400+ feet. They are both impressive because their vertical expressions are similar.

Another interesting example of the differences in the “starting point” of mountains is Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Lake, which appears to quite low in elevation, and you’d never think you were “high” as you stood on its shore, is 7,733 feet in elevation. This is over 1,000 vertical feet higher than Logan Pass, which as stated earlier is the highest point along the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier Park! So as you are standing on Logan Pass, thinking you’re on top of the world, you are 1,000 feet lower than standing on the shore of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

If You Could Move Glacier Park’s Mountains….
So if you could “move” the mountains of Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park, or to Grand Teton National Park, the overall elevations of Glacier Park’s mountains would be anywhere between 12,000 and 14,000+ feet high!

So this explains why the mountains of Glacier Park seem so gigantic. Vertical Expression is really what makes a mountain either look small or tall, and Glacier National Park has some of the most vertical expressions in North America. So remember, it’s not the overall elevation of a mountain that truly matters, what really counts is how much elevation there is between the base and the summit of the mountain. That’s what makes a mountain a mountain.

So when you’re standing on one of the countless summits in Glacier National Park, you are enjoying some of the most impressive vertical expressions on the continent…. so enjoy the view!!!

For “View From The Summits” of Glacier National Park, click here.

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Glacier National Park Hiking Tip: How To Safely Ford Streams

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Glacier National Park Hiking Tip: How To Safely Ford Streams
My wife Shannon and I have spent a lifetime exploring and hiking Glacier National Park, and having hiked all of the maintained Glacier National Park Trails, and many of the trails that are not maintained, as well as the countless Glacier Park “climber’s trails” that are only known to climbing enthusiasts and not found on any map. With all of this hiking and climbing, we’ve had our share of river and stream crossings. Through the years, we’ve gained some valuable knowledge on how to safely ford a mountain river or stream- mainly through trial and error, and we’d like to share what we’ve learned with you.

Even though the Glacier National Park trail crews (which are among the best trail crews in the world) have built countless foot bridges and suspension bridges along the 735+ miles of maintained trails, there are many Glacier National Park Hikes that still require hikers to ford a stream or river. One example of a classic ford in Glacier National Park is the trailhead to the Nyack / Coal Creek Loop, or to Harrison Lake. Both of these Glacier National Park Hikes require that you cross the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Now once you’re on the Nyack / Coal Creek Loop, there are also many stream fords throughout this entire 42 mile hike where the water is straight from glaciers, and are colder than you’ve ever imagined. These are just some examples of Glacier National Park Hikes that require that you ford a river or stream.

Number One Cause of Death In Glacier Park: Drowning
Fording a mountain stream in Glacier National Park can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are not familiar with “stream fording basics”. Drowning is the number one cause of death in Glacier National Park, so the following tips on stream fording may not only prove to be extremely helpful to you during your Glacier Park hiking adventure, but the following tips could actually save your life.

Narrower Is Not Better
Most of the best places to ford a stream or river in Glacier National Park is actually the WIDEST spot between the river banks rather than the most narrow spot along the river or stream. Narrow areas might be tempting to ford because the distance between the banks is less, therefore allowing you to spend less time in the cold water. But the problem with narrow areas, also known as “choke points”, is that there is an incredible amount of water flowing through these narrow areas. This means that you will be fighting a far swifter current with far more energy compared to a wide section of the river. Also, the depth of the water in these narrow “choke points” is usually deeper, which makes the fording process much more difficult and hazardous.

The most ideal place to cross a river or stream in Glacier National Park is typically a very wide section that is quite shallow. This is where there is the least amount of energy flowing down the river, making the crossing far more manageable and safer. Even though you’re be in the water longer, you’ll be in shallower water with far less current energy to contend with.

Trekking Poles
Trekking poles are a must while crossing a stream or river in Glacier National Park. They will help you maintain your balance as well as help keep your footing as you slowly and carefully walk across. We don’t go anywhere without our trekking poles, so we are never without them. If you don’t regularly hike with trekking poles, make sure you remember them before you attempt any of the Glacier National Park Hikes that require a stream crossing. Trekking poles will make your ford 10 times safer and 10 times less stressful.

River Sandals
Wearing the right footwear while crossing a river or stream during one of your Glacier National Park Hikes is also vitally important because you cannot afford to slip… not once. And we learned long ago that fording a river or stream with our hiking boots on is a really bad idea, that is unless you like hiking in wet feet the rest of the hike.

We prefer to be dry, which includes our feet, so what we like to wear are what we call “river sandals”. A “river sandal” is basically any sport sandal that has good tread on the soles, and has a stiff enough sole so the pebbles and rocks underneath the sandal don’t hurt your feet. And one of the most important features of “river sandals” is that they cannot slip off your feet during any situation. We wear Teva brand sandals with velcro straps and have for many years, but there are several good companies out there in the market that offer equally good products.

So we take off our boots, socks and pants and put on our sandals. We put our socks and pants inside our pack and tie our boots to the outside. If we know we have only one river or stream crossing, once we have forded the stream or river, we “hide” our sandals somewhere nearby where we forded the stream so we don’t have to carry these wet sandals the rest of the way. We hang them from a small tree and keep them out of sight from the trail. Then on our way back, our sandals are there waiting for us. We have yet to have a varmint or other animal chew on them before our return, but there is that possibility.

Cross In Your Underwear (Or Shorts)
My wife and I don’t hike with anyone else, so we are comfortable taking off our pants to cross a river or stream during our Glacier National Park Hikes. We also wear athletic underwear by Under Armor, so they basically look like biking shorts anyway, so if other hikers show up during our crossing, they won’t even notice that we are in our “underwear”. We stuff our pants and socks into our backpack, and tie our boots to the outside of the pack by their shoestrings. If you’d rather wear actual shorts while crossing, that’s fine too, other than it’s something extra to carry during your Glacier National Park hiking adventure.

Release Your Pack Straps
Before you attempt to cross a river or stream in Glacier National Park, make sure you release your backpack hip strap and chest strap. This is extremely important because if you don’t, and if your slip and fall into the current, then your backpack could potentially pull you under and you could drown. And don’t think that you can unstrap your pack as you are rolling down the river… things are happening too fast for you to be messing with straps. So please do not forget this important step!!!

And if you do end up slipping and rolling down a river, it’s better to lose the backpack than lose your life! So don’t risk it if you get into trouble.

River Depth
We refuse to cross a river that is deeper than just below our waist. We prefer fording rivers and streams where the water depth is just above the knee. We’ve crossed rivers that were waist deep, and it wasn’t easy. There was so much energy and force working against us that if we would have slipped, we would have been in deep trouble, or at the least we would have lost our backpacks. Plus, the water temperature was so cold that our thighs and hamstrings were beginning to stop functioning, and it became very difficult to move our legs at the tail end of the ford. So obviously, the shallower the crossing, the better!

Watch Out For “Strainers”
A “strainer” is a stationary pile of trees, branches and other debris that are jammed together on the surface of the river or stream, where the water is continuing to flow underneath it. Strainers are commonly found on the up-river end of an island, or where the river bends sharply. If you get swept underneath one of these strainers, you have a really high likelihood of drowning because once you’re underneath a strainer, it’s almost impossible to get out of it.

So when you are choosing a place to ford a river or stream during one of your Glacier National Park Hikes, look downstream and make sure there is not a strainer waiting there for you. If there is, find another place to cross.

Constant Change
The rivers and streams of Glacier National Park are constantly changing, even on a daily and hourly basis. One brief thunderstorm can change the depth of a river or stream dramatically, so keep this in mind as you are enjoying one of the many Glacier Park Hikes that involve fording a river. We’ve had this happen to us where the morning ford was super easy, and when we came back that evening, the stream had rose nearly 2 feet. The crossing was far more risky and difficult, and if the stream had raised any more before we got there, we would not have been able to cross. So pay attention to the weather, and keep in mind that if it’s raining, your river or stream is rising.

Snow and glacial melt also change the depth of a river or stream dramatically, especially during early summer. During the morning, there is less snow and ice melting, therefore the streams and rivers will be lower. But if it’s a warm or hot day and there is plenty of snow in the upper elevations, then by later afternoon that simple, gentle river you crossed in the morning might instead be a raging torrent by the time you need to cross it again on the way back. So keep in mind that Glacier National Park rivers and streams are constantly changing, even on a daily basis.

Don’t Rock Hop
Rock hopping across smaller streams can really end up ruining what was a great day. One slip on a rock, and you could either take out a knee, sprain or break an ankle, break an arm, or a number of other undesirable outcomes. Now “rock hopping” is different than stepping from rock to rock with the help of trekking poles. Rock hopping literally involves “leaping” from rock to rock. That’s where trouble can happen. Again, one slip on a wet rock (or wet soles), and you could really hurt yourself. So if you end up where you think you might get across a small stream by jumping from rock to rock, you are far better off taking the time to take off your boots, socks and pants, and walk across this small stream, even if you’re in bare feet.

Stay Calm, Don’t Hurry
One thing that you can’t help but notice while crossing rivers and large streams is that the water is really, really, really cold. In fact, some of the glacier fed streams, such as Nyack Creek, are so cold that by the time you’re close to the other side, your legs and feet will hurt so bad from the cold water that you don’t know how much more pain you can stand. When this happens, one tends to want to hurry to get out of this painful situation. This is the last thing you want to do because that’s when you’re most likely going to slip. So no matter how much it hurts, try to shut it out of your mind and keep walking very slowly, taking care with each step until you’ve made it safely to the other side.

Ask A Ranger
And before you hike any of the countless Glacier National Park Trails, and you’re not sure if it involves a river or stream ford, make sure you ask a ranger at one of the visitor centers or ranger stations. They will tell you if there are any stream fording required, and where the best places to ford these streams are located. For some of the most notorious crossings, such as on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River at the Nyack Trailhead, they will provide a map for you to take with you that shows you exactly where to cross.

Fording Rivers and Streams is one of those necessary evils on a fair number of Glacier National Park Hikes, and by following our advice that we’ve just shared with you, your fording experiences will be far less eventful, and far safer.

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Glacier Park Hikes: Dawson Pass-Pitamakan Pass Loop

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One of our Favorite Day Hikes in Glacier National Park is the Dawson Pitamakan Trail Loop. This amazing 17 mile Glacier Park hike provides astounding scenery that will absolutely take your breath away. And interestingly, of the 800+ miles of hiking trails in Glacier Park, the Dawson Pitamakan Trail Loop is one of the only true loops in Glacier National Park.

Located in the Two Medicine Area of Glacier Park, the trail head is located at the Two Medicine Campground. We strongly feel that the best way to tackle this hike is to first take the North Shore Trail toward Dawson Pass. This clockwise direction is best because the lighting will be in your favor the entire day, which means far better photos. Also, the North Shore Trail is basically flat for over 3 miles, and then you’ll abruptly climb up to Dawson Pass (2,000 vertical feet in just over 2 miles), and then the rest of the day you’re either enjoying a nearly level hike, or a gradual downhill descent. The other way is uphill for far longer. Our philosophy is to get the uphill stuff over with as soon as possible so the majority of the day is a “piece of cake” This makes for a far more enjoyable hiking experience.

On the Dawson Pass – Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop in Glacier Park, you will cross three passes: Dawson Pass, Cut Bank Pass and Pitamakan Pass. Between Dawson Pass and Cut Bank Pass, the trail is literally on top of the Continental Divide as it works its way northward. The views from this section of the trail is so beautiful it is nearly impossible to describe. The vastness of this country is awe-inspiring as you look thousands of feet below you into the Nyack Creek Area. And the mountains that shoot up from the other side of this deep, wide valley are majestic beyond description. Giants like Mount Phillips and Mount Stimson (one of the tallest peaks in Glacier National Park) dominate the western skyline. This is truly one of the most amazing Glacier Park hikes you’ll ever encounter.

Just before you reach Cut Bank Pass, you’ll reach the highest point of your hike along the Dawson Pitamakan Loop, which is called the Pitamakan Overlook (8,099 feet). This narrow ridge of rock takes you to a vantage point that cannot be put into words, and is one of our favorite spots on this wonderful Glacier Park hiking trail.

Once you reach Cut Bank Pass, which is only about a half a mile from Pitamakan Overlook, the rest of the trail is all downhill. The views from Cut Bank Pass are incredibly impressive, and the view remains equally impressive all the way down to Pitamakan Pass, and then onto to Old Man Lake. Once you refill your water bottles with your water filter/pump and have a quick snack along the shore of this amazing alpine lake, you will then gradually descend down the trail for 5.5 miles until you reach the Two Medicine Campground once again.

For all the details on this amazing hike, check out our page on the Dawson Pass – Pitamakan Pass Loop. This helpful page walks you through every section of the trail, and it also gives you some helpful tips to make this Glacier Park hike even more enjoyable. The Dawson Pitamakan Trail Loop is without question one of the premiere hikes in Glacier National Park, and if you’re in good shape, we highly recommend that you take it, and bring plenty of memory cards for your camera because you’ll need them!

For all the details click this link:
DawsonPass – Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop

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Glacier Park Hiking Tip: Early Morning Dew

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A fair number of Glacier National Park Hikes have sections of waste-high (or higher) leafy vegetation on each side of the trail that are quite often soaking wet early in the morning because of the dew. Your pants, socks and hiking boots will be completely soaked within a matter of minutes. We call these sections of Glacier Park Trails “car washes”, and you will be just as wet as if you jumped into a lake. Wet socks and boots are not a good thing because it can create blisters during a long day of hiking in Glacier National Park, and it’s just simply uncomfortable no matter how you look at it.

To avoid getting soaking wet during early morning Glacier Park Hikes through “car washes”, we have learned through the years to wear our lightweight rain pants over our hiking pants until the trail dries up. We also wear knee-high Gore-Tex gaiters underneath our rain pants to further keep the water from draining into our boots. Obviously, none of this will help unless you are wearing waterproof hiking boots (Gore-Tex or equivalent). We have hiked through some of the worst waste-high “car washes” we’ve ever seen that lasted for 6 to 7 miles, and have kept our socks and boots completely dry with this combination.

As the day warms up and the dew leaves the vegetation, simply remove the gaiters and rain pants, and continue on your Glacier Park hike.

To summarize, here’s what you’ll need to stay dry while hiking in Glacier National Park through a “car wash” early in the morning:

1. Waterproof hiking boots (Gore-Tex or equivalent)
2. Knee high waterproof gaiters (Gore-Tex or equivalent)
3. Lightweight waterproof rain pants (Gore-Tex or equivalent) for over your hiking pants

Once you’ve been through a really good “car wash” and you’ve hiked the rest of the day in soaking wet boots and socks, we can assure you that you will understand the need for this apparel.   Glacier National Park provides some of the best hiking experiences in North America, and by knowing how to handle the “morning dew”, you will enjoy these world-class hikes even more.

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Glacier Park Hikes: Hidden Lake Overlook

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One of the most popular Hikes in Glacier National Park is the hike to Hidden Lake Overlook along the Hidden Lake Trail. The views along this short hike are spectacular the entire way, and it very well may be the most scenic 1.5 miles (one way) you’ll ever experience. Taking this famous day hike is one of Top Things To Do in Glacier Park, and Shannon and I definitely feel it’s a “must do” during your Glacier National Park vacation.

The trail head to the Hidden Lake Trail is located just behind the Visitor Center at Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road, and the first half of the trail is mainly a board walk designed to protect the sensitive vegetation found in this area. The distance to the Hidden Lake Overlook is only 1.5 miles and the elevation gain is 460 vertical feet. If you’re in reasonably good physical condition, you should have no problems hiking to the overlook and back. Because it’s such a short Glacier Park hike, you can take your time and rest whenever you need to.

Up through the end of July, the Hidden Lake Trail is usually partially (or completely) covered in snow, which visitors really seem to enjoy. Park rangers carefully mark the trail so you will easily know where to walk. We highly recommend that you wear shoes or hiking boots with good tread on their soles, and do not wear sandals or flip flops. (Yes, we’ve seen a lot that on the trail!)

All along the Hidden Lake Trail you will enjoy breathtaking scenery in all directions, such as the towering matterhorns of Clements Mountain and Reynolds Mountain. And if your timing is good, you may see the entire landscape covered in wild flowers! Once you get to the Hidden Lake Overlook, the view suddenly changes into a breath-taking panorama of the Hidden Lake Area, with Bearhat Mountain dominating the landscape as you gaze down upon Hidden Lake 500 vertical feet below you.

The Hidden Lake Trail continues on to the shore of Hidden Lake, but remember, the 500 vertical feet you lose getting to the lake, you must then hike back up 500 vertical feet to get back to more level ground.

The Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park is a great place to have lunch, all the while taking in some of the most awe-inspiring landscape found in North America. And in addition to the incredible scenery, you will more than likely see plenty of mountain goats during your Hidden Lake Trail hike, especially right at the overlook.

The bottom line is this:  The hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook is definitely one of those iconic Hikes in Glacier National Park that we highly recommend.  So while you’re vacationing in Glacier Park, make sure you head to Logan Pass and enjoy this famous Glacier Park hike. We can assure you that you and your family will be glad you did.

For more information on the hike to Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park, please click here:

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Hiking Tip: Choosing the Proper Hiking Boots for Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park, and Grand Teton Park

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Choosing the Proper Hiking Boots
While hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park, or hiking in Grand Teton National Park, wearing the right boots can make or break your hiking experience.  After over 40 years of hiking these parks, and averaging over 1,400 miles of trails each summer for the past 7 years, we have a pretty good idea what type of hiking boots you might need.  Now as far as brands, we are going to stay out of that discussion. We have our preferences, and others have theirs.

A Reasonably Firm Sole
For a general purpose, all around hiking boot, we strongly recommend that you stay away from the really soft soles that have no firmness to them.  Lately we have noticed that the trend is for manufacturers to simply take their running shoes and extending the top for ankle support, and are calling this a hiking boot. These “hiking” boots feel incredibly comfortable in the store, and they are amazingly light weight. You’ll probably say out loud that these boots are the most comfortable boots you’ve ever worn, and you’ll probably fall in love with them… That is until you actually begin hiking with them. The problem lies in the fact that they provide no support as you are hiking over rough terrain, and this really can create a problem for your feet during your Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes or Grand Teton Hikes.

When hiking over rough terrain, you do not want the sole to bend and flex with every contour of the ground surface. This creates incredible fatigue and discomfort, and you’re feet will begin to really tire out and ache. Instead, you want the sole of your boot to be at least reasonably firm (stiff) to keep your feet from flexing and bending with every contour of the ground surface. This keeps your feet comfortable and keeps them from fatiguing so quickly and getting sore.

Another reason you want a fairly firm sole on your hiking boot is the fact that as you climb up a steep hill, the sole of your boot will remain fairly flat, instead of bending like a running shoe would. This really keeps not only your feet but your calf muscles from working over-time and fatiguing. A firm boot reduces the amount of muscle-work your feet and legs are required to do by allowing the boots to do much of the work for you.

Ankle Support
This trend right now by many hiking boot manufacturers of simply extending their cross-training hiking shoes into a boot, also leaves these boots with inadequate ankle support.  So besides having a sole that is not stiff enough, the ankle support on these “boots” are also quite insufficient in many cases.  The last thing a hiker needs is a sprained ankle.

Water Proof
We’ve heard over and over by hikers that Gore Tex boots are “too hot” and their feet sweat too much in them. Well, we’ve tried just about everything, including non-water proof hiking boots, and we always come back to Gore Tex lined boots. We really don’t notice the difference in the “temperature” of our boots, and the fact that our feet will stay relatively dry in about 80 percent of the situations we come across while hiking makes any “temperature” difference well worth putting up with.

There’s nothing more annoying than wet feet while trying to enjoy your Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes. And as you know, there is always that one little part of the trail that has slushy wet snow on it, or there is a tiny little shallow stream you have to cross, or there are large mud puddles in the middle of the trail after a rain storm, or you have to cross a snow field, or the vegetation is soaking wet with morning dew…. all of these situations will leave your feet soaked to the bone. Gore Tex, or its equivalent, 99 percent of the time will keep your feet dry during these brief instances. Of the tens of thousands of miles we’ve hiked, we rarely got wet feet during typical hiking situations because we chose to wear water proof hiking boots.

Now of course if you’re in a stream too long, or you’re in a massive rain storm, or you hike long enough in wet slushy snow, your boots and feet will eventually get wet. What we’re talking about is the brief encounters with water along the trail… That’s when a water proof boot really pays off.

Now when we say Gore Tex, we mean any of the proven materials that are breathable and water proof. Gore Tex is the original “miracle material” that changed the world, but there are several other materials on the market that also perform quite nicely.

Change the Insole
The first thing you should do after you purchase your new hiking boots is throw away the manufacturer’s insoles, and shop for a more cushioned insole that fits the contour of your feet. Most outdoor stores carry a variety of insoles, so take your time and find the one that works for you….. and don’t get an insole with a lot of arch support if you don’t have a high arch. This will make your feet extremely uncomfortable. Remember, not everyone has an arch!

The Less Seams the Better
We prefer our boots to be made of leather with the least amount of seams possible. We have found these “seamless” boots to last far longer and remain water proof longer than boots that are put together with a bunch of different pieces with stitching every where you look. We’ve also found leather to hold up better than fabrics while hiking off trail in really rough terrain and scree slopes with a lot of loose rocks.

We hope this article proves to be useful to you. Your hiking boots can make or break your hike, and by choosing the proper hiking boot, your hiking experience will be much more enjoyable. So as you embark on your hikes in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park, remember that comfortable, dry feet makes for a happy hiker!

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Is It a Grizzly Bear or a Black Bear? Hiking in Glacier Park, Hiking in Yellowstone Park, Hiking in Grand Teton National Park

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Is It a Grizzly Bear or a Black Bear?
While enjoying your Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, understanding the difference in appearance between a grizzly bear and a black bear is very important.  Both types of bears can be dangerous, but statistically it seems that grizzly bears tend to present more of a potential problem more frequently on a hiking trail than a black bear.  With this being said however, even though there are more recorded “attacks” by grizzly bears, it has been determined that if a black bear indeed decides to attack, the likelihood of the hiker not surviving this attack is greater than if it were a grizzly bear.  Therefore, having great respect for both species of bears is critical while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park, and hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

Color is Never An Indication!
A fair amount of Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park visitors think that a brown or tan colored bear is always a grizzly bear, and a black colored bear is always a black bear.  This is absolutely not the case.  Black bears can be blonde, tan, brown, cinnamon, fudge, black, or a combination of these colors. Grizzly bears can also be blonde, tan, brown, cinnamon, fudge, black, or a combination of these colors. Grizzlies generally are tannish-brown in color with silvery tips at the end of each hair that glisten in the sun, but this is just a generalization… we’ve seen reddish colored grizzlies, black grizzlies, blonde grizzlies brown grizzlies, cinnamon grizzlies, and combinations of all these different colors.  The bottom line is this:  The color of a bear means NOTHING when trying to determine if it’s a grizzly bear or a black bear.

What About Size?
Grizzly bears are generally larger than black bears.  However, many large adult male black bear are larger than two-year-old grizzlies (known as sub-adults) who just got “thrown out of the nest” by their mother.  So obviously, the age of the bear has a lot to do with the size of the bear.  And if you’re out hiking on a trail, and you’ve never seen a bear in the wild, every bear, no matter how small or young, will look gigantic to you.

For example, we were hiking along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in Glacier National Park a few summers ago, and a gentleman came running down the trail screaming that a monstrous 1,000 pound grizzly bear was coming, and we should run for our lives.  As this terrified hiker ran past us, we paused and looked up the trail.  Not seeing anything, we had our bear spray ready to go and simply kept hiking.  A few hundred yards further up the trail, we saw this “1,000 pound grizzly”, eating berries about 20 yards off the trail.  This bear was actually a two year old black bear that was tan in color, and weighed only 80 pounds at the very most.  Again, if you’ve never seen a bear in the wild, your first bear will look HUGE, so “size” will not help you determine if it’s a black bear or a grizzly bear.

The Hump
The large hump on a grizzly bear’s shoulders is a very good defining characteristic.  Back in the day, grizzly bears used to live on the prairie, and their primary way of obtaining food was by digging.  This large hump on its shoulder is actually a huge muscle that helps the grizzly dig.

Black bear do not have this large hump above their shoulders.  However, they do indeed have shoulders!  Occasionally we’ll hear hikers mention the hump on a black bear that we’re all watching along the trail, thinking it’s a grizzly bear.  What they were seeing was the black bear’s shoulders.  The “hump” on a grizzly is far more prominent and obvious than a black bear’s shoulders.  So when you see a bear that has a large hump above his/her shoulders that is very pronounced, it’s a grizzly bear.

Black bear tend to have “dog-like” ears, that are longer and more pointed than a grizzly bear.  Grizzly bears have short, round ears, and are smaller in proportion to the rest of the grizzly bear’s head.  The ears of a black bear are larger in proportion to the rest of the black bear’s head.  So if you see small round ears on a bear, you’re probably looking at a grizzly bear.

Facial Profile
Grizzly bears have a dish-shaped forehead, which creates a prominent forehead profile that angles sharply downward to the base of the nose.  The nose will then project nearly 90 degrees (horizontal) from the downward slope of the forehead.  A black bear’s facial profile is more of a straight line all the way from the top of its head to the tip of it’s nose.  There is no prominent forehead distinction with a black bear.  So if you see a bear with a prominent forehead that sweeps steeply down to the base of the nose, it’s more than likely a grizzly bear.

Claw Length
Grizzly bears have extremely long claws that are usually light in color, sometimes even white.  Again, grizzlies were originally prairie animals, and they used these long claws along with their extremely strong shoulder muscles (the hump) to dig for food.  Grizzly bears still do a lot of digging for food, and frequently use these digging “tools” while digging for food.  The length of a grizzly bear’s claws will vary, but can be anywhere from 3 to 5 inches in length, sometimes even longer.  If you can see the grizzly bear’s paws, you will definitely see the claws protruding from them.

Black bear on the other hand have rather short claws, and are quite dark in color.  They are so short that you can usually barely see them protrude from the black bears’ paws.  The length of a black bear’s claws are anywhere from 1 to at the most 3 inches, and are not nearly as visible as a grizzly bear’s claws.

But when looking at a bear’s claws, think about what a park ranger once told us…. If you’re close enough to a bear to notice its claws, you’re way to close!!!

Once you’ve determined that the bear you’re looking at along the trail during one or more of your Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes, or Grand Teton Hikes, then what?  Well, that information will be covered in detail in a future article.  But the three most important things you can do to avoid a problem with a bear while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park, or hiking in Grand Teton Park, are as follows:

The larger your hiking party, the less likelihood of a problem.  At least hike with one other person, but preferably two.  By the way, there has never been a day-time grizzly bear attack in the national parks on a party of four or more people.

Nearly all bear attacks on hiking trails occur because the hiker or hikers surprised the bear.  By talking loud along the trail, this tells the bear you are in the area.  This dramatically decreases the chances of surprising the bear, and consequently dramatically reduces the chances of an encounter.  By the way, “bear bells” have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to NOT work, and they actually can create curiosity, which is not a good thing.  So leave the bear bells at home.  The HUMAN VOICE as been proven to be the most effective way of letting a bear know that you are in the area, so as not to surprise it.

By talking loud along the trail, you will not only dramatically decrease the chance of a bear attack, but you will also dramatically decrease the chances of even seeing a bear.  This is because when a bear knows in advance that a human is coming, the bear will usually get out of the way to avoid being seen…. so you may never even know there was a bear in the area.

Personally, when we are enjoying the many Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, our goal is to actually NOT see a bear on the trail by talking loud the entire way.  And by the way, it usually works… but because we hike over 1,300 miles each year in grizzly country, we definitely see our share of bears in the back country… but most of the time they know we’re coming and are not surprised by our presence because we talk loud.

Every hiker in your party needs to carry their own bear spray, and every hiker in your party needs to know how to use it.  A future article will show you exactly how to properly use your bear spray in the event that a serious problem develops with a bear along the trail.

To wrap up this article, when you are enjoying Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes, or Grand Teton Hikes, or anywhere there are grizzly bears around, it is important for you to be able to identify whether the bear is a grizzly bear or a black bear.  The hump, sharply dished forehead, long claws and small, round ears are the main characteristics of a grizzly bear.  The above information should help you make this determination in the field.  What to do next will be covered in a future article, but the three most important things to do while hiking in grizzly country to AVOID a problem is to never hike alone, always talk loud, and always carry bear spray and know how to use it.

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Glacier Park Trails: June Hiking

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We receive many emails from Glacier Park visitors wanting advice on hiking Glacier National Park Trails during the month of June- specifically asking about the amount of snow on these Glacier Park Trails.  Visitors are always hopeful that this would be a great month due to the beauty of spring and because there will likely be less visitors during this time.  Our response to their question is probably not what they want to hear….

We have found that most of the Trails in Glacier Park are usually still covered in snow, and nearly every trail that involves a mountain pass is usually not passable unless the hiker is extremely experienced in snow and ice hiking and is an expert in self-arrest using a mountain axe.   Crossing snow fields in Glacier National Park can be extremely dangerous and can result in serious injuries or death.

The other problem is route finding.  Since most of the Glacier Park Trails are still covered in snow, finding the actual trail can be extremely difficult, and if you are not very familiar with the particular Glacier Park trail that you are considering, you will more than likely lose the trail.  This can quickly result in an extremely dangerous situation.

Of course every year is different because it depends on just how much snow falls during the winter and early spring, but we have found that usually most of the higher Glacier National Park Trails that involve a mountain pass are still very much covered in snow and we believe are too dangerous for the average hiker to travel on.  A classic example of one of the typical higher elevation Glacier Park Hikes is the Highline Trail.  Two years ago this popular trail did not open until mid August, and last year it was early August before this trail was open- all because of the snow hazards that remained on this extremely popular trail.

That’s a hard question to answer because it all depends on how much snow fell on Glacier National Park during the winter and early spring season.  From our experience, if it’s a typical snow year, by mid July a fair amount of higher elevation trails are open and safe.  But again we want to stress that it all depends on the year.  We strongly recommend that before you get on any of the Glacier National Park Trails during the months of June and July, ask a ranger at one of the many ranger stations or the St. Mary Visitor Center, Logan Pass Visitor Center or Apgar Visitor Center.

What’s deceiving is there may not be much snow throughout the lower elevations, so it might appear to the unsuspecting visitor that it’s likely most of the Glacier Park Trails are clear and ready to go. They don’t realize what 1,500 feet in elevation can do to the snow levels.  Therefore, your particular Glacier Park trail will be completely snow-free initially, but once this trail begins to gain in vertical elevation, snow begins to become an issue, and quite often the hiker will run into a snow hazard that is simply not safe to pass through.

The bottom line is Glacier National Park receives so much snow each winter and early spring that many of the Glacier Park Trails are still covered in snow all the way through June and into early to mid July.  This is especially true for those Glacier National Park Hikes that involve a mountain pass such as Siyeh Pass Trail, Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, the Highline Trail, etc., or other high elevation trails such as Ptarmigan Tunnel and Grinnell Glacier Trail.

Therefore, if you are an avid hiker and are wanting to enjoy Glacier National Park Trails at their best, you may want to consider planning your vacation no earlier in the season than mid July or later, just to be safe.  If you are interested in the many overnight backpacking Hikes in Glacier National Park, especially in the Northern Wilderness (Boulder Pass Trail, Fifty Mountain, etc.), you may want to consider scheduling your trip during the month of August to play it safe, and even early August may still have several high elevation snow hazards that are still not passable.  Mid August is the safest time to enjoy Glacier Park Multi-Day Hikes.

We hope you find this information to be useful to you.

For details on all the Glacier Park Hikes, click here.

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