All posts by David Biegel

Top Ten Things To Do In Yellowstone Park

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Top Ten Things To Do In Yellowstone Park
Yellowstone National Park is HUGE, and for first time visitors to this amazing national park, it can be a bit over whelming when trying to figure out where to go and what to see. To help with this seemingly impossible task, we have listed below what we feel are the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“. We’ve spent over 40 years exploring and discovering Yellowstone Park, and we’ve learned not only through our own personal experience, but also through talking with thousands of visitors throughout the years, what the “must sees” are for Yellowstone National Park visitors.

Yellowstone Park Road System: The Grand Loop
Before I start with the actual list, I want to briefly explain how the road system works in Yellowstone National Park. There are five entrances to Yellowstone Park: the West Entrance at West Yellowstone Montana, the North Entrance at Gardiner Montana, the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City and Silver Gate Montana, the East Entrance near Cody Wyoming, and the South Entrance located between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

All of these Yellowstone Park entrances connect to what is known as “The Grand Loop”, which is the road system that runs throughout Yellowstone Park. The Grand Loop is basically round, with a connecting road from Norris Junction to Canyon that cuts half way through the middle of the loop from west to east.

“The Grand Loop” essentially takes you to all of the main attractions in Yellowstone Park, and was a brilliant design created over one hundred years ago. In our opinion, they couldn’t have designed it better…. it’s truly a perfect road system for visitors to explore Yellowstone Park.

Our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park” are all found along The Grand Loop. To make things organized and simple, we will list these “must sees” in the order they are found along The Grand Loop starting at the North Entrance, and going clockwise around the loop….

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is located just about 5 miles south of the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park. This iconic area is not only famous for the amazing Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, but it is also a wonderful place to observe wildlife, such as elk, grizzly bears, black bears, big horn sheep, buffalo, wolves and much more. In fact, often times you’ll see a large elk herd laying on the lawn in the center of town.

In addition to the amazing hot springs terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs is also home to the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, a visitor center, restaurant, post office, general store, gift store, gas station, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, which is the only campground in Yellowstone National Park that is open all year round. In addition to all of this, Mammoth Hot Springs is also the official Yellowstone National Park headquarters.

For details on Mammoth Hot Springs, click here.

Tower Fall / Roosevelt Area
Located about 18 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs at Tower Junction, the Tower Fall / Roosevelt Area was President Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite area in the entire park. This special place is located in the heart of what is called the “northern desert”. It’s called a “desert” because this area receives the least amount of snow and rainfall in Yellowstone Park. The terrain is vast yet quite mountainous, and is covered in a mix of Douglas fir trees, junipers, cedars, and ancient sage brush.

Located at the Roosevelt Area is the historic Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, as well as stage coaches that take visitors on a fun stage coach ride and an authentic cowboy cookout. There is also guided horseback rides available. So if you’re looking for that feeling of the “Old West”, and if you want to explore the “cowboy” in you while visiting Yellowstone Park, then the Roosevelt Area is the place for you.

Just up the road from the Roosevelt Lodge is Tower Fall, which is a gorgeous waterfall that is well worth the effort to see. Near Tower Fall is a restaurant and a really nice gift shop, as well as the popular Tower Fall Campground. The road between Roosevelt Lodge (at Tower Junction) and Tower Fall is extremely scenic, as it looks down upon the might Yellowstone River in a deep canyon.

There is usually plenty of wildlife in the Roosevelt / Tower Fall Area as well, including black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, moose, deer and big horn sheep, just to name a few.

Tower Junction is also the “Gateway to the Lamar Valley”, which is a famous stretch of road between Tower Junction and the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone Park near Silver Gate and Cooke City Montana. Because this road is not actually part of The Grand Loop, the Lamar Valley is not officially on our list of the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, but it should be, so we’re going to talk about here anyway….

For details on the Roosevelt / Tower Fall Area, click here.

Lamar Valley
Located between the Roosevelt / Tower Fall Area and the Northeast Entrance near Silver Gate and Cooke City Montana, lies the world famous Lamar Valley. The Lamar Valley has been called “America’s Serengeti” because of the amazing abundance and variety of wildlife found in this incredible river valley. Buffalo, elk, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, pronghorns, big horn sheep, river otters, bald eagles, moose and much more call all be found in the Lamar Valley, so anyone who enjoys viewing wildlife should plan on spending some time in this famous valley. Again, since the Lamar Valley is not directly located on The Grand Loop, it’s not officially on our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, but it very well should be, so we always include it when talking about our favorite Yellowstone Park “must sees”.

For details on the Lamar Valley, click here.

Mount Washburn / Dunraven Pass Area
About 11 miles south of the Roosevelt / Tower Fall area, along The Grand Loop, is the Mount Washburn / Dunraven Pass Area. Another one of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, Mount Washburn is located between Tower Fall and Canyon Area. Dunraven Pass, which rests on the southwestern flank of Mount Washburn, is the highest point along The Grand Loop.

As this winding road works its way higher and higher up the slopes of Mount Washburn, you’ll find a trailhead that takes you up to the Mount Washburn Lookout. From the observation deck of this lookout tower, you can practically see all of Yellowstone National Park. So if you like to hike and like amazing views, you should definitely take this scenic hike up to the Mount Washburn Lookout… and by the way, there is a good chance that you’ll see bighorn sheep along this amazing trail.

For details on the Mount Washburn / Dunraven Pass Area, click here.

Canyon Area
Approximately 8 miles south of Mount Washburn along the Grand Loop is another of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, and that is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Located in the Canyon Area, this breathtaking canyon is one of the top highlights of Yellowstone National Park. Paved roads will take you along the north and south rims of this world famous canyon, and along these roads are incredible pullouts, overlooks and trails. One of the most world-renowned overlook is Artist Point, which is probably only second to Old Faithful Geyser as the most photographed spot in Yellowstone Park.

Lower Falls, a thundering waterfall that is 308 feet tall, pours millions of gallons of the Yellowstone River each day at the head of the canyon, and is without question one of the most iconic, classic and recognized views of Yellowstone National Park… In fact, probably equal to Old Faithful Geyser erupting. There is a hiking trail that actually takes you to the brink of these magnificent falls.

The Canyon Area of Yellowstone National Park is also home to a motel, lodge and cabins, as well as a campground, cafeteria, restaurant, gift store, grocery store and visitor center.

For details on the Canyon Area, click here.

Hayden Valley
The amazing Hayden Valley of Yellowstone Park is found just south of Canyon, and just like the Lamar Valley, it is known for its incredible variety and abundance of wildlife. Through the heart of Hayden Valley flows the meandering Yellowstone River as it leaves Yellowstone Lake and works its way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This wide valley is extremely scenic, and you’ll be quite amazed at the wildlife viewing opportunities found in this awe-inspiring valley.

For more details on the Hayden Valley, click here.

Lake Area
The Lake Area of Yellowstone National Park is another top highlight of Yellowstone National Park, and is definitely among our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“. The Lake Area includes Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Bridge Bay Campground and Marina. Located just south of Hayden Valley along The Grand Loop, all of the just mentioned attractions in the Lake Area are “must sees”, and well worth your time to explore and enjoy.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high altitude lake in North America, and it’s HUGE! And the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel rests along its northern shore. This charming hotel captures the 1920’s era of Yellowstone Park, and is something you just have to see…. it’s wonderful!

Fishing Bridge is just east of Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and it crosses the Yellowstone River just after it leaves Yellowstone Lake. This historic bridge is an iconic symbol of Yellowstone National Park, and is a definite “must see” during your Yellowstone Park vacation.

Bridge Bay is a gorgeous bay located just a few miles west of Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and just next to this top-notch marina is the popular Bridge Bay Campground.

For details on the Lake Area, click here.

West Thumb Geyser Basin
Located west of the Lake Area along The Grand Loop, is the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The drive along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake from the Lake Yellowstone Hotel all the way to the West Thumb Geyser Basin is a treat all by itself. The West Thumb Geyser Basin is home to several beautiful geyser pools, and there are even geysers located on the floor of Yellowstone Lake near the shore. The board walk takes you along this fascinating shoreline, and you’ll see the famous Fishing Cone Geyser, where in the old days, fishermen and women would stand along the side of the cone, catch a trout with their fishing pole, and plop the trout into the cone. The boiling water would cook the fish while it was still on the hook!!!

For details on the West Thumb Geyser Basin, click here.

Old Faithful Area
What can we say about the Old Faithful Geyser Area? It is without question the most famous place in Yellowstone Park, and probably the most visited. Located along the Grand Loop between the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Madison Junction, the Old Faithful Area is home to the world-renowned Old Faithful Geyser and Old Faithful Inn. Also in the area is a new visitor center, as well as the Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, restaurants, gift shops, and much more. Just beyond the front door of the historic Old Faithful Inn is the incredible Upper Geyser Basin, where boardwalks will take you to an amazing array of geysers such as Morning Glory Pool, Castle Geyser, The Grotto Geyser and Grand Geyser just to name of few. The Old Faithful Area is at the very top of the list of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“.

For details on the Old Faithful Area, click here.

“Geyser Row”
“Geyser Row” is located just north of the Old Faithful Area along The Grand Loop, and is home to several world famous geyser basins such as Black Sand Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, Midway Geyser Basin and Lower Geyser Basin. Nestled next to the Firehole River, ALL of these incredible geyser basins are “must sees” while vacationing in Yellowstone National Park. Iconic geysers such as Grand Prismatic Spring, Emerald Pool, Sapphire Pool and Excelsior Geyser Crater are just a few of the famous and wondrous geysers located at “Geyser Row“.

For details on “Geyser Row”, click here.

Madison Junction Area
Found along The Grand Loop about 8 miles north of “Geyser Row” is the Madison Junction Area. As one of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park”, the Madison Junction Area is home to what is known as “America’s Campground”. I might be a little partial because the Madison Campground is where my family would spend several weeks every summer throughout my entire childhood, but I believe it just might be one of the most beloved campgrounds in the country. Nestled next to the legendary Madison River, the Madison Campground is definitely one of the most popular in Yellowstone National Park.

And just about a mile south of Madison Junction, along The Grand Loop, is the fascinating Firehole Canyon Drive. This drive is not only scenic, but is also where a really fun swimming area is located on the Firehole River.

And just west of Madison Junction, between Madison Junction and West Yellowstone Montana, is the awe-inspiring Madison Canyon, which is not part of The Grand Loop but is well worth the 14 mile trip into West Yellowstone if you have time for it.

For details on the Madison Junction Area, click here.

Norris Junction Area
The main attraction at Norris Junction is unquestionably the remarkable Norris Geyser Basin. This vast geyser basin is the hottest and most volatile basin in Yellowstone Park, and is home to Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s largest geyser.

Also found near Norris Junction is the popular Norris Campground, located along the banks of the glorious Gibbon River, and several miles north of Norris Junction are attractions such as Roaring Mountain, which can be enjoyed on your way back to Mammoth Hot Springs to the north.

For details on the Norris Junction Area, click here.

So there they are…our picks for the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park“. Of course there are countless other attractions that Yellowstone National Park offers its visitors, and are all absolutely amazing, but we wanted to make a very complicated and overwhelming task much simpler, and that is to help visitors know what the “must sees” are while they are vacationing in the world’s first national park.

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park: What To Do In A Lightning Storm

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park: What To Do In A Lightning Storm
Lightning Storms can be deadly. There is no other way of putting it more lightly. And if you’re exposed on an open alpine slope, on a mountain pass, an alpine ridge or on a summit during a lightning storm, you are potentially in really, really big trouble. Below are some tips to help you survive a lightning storm while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park, and hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

If you’ve ever been caught on a mountain top or an alpine ridge during a lightning storm, you know just how terrifying this can be. You literally do not know if your life is going to end in the next second, and it’s the most helpless feeling on earth…. And after nearly 50 years of experience in these mountains, and after hiking over 1,300 miles each year in these parks, we’ve learned a thing or two about lightning… and below is what we’ve been taught and have learned through the years through several different sources… including NOAA and the National Weather Service.

If you hear thunder that means you are close enough to get struck.

Tip #1:
Don’t Get Caught In A Lightning Storm In The First Place
The best way to survive a lightning storm while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton National Park is to avoid the lightning storm all together. This means that if you see any HINT of thunderheads in the distance (usually to the west), or you hear distant thunder, and if you are in an exposed place such as an alpine ridge, an open alpine slope, a mountain pass or on a summit, you need to get well below the tree line as fast as you can, and more ideally get back to the trailhead and get in your car. Do not wait until the lightning storm is upon you, because then it’s too late… and you’d be surprised just how fast these storms can come up.

Another important thing to do is to carefully read the weather forecasts, and if there is anything more than a 10% chance of lightning in the afternoon, reconsider any high altitude, open exposure hiking or climbing later than 11 a.m. on that day. Our general rule of thumb is that we will not climb a peak or hike any open alpine traverses if there is over a 10% chance of precipitation or lightning storms predicted for that particular day unless we are confident we will be off this exposed location earlier than 11 a.m. It’s just not worth the risk in our opinion.

Tip #2:
Get Below The Tree Line Fast!
If you happen to be in an exposed situation while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park or hiking in Grand Teton National Park, such as getting caught on a mountain pass, an open alpine slope or ridge, or on a mountain summit, then you need to carefully but quickly get below the tree line. Concentrate very carefully on each step so you don’t sprain an ankle, and swiftly get to a lower elevation ASAP. You are an absolute “sitting duck” on an exposed ridge, pass or summit because you are higher than any of your surroundings. This greatly increases the chances of you getting hit by lightning, and you really need to get out of there fast.

Tip #3:
Do Not Stand Under The Tallest Tree or an Isolated Tree
Once you reach the tree line, get into an area of large numbers of trees equal in height (low standing trees are best). This decreases the chances of lightning “choosing” the exact tree you are under. Avoid choosing the largest tree in the area because it is actually a possible lightning rod because it’s higher than the surrounding trees. An isolated tree also acts as a lightning rod so avoid it.

Tip #4:
Do Not Wear Metal Jewelry
Anything metal tends to attract lightning (and conducts lightning), including a metal necklace or bracelet, or a metal watch. Leave these things in the car. As far as metal spectacles, well, that’s a different story, so I will refer you to Tip #1 again and avoid the whole situation so you don’t have to worry about it.

Tip #5:
Get Away From All Metal Objects
If you’re in the middle of a lightning storm but you’ve made it below tree line, then leave all metal objects at least 50 yards away from you… including your trekking poles, climbing gear, tent poles, etc. while you wait the storm out. If you made it to your tent, get out of it and away from it because the tent poles can attract lightning!

Tip #6:
Spread Out!
Hikers should stay at least 50 feet away from each other during a lightning storm. This is to make sure that if someone is struck by lightning, someone will be conscious to administer CPR.

Tip #7:
Get Off The Cell Phone
Your cell phone can attract lightning, so turn it off!

Tip #8:
If You Made It To Your Vehicle…
If you made it to your vehicle, get in and avoid touching any metal inside your car.

Tip #9:
Stay Away From Water
Water conducts and attracts electricity.

Tip #10:
Keep Feet Together
Once you have found shelter in a forest (preferably in trees of equal height), then remove your pack and stand with your feet together. If you have a foam sleeping pad or extra clothing, you may consider standing on this material.

1. Try to not be the tallest object in the area, so seek out an area of depression.

2. Get away from all metal objects and remove your pack!

3. Crouch down (to get low), on your feet, with your feet together. DO NOT LAY DOWN!

4. Do not seek shelter in a cave!
(Electricity can bounce, and some rocks can conduct electricity.)

5. Get at least 50 feet away from your climbing partner(s).
(This is to make sure if someone gets hit, someone will be conscious to administer CPR.)

6. If you have a foam sleeping pad or some additional clothing, stand on these articles while you
crouch down with your feet together.

7. Cover your ears to avoid hearing damage.

All of these things of course do not eliminate the chance of getting struck by lightning, but it’s at least doing something instead of nothing. For those of you who have been in this terrifying situation, you understand what we are trying to say. The bottom line is really this: While hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park or hiking in Grand Teton National Park, do everything you can to avoid being in a lightning storm so you never have to experience being on an open ridge or summit when these storms emerge.

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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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Grand Teton Hikes in Late Spring and Early Summer

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Grand Teton Park Hikes In Lake Springs and Early Summer
There are many amazing Grand Teton Hikes for you to enjoy, but several of the classic day hikes and overnight hikes in Grand Teton National Park are not going to be clear of snow until at least the first or second week in July, if not later.

Grand Teton National Park receives heavy snowfall each and every winter, and it takes a really long time for the snow to melt off, especially snow along the continental divide.  And several of the classic day hikes and overnight backpacking hikes that involve getting near or crossing the divide, such as the Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon Loop Trail, Paintbrush Divide, Hurricane Pass Trail, Death Canyon / Static Peak Divide Trail, will have snow on them probably into late July or early August on a typical year. These trails may seem OK at the beginning of your hike, but the higher they gain in elevation as they work their way towards the divide, the deeper the snow will become, and conditions may become treacherous as these trails approach the divide early in the season.

May Is Really Early For Grand Teton Hikes
May is actually too early for most Grand Teton hikes due to the amount of snow that is still on the ground. Even the low elevation trails such as the Taggart Lake Trail or the Jenny Lake Trail to Hidden Falls will have a lot of snow during a typical year.  Any backcountry trails will be completely covered in extremely deep snow, and only those hikers who are experts at self-arrest techniques with a mountain axe (a.k.a. ice axe) should attempt these higher altitude Grand Teton Hikes.  Spring avalanche danger is also a factor this early in the season.

June Is Still Quite Early for Higher Altitude Grand Teton Hikes
Many of the low altitude trails such as Taggart Lake Trail, Two Ocean Lake Trail, Jenny Lake Trail to Hidden Falls, etc. will be open and mainly snow-free in June.  However, any hikes that involve crossing the divide, or even getting near the divide, will be completely covered in snow during the entire month of June during a typical year, and more than likely will continue to be covered in snow far into July.  These trails include the Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon Loop Trail, Paintbrush Divide, Holly Lake, Amphitheater Lake, Hurricane Ridge Trail, Static Peak Divide Trail, just to name a few.  All of these trails involve higher altitudes (above 9,000 feet), and/or the crossing the divide (10,000+ feet).

This always seems to surprise many Grand Teton National Park hiking enthusiasts because most of the park is completely snow-free, and snow is the last thing on their mind.  But as the trails gain in elevation, such as the Grand Teton Trails leading to Holly Lake, Paintbrush Divide, Hurricane Pass or Amphitheater Lake, snow not only starts appearing on the trail, but it becomes deeper and deeper… eventually becoming treacherous in many places along these popular Grand Teton Trails.

Late July / Early August Is Your Best Bet For Higher Altitude Hikes
If you don’t want to navigate through alot of snow while undertaking the Grand Teton Hikes that involve higher altitudes including the divide, your best bet is to enjoy these Grand Teton Hikes in late July or early August. Usually on a typical  year these trails are fairly clear of snow by then.

Anyone hiking early in the season on these higher altitude Grand Teton Hikes, we strongly recommend that they are expertly trained in self-arrest techniques with a mountain axe (a.k.a. ice axe). Steep snow fields can be extremely dangerous and possibly life-threatening if a hiker does not know how to adequately stop his or her body from sliding down these slopes.  So if you’re not an expert in self-arrest, please do not attempt these higher altitude Grand Teton Hikes until they are adequately clear of dangerous snow fields.

Ask A Ranger
If you are wanting to attempt some of the higher altitude Grand Teton trails fairly early in the season… even during the entire month of July and possible into early August, make sure you ask a ranger at one of the Grand Teton National Park visitor centers about the conditions of the trails. They will be able to tell you exactly what you’re up against so you can make the best decision as to which trail seems to be the safest bet, if any.

You Can Always Turn Around!
If you’re OK with turning around, what many hikers do early in the season is begin their hike up Paintbrush Canyon (for example) towards Holly Lake and Paintbrush Divide, and once the snow gets too deep or treacherous, they simply turn around and head back down.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this at all! You’ll enjoy a great hike and see some incredible landscape, and you don’t have get into any risky situations.

Grand Teton Hikes provide some of the most incredible mountain access in North America, and are well worth pursuing during your Grand Teton National Park vacation.  But as you’ve just learned from the above article, snow can linger on many of these trails into July and and sometimes even into August, especially the Grand Teton Hikes that involve higher altitudes and/or the divide.  Make sure you are adequately trained and proficient at self-arrest with a mountain axe if attempting these more advanced hikes early in the season.  If not, it is best that you wait until August when the divide for the most part is clear of hazardous snow fields.

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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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Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park, Grand Teton Park Hiking Tip: Proper Day Hike Clothing

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Proper Clothing for Day Hiking In Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park
Hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park and hiking in Grand Teton Park is a magical experience. And if you wear the proper clothing during your national park hikes, this magical experience will also be a “pleasant experience”. Few things are more miserable than not having the proper clothing for the present conditions on the trail, whether it’s incredibly hot outside or freezing cold. The following article will walk through the basics with you on what we recommend hikers wear while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton National Park.

3- Layer System
The 3 Layer System has worked very well for us through the years, especially with the advent of synthetics such as polypropylene and polyester, as well as the invention of water-proof materials such as Gore Tex and the many new equivalents out there in the market. This 3 Layer System allows you to stay comfortable in almost every type of weather condition during the summer and fall season and at the same time keeps your pack light.

1) Base Layer
While hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton Park, your base layer should be a lightweight “T-shirt” made of either polypropylene or polyester. These synthetic materials are ultra-light and they do not absorb water. Instead, these incredible materials will pull sweat from your skin and allow this moisture to evaporate quickly into the atmosphere. This is called “wicking”, and it’s an essential aspect of your base layer. Wicking allows you to stay relatively dry, and therefore you will be much more comfortable as you hike in all types of weather and temperature.

There is a catch-phrase out there that is “Cotton Kills”, and there is a lot of truth to that. Cotton is not only is quite heavy, but it absorbs water and stays wet for a really long time. Cotton does the opposite of “wicking”, and this can get you into trouble… especially if the temperature drops. If you are sweating a lot during your hike, your cotton T-shirt will become soaking wet. And once it’s wet, it will stay wet for a very long time. And if the temperature drops while you are soaking wet, you are at risk for developing hypothermia, which can be a life-threatening situation. So always remember that “cotton kills”, so you don’t get into trouble on the hiking trail.

2) Fleece Layer
Your middle layer should be a light or medium weight fleece jacket, preferably a zip-up. “Fleece” is made of polyester, and is extremely warm and yet “breaths”. This fleece comes in handy when things get a little chilly, such as right at dawn or later in the evening. Fleece is also great for when you get on a windy pass in higher elevations, or if it’s simply a very cold day.

This fleece middle layer is your “regulatory” layer, meaning that you can put it on or take it off as needed. A common situation while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton Park occurs when it’s fairly cold out so you need to wear the fleece jacket to stay warm. But then when you encounter a section of the hiking trail where it gets steep and you begin to really warm up through this increased cardiovascular activity, you get “overheated” and begin to sweat. This is when you need to remove the fleece jacket… in fact, don’t wait until you begin to sweat. The instant you begin to get too warm, stop and take your fleece jacket off. Then, if things settle down and your cardiovascular demand goes down again as the trail levels off or starts heading downhill, then if you begin to get cold again, then put your fleece jacket back on.

There are some days where we put on and remove our fleece layer 20 times in a day, depending on the topography of the trail, the outside temperature and the wind.

3) Outer Shell Layer
Your outer layer needs to be a polyester hooded, waterproof, and breathable “shell” than not only keeps you dry during a rain storm, but also blocks the wind during a high wind situation on high mountain pass or summit. And sometimes, if it’s really cold outside, you’ll need to wear this shell over your fleece jacket just to stay warm.

What we mean by “breathable” is that air and moisture can pass through it so you don’t end up drowning in sweat. There are several excellent materials on the market that are both water proof and breathable. The most widely known is Gore Tex. This is the “standard”, but there are several other companies now that have come up with equally amazing material.

Make sure that this outer layer is just a “shell” and is not insulated in any way. Your fleece middle layer will act as your insulating layer if needed.

Beyond Your 3-Layer System
In addition to this simple 3 layer system that we’ve just described, for your hikes in Glacier Park, hikes in Yellowstone Park and hikes in Grand Teton National Park, we recommend that you also bring a polyester fleece stocking cap and gloves. These accessories not only come in handy when you’re just plain cold, but also when you are hiking over a windy mountain pass or on a mountain summit. The wind can be so severe that you’re ears will begin to can extremely cold, as well as your hands. Your fleece hat and gloves will “save the day” so you can enjoy your time at higher elevations instead of being miserable.

This needs to be an entirely separate article, but we will mention two things here. Your boots need to fit properly, which sounds really obvious but you would not believe how many hikers we see along the trail that are limping because of blisters. Also, we highly recommend that your boots are waterproof and breathable, which means they must be Gore Tex or an equivalent. We average about 1,400 miles of hiking trails each summer, and we’ve been hiking for over 40 years, so we have done and seen it all. We tried dozens of different types of boots with different materials, and we’ve had by far the best outcome with Gore Tex (or equivalent) lined boots. We also prefer a leather boot made with the least amount of “stitching” possible.

There’s few things worse than wet feet, and Gore Tex will help you stay dry in about 80% of the situations during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes.

Again, we will get into more details about boots in a future article.

Pants / Underwear
Make sure your pants are lightweight and made of polyester so they wick and breath. We also recommend that your underwear be made of polyester or polypropylene because you really need your underwear to be able to wick and to keep you relatively dry as you sweat during your hike. DO NOT wear cotton underwear! Find some good athletic underwear such as “Under Armour” or equivalent. It makes all the difference.

Rain Pants
We also highly recommend that you always bring along an ultra-light pair of rain pants that are waterproof and breathable (i.e. Gore Tex or equivalent), that you can quickly slide on over your regular hiking pants. This comes in extremely handing during a late afternoon cloud burst, or if you need added wind protection while on a super windy mountain pass or summit. Another really great use for light-weight rain pants is during the early morning hours in a highly vegetated section of a hiking trail. Especially during your Glacier National Park hikes, you may encounter heavy vegetation that is on each side of the trail and is covered in dew. When you brush along side these wet leaves, you become soaking wet. We call these sections of Glacier Park trails “Car Washes”, and you will get so wet you might as well have jumped in a lake. So wear your rain pants through these “Car Washes” to stay dry.

Rule of the Mountains
Whenever you are hiking, you need to always be prepared for all weather conditions as all times. NEVER hike without all of the clothing we’ve just mentioned. One thing that’s for sure during your hikes in Glacier Park, hikes in Yellowstone Park and hikes in Grand Teton National Park is that the weather can change in an instant, and the temperature can drop 40 degrees in less than a half hour. And we’ve seen this hundreds of times where we begin our hike in 75 degree (F) weather with crystal clear blue skies in the morning, and we hike back in a freezing down pour and even a snow storm. The bottom line is always be prepared for all weather conditions at all times.

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Hiking Tip for Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park: START EARLY!

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Here’s a simple suggestion for those of you interested in hiking in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park that will likely enhance your hiking experience, and that is START EARLY! What Shannon and I have noticed throughout the years is that many visitors tend to head out about 9 a.m., 10 a.m., or even later. Now that’s fine and it’s everyone’s choice to leave when they want. Maybe you want to enjoy a nice breakfast at the lodge first, or maybe you just want to sleep in. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever. However, there are several advantages to heading out on the trail earlier in the morning…

You’ll see more wildlife.
Animals tend to be out feeding more during the morning and evening hours. During mid-day, many species of animals bed down in the shade of the forest to avoid the heat. Therefore, if you leave early, you have a much better chance of seeing more wildlife on the trail because they are up and moving around along the trails.

The lighting is better.
There’s something magical about the early morning hours just after dawn… The sky is more blue (because the light is polarized), the greens are greener, and the mountains glow. The morning light truly makes everything more beautiful, and is something every hiker should experience. As the sun gets higher and higher in the sky, the sky becomes less blue, and the light becomes more and more harsh. This somewhat diminishes the “magic” that was present during the warm morning light. And by the way, quite often the mountain lakes are as smooth as glass during the early morning hours, so you will enjoy more “mirror” reflections in the morning versus mid-day.

You’ll be more likely to avoid afternoon thunder showers.
Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park quite often have afternoon thunder showers that can be completely avoided if you leave earlier in the morning.

You’ll avoid the mid-day heat.
Mornings are always crisp and cool, which makes for a far more pleasant hike versus heading out during the mid-day heat.

You’ll avoid having to hurry.
On long day hikes, the earlier you leave, the better. This allows you to enjoy your hike and not feel so rushed to get back before dark.

Well, we like to begin our day hikes right at dawn. Even if you leave an hour after the sun rises, you’re still going to enjoy an extremely pleasant morning.

Important Note:
One thing about leaving early for a hike is that you might be the first hiker to be on the trail for that particular day. This means that you may have an increased chance of meeting up with a grizzly bear or black bear on the trail. Therefore, make sure you carry bear spray and know how to use it, and make sure you TALK LOUD so you don’t surprise a bear- especially around blind corners and near loud water. Make your presence known so the bear(s) know you’re coming. This will greatly reduce the chance of a problem on the trail.

The bottom line is this: Get on the trail as early as possible to help make your hiking experience in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park even that much more enjoyable. Even though the alarm clock might go off a little earlier than you’d like, it’s definitely worth it and you’ll be very glad you got up early to enjoy your hike.

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Mountain Climbing in Glacier National Park: Some Basic Tips
Glacier National Park provides exceptional mountain climbing opportunities with over 224 named peaks and levels of difficulty ranging from very easy to some of the most difficult mountain climbing found anywhere in the world. Mountain climbing in Glacier Park is one of our favorite things to do, and after successfully climbing well over 75 peaks (and counting), we’ve learned a few things about climbing in Glacier Park that we’d like to share with you. Below are some basic tips that you might find to be helpful during your Glacier Park mountain climbing adventures…

1. Standard Rope Safety is Usually Not An Option
The rock in Glacier National Park is mainly sedimentary, much of it either slates or shales. This type of rock is not very conducive to standard anchoring with cams or nuts because this rock does not have the typical cracks that are found in igneous rock such as granite. The only way to safely anchor in Glacier National Park is by the use of pitons (stakes) that you literally hammer into the rock. This of course is not a practical course of action for most climbs in Glacier Park because the entire park would be covered in pitons. Pitons are usually reserved for the great walls of Glacier Park such as the North Face of Mount Siyeh, North Face of Mount Cleveland, or the East Face of Mount Gould, for example. So the only practical way to climb the majority of Glacier National Park peaks is without using safety ropes or anchors.

And because standard anchoring techniques are usually not an option, then belaying or rappelling is also not an option. If the person belaying is not adequately anchored, then there lies a huge risk of BOTH climbers toppling down the mountain.

Therefore, since you are usually climbing in Glacier National Park without safety ropes or anchors, and you cannot belay or rappel, the “trick” is to find a route among the cliffs that provides a safe way to the summit. This is the challenge that we enjoy, but it does take a lot of care or you can really get yourself into trouble. Our rule of thumb is that if we don’t have at least two solid holds (hand or foot), we don’t pursue the next move. We back down and look for another pitch that is safer. Also, since climbers in Glacier National Park don’t have the luxury of being able to rappel down a pitch, then we make darn sure we know for certain we can climb down what we’ve climbed up…. which leads to our next tip….

2. Never Climb Up A Pitch You Can’t Get Down
Since for the most part a person mountain climbing in Glacier National Park does not have the luxury of being able to rappel or belay because standard anchors using nuts or cams are not possible, then a climber needs to make sure he/she can climb down what he/she is climbing up. If a person doesn’t take this tip seriously, you could get into some serious trouble. And remember that climbing up a pitch is far easier than climbing down a pitch.

3. Always Go Down EXACTLY The Way You Went Up
This is probably the number one thing that gets novice climbers into trouble while climbing in Glacier National Park. They climb up the summit using one route, and try using another route that they are not familiar with on the descent. What can easily happen is that the climber is unaware of class 5 or 6 cliffs far below him/her until he/she is directly above them, and the climber then becomes “cliffed out” and can’t go any further. The climber is then essentially trapped on the mountain, and the only way out is back up. Therefore, only if you are extremely familiar with an alternate route heading down should you deviate from the route you used to climb the peak.

4. Carefully Mark Your Route
Marking your route is also vitally important while mountain climbing in Glacier National Park, and it’s tied with Tip #2. What novice climbers often do wrong is they think that they will remember where they went up. You’d be amazed how different everything looks when looking down on the route instead of looking up, and this can lead to trouble. What we do is use two methods of route tracking. One method is by recording our exact “track” with a GPS. This EXACTLY records our route as we climb the peak, and we can re-trace this route coming down. The other thing we do (because you can’t always rely on satellite reception and GPS technology) is we also use what we call “ducks”, which are small piles of rocks. We make small “ducks” at certain strategic locations along the route that we will then clearly see on the way down.

We strongly recommend that you don’t just rely on “ducks” because if fog or a thick cloud cover rolls in you won’t be able to see the ducks below you. So also track your route with a GPS device.

5. Know How To Route Find
Being able to route find is an essential skill that all climbers in Glacier National Park should have. This skill takes quite a lot of practice and experience, but it truly makes for a better and safer day on the mountain. A climber’s guide book will give you a general idea of where you need to be on a particular mountain, but it’s just a guideline. You must be able to use YOUR OWN ABILITY to read a mountain and determine the small details that a book cannot provide to you. The ability to route find will dramatically increase your chances of successfully reaching a summit. Obviously, the more you climb the better skilled you will become at route finding.

6. Know Your Water Situation
Another situation where trouble can arise while climbing in Glacier National Park is running out of water. Many of the peaks in Glacier National Park do not have water on them, and you have to carefully calculate how much water you will need to carry up with you to stay hydrated. And obviously, on super hot days you will need more water than a cooler day. So know EXACTLY where the last creek, stream or lake is before you begin your ascent, and use your water filter and fill as many Nalgene bottles as you need to keep hydrated during the ascent AND descent. Then add at least one or two more Nalgenes because 99.9% of the time, the climb will take longer than you thought and will be more difficult than you thought, and you’ll be glad you had this extra water. If needed, leave some Nalgenes along the way up the route for the climb down so you don’t have to carry all the weight to the summit.

7. Leave Early
No matter how short or how long our climb is, we always leave early. Sometimes, if we are going to be on a maintained trail for several miles (or more) prior to reaching the actual climb, we leave in the dark and use our headlamps. Now of course in Glacier National Park you have grizzly bears to contend with, so we don’t always do this unless we have a super long, 20+ mile day and a 5,500 vertical feet climb ahead of us, such as when we climbed Mount Jackson in one day, beginning at the Going To The Sun Road. Normally, we wait until we can see the trail fairly well before we head out, but it’s always before we see the sun.

By leaving early, you will be in cooler temperatures, and you will have plenty of time to enjoy the summit and get off of it before the afternoon thunderheads start to brew.

8. Watch Out For “Rogue” Wind Gusts
We have been on many summits with absolutely no wind whatsoever, and out of nowhere, a tremendous gust of wind blasts across the summit without warning with enough force to easily knock you off balance and sometimes enough force to nearly knock you down. If you are standing on the edge of a cliff, you could easily be blown off. So please remember that no matter how calm the day may appear to be, be aware of these “rogue” wind gusts. Don’t stand on the edge of cliffs or walls just to take in the view. Instead, stand a few yards away from the edge (at the least) to be safe.

9. Any Sign of Thunder or Lightning… GET OFF THE PEAK!!!
Lightning is a potential killer while mountain climbing in Glacier National Park (or anywhere for that matter). And when you are exposed on an open mountain face or ridge, or on a mountain summit during a lightning storm, you are a sitting duck and are at great risk of getting hit by lightning. Our rule of thumb is this: If we see thunderheads anywhere in the sky, especially on the western horizon, we abort the climb and get to the tree line as quickly and as safely as possible. If you’ve ever been caught on a summit ridge during a lightning storm, you will completely agree with us… there are few things more terrifying than being helplessly exposed to an electrical storm where in an instant your life could be over.

10. Stay Within Your Skill Level And Comfort Zone
Shannon and I only climb with each other and never with anyone else, so we don’t have to worry about our pride and don’t have to worry about succumbing to peer pressure. Therefore, if we are uncomfortable with a particular pitch, we aren’t shy about it. Another reason we do so well together is we share a nearly identical skill level. But we suspect that within a group of friends who get together for a day of climbing, there are going to be a variety of skill levels in the group, a variety of egos, and the dynamics are going to be completely different.

So if a member of the group becomes uncomfortable with a particular pitch, he or she may be reluctant to say anything in fear of appearing “chicken” or “weak” to the rest of the group, and that person might take a risk he/she normally would never take. This can lead to a disaster. So either leave your pride at home and tell the group whenever you’re uncomfortable with a particular pitch, or don’t go with them.

11. Wear a Helmet
There is a misconception about helmets and mountain climbing. Many novice mountain climbers think that a helmet is only for the event of a fall, so if they are climbing a peak that shows no true risk of falling, then they feel a helmet is unnecessary. This is simply not the case. The #1 reason for wearing a helmet while mountain climbing is to protect your head in the event of a rock rolling down the slope above you, or a rock falling off a cliff above you. Even the smallest rock can kill you if it is traveling fast enough, and Glacier National Park mountains have a ton of loose rocks just waiting to roll down the mountains.

And of course the risk of rolling rocks dramatically increase if there is a group of climbers. The lead climbers could inadvertently send a rock flying down the slope, putting the other climbers at risk. Another cause of rocks falling or rolling are mountain goats that are above you that you cannot even see. We’ve had this happen to us many times where out of the blue a rock comes soaring down out of nowhere. After further investigation we learned that there was a mountain goat far above us that dislodged a rock.

One of the golden rules of mountain climbing anywhere in the world is “Never Climb Alone”. Anything can happen on a peak, and if you’re alone, what could have been an easily survivable situation could become fatal.

For example, even a simple ankle sprain can become life threatening if you cannot get help. If you’re alone on a peak and sprain an ankle or break a leg and can’t walk, there is no one there to go get help for you. You are then looking at staying the night…. or staying several nights on the mountain, without water and without food. Hypothermia could easily set in, as well as dehydration, and a fatal outcome could be the result. If you had a climbing partner, he/she could have gotten help and you’d probably be off the mountain on the same day… alive.

And yes, today’s “SPOT” technology is great, but if you are unable to push the button because you are unconscious or you forgot to change the batteries, SPOT is useless to you.

We could go on and on with different scenarios, but the bottom line is this: If you are mountain climbing in Glacier National Park alone, what could have been a simple rescue operation and something you could have easily lived through, instead could end up needlessly killing you.

13. Always Tell Someone Where You’re Climbing And When To Expect You Back
No matter how easy or quick the climb may seem to be, ALWAYS tell someone EXACTLY where you are climbing, and let them know when to expect your call that you’ve made it down. This is so important because if something went wrong during your climb and someone can’t get help because both members of the party are injured (a lightning strike for example), then it is essential that there is someone on this earth that will know where you were climbing and when you were expected back. This will save hours, days and sometimes weeks, and dozens of volunteers and an army of search and rescue team members putting their lives at risk trying to find you…. that is of course after they eventually learned you were even missing.

14. Expect To Stay The Night
Whenever you are mountain climbing in Glacier National Park (or anywhere), you need to assume you are going to have to spend the night, therefore you need to pack your day pack accordingly. Hopefully you will never have to spend the night on a peak, but you should always be prepared to do so. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN when you are mountain climbing, so you need to be prepared.

Mountain climbing in Glacier National Park can be a wonderful experience. The climbing opportunities are endless, and the views from the summits are beyond breathtaking. By following these 14 basic tips that we’ve presented to you, your Glacier Park mountain climbing experiences will be far more enjoyable and safer.

CLICK HERE for “Views from the Summits” in Glacier National Park.

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Hiking in Glacier National Park: Traction for Snowfields

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While hiking in Glacier National Park, you may encounter trails that are partially (or completely) covered in snow. This is especially true for hiking in Glacier Park early in the season, which is the entire month of June through early August. Depending on the amount of snow that has fallen during the winter and spring, some Glacier Park Trails along the Continental Divide may even have snow hazards that linger through most of August. Encountering snow on Trails in Glacier National Park is a fairly common occurrence, and Shannon and I have found that by using some basic traction devices on our hiking boots while crossing certain snowfields really make our Glacier Park hiking experiences much more pleasant and enjoyable.

These traction devices are placed on your hiking boots when you need them. They are light weight, don’t take up much room in your pack, and are super-easy to put on. We are presently using the YakTrax brand for our Glacier National Park Hikes, but there are several other very high quality companies out there with similar products. Another nice feature of these traction devices is the fact that there are no sharp teeth that could rip your pack. There is nothing sharp on these devices.

When do we use them? Whenever we have to cross a snowfield that is on a slope, or when the snow is really icy and slick. We simply take a few minutes, slide the traction devices on, cross the snowfield, take them off, and we are once again on our way.

These traction devices are especially useful early in the morning, when the soft wet snow of the previous day freezes during the night, and the snowfield actually becomes a rock hard “icefield” until the warmth of the day once again softens the snow. Without traction devices, these early morning crossings can be quite difficult.

Another piece of equipment we always have with us while hiking in Glacier National Park, especially when we are crossing a snowfield that is on a slope, is trekking poles. Trekking poles give you far more stability and balance as you are crossing these snowfields, and we highly recommend them.

WARNING: Crossing a snowfield can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are attempting to cross a snowfield that is on a steep grade. If a hiker slips, he or she can instantly begin sliding down the slope uncontrollably, and serious injuries and even death can occur. Therefore, the only hikers that should cross a steep snowfield are those who are experienced in self-arrest with a mountain axe (a.k.a. ice axe). If you are not experienced with a mountain axe and are not experienced in self-arrest techniques, DO NOT ATTEMPT to cross a steeply sloped snowfield. This is one of the most dangerous situations you could ever encounter while hiking in Glacier National Park. One slip and you could be seriously injured or killed.

In summary, snowfields are a fairly common occurrence while hiking in Glacier National Park, especially early in the season or following a winter of heavy snowfall. Traction devices such as YakTrax give you far better traction, and combined with trekking poles, crossing these snowfields will be far safer and much more enjoyable. Put these traction devices in your day pack, and have them ready if you are heading out on any of the Glacier Park Hikes that potentially could have snowfields. (By the way, ask a ranger or stop by a ranger station to learn the status of the trail conditions before you head out.) But remember, if the snowfield is on a steep slope where one slip could send you flying down the mountain, DO NOT ATTEMPT this obstacle unless you are highly skilled with a mountain axe, and you are an expert in self-arrest techniques.

For more information on Glacier National Park, click here.

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park: Watch Out For UV Rays

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Hiking Tip: Watch Out For UV Rays
While enjoying Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, or anywhere else for that matter, please keep in mind that the higher you are in elevation, the higher the concentration of UV rays there are. After hiking and climbing mountains our entire lives, lately we’ve become extremely aware of sun exposure and skin cancer, as both Shannon and I have been diagnosed with skin cancer within the last few years. Thankfully our skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and melanoma) were caught early and everything is fine. But because of this unwelcome chapter in our lives, we have completely changed the way we spend time in the sun, and we want to share what we’ve learned with you….

What We Used To Do….
We used to love to wear shorts, short sleeved shirts and a baseball cap while embarking on our Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes. We would try to use sunscreen the best we could, but to be honest with you we only applied it to our exposed areas once, maybe twice a day, and once we tanned, we would apply less and less as the summer progressed. We always told ourselves that if we weren’t experiencing sunburns that everything was fine.

When mountain climbing in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park, we always wore climbing pants and long sleeved shirts, but our faces were usually always exposed because we’d only have a baseball cap on or a helmet. Our hands were also always exposed unless we were wearing climbing gloves.

Between climbs and hikes we always wore shorts and flip-flops, and short sleeved T-shirts, and by the end of the summer our legs and feet would be a dark brown, with a white flip-flop tan-line blazed across each of our feet.

Here’s the problem with what we were doing: Tanning of skin means the skin cells are being damaged, and the chance of developing skin cancer increases significantly for both basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Of course sunburns also dramatically increase the chances of developing skin cancer, but tanning has been found to be just as harmful.

We love the sun and we love to take in the sun’s rays… we always have. After all, that’s part of being in the great outdoors… but after our brush with skin cancer, everything has changed…. our dermatologists told Shannon and I that they never want to see a tan-line on our bodies ever again (including our feet), and we are doing our best to comply with their wishes….

What We Are Doing Now….
While enjoying our Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, or enjoying our down-time hanging out in the great outdoors, we now NEVER allow our skin to tan… even if we’ve been in the outdoors for 3 solid months at a time (which we are every summer). We now wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, and hats that either have a huge brim all the way around, or a baseball cap style hat that has a cloth that is attached to the cap that wraps around it, blocking the sun’s rays. We also wear ultra-thin gloves.

In addition to all this, we still apply sunscreen on our face and neck, because no matter what hat we’re wearing, there are times that the sun’s rays will directly hit our skin. And we don’t apply it just once for the day… we apply the sunscreen every 2 hours throughout our hikes and climbs.

While in between climbs and Hikes in Glacier Park, Hikes in Yellowstone Park and Hikes in Grand Teton National Park, we still keep our skin covered with clothing, except for our hands, which we keep covered with sunscreen, and we wear large brimmed hats (with sunscreen on our face and neck).

We now have no tan-lines or any areas of tan skin, even though we are literally in the sun for 3 solid months each summer, not to mention the 3 months in the spring while we are photographing bears and other wildlife in Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park.

We get asked this question a lot. But our new attire really isn’t bad at all… we wear ultra-thin polyester clothing that wicks away moisture, allowing us to stay quite dry, cool and comfortable. There is such an awareness of skin cancer these days that many of the top outdoor clothing companies are really coming up with products to fill this new market. Marmot, Patagonia, North Face, Cloudveil, Mountain Hardware, OR, Columbia, Arc Teryx, Royal Robbins, Simms, and many of the other great outdoor clothing companies all make incredible clothes that protect the skin from direct sun exposure.

When we hear comments like, “I look better tan!”, or “I get too hot if I’m in long sleeves and pants!” or “Those large brimmed hats look dorky”, we try to remind them that these things are not worth dying for.

And by the way, dermatological research has found that if a person’s hands are exposed to the sun for 20 minutes a day, that is enough exposure for sufficient Vitamin D production… so that takes care of that excuse as well.

Also, another important note we need to mention is the fact that much of adult’s skin cancer is a result of what they did to their skin when they were children.  If you sun burned as a child, this has been shown to come back and haunt you in your 40’s and 50’s.  This is really important to keep this in mind as you go hiking with your children!  And there is no question, no matter what age you are, extended UV exposure is definitely harmful to the skin, and skin cancer can be the result.

So take it from two people that love life and love the outdoors, and who both had a scare with skin cancer: Cover your skin while in the great outdoors, no matter what activity you’re participating in. Whether you’re enjoying Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes, Grand Teton Hikes, or the many other incredible outdoor adventures and activities available in these amazing parks, avoid the harmful UV rays that are pouring down on you. Life is a wonderful thing, and the longer you’re on this earth, the more you can enjoy your parks!

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