Category Archives: Hiking Tips

Helpful tips for hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park, Waterton Lakes National Park and Grand Teton National Park.


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How To Avoid a Grizzly Bear Attack While Hiking In Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton Park: Four Basic Rules
There are Four Basic Rules that all hikers need to follow if they are hiking in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park to avoid a grizzly bear attack.  These rules are agreed upon by the National Park Service, and if followed, you will reduce the chances of a grizzly bear attack dramatically.

Statistically, a grizzly bear attack is very rare, but it’s not rare if it happens to be YOU who are faced with this terrifying event, so we strongly urge all hikers to follow these four basic rules of hiking in grizzly country.  These rules will not only reduce the chances of injury or death, but will also greatly reduce the chances of even having an encounter with a grizzly bear.

This is the number one rule while hiking in grizzly bear country.  Statistics have proven over and over again that there is “strength in numbers”.  The more people that are hiking together, the less of a chance for a grizzly bear encounter or grizzly bear attack.

Two hikers are FAR better than one, and the National Park Service even recommends that visitors hike in groups of three or more. Studies have shown that a grizzly bear is far less likely to attack a group of hikers compared to a single hiker.  A single hiker is far less intimidating to a grizzly bear, and the bear is more likely to show aggression to this single hiker in certain circumstances, whereas if there are several hikers, the grizzly will behave much differently…and likely far less aggressively.

To avoid a grizzly attack in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park, hikers must constantly be aware of their surroundings.  Hikers tend to look directly at the trail in front of their feet when they hike instead of looking far down the trail or at the areas on each side of the trail.  This is a common behavior of hikers, and it can get them into trouble.  Hikers really need to make sure they are always looking ahead as well as looking to both sides of the trail.  This will obviously help them see a bear (or bears) further ahead of them rather than when the bear is right next to them.  This in turn dramatically reduces the chances of a grizzly bear attack because the hikers can respond before the grizzly sees these hikers as a threat.

The number one reason why a grizzly bear attacks humans is because the bear was surprised by the hiker and responded in a defensive manner.  You see, grizzly bears attack when they feel threatened or if their cubs appear to be threatened.  This is a very basic and automatic “fight or flight” response, and when the bear chooses “fight” rather than “flight”, the hiker(s) are in really big trouble and are in great risk of being attacked by this particular grizzly bear.

To avoid surprising a grizzly bear while hiking in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park, we highly recommend that you “TALK LOUD” while you hike.  Studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human voice is by far the best tool to let grizzly bears in the area know you are there.  The human voice is better than any other “noise maker” such as bear bells.  In fact, bear bells have been shown to actually provoke a bear’s curiosity because it is such an unnatural and unfamiliar sound.

By talking loud while you hike, this allows bears in the area to know plenty of time in advance that you’re coming down the trail, and therefore allowing the bear (or bears) to avoid you.  By not surprising a grizzly bear while hiking, this greatly reduces your chances of being attacked or even having a confrontation.  Bears in general prefer to avoid humans, and by giving them the “heads up”, this gives them time to get out of the area.  And by not surprising the bear(s), you will not activate their instinctual “fight or flight” response.

If a hiker follows these first three rules of hiking in grizzly country, then that hiker will more than likely not need to use this fourth and final rule, but there are occasions where the hiker(s) do everything right, and still are faced with a grizzly bear attack.  So this final rule while hiking in grizzly bear country is essential, because when things go bad, it will literally save the hiker’s life.

Studies have shown that if a hiker has bear spray and knows how to use it, that hiker…if faced with a grizzly bear attack, will reduce his/her chances of injury or death by over 90%.  That’s a statistic that has been proven over and over again, and therefore reinforces the absolute necessity of ALWAYS CARRYING BEAR SPRAY.

And having the bear spray inside a day pack doesn’t count because a grizzly bear attack can occur in a split second, and the hiker will not have time to pull out the canister of bear spray before the bear is physically on him or her.  Therefore,  each hiker should have the bear spray on their hip or on their chest… which provides quick and easy access in case of a grizzly bear attack.

Also, EACH HIKER needs to have his or her very own bear spray. This is imperative because if one hiker is being attacked by a grizzly bear and he/she can’t get to his or her bear spray, then the other hiker(s) can spray the bear.

And carrying bear spray is not enough.  The hiker must know exactly HOW AND WHEN TO USE THE BEAR SPRAY.  Therefore, the hiker must read the instructions over and over again, and practice removing the safety clip, and visualize in his or her mind spraying a bear, so in the event of an actually grizzly bear attack, the hiker has already “practiced” spraying the bear in his or her mind.  We also recommend that each hiker talk to a ranger about the proper use of their bear spray so they are fully prepared in the rare but unfortunate circumstance of being confronted with a charging grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park or Grand Teton National Park…. or anywhere else grizzlies roam.

For more details on hiking in grizzly country, take a look at our ebook entitled, “Hiking In Grizzly Country”.

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Tip For Multi-Day Hiking In Glacier Park: “Know When To Fold’em”

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Tip For Multi-Day Hiking In Glacier Park:
“Know When To Fold’em”
Glacier National Park offers some of the best overnight backpacking experiences in all of North America. There are seemingly endless trails with countless passes that provide jaw-dropping views of spectacular mountains and lakes, and once you take one of these overnight classic Glacier Park hikes into the backcountry, you’ll know exactly what we are talking about.

Today’s blog discusses a reality that we’ve witnessed over and over again through the years, and have also personally experienced. It’s not a “happy” topic, but we really feel it’s important to discuss with all of you overnight backpackers who are interested in hiking in Glacier National Park.

Perfect Weather “Cells”
Glacier National Park weather is extremely volatile. One moment it can be sunny and 80 degrees, the next it can be raining or snowing. But one thing about Glacier Park during the summer months is that there are what we call “cells” of perfect weather for 5, 6, even up to 8 days in a row with either 0% or 10% chance of showers in the afternoon. These “cells” are when we head into the backcountry and enjoy a wonderful multi-day Glacier Park hiking adventure. If you hit one of these “cells”, you’ll have postcard-perfect photos the entire trip, and you’ll always have a dry tent and dry gear. It’s really wonderful when you luck out with one of these incredible cells, and they actually occur 4 or 5 times a summer. These cells make overnight backpacking an absolute joy. We live for these incredible “perfect weather windows”.

Bad Weather “Cells”
On the other hand, just as Glacier National Park can have a “clear weather cell”, it can have a “bad weather cell” where the weather forecast calls for 90% to 100% chance of rain for 5 or 6 days in a row, with the average high temperature in the 50’s. These bad weather “cells” can literally be “hell on earth”, where ALL of your gear becomes soaking wet, and since you can’t build a fire, you are always cold. Your tent will get soaked, your clothes with be soaked, your sleeping bag will be soaked, and there is not even 10 minutes of sun to dry your gear out. You will also not have any good views of the mountains that surround you because the cloud cover is so low. Fortunately there are usually only a few of these “bad weather cells” each summer.

Now some of you are saying, “rain and cold doesn’t bother me.” Well, after it rains solid for 5 days in a row, sometimes 3 to 4 inches in a matter of hours, and the lakes raise two feet and the streams are overflowing, and you can’t even eat your freeze dried food because it’s raining too hard, and you basically had a “river” running through your tent the night before, and the temperature gets near 30 degrees at night and a high of 50 during the day, on day 3 or 4 we can almost guarantee you’ll stop having fun, and by day 5 you’ll be tempted to sell your backpack on the trail and hike out to the nearest trailhead as fast as you possibly can.

A Quick Story: An Example Worth Discussing
We’ve seen this happen over and over again. A few years ago we were planning an overnight Glacier Park hiking trip to Stoney Indian Pass and then onto Goat Haunt Montana. There was one of those Glacier National Park’s famous 5 day “bad weather cells” where there was absolutely horrific rain and cold predicted for 5 solid days (and it snowed the night of the fifth day). This was in mid-August during the peak of the overnight backpacking activity in the backcountry of Glacier Park. We saw this cell coming in the weather forecast, and our trip was planned right in the middle of this nightmare. So we moved our trip to the day after the “cell” moved through. The forecast then called for 0% precipitation for the next 6 days. The bad cell moved completely through by noon on the day we were scheduled to start our trip, which was when we headed out on the trail. The sky was crystal clear and sunny, and the temperature was about 75 degrees.

As we were hiking into the backcountry from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead on our way to our first night at Cosley Lake, an ocean of soaking wet backpackers were heading toward the trailhead. The stories they told of their experiences made us EXTREMELY glad we moved our trip to avoid the nightmare.

One group of three men in their 30’s told us that it rained so hard and so long that Cosley Lake began to spill over into their campsite. They said it didn’t really matter though because all of their gear and clothing were already saturated. They were forced to eat their freeze dried food dry because it was impossible to heat up the food with a stove. These guys were so miserable, they cut their trip short and were hiking out to the nearest trailhead, which happened to be the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, and were going to hitch-hike back to their vehicle parked on Logan Pass. They had only been out 3 nights on an 8 night itinerary. We told them that the weather was going to be perfect for the next 7 days, and they said that they were so miserable and so cold and so sick of it that they didn’t care. They wanted to get the heck out of there. And guess what? These three guys were retired Army Rangers!!!!!

Know When to Fold’em
There is no way we can really describe just how bad the weather can be during one of these “bad weather cells”. You’re just going to have to take our word for it. But if you don’t, and you decide to venture into the backcountry of Glacier Park even though the forecast calls for horrible weather, well then you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. We’ve had our share of bad weather while backpacking through the years, and we’ve learned the hard way that IT’S NOT WORTH IT!

So what if your Glacier National Park backpacking trip happens to be scheduled during one of these “bad weather cells”, we suggest that you either somehow move your trip forward to miss the “cell”, or if you can’t, you might want to consider canceling your trip. We know that sounds really “wimpy”, but in the end you’ll thank us…. that is unless you are among those very few who love to be miserable. “The Joy of Misery” is really overrated in our opinion. We feel that there is absolutely no joy in being miserable.

For Our Favorite Glacier Park Overnight Hikes, click here.
For Glacier National Park Weather, click here.

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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, 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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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 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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