Glacier National Park is never without adventure and every time I go there, I leave having learnt something new. I have been there several times climbing the greater peaks and have come to realize that the most dangerous objective hazards aren’t the rock and icefall, but the people, concession food, and wildlife.
St. Josephine Lake
Justin reaching the base of the route
If you are like Justin and I, and choose an objective in the East side of the park, you must first survive “Going to the Sun” road. 48 miles of winding mountainous road filled with clueless tourist. This is like running the gauntlet. For 48 miles you are dodging tourist who are both looking at the scenery and not paying attention to the road, or just too scared of the road to stay in their own lane. Pinned between a rock wall and a large drop on the other side, you’re left with very few options and the driving can get sporty. If you do survive the drive and need time to unwind with a beer and some food, good luck.
Beginning the climb
Every time I eat at one of the concessions, I am amazed at how horrible the food is. Generally 2 million people pass through the park every year and spend a ton of money on lodging and food only to be served slop. As Justin experienced, it can be crippling. Now that you are stressed from the driving and nauseous from the food, its time to survive the approach.
East Face of Gould
Just below our high point
With one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the lower 48, the threat of an encounter is a realistic one. Most of that concentration is in the Many Glacier area, exactly where our objective was.
Most of the time the bears don’t concern me much, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous this time. We began hiking in the dark around 6am trying not to think about the bears and make good time. We were about 15 minutes down the trail when through my dim headlamp; I caught the glimpse of something big and brown. In a panic I began backpedaling and raised my bear spray. I couldn’t make out what it was, but I was preparing for a charge. Finally Justin shined his brighter headlamp on the animal and we could see it was just a moose. Still incredibly dangerous, but not as terrifying. Eventually a calf showed up and began nursing. It was an incredible sight, but we were in a hurry. The stubborn moose took 20 minutes to haze off the trail eating into our precious day. The rest of the approach went with out incident. We listened to elk bugling in the morning light and got surprised by a goat when we reached the base of the climb.
The face looked more moderate than I expected. Quickly my nervousness gave way to excitement, but by the time we crossed the snowfield to the rock, Justin was doing all he could not to let the last night’s dinner come back up. Despite feeling worked, he began climbing. We had only been soloing for about 20 minutes when we spotted dark clouds moving in. 500 feet up the face; we weren’t yet at a point of total commitment. Between the poor looking weather heading our way and Justin being sick, we decided it was best to leave this climb for another day.
We enjoyed the scenery as we hiked out feeling luck to live in such a beautiful state. With the remainder of the day, we check out other spots in the park (and yes, saw a bear) and worked our way back to Whitefish where we could get some good and safe food.
Great Northern Peak
Justin on the summit