TheBigOutside Blog

Michael Lanza, creator of TheBigOutside.com and Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, writes about hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, paddling and other self-powered outdoor adventures

Archive for Glacier National Park

Descending the Food Chain in Glacier National Park

Never mind that it was the seventh straight bluebird morning of backpacking in mountains that constantly look surreal, like a painted mural backdrop in a movie. It didn’t matter that the trip had been a parade of wildlife. We even forgot about the heaviness in our legs from 15-mile days.

The menacing snarl piercing the silence seized our full attention.

My buddy Jerry Hapgood and I stood in the warm sunshine at 7,050-foot Lincoln Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park. We had stopped for a snack after passing yet another mountain goat with a kid—I’d lost track of our goat tally for the week—and had just started ambling down the trail again when the sound stopped us cold. Then we heard it a second time, and followed it with our eyes.

Below us about 200 vertical feet and three switchbacks, the authors of the menacing snarls wrestled in the sparse conifer forest beside a small tarn: two grizzly cubs. Grazing nearby was their mom, whom I’ll politely describe as a big woman. They were about four steps off the trail we needed to descend, a distance I quickly calculated that sow griz could close, at her max speed of 35 mph, in 0.16 seconds.

I felt suddenly very anxious.

Read the entire story and see photos from this trip at thebigoutside.com/Glacier_s_Northern_Loop.html. See other stories about outdoor adventures at TheBigOutside.com.

Advertisements

Jagged Peaks, Mountain Lakes, and Wild Goats

We’re just seconds beyond the sign at the start of the Gunsight Pass Trail that reads “Entering Grizzly Country” when Nate, who’s a month shy of his tenth birthday, begins aggressively making the case for why he should be armed.

“Why can’t I carry a pepper spray?” he asks me—again and again.

Penny Beach on the Gunsight Pass Trail

It’s an idyllic, late-summer afternoon in the Northern Rockies—the sun shining warmly, a gently cooling breeze rippling the air, not a white speck of moisture in the sky. We are heading out on a three-day family backpacking trip to Gunsight Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park. One of the logistically easiest and shortest multi-day hikes in the park, the 20-mile traverse from Gunsight Pass Trailhead to Lake McDonald Lodge—both of which are on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and served by the park’s free shuttle bus—takes in some of Glacier’s most spectacular scenery, including views of one of its largest rivers of ice (all of which are steadily shrinking), scores of waterfalls, and a backcountry campsite at Lake Ellen Wilson that is one of the prettiest in the park.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get a permit for the full traverse; it’s popular and backpacker numbers are restricted to avoid overuse and preserve a sense of solitude. So instead, we’ll spend two nights at Gunsight Lake, dayhike to Gunsight Pass, and then backtrack to the Gunsight Pass Trailhead on our last day.

Having hiked the traverse before, I knew Nate and our seven-year-old daughter, Alex, easily have the stamina for the three six-mile days we’ll do. The much bigger concern for my wife, Penny, and me was the preoccupying idea of backpacking in grizzly-bear country with our young kids. In fact, a year ago, I had a close encounter with a sow griz and her two cubs on the Gunsight Pass Trail. Although we know that such encounters are rare, we’ll have to be diligent about making sure the kids don’t inadvertently bring a pocketful of Jolly Ranchers into the tent for the night.

Thinking along similar lines, my hyper-focused son is consumed by the conviction that he should be armed with one of the pepper-spray canisters holstered to the hipbelts of Penny’s and my backpacks. When not distracted by throwing sticks into the raging creek at Deadwood Falls, or watching for moose in the boggy, partly forested flats of the St. Mary River, he persistently returns to his argument that he is just as capable as his mother or me of calmly deploying pepper spray at a charging grizzly. I try, in vain, to convince him that an adult is better able to react to that inconceivably frightful circumstance—although I’m not really sure I believe that.

Read the entire story and see photos and a video from that trip at thebigoutside.com/Glacier_s_Gunsight_Pass_4VU.html. See other stories about outdoor adventures at TheBigOutside.com.

The Interview: Park Service Director Jarvis dishes on climate threats, politics, and watering giant sequoias

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis calls climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of the national park system that we’ve ever faced.”

NPS Director Jon Jarvis

Jarvis, who began his NPS career in 1976 and took over as director in October 2009, oversees America’s 58 national parks and more then 300 other units of the park system at a time when scientists are learning more about the myriad threats posed by warming temperatures. Those include the expected disappearance of Glacier National Park’s glaciers within a decade; snowpack declining virtually everywhere and the sweeping impacts of that on rivers, recreation, and ecosystems; more, larger wildfires and invasive species devastating forests across the West; and the gradual inundation by rising seas of park lands from the Olympic coast to Acadia to the Everglades.

Jarvis has served as a park biologist, chief of natural and cultural resources at several parks, superintendent at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Mount Rainier National Park, and director of the Pacific West Region. He says he began working on climate issues 20 years ago. In an exclusive interview with TheBigOutside.com for my upcoming book on parks and climate change, he talked about how the National Park Service is responding to the climate threat, and the possibility of employing drastic measures like irrigating giant sequoia trees.

Read the complete interview and find stories and images of outdoor adventures at TheBigOutside.com.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>  

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis calls climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of the national park system that we’ve ever faced.”

Jarvis, who began his NPS career in 1976 and took over as director in October 2009, oversees America’s 58 national parks and more then 300 other units of the park system at a time when scientists are learning more about the myriad threats posed by warming temperatures. Those include the expected disappearance of Glacier National Park’s glaciers within a decade; snowpack declining virtually everywhere and the sweeping impacts of that on rivers, recreation, and ecosystems; more, larger wildfires and invasive species devastating forests across the West; and the gradual inundation by rising seas of park lands from the Olympic coast to Acadia to the Everglades.

Jarvis has served as a park biologist, chief of natural and cultural resources at several parks, superintendent at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Mount Rainier National Park, and director of the Pacific West Region. He says he began working on climate issues 20 years ago. In an exclusive interview with TheBigOutside.com for my upcoming book on parks and climate change, he talked about how the National Park Service is responding to the climate threat, and the possibility of employing drastic measures like irrigating giant sequoia trees.