Granite Park Chalet Trip 2011

When we made our first (well, first as a couple and my first) trip to Granite Park Chalet in 2009, we thought we had poor weather for the trip.  We were wrong.  Even the wintery weather and poor visibility of the day we spent at the Chalet in 2009, while colder (albeit drier), was more conducive to sight seeing than what we experienced this year.

My husband and I enjoyed the drive to Kalispell on Tuesday evening, being treated to a fantastic sunset over Flathead Lake.

However, when we drove up Going to the Sun Road on Wednesday morning, the view was considerably less enjoyable.

It didn’t bode well for a 7.6 mile hike.  Were it not for the fact that we had made and paid for our reservations 9 months ago, we wouldn’t have chosen to take a hike on this day.  Circumstances being what they were, however, we proceeded with our plans.

We drove both vehicles over Logan Pass to park one at the bottom of the Swiftcurrent Trailhead in the Many Glacier area of the Park.  My husband found being unable to see the edge of the road in the fog to be disconcerting.  That didn’t bother me, but being unable to see construction workers in the one-lane construction zone, and worrying that they’d appear out of no where right in front of me (which happened), spooked me.

After leaving one car at Swiftcurrent, we drove back up to the Logan Pass Visitor Center Parking Lot, where we waited for the other members of our party – my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.  Visibility remained short.

We hit the trail in the fog.

Walking the trail along the Garden Wall was like walking in a cloud.

Past the Garden Wall, however, the clouds lifted, patches of sky became visible, and the sun was peaking through holes in the cloud ceiling.  I became optimistic that perhaps conditions were going to improve.


We strolled along, marveling at the wildflowers still in bloom that are usually long gone by this time of year.

During this time I actually complained of being too hot.  Repeatedly.  I removed my hooded sweatshirt from beneath my poncho and hung it on the outside of my backpack (yes, I can hear you laughing at that stupidity).  I still complained of being hot.

That was short lived.  Before long, a darkening sky and distant rumbles of thunder replaced the feeling of optimism with an ominous feeling.  The storm reached us before we reached Haystack Butte.  Lightening cracked above us, too close for comfort, thunder boomed, and we were pelted with hail and heavy rain.  We cowered against and between glacial boulders but were, nonetheless, soaked.  Then the wind picked up.  I told the others I wasn’t too hot anymore.  My brother-in-law dryly replied “I believe you.”

Following that storm, we had a respite of sun that lasted long enough to see us to the other side of Haystack Butte, the half-way point of the hike, but that was the last break in the weather we would enjoy.  More lightening, thunder, rain and hail followed.  By this time I had fallen far behind the rest of the group and so I was unable to see my husband when the scary sound of a rock slide that I could hear, but not see, poured into my ears.  Fortunately my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had passed the point where the slide occurred and my husband had not yet reached it, having stopped to wait for me.  When I caught up, we rushed through the slide area.

My camera remained beneath my poncho after that point for protection, in so much as was possible in the conditions, from the rain.  We reached the Granite Park Chalet thoroughly soaked and chilled to find that we had little in the way of dry clothing in our packs as well.  That cotton hooded sweatshirt hanging from my backpack had absorbed so much water it weighed about a hundred pounds by that time.  I had no dry shirts.  My husband and brother-in-law each loaned me one.  Thanks, guys!

The following morning the snowline was a couple hundred feet above us and the early morning views of the fresh snow through breaks in the fog were beautiful.

However, by mid-morning we were socked in fog and could no longer see more than 50 yards — often less.

We played cribbage and read in the Chalet, which I found relaxing and enjoyable, even though I didn’t win a single game.  Grrr….

Dave, one of the much appreciated chalet hosts, commented it was the quietest day they had had the chalet all season, with few day hikers and 4 reservation cancellations — unheard of!

Late in the afternoon the cloud ceiling lifted enough that my brother-in-law ventured out for a trip up to Swiftcurrent Pass, but no one else was motivated to join him.  By evening the cloud ceiling had lifted considerably and was starting to break up, promising a better day to follow.


Oh!  And what a glorious morning it was!!!!

After I enjoyed that wonderful pre-dawn show, I joined the rest of the crew, who had risen a bit later than me, in the Chalet for breakfast.  Then we packed up to head out.  There had been some debate about which trail to take out.  We had ruled out Swiftcurrent Trail as being too steep for the way we were feeling (my sister-in-law was having knee trouble and I was having plantar fasciitis trouble) and also because, even if we had wanted to hike it out, and despite our planning in leaving a vehicle at the Swiftcurrent Trailhead, that vehicle was useless.  You see, my husband had had a brain fart and tossed the keys for that vehicle into the glove box of the vehicle we left at Logan Pass.  Oops.  Oh well…  no one really wanted to hike out that way at that point anyway.

My husband had initially favored the shortest route, the Loop, but had come to decide by that time that he was open to the Highline Trail.  I didn’t want anyone hiking alone, so I was going to do whatever he did.  I think he was still undecided.  However, the decision was made for us when the Granite Park Ranger informed everyone who had not yet hit a trail that the Highline Trail had been closed due to a rock slide just 1/4 mile from the opposite end of the trail.  So, down the Loop we headed.  As always, I began the hike by testing the access and speed to draw my bear spray.  I found it stuck in the holster.  I had to wrestle it out with two hands.  My poncho has a kangaroo pouch so I put it there for easy access and yelled at my husband to check his, too.

As it turns out, while I may have not wanted anyone to be alone, particularly on that trail that we knew, from the Ranger, was being used by several grizzlies, I ended up hiking alone as my pace was slower than that of the others who would draw ahead of me and periodically stop for me to catch up.  The Loop is a twisty curvy trail with sections where there is thick vegetation on both sides where, as we experienced before, one can come around a curve in the trail and come face to face with a bear.  That being the case, and not wanting to startled a bear, I was making plenty of noise so they would hear me coming and move off.  I recited Robert Service poetry – The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew.  I sang the University of Montana Fight Song (stopping before the last line “from the tummy of the grizzly bear”).  I was sure that I had scared off anything with ears.  Certainly my traveling companions had moved out of earshot.

As I passed through the burn areas I paused a few times to enjoy the bleached skeleton trees (I do enjoy them) and to examine grizzly skat — some old, some recent.

Then…  I rounded a corner to find myself 10-15 yards away from a grizzly bear.  He was just a couple feet off the trail.  I yanked my bear spray out of the kangaroo pouch and removed the safety, just in case, while backing up and yelling “GRIZZLY!” to alert others who might be in ear shot (I didn’t know how far ahead of me my husband and in-laws were).   When I backed up back around the bend, I was unable to see the griz but yelled “GO AWAY, BEAR!”  Then, I cautiously peaked back around the curve.  I couldn’t see the griz but knew he was still very near by but apparently heeding my request and going away — he wasn’t coming toward me, in any event.  I heard people on the trail below me but couldn’t see them, as they were around the next bend.  I was afraid that either they would push the griz at me or I’d push it at them.  I yelled out “I can hear you coming up the trail but can’t see you…  There is a grizzly bear between us!”  They yelled back “THANK YOU!”  That group and I each cautiously proceeded around curves until we could see each other.  They were about 100 yards down trail.  I had just glimpsed the griz moving out of sight up hill from the trail, disappearing into the vegetation, but still only about 50 yards away.  When that party and I came together, we stopped and chatted for a couple minutes.  I warned the hikers I met going the opposite direction to be alert and make lots of noise.  The rest of the hike was completed without further event.  .

Since we had left no vehicles at the bottom of the Loop trailhead, we caught the shuttle to return to Logan Pass then headed over the pass and then to the Swiftcurrent Trailhead to pick up the car.  At Swiftcurrent I said goodbye to my husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law who were returning home while I was staying in the Park for the rest of the weekend.  I enjoyed a shower at the Swiftcurrent Inn before heading for the Two Medicine area for a visit to Running Eagle Fall.

On my way back to St. Mary Campground, where I had reservations for that night, I stopped for ice and food for the night, then made an early camp.  As the sun set, the sky was lit with pink and lavender and the crescent moon peaked through.

I hoped the fluffy clouds would stick around to pink up again at sunrise over Wild Goose Island but I woke to an absolutely cloudless blue bird day.  More on that, and the rest of the weekend, in the next installment…

More photos from the trip (including from the days to come) are here:

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