Our day at Granite Park Chalet & the hike out via The Loop

**  If you haven’t already, you should read the first installment of this trip report first — scroll down to the previous post.

I woke pre-dawn on Monday morning. Nature called. My feet objected to movement but the trip was necessary. As I was walking to the outhouse, a frozen rain drop, blown out of a tree by the fierce wind, was driven into my ear canal. Good morning!

On my way back to our cabin room I looked around to see if there was any point in getting the camera out for sunrise. It was obvious there would be no sunrise this morning. The world was gray. We were surrounded by low-lying clouds with no view of the sky. There being no point, then, in staying up, I returned to bed to sleep in.

I got up the second time around 8:30 and joined Matt, who had risen a little before, in the Chalet dining room for a breakfast of Cup of Noodles (it was hot and that’s all that mattered) followed by huckleberry flavored coffee and a Montana Monster Cookie.

Our original plan for Monday was a hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. My feet were in no shape for that. Matt considered joining another couple if the weather cleared enough for viewing of the glacier to be possible. In the mean time, we sat at one of the trestle tables next to a window and played cribbage as we watched the storms blow past. Matt beat me 6 games to 2 (the first 2 games up resulting from a skunk).

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The mercury hit a high of 34 degrees Fahrenheit that day, but that doesn’t account for wind chill. The wind was blowing steady all day and gusting to about 25 Mph at times. I don’t know what the wind chill factor was but I’ll hazard a guess that it was around 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Though it was early in the day, still before noon, some hikers had arrived via both The Loop Trail and the Highline Trail and warmed their chilled fingers at the wood fire.

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As the afternoon wore on we watched a griz sow with two cubs about half a mile up the Highline Trail — between the Chalet and the junction with the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. They were on and off the trail for hours. We could watch as hikers approached and passed them, some aware of the bears, others unaware. As the trio continued to linger on the trail the Rangers decided the situation was too hazardous and went out to haze the family further away from the trail, shooting them with rubber bullets.

The wind and snow increased in the afternoon, reducing visibility. The couple that Matt had considered joining on a trip to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook gave up after their third attempt in wind blown wet snow and zero visibility.

More hikers arrived as the afternoon wore on and dried their weather soaked clothes and shared stories at the wood fire.

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I recovered a little bit of pride by beating Matt in a game of Scrabble while munching on a huckleberry chocolate bar and sipping huckleberry hot chocolate (bit of a theme here) by a hundred or so points. That has to equal a skunk in cribbage, right?

At day’s end there was still too much cloud cover for a sunset but there was a bit of break in the clouds looking south…

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… and a lightening of the clouds to the west.

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There was some hope for sun for the hike out on Tuesday.

I want to put in a few words for the concessionaire running the Granite Park Chalet — Belton Chalets.

The staff working the chalet over our visit, Clayton, Joan and Laurie, were hospitable, friendly, and conscientious. They helped all of the hikers who passed through as well as those of us spending a night or two feel comfortable and welcome. I also noted with much appreciation and great approval the great many Montana made food and drink items offered for sale at the Chalet — Montana made huckleberry flavored coffee, Montana made huckleberry hot chocolate, Montana made huckleberry chocolate Dream Bars, Montana made Monster Cookies, Montana made Happy Hiker Granola, etc.

It was colder in the cabin room that night. I ended up putting chemical hand/foot warmers in my wool socks to keep my toes from freezing. Burrrr!

Tuesday morning we breakfasted on Cup of Noodle soup (again) before loading up our packs with all of the excess food we had pre-ordered. Then we donned our poor weather gear and got ready to hit the trail…

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… and bid goodbye to the Granite Park Chalet.

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Again, Matt led the way.

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Low lying clouds obscured the mountain tops and threatened snow or rain, but none fell on us and soon we were stripping off our outer layers of clothing.

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The Chalet quickly dwindled in the distance as we trekked fairly quickly down the steep slope.

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Just about a mile or so down the trail, Matt, walking about 15 yards ahead of me, rounded a corner and came face to face with a bear about 15-20 feet ahead of him on the trail. He yelled “Bear!” and carefully but quickly walked backward to me. I had the bear spray in hand with safety off immediately. I asked how far away it was and was surprised to hear how close it was. We spoke loudly for a couple minutes, unable to see if it was moving or not around that blind corner. We let out a few more shouts and blew loudly on our whistle. I yelled out, “Hello, bear! My name is Katie. What’s yours?” (old inside joke — Buck, at least, should get it). No answer. I took that to mean the trail was clear. We cautiously made our way around the corner. The foliage was thick enough that the bear could have been four feet off the trail and we wouldn’t see him and, in any event, we didn’t see him again.

Walking downhill didn’t rub my sore heels much, so, despite the fact that the thick moleskin a day hiking nurse had kindly gifted me with had immediately slipped out of place (remember to pack duct tape next time!), the pain in my feet was slight enough for me to enjoy the hike.

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As we continued down the trail we came to the area burned in the fires of 2003.

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The sun was shining on us but storms loomed further is the distance making for some dramatic lighting as the bleached skeletons of burned alpine firs stood sentinel along the trail.


The rain and snow were passing us by, the sun was shining on us, it was a beautiful day.

I’ll mention, though, that the trail is steep and rough and folks with poor knees might do well to avoid traveling it downhill (and it would be a lung buster going uphill).

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We encountered a few other parties of hikers going both directions on the trail and let all that were headed the opposite direction know to make lots of noise as there was a bear in the vicinity.

We yielded the trail to two NPS mule strings hauling linens and propane to the Chalet and, presumably, Ranger Station and Fire Lookout, and retrieving food as the Chalet was being closed for the season this day.

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From what we understand, the trio hiking about 200 yards ahead of us yielded to the wrong side (the uphill side) and one of the mules in the lead train got spooked and broke free of the string. That mule was still loose and walking between the two strings and still a bit skittish when they passed us.

It was a fairly fast trip out and soon we had arrived at our car for the drive home. My knees were feeling the steep trail by that time and my feet were grateful to be out of the boots. We drove to Drummond to meet my mom, aunt and cousins to retrieve Bridger from them and Matt enjoyed a rum and Pepsi at The Canyon bar while we waited.

It was a great trip (despite blisters and blizzards) and we look forward to repeating it. We’d like to make it an annual or semi-annual tradition.

My boots have been officially retired. They were good friends for many years and served admirably over many hikes but they’ve given their all and are no longer fit for duty.

Next time we’d like to go in July when the bear grass is flowering. Here’s hoping that the weather is clear enough to allow viewing of the Grinnell Glacier next time!

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