Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arriving at Glacier

At my first glimpse of the high mountain peaks surrounding Lake McDonald, my heart skips a beat and I feel the flood of emotion wash over me.  I am finally here!  Glacier National Park!  A long-time dream finally becoming a reality.  That sense of things falling into place.  That solid feeling of knowing that you are exactly where you need to be.  
My first view of Lake McDonald.
I’ve felt the tug of Glacier National Park since early in grad school.  I remember watching a program on PBS about the lodges that were build by the CCC (back when I used to watch TV-that tells you how long ago it was!).  The rugged landscapes, the wildflowers, the glacier carved valleys and alpine lakes— all of this called to me.  I’d even booked a trip out here, researched trails, got backcountry permits and everything, and had to cancel for reasons I can’t recall. 

But now I’m out here for the summer.  You might say the stars finally aligned.  Or you could say that I’m working my way through my bucket list, that I am methodically making my dreams a reality.   I did that exercise where you imagine you won a the lottery:  what would you do if you could do anything right now, had absolutely no financial constraints?  Then, realize that you really can do anything (well, you know… especially if you don’t have kids), that you can make it happen if you really want and it’s that important.  So I am here in Montana.  Life is short.  The glaciers are melting.

The roads are deserted, the parking lot at Lake McDonald Lodge (which is closed still) has only one other car.  How can this be Glacier?  Where are the crowds of people?  Apparently they are not early birds. 

As I am getting ready, a couple arrives at trailhead and we strike up a conversation.  I luck out and they are extremely knowledgeable hikers who offer advice on trails, answer my questions about grizzly bears ("Carry Bear Spray."), snow conditions (they’ve hiked this the previous week, and tell me to pack microspikes), AND it turns out they are botanists (they have a native plant nursery)!  I guess I should no longer be surprised when I meet EXACTLY who I most want to run into, who I most need— seems to happen a lot out here.  (Though I’m still reluctant to call this fate.  I don’t believe in that.  Nope.  I just smile and enjoy the coincidences that life throws at me.)
Red cedars.
Anyway, the couple offers to hike with me.  I am treated to an hour crash course in Montana botany.  I breath sighs of relief at the familiar plants whose cousins are on the east coast.  Rattlesnake orchid, indian pipe, pipsissewa, round leaved violet.  I take notes as quickly as I can on all the new plants.  What a delightful introduction to Glacier—meeting wonderful people and being introduced to the  natural history of the area!
After the couple and I part ways (they take another trail), I start to climb into deeper snow.  I put on my microspikes and continue on alone all the way to Snyder Lake.  It feels like wilderness, even though I know I am on a “popular” trail because there are few footprints, and no people. 
Climbing to Snyder Lake.
Majestic peaks rising around me, the deep snow, the crunch of microspikes on ice, the eery sound of streams beneath icebridges.  Then the ice covered lake, tree wells, wondering if I should be here by myself.
Snow drifts.
I assess my skill level and the terrain. I’ve crossed the snow of the High Sierra, taken a snow skills course and avalanche awareness in Colorado.  But, NO I don’t know the snow in these mountains, and probably would be smarter to be with someone else.  But I love the solitude.  I love having this place to myself.  I continue on.
I could get around this ice bridge OK.
Snyder Lake is full of ice, surrounded by huge peaks.  I try to skirt the edge.  I turn around when I hear the ominous deep sound of snow shifting underfoot.  No, I should NOT go further around the lake.  I backtrack, heart pounding.  It’s not a long hike, but it makes me feel alive and fills my heart with joy.
Snyder Lake.
How incredible to be alone in the snow, to be in Montana, after dreaming of this place for so long.  It feels beyond words.  Still not quite comprehending that I will be here in Montana all summer.  It's going to be so different from last year when I spend my summer on the PCT, but yet... I am still living the dream.
This is how deep the snow is.
For more information about the Snyder Lake Trail:  see this website


  1. So many things to love about this post. Beautiful writing and ever so descriptive. There are few who value life's opportunities and appreciate the vivid encounters of each day. Can't wait for my turn at Glacier!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Jan. I almost decided I would take a break from blogging this summer, so your encouragement is very much appreciated.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I'll try to find time to get my next posts up soon..

  3. Great to see a post! I was at Glacier in 2009 for a few hours. It was nice what I saw of it. I was attending at a conference on the south side of Flathead Lake for work and by coincidence my dad happened to be in Kalispell that same day so I drove around and met him for a short sojourn into Glacier. The GTTS road was not open yet.

    1. Wonderful that you got to at least see a slice of Glacier. The GTTS isn't all the way open now either, and everyone tells me that it's even more incredible later in the season when we can get up further into the backcountry. I don't know, I still ohh and ahh even on the drive to the supermarket!!!