Monday, July 26, 2010

Pictures of Glacier

Temperatures in Missoula this past weekend were forecasted to climb to nearly 100 degrees. My TransRockies partner, Keith, was planning to visit one of his friends in Kalispell, about two hours north of this insufferably hot place. I've been wanting to visit Glacier National Park, which I've never really explored beyond the Going-To-The-Sun road. These three factors sparked a fantastically fun weekend, the kind that leaves me with a loss for words and an excessive number of pictures to post on my blog.

Keith's friend is an ultrarunner named Danni, who works as an attorney for a firm in Kalispell. She used to be a lawyer for a high-powered firm in Chicago, with prestige, salary, and everything that goes with it. Then, one day about four years ago, she attended a "Woman-to-Woman" conference put on by her firm, where topics ranged from "What Not To Wear" (basically, the things she wore to work most every day) to "How to Balance Work and Family," where a woman talked about forgoing dinner in favor of "nighttime snack" with her kids. Danni went home that day and immediately plotted her escape to the mountains, and landed in Kalispell, Montana, where she still has a good job, a beautiful historic home and a husband who cooks beingets (New Orleans fry bread) for Sunday brunch. Oh, and sometimes she goes out and runs 100 miles. And she's super funny. By the end of the weekend, I wanted to ask her if she'd be my new BFF, but I didn't want to seem too forward, given we'd never met before I showed up at her doorstep late Friday evening.

Danni took me to her favorite spots in Glacier National Park, starting Saturday morning with Gunsight Pass.

The one-way hike is 20-21 miles (depending on what signs you believe) from the east side of the Continental Divide to the west. We parked at Lake McDonald Lodge and took the shuttle over the precarious, narrow, cliff-edge road to the Jackson Glacier trailhead.

The park's Web site had warned of lots of snow on the pass, and we were prepared with ice axes, but it turned out to be nothing more than a few short snowfields, not even long enough to glissade. We especially had to laugh at the minimally dangerous conditions after we passed a couple of backpackers near the trailhead who told us the snow had turned them around, and basically implied that we were probably doomed if we chose to continue on our epic attempt to traverse the entire trail in a single day.

I do think 21 miles is a decent day hike, but certainly within the grasp of most fit people. While we walked, Danni indicated which parts of the trail she would normally walk and which parts she would run. It was a little eye-opening, actually, to see that ultrarunning doesn't necessarily have to be about logging eight-minute miles for 100 miles straight. Many ultrarunners do a lot of walking, which makes it seem more obtainable for those of us who have leaned heavily on wheels for most of our "fit" lives.

While Missoula melted in the sun, the weather in Glacier was absolutely perfect, 70 degrees and clear.

Gunsight Pass.

Danni crossing under a waterfall below the pass.

We started to see lots of mountain goats right on the trail. This kid goat was so adorable. Both Danni and I wanted to reach out and pet it, but of course we did not. Funny how strong the urge is, though, when you see a cute fuzzy baby animal.

Then we encountered the billy goats who did not want to get off the trail. We herded a small group for several yards until they finally relented to letting us by. We finished the hike in about seven and a half hours (hardcore ultrarunners probably wouldn't even let you call that a day hike; more like a "half day.") We cooled down in the lodge with Diet Coke and beer in front of a sparkling Lake McDonald.

The next day we were able to enjoy a relaxing breakfast in Kalispell while we waited for Keith to make his way from the eastern half of the state, where he had been visiting friends. We all met up in East Glacier at 11.

Our Sunday hike was the Dawson and Pitimakin Pass loop, another favorite of Danni's. It wasn't hard to see why.

Starting at noon was a bit rough on both of us, tired as we were from the day before and struggling a bit as we climbed in 80-degree heat.

But it was minimal work for jaw-dropping views the entire time.

Keith lives in Banff, Alberta, and feels his home is the most beautiful place in the world. But he was willing to allow that maybe Montana is maybe kinda pretty, too.

The Sunday hike was strikingly different from Saturday's, just by nature of its location on the front range of the Rockies. Even though it's only a few dozen miles east of the Divide, it's a much drier and rockier place.

From the saddle where we perched to eat our lunch, we could even see the beginning of the American prairie, a flat expanse on the far horizon. I hadn't before really realized how close I am to the plains here in Western Montana. I'll have to get out there for a visit someday soon.

Instead of mountain goats, the Dawson-Pitimakin loop had bighorn sheep. We saw two separate groups — one all rams and the other all females.

The females were especially protective of the trail, but they eventually let us by.

The Sunday loop ended at about 17 miles, for a 37-mile weekend. I'm sore! But Keith agreed I could count it as a good training weekend, because there will be plenty of hike-a-bike in TransRockies. Only two more weeks! I'm officially in taper mode now. I'm hoping I can use that as an excuse to volunteer for the Swan Crest 100 next weekend. After spending 37 miles on my feet this weekend, I have this whole new fascination with Montana trail running and the possibilities therein (not that I'm going to start running on a regular basis all of the sudden, but I do admire the possibilities it creates, especially when you have the ability to travel 37 miles in one day as opposed to two.) But what a fun weekend! Thanks Danni and Keith!


  1. I love the pictures! Funny though, while you are there soaking up the sunshine, it's been pouring up here in Alaska. Anchorage is beginning to feel like how you often described Juneau. Keep on keeping on, I love reading about your adventures and checking out your pictures

    Whitney :)

  2. Stunningly beautiful Jill!!!

  3. Yes...I do love Banff...but weren't the first words out of my mouth when we all met up in East Glacier "I'm moving to Montana dammit!" My Montana weekend cast quite a spell on me!

  4. Absolutely beautiful photos again, Jill!

    I'm soooo jealous, sweltering down here in 95% humidity and temps of 105F. Ugh.

    Looking at your photos makes me happy! :-) (in spite of my jealousy)

  5. Wow! Great pictures. What a beautiful place.

  6. Wow... again some really nice pix....

  7. Alright, you're now friends with two of my friends, so we'll apparently have to be at least online friends. ;)

    Hello from California, and I'm SO glad you had a fun weekend of play with Danni and Keith. I used to be *almost* a Montannyan myself until a few years ago while working at Yellowstone.

    Lovely pictures and lovely company, it seems!

  8. Just beautiful, as usual - glad you are happy in Montana!!

  9. Hiked Gunsight last year, hadn't been to Glacier since I was a kid but it still has to be one of my favorite National Parks.

    Here is a link to some of the pictures I took on Gunsight if anyone is interested:

  10. What a beautiful weekend, Jill! I went to Glacier in August 2007, LOVE it there.

  11. It was definitely a fun weekend and, as I told Keith, you are someone I quickly felt like I've known forever -- my kinda people. Looking forward to hanging out at Bear-Gate! Wooohoo!

    P.S. Somehow you get superior pictures with your point and shoot. I think you do actually have photo skills.

  12. SWEET photos Jill. I need to return and spend some time in GP. Thanks for the post...o/o

  13. Great pictures! But *very* slow scrolling.


  14. It's a good thing I was busy having a very fun weekend or I might have been slightly jealous!! Glad y'all got along famously. Danni can be my SisterBride any time.

  15. Great photos! I was in GNP at the same time, different trails though. This was the first time I read your blog and wasn't jealous, it would have been cool to bump into you on the trails. You live in an awesome state!

  16. Thanks Jill, the photos brought back fond memories of my 1982 trip to California from Chicago via the northern route which took my brother and I through Glacier National Park. The infamous "Going to the Sun Highway" was long and brutal, but we felt no pain (well, some pain) since the scenery was so spectacular. I was as happy on that day as I've ever been in my entire life. Thanks again for helping me revisit that glorious day. - dave -

  17. That was a very good post, Jill. I am sorry I have never commented here before, though I have read your blog for a long time. Danni is a really good friend of mine and I actually never knew that about her leaving the firm in Chicago. What a great story. I can definitely see how the two of you would get along.

    I am also excited to follow your interest in trail running. Yes, yes, yes, there is lots of walking in ultras, especially up hills and in 100 milers. I think you may have a slightly biased view of it from your ex-boyfriend :).

  18. I would like to exchange links with your site
    Is this possible?

  19. Wow. Sounds like fun and exciting weekend. I'd been to Glacier already but I am still surprised with the beautiful scenic views you posted. It is wonderful gift that we have to treasure.


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