Our first full day at Glacier National Park started with a jolt, a bit of déjà vu, and an impulsive change of plans. It got very hot, but we not only survived, but really enjoyed our long hike.
The day started a lot earlier than expected, when I woke at about 12:30am to an earthquake. It didn't seem huge, and lasted only a couple seconds. I went to see if it was on the USGS site, but they hadn't posted it yet. I did fill out the form where you can report an event, and not long after I did that, it showed up on the list. It was magnitude 5.8, 13.6km deep, and about 100 miles SE of us. Apparently there were over 20 aftershocks greater than magnitude 2.5 throughout the day and night (including a 4.9 five minutes after the first one, and eight over the next hour), but I didn't feel any of those.
We were wanting to get up a bit early, but not that early, so I got back to sleep. We woke a bit before our alarm and I let Melody know about the quake which she slept through, and that it was relatively mild where we were. We then ate breakfast, then hopped into the car to get back to the Apgar Visitor Center to catch a shuttle.
Getting to the hike
Our plan was to take the shuttle to Logan Pass, transfer to another one which would take us to St. Mary Falls, then do that hike (and the extension to Virginia Falls). We would then shuttle back to Logan Pass to go to the Hidden Lake Overlook, after which we would shuttle back to Apgar (doing one more transfer at Avalanche Creek).
The express shuttles had already all left, so we were waiting for the first limited stop shuttle to Logan Pass. There are several shuttle companies, but only the one run by the park is free. In the earlier part of the morning, small shuttles are run directly to Logan Pass, but after 9am, most shuttles are larger ones which only go to Avalanche Creek, then smaller ones (which can negotiate the tight turns) go between there and Logan Pass. There is another set of shuttles between Logan Pass and the St. Mary Visitor Center. Apparently we had run into unusual bad luck the day before having to wait so long at the Apgar Visitor Center, probably due to road work.
While we were waiting in line, we chatted a bit with the women in line behind us. One of them grew up in the area, but now lives in New Orleans and tries to get back often. If that sounds familiar, it's just like the woman we saw the previous day. Odd.
The small shuttle came, and eight of us boarded (they leave four seats open so there's room for people who may want to board at later stops). The driver was very cheery and chatty. The first stop was Sprague Creek, but no one was waiting, and the driver kept going. After not too long, she suddenly asked if anyone wanted to get off at Sprague Creek; apparently she completely went past the stop, but fortunately everyone was going to Logan Pass. She made sure to stop at Avalanche Creek and The Loop.
Toward the end of our shuttle ride to Logan Pass, an announcement came over the driver's radio saying that the Highline Trail had just opened. That was a trail we were looking into (and connecting it with another trail which goes down to The Loop), but saw that it wasn't expected to be open until after our stay. We did a mental inventory, and thought we had enough food and water, and that we would have time to do the hike. The women from New Orleans were originally planning to also take a shuttle from Logan Pass so they could hike Piegan Pass, but they also were considering doing the Highline to Loop hike.
We got off of the shuttle and found a Park Ranger to ask about the Highline Trail. He said that there were some spots of snow, but as long as we were comfortable doing that, it should be fine. We topped off our water bottles and headed out.
Highline to Loop Trail
The trailhead was across the street, so we headed in the right direction. Crossing the street was actually a bit tricky because there was a large group of bikes which were planning on riding down Going to the Sun Road. We managed to get through them and to the trailhead, where the ranger was removing the “Trail Closed” sign.
Right off the bat we saw spectacular views of the valley, including the river and the road. Every turn of the trail revealed new vistas. The temperature was great, the sky was clear, and there were several people enjoying the trail along with us.
We did come across several patches of snow we needed to cross, some of them pretty long. Others were still pretty high, so the snow was cleared out where it crossed the trail. Those were actually quite nice to walk through, cooling us down.
The first part of the trail goes just below the Continental Divide along the Garden Wall. There's a section with a relatively narrow rocky ledge, and you can look down to Going to the Sun Road. There's a cable you can hold onto, but the path was actually quite a bit wider than a similar situation we ran across on Harry's Trail in the Mt. St. Helens Park (that was quite a bit narrower, and the whole trail and slopes were loose gravel). Still, the handhold is a nice touch for people who need it.
There was a lot of bear grass in bloom all throughout the hike. The shuttle driver said it only blooms once every seven years, so ends up we're pretty lucky with our timing. We also saw some bear grass blossoms when we were hiking with Jean.
The trail was pretty level, but we got to a part where it went steeply up then down so it could go over Haystack Pass (between Haystack Butte and the Garden Wall). Not long after we got over the high point we ate lunch with a great view.
We continued along the trail, and ran across the New Orleans women taking a rest. We leapfrogged each other until we got to the Granite Park Chalet, where all of us took a break.
To get back to a shuttle, we went down the trail which led us to The Loop. We knew it would be a long, steep downhill segment, but we didn't expect it to be so hot. By this point we were past the 7 mile mark on our hike, with about 4.5 to go. We once again saw the New Orleans women, and as they went ahead, we wished each other well.
This trail used to go through forest, but there was a huge fire in 2003 which burned 19,000 acres. You can see the forest recovering, and there were a lot of wildflowers. We didn't look at them too closely, however, since by this time it was getting quite hot, since the trail was very exposed to the sun. For the last couple miles, we were more concentrating on getting to The Loop rather than looking around very much. We did make it, though.
Rest of the day
As we emerged at The Loop, we started looking for the shuttle stop. We saw one going down the hill, and the driver indicated where the stop was. Unfortunately, there were a couple people ahead of us (they only pick up two people at a time at The Loop) but another shuttle pulled in as the first shuttle was getting ready to leave, so we hopped onto that one, relishing the air conditioning.
Avalanche Creek came all to soon, so we got out to wait for the next shuttle. And wait. While the shuttles were supposed to show up every 10 or 15 minutes, we waited well over a half hour, and were definitely tired. One did show up, and even though it was a large shuttle, it could barely hold all the people who wanted to get on. We were able to get seats, so we relaxed until we had the mental energy to figure out dinner. We decided to get off one stop early at Apgar Village to get dinner.
Getting off the bus, we started to make a beeline to the restaurant. Walking towards us were the same New Orleans women we had been seeing all day. They also had to wait quite a while for a shuttle, but did get one. They had gone to the tavern, then got ice cream.
We were quickly seated, and once water was served to us, we both nearly emptied our glasses in one gulp. Starting to cool down, we ordered and started planning the rest of our Glacier stay. After dinner, we went to the mercantile to pick up extra things for breakfast, then went to get some ice cream. Refreshed, we walked back to the Apgar Visitor Center where our car was parked, and drove back to the room. Once we were cleaned up, we didn't last very long before falling asleep.