Glacier National Park: Planning


Above Grinnell Lake, the spot where I cried

Glacier National Park was established by Congress on May 11, 1910 with the enabling legislation signed by President William Howard Taft. The Park protects over a million acres of the northern Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. It was the tenth most visited National Park in 2017 with over 3.3 million visitors.

For years Glacier National Park has been writ large in Sean’s and my minds because it is so beloved of our friends Angela and Dan, fellow National Park enthusiasts who have visited the Park many times, often at the conclusion of long summer road trips. (They are both Chicago Public Schools teachers.) During the long Chicago winter, the four of us were part of a Wednesday night Skeeball league at a local brewery. Over the course of our weekly hanging out and playing (often terribly), the subject rose of our joining them at Glacier in the summer of 2018. We knew that we were going to California in July for Andrew’s wedding and that my birthday trip was coming in November, so an August trip to Glacier might work out quite nicely.

And so it did.

Angela and Dan would be in Glacier with fellow teacher Barbara for two weeks. Looking at schedules and airfare options, we decided the best bet for joining them would be to fly to Great Falls, Montana on July 31 and camp with them in the Park for the final five nights of their trip, departing on August 6.

Dan in particular is in tune with Glacier National Park and follows message boards and social media groups about the Park and its conditions. The winter of 2017-2018 was unusually snowy with people in the region snowed into their cabins or homes. We all wondered what that would mean for our trip.

Because we were going with friends with such experience with Glacier, I did far less planning than usual. Dan booked the campsite when it became available, for instance. In some ways, I would be experiencing a National Park the way Sean usually does, letting things wash over him without being too involved in the specifics of the planning.

Dan and Angela departed Chicago after school got out in late June for a road trip that would take them to Rocky Mountain, Great Basin, and other Parks and NPS sites. Barbara joined them in Washington. They were already on the road when I had my bits of acrophobia at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, so I shot them off an email to read when they had internet access:

Also, Sequoia/Kings Canyon really brought out my acrophobia. Hopefully it dies down a bit (or the chance to settle in a bit at Glacier helps), but that road in and out of Kings Canyon was horrible, and there were two hikes (High Sierra and Moro Rock) where I had to stop and go back. (Sean completed Moro Rock.) I guess what I’m saying is that if there is a super-terrifying hike you definitely want to do this year, don’t necessarily wait for us to get there.

This did raise some concern about the legendary Going to the Sun Road, an engineering feat that bisects the Park. It includes twelve particularly hair-raising miles west of Logan Pass where the two-lane road clings to the Garden Wall with sheer drop-offs. Years earlier, watching Ken Burns’ The National Parks, I had already doubted my comfort level with the Going to the Sun Road. We would see how I did.

In final preparation during the three weeks of July in Chicago between California and Glacier, we hashed out which camping equipment we should bring and which would be redundant. As part of that planning, we decided that we would not be doing any overnight backpacking. The three of them would do Goat Haunt as an overnight a few nights before our arrival.

As July waned, we were excited for both one of the big Parks (both in size and in fame) of the system and to finally visit a National Park with our most Park-obsessed friends.

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