Thursday, January 18, 2018

Glacier National Park: A Day Hikers Overview

"Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

- John Muir on his visit to Glacier National Park in the early-1890s
Encompassing more than a million acres, Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is home to some of the most beautiful alpine meadows, lakes, pristine forests, rugged peaks and glacially-carved valleys in the world. Its diverse habitats support nearly 70 species of mammals, including grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, wolverines, gray wolves and mountain lions. With more than 740 miles of trails leading to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, Glacier is also a hiker's paradise.

Considering its massive size, most people divide the park into sections in order to focus on one or two areas at a time. The four most popular areas in the park are West Glacier and Lake McDonald, Two Medicine, Logan Pass, and Many Glacier. The following are a few suggestions for day hikes in each of these areas.

Two Medicine

Although not quite as popular as some of the other areas in Glacier, the Two Medicine Valley in the southeast corner of the park still offers some incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the best hikes in this area leads to Scenic Point. This rock outcropping, which sits above an alpine tundra meadow, offers panoramic views of much of the entire Two Medicine Valley. On a clear day you can even see the Sweet Grass Hills rising above the Great Plains roughly 90 miles away!

The most well-known backcountry hike in the Two Medicine area is Dawson Pass. Although this route usually gets most of the attention, I think the views from Pitamakan Pass are much more dramatic. From the knife-edge ridge you can see five cobalt-blue lakes on either side of you. Can’t decide on which one to hike? The two passes can be combined to create one epic day on the trail.

Many Glacier

One of the most popular destinations in the park is Many Glacier. Classic hikes such as Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier get most of the attention; however, there are two other destinations that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you’re seeking a degree of solitude in this stunning valley.

One of these is Ptarmigan Tunnel. The highlight of this hike is passing through a 240-foot tunnel that was cut through Ptarmigan Wall. The tunnel was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's so that visitors on horseback could pass over into the remote Belly River area. After hiking all day in the Many Glacier Valley, walking to the other side of the tunnel is like walking into another world. The views from the other side are simply stunning.

The other destination, Cracker Lake, has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It has the most beautiful turquoise color you could ever imagine. If it were possible to ignore the magnificent scenery of the surrounding mountains, it would still be well worth the 12.6-mile roundtrip hike, just to see the amazing color of this lake. Cracker Lake’s deep shade of turquoise is the result of light refraction through its suspended load of glacial silt.

West Glacier / Lake McDonald

For more than a century one of the things that has made hiking in Glacier unique are its two Swiss-style backcountry chalets: Granite Park and Sperry. The Granite Park Chalet can be reached by taking the epic Highline Trail from Logan Pass, or by taking the 4.2-mile climb from The Loop area on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Unfortunately the historic Sperry Chalet dormitory building was severely burned during the summer of 2017. Fortunately the outer stone structure survived, and as of right now, the park is moving forward with the possibility of rebuilding the lodge. Moreover, the historic dining room survived, although it’s not clear as to whether that will reopen for lunch to day hikers in 2018, nor is it clear as to how far hikers will be able to travel along the Sperry Trail. If open, the 6.1-mile hike from the Lake McDonald Lodge passes through Glacier Basin where hikers will enjoy views of several waterfalls flowing hundreds of feet down the cliff walls that surround the alpine meadow.

From the same trailhead is the hike that leads to the historic Mt. Brown Fire Lookout. The trail climbs 4250 feet in only 5 miles, making it one of the toughest day hikes in the park. The elevation gain is similar to the amount gained on many of the trails leading to the summits of 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. However, at a much lower elevation, hikers will have far more oxygen to breathe. From the lookout the views into the heart of Glacier are simply amazing.

For a much easier hike, but one that still includes stunning scenery that Glacier is famous for, be sure to check out Avalanche Lake.

Logan Pass

To see the best of what Glacier National Park has to offer you have to go deep into the high country. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Highline Trail. In fact, this world famous hike should be on the bucket list of every self-respecting hiker! The views, the wildlife and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. From Logan Pass, high adventure awaits from the start. Just beyond the trailhead hikers are forced to pass
over a six-foot wide ledge for roughly one-quarter of a mile. One false move and your next stop will be on the pavement of the Going-To-The-Sun Road - more than one hundred feet below. Fortunately the park has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail. My advice is to not let this deter you, as this is one of the most scenic trails in America. Almost 99% of the Highline passes through open country, so there's never any dull scenery on this hike. The trail is also famous for wildlife, especially bighorn sheep and mountain goats, which are frequently seen just off the side of the trail. Hikers will have the choice of taking the moderate hike to Haystack Pass, or the extremely strenuous hike up to an overlook along the crest of the Continental Divide which offers stunning views of Grinnell Glacier some one thousand feet below. This just might be the best view in the park.

Just a notch below the Highline Trail on the “awesome meter”, but far less crowded, is Piegan Pass. The trail offers mind-blowing views of mountains, glaciers, alpine meadows and an up-close view of the Garden Wall, a glacially-carved arĂȘte that marks the Continental Divide. Near Piegan Pass, and one of my absolute favorite areas in Glacier, is Preston Park. In the early summer, after the snow finally melts, this incredibly beautiful alpine meadow becomes a carpet of wildflowers.

For more information on all these hikes, and many others throughout the park, please visit HikinginGlacier.com.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Statistical Analysis on Fatalities While Climbing Longs Peak

In 2014 Outside Magazine ranked the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park as one of the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world. The article cited the peak's narrow ledges and its exposure to steep cliffs as some of the primary reasons as to why so many people have died while trying to reach its summit. Being located in a very popular national park, as well as being in close proximity to several major population centers, it's also one of the most popular fourteeners in Colorado. An estimated 7000 to 10,000 hikers and climbers reach the summit each year (compared to just 260 in 1915, and 623 in 1916). Although the standard route isn't a technical climb, as Outside points out, it's still relatively easy for inexperienced climbers to get in over their heads. All of this is a recipe for disaster, as many people have fatally realized.

Roughly five years ago I published a blog that reviewed some basic statistics on the people who have died while climbing Longs Peak. That post was based on a list of all deaths on the mountain, which was published in the Summer 2011 edition of Trail & Timberline, a quarterly publication from the Colorado Mountain Club. Since the publication of that article, and my blog post, the peak has claimed several more lives. In this blog post I wanted to provide an updated review of the general statistics, offer a few observations into recent trends, and see if there's anything prospective climbers can learn from them.

Between 1915, the year Rocky Mountain was established as a national park, and 2017, a total of 374 park visitors have died as a result of accidents, car crashes, heart attacks and various other reasons. Included within those statistics are 67 fatalities associated with climbing Longs Peak. The following are a few observations from the data collected by the national park:

* Among the 67 fatalities recorded on Longs Peak between 1915 and 2017, only 4 were women. This may have a lot to do with the ratio of men versus women climbing the mountain, but could also suggest that women take less risks or are much more careful. Unfortunately there's not enough data to make any solid conclusions regarding this. Interestingly, the first person to die on the mountain was a woman. After successfully reaching the summit on September 23, 1884, Carrie J. Welton died of exhaustion and hypothermia while descending the Keyhole Route. Ms. Welton also has the distinction of being the first known person to die within the boundaries of the future national park. No woman has died on the mountain since 1972.

* The average age for those that have died while climbing the mountain is 32.3 years of age. The oldest person to die was 75 when he slipped on ice along the Narrows section of the Keyhole Route. Throughout the lifespan of the park there have been two 16-year-olds that have died on the peak; one in 1932, and the other in 1980. A total of 10 victims were teenagers, which represents roughly 15% of all deaths. Roughly 58% of all victims were below the age of 30.

* Interestingly, however, during the eleven years between 1999 and 2009, the average age among the 11 climbers that died during that time period jumped to 47. Since then, the average age among the 10 victims that have died after 2009 has returned to 32.6 years of age, which is roughly equal to the long-term average.

* So far, during the second decade of the 21st Century, 10 fatalities have been recorded. However, the deadliest decade was the 1970s when the mountain claimed the lives of 13 people.

* Just over 70% of all deaths were the result of a fall - most of them un-roped.

* The technical East Face route has witnessed 14 deaths over the lifespan of the park. The popular Keyhole Route, however, has reported the most fatalities during that same time period. Nineteen people have lost their lives while climbing above the Keyhole. Eight of those deaths have occurred since 2009. Additionally, three other people have died at or near the Keyhole, while another died of hypothermia at the Boulder Field. An additional 4 other people have died while hiking on the Longs Peak Trail (below the Boulder Field) - all were heart attack victims.

* Both the Homestretch and the Ledges on the Keyhole Route have seen the most fatalities of any one location on the mountain. Both have recorded 6 deaths since 1915.

* 20 people have died on the mountain for reasons other than falls, including 7 from hypothermia, 6 from heart attacks, 3 by lightning, and 3 from exhaustion and exposure. Two people have died as a result of suicide, including one person who ingested anti-freeze at the Narrows in 1979. The young man was reported to be depressed over inadequate scores on his medical school entrance exams.

* Perhaps the most famous person to perish on the mountain was Agnes Vaille. On January 25, 1925, Ms. Vaille became the first woman to climb Longs Peak in the winter. While making her descent along the Keyhole Route, Vaille slipped and fell about 150 feet. Spent with fatigue, Vaille insisted she needed a short nap, but froze to death before her hiking partner could bring back help. Today, just below the Keyhole, is the Agnes Vaille Shelter. Built as a memorial to Ms. Vaille, the rock shelter also serves as a refuge for hikers and climbers in need.

* One other notable death occurred in 1889 - prior to the park's establishment. Frank Stryker was descending down the Homestretch on the Keyhole Route (according to Death, Daring & Disaster he was still ascending) when a loaded pistol fell out of his pocket and discharged into his neck. You could say there was a bit of karma involved. The 28-year-old was taking pleasure in launching large boulders down the mountain. The newspaper account at the time said "he announced his intentions of sending off a particularly huge stone" just before the accident occurred. The man continued to cling to life for ten more hours while his companions attempted to transport him down the mountain on a makeshift litter.

If you're considering a hike to the Keyhole or Chasm Lake, or even a climb to the summit of Longs Peak, it's always a good idea to know your limits and to respect the mountain. The park website warns that the Keyhole Route "is not a 'walk in the park.' This is much more than a hike. This is a climb, a classic mountaineering route that should not be underestimated."

For more information on hiking to Chasm Lake, please click here.

For more information on hiking to the Keyhole, please click here.






Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
HikingintheSmokys.com