Glacier National Park August 2015 Part1

Tim Valentine

May 24, 2015
There are a lot of photos so I will split this into two parts.
My daughter Holly and I continued our tour of the northwest wild lands by driving from Mount Rainier ( see post on hiking forum) to West Glacier where we hoped to hike the well known park day trails but also score on some backcountry permits during our weeklong stay. The park had already had one bad seasonal fire, the Reynolds Creek fire, but that had not grown in acreage for a while as I monitored the fire incident website. The Going to the Sun Road had been closed for a while too, but that was reopening to daylight travel as we drove East to the park. I anticipated lots of smoke and poor visibility, crowded campsites, and crowded trails due to the closures of so many other park locations being impacted by the fires. This visit to the park did not paint a very pretty picture in my mind truth be told. I had last visited many years ago when the snow pack and glaciers were more plentiful. I was concerned that I was setting myself up for disappointment by returning in the wrong year at the wrong time. Despite our planning of being in the park at prime time mid August, the unusual climate variation throughout the Northwest had already melted much of the snowpack, terminated much of the flowers and cut short the huckleberry harvest.
I decided not to dwell on any of that out loud since Holly had never seen the park at all. I would let the park unfold to her eyes anew and enjoy the ride as she saw it. That strategy proved successful time and time again. We did not get much of the famous GNP landscapes and clear vistas but we more than made up for it with our wildlife encounters.

After driving much of the night we pulled into the park early enough to get a good campsite at Avalanche Creek campground. That was a huge relief since this site would be our anchor point for the remainder of the week. We next took care of necessities, a trip to the store for provisions including bear sprays, and an informational stop at the Apgar visitor center. As expected some of the hikes we had on our planning list were not even available due to the fires. Afterwords we hiked from our camp up to Avalanche Lake to stretch the legs after taking care of housekeeping.

Our first full day in the park was going to consists of the hike along the Highline trail. We used the convenient park shuttles and caught one of the earliest ones up to Logan Pass where the downhill trailhead was. This is the classic hike in the park along the continental divided. Although we had slept in our camp with some strong visible smoke from a new fire the night before, our skies this day up higher were pretty clear. The hike in the morning was cool in the welcoming shade. It was supposed to get pretty hot in the park this day.


The wildlife started to appear after some quiet hiking time.

Audobons Warbler


A couple of Pikas kept us busy trying to follow them as they gathered greens for next winter. They were fast and one was uphill from the trail and the other was downhill so we were on a swivel to keep up with them as they squeaked and then scampered with mouthfuls of greenery to there cache places.


I never did get a clear picture. I ended up with probably a gigabyte of shots like this.


It was during this time that Holly noticed something big in the forest below. At first we thought elk, then possibly a bear. It finally emerged as a solo full horned Bighorn Ram. The tips of his horns did not look to be very worn down. He was all by himself up high.

The pika finally did stop for a portrait but with no greens in his mouth.

Next up was a squirrel that must have heard about the coming El Nino change in the climate. He was busy gathering food like crazy for a big winter.


The big highlight came when some Bighorn Sheep rams took over the trail.

They posed nearby as they grazed on the flowers.

They also posed for some landscape pictures in front of Heavens Peak.

There were signs along the park trails to "stay off the meadows", I think they needed one that said, " Please don't eat the Fireweed" these guys were like lawn mowers.

I had a weird thing during this next picture. Both of these big rams stopped foraging at the same time and stared directly at me for many seconds. There were lots of other people around, many closer to the sheep than I. After a few more seconds passed I felt singled out to the point that I put my camera down and then started backing away from them. It was humorous afterword and in retrospect I think perhaps my camera may have emitted some high frequency noise that got their attention....or maybe they were just trying to freak me out!

As the trail continued toward the Granite Park chalet we realized how hot it was getting. We had lunch outside the chalet and that is when we started to notice a huge fire cloud rising to the East.

The Thompson fire had blown up that day quadrupling in size. Fortunately it was mostly outside of the park and did not result in any immediate impact to our side of the park. For some reason the immense ash it was creating also did not fall near us.

The hike back down to the loop road was hot and dry. We saw some people that needed help and others that turned back. It was not a good day to run out of water. We caught the shuttle back to camp and then found a good place in Avalanche Creek to wash up and cool off.

It had been a great first day and we decided that this first day had made the whole trip worthwhile. The next day we had planned to go back up to Logan pass and continue to a campsite we had reserved on the East side of the park, hoping the road was still going to be open with the fire that had blown up so big. We got an early start and arrived at the Pass to a welcoming committee of Bighorn Sheep rams. There was a lot of them and many of them were sprawled on the ground in the middle of the road licking some remnants of a salt source right off the GTTS road.

They posed all around us and provided a lot of entertainment.


This one was really big and the video below shows him asserting himself once he decides he wants more salt.

This ram stood up on this rock and watched the others take over the entire parking lot.


One of the younger ones then satisfied the early morning crowd by jumping gracefully over the fence post.


We then waited for the Big King Ram to show us his stuff! Instead he elected to do the limbo under the poles!





I guess when you are the king you save your energy for other things.

After entertaining the parking lot crowd the sheep disappeared for a while. Later I found them again behind the visitors center. I knew this was special because some seasonal employees came running out of the VC with their cameras while still on the job. They said the sheep often pass through the parking lot but rarely come into the back landscape.


I was really happy to catch them in some good scenery with no manmade objects nearby.

After the excitement of the sheep we started to hike the Hidden Lake trail.

There were still plenty of flowers blooming so we got a good alpine meadow fix.

Sheep were also continuing to pose along the trail

On the way down the rams were still congregated together chewing their cuds.

The mornings Bighorn sheep excitement had happened very unexpectedly. We climbed back into the car quite fulfilled as we drove East to our camp reservation at St Mary campground. After setting up our camp we realized we still had time to get into the Many Glacier portion of the park known for it high density of bears. Even before we crossed into the park a large bear crossed the road a few cars ahead of us and then swam the Swiftcurrent Creek that parallalled the road. It was a big grizzly! We pulled over, holstered our bear spray and went to his last known location. I coached Holly on the unique situation that was presenting itself. We had a natural barrier between the bear and us, it was unlikely that he would swim the fast-moving water again to reverse his direction. His side of the creek was steep and heavily forested. We hoped he had not disappeared into the thick cover. Anticipating his movements we went downstream a ways. Some of the other folks then caught a glimpse of him along the opposite shore. Soon the small group was leapfrogging each other in a coordinated effort to find him and also find a view point thru the brush. He became visible a couple of times and we were treated to a few minutes of grizzly viewing. A bear in his natural habitat being a bear! It does not get much better than that. The creek was noisy so I am sure he could not hear us, I doubt that he could see us also since we were still in our own dense willow thickets on our side. Eventually I was able to get a couple of decent camera shots.



He started sniffing his admirers across the creek here. I thought it was good time to leave.

As we turned around we were both exhilarated from the chase and the adrenaline was really flowing from the overall excitement. Our hearts were racing as we found ourselves over a quarter mile from the safety of the car. Spectators were giving strangers high fives after this viewing. I was proud of how folks worked together to re-find the bear and to look out for each other and not go overboard by disturbing the bear.

We finished the drive into the park and headed for another VC. They still did not have any good news on the backcountry permits that we were trying to nail down. We did a short hike up to Josephine lake and marveled about what a great day this had been. It had easily topped the previous day that we were completely satisfied with to start with. I told Holly that we still had not seen any sheep ewes or lambs and also no moose. As if on queue a cow moose appeared in the marsh beside us. She had a pair of calves with her also.

Big moose calves.

The wildlife hits just kept on coming. We spotted another distant grizzly and then on the drive out of Many we found this little Black Bear foraging on berries.

Just outside the park we found this bigger Black Bear also foraging near the road. He was totally focused on his berries and seemed oblivious to the cars passing nearby.

So on one short trip into Many Glacier we had seen two grizz and two black bears. We thanked our lucky stars back in camp and planned out the next days hikes.
St Marys sparse campground

This is the end of Part 1 of Glacier National Park Tim and Holly August 10-18 2015

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Oct 31, 2014
Wow! That's really awesome. To see all those animals and then have a bunch of awesome photos too. Wow!
Nice report to wake up to on a Sunday morning! Thanks


Aug 9, 2007
Holy (%*@$)(*@()_@! I'm just opening all these trip reports of yours and I am speechless. Fantastic camera work. Welcome to BCP, Tim!


The mountains are calling and I must go
Mar 31, 2013
Your wildlife photos are so awesome I had to call the family to see. We are all amazed. Very cool!

Tim Valentine

May 24, 2015
Thanks for the kind words guys. Its kind of hard to take a bad photo when we are in these great parks. Also the weight savings of all the techno advances allow me to carry more camera equipment weight which means better equipment. Photography continues to be just a hobby for me to do with my real passion which is: just being out in the wild lands, or oceans.

This forum/website makes it so easy to post trip reports I am getting inspired to back fill a couple of Sierra hikes I did last summer.


Ready For More
Jul 23, 2013
Wow! You hit the wildlife jackpot that day. Only thing that seems to be missing is a photo of a cougar.

Tim Valentine

May 24, 2015
Only thing that seems to be missing is a photo of a cougar.
I have been hiking a lot Will but have never seen any cats in the backcountry. Maybe a bobcat crossing the road while driving. It irks me to hear folks outdoors with a deathly fear of seeing a mountain lion. I would give anything to see one in the wild! ( okay maybe not one of my family members :) ) Believe me in the daytime I am constantly scanning high cliffs in the shady areas looking for them napping somewhere.

Same goes for a Wolverine for that matter, would like to see one of those guys on one of their big travels.


one step at a time
Jul 29, 2013
This forum/website makes it so easy to post trip reports I am getting inspired to back fill a couple of Sierra hikes I did last summer.

That would be awesome!


Hike Hard, Tread Lightly
May 15, 2013
WOW!!! I don't think it can be said enough. Your photos and timing are amazing! I hope to heaven that I can be that lucky with wildlife when I finally make it to Glacier. I'm enjoying your posts...please don't stop.


Jan 23, 2014
Great stuff!
That's what I love about Glacier is there is so much wildlife. You really nailed it. The fire pictures are cool too.
Thanks for sharing
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