Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Highline in Glacier

I had no idea what I was getting into on my daylong hike in Glacier National Park. I only had two days here, and I wanted to spend at least one of them just walking through it. I spent many hours determining which hike I should do. I read dozens of websites, recommending Avalanche Lake, Hidden Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg Lake, etc. I read a few about the Highline Trail. At first, I was skeptical. Relatively flat, long, with a "boring" descent (according to one website). Though the last four miles are not especially noteworthy to be sure, the first seven included some of the best scenery I have ever seen.

A flat hike -- in the mountains. How in the world could it be so glorious? The key is that the trail is etched right into the mountainside. For the first quarter of the hike, stepping off the trail means jumping down the mountainside. The scene is absolutely unreal, with stunning Mount Oberlin and a deep hanging valley the entire horizon. You can see a waterfall turn into a rapidly descending river. Looking down can be an unnerving experience. For me, it was magical.

Highline Trail is one of the best hikes in the country, and the wonderful thing is that it's also one of the easiest. The only difficulty with this trail is the length and the occasional run-in with a grizzly bear. Oh, I didn't mention that? My first run-in with a grizzly. A mama bear and two cubs -- far enough away to be unconcerned about an "actual" run-in and close enough to stare in complete fascination at nature doing its thing.

Essentially, the mother was watching the two cubs learning how to stroll, eat, and roll in the grass. Simple, good things. I never quite understood the fascination with bears until this trip. After you see a mother take care of her offspring -- let's just say it was a transcendental experience for me. I stood there for at least half an hour, watching with several other hikers, the three of them walking around. And nature was watching too. Clouds were hanging on the mountaintops in indescribable beauty. Really, the perfect description of the scene was heavenly. The way the clouds were hovering on the peaks, the cubs were staying in their mother's sight, and all of us watching in voyeuristic nirvana.

Highline Trail does not fool around. This place goes all out, in every way. The scenery is an eternal postcard, the wildlife fantastically wild, and the memories smashing. Glacier is the closest thing to heaven the earth will know.