The Highline Trail is synonymous with Glacier National Park. The 11-mile trail follows the Sun Road – curving through the pass to bestow immaculate views of the Continental Divide and surrounding peaks. The trail profile is practically a straight decline from Logan’s Pass to the Loop. The route follows along the mountainside so that you can see every nook and cranny of your surroundings.
Like the weather or traffic in the city, there are two impending dooms that are staples of everyday conversation in GNP – bear sightings and wildfires. During my first day in the Park, a local calculated my fate: at the rate of hiking 12 miles a day for 10 days, I was destined for at least three sightings. Maybe four.
Like any other runner (or human), I used my biased rationality to prove why this trail was an exception to the GNP tenet ‘avoid running’ (running increases the chance of a bear attack). Since this was a popular trail with unimpaired panoramic vision - it was safe for me to jog along this trail. Plus I had bear spray and a bear bell*, this was my chance.
As I galloped along the ridge, I couldn’t help but concentrate on the dry river beds, streams, waterfalls, glaciers. Smoke filled the air and a wraithlike haze lingered - a cornea over the landscape. The land dry, too. Dirt whirled around my feet. Is this a snapshot of the world that lies in our future?
The Sun Road is usually known for evoking a humbling sense of wonder in the face of nature’s grandeur. Below along the Pass, motorists stood on the side of the road with their binoculars hanging idle. Midwesterners seemly stymied in more of bewilderment than awe while looking out at the landscape. Although it was nonetheless still gorgeous, there was a deep sense of loss for the land.
I emerged near the historic Granite Chalet without even realizing that I was near the final decent - somewhat surprised that my half-baked timing was actually going to get me where I needed to be before sunset. I stopped to admire the view with a family that was perched on a rock in the bend. Five minutes later I was invited to stay in their extra bunk bed at the Chalet. The Chalet’s entire lodging for the season typically sells out within a few days of going live. I won the lottery.
Normally I would say yes immediately, but I’ve grown somewhat weary about whether invitations are sincere these days. I thought about this invitation for the half-hour as I climbed the steep trail up to Grinnell Glacier. The sight was if I was beholding a fragile, fragment of scenery. The glacial lake below looked broken, shattered bits and slivers of ice cut their way through the lagoon. The red faced peak looking straight at me behind its defeated body. Spectacular. As I crumbled down with the mountain. I saw the stone Chalet in the background. An patriarchal presence. In the foreground the family was waiting for me.
Dedicated hikers share a common bond which is rooted in underlying appreciation and willpower. That night we watched the sun set until 10pm with about 30 others then laid on our backs to catch the meteor shower. At sunrise the next morning, I tiptoed out of my bunk and ran down the mountain like a little kid who spent the night in an amusement park.
If you go:
Granite Chalet & Highline Trail details