In the last two days, I’ve seen Glacier from two modes of transport — Tuesday, by my own feet along the famous High Line Trail and, Wednesday, in one of the historic 1930s Red Buses. Neither trip turned out as I expected. Both of them were better than I could have imagined, in spite, or maybe because of several glitches, mix-ups and unexpected events.
I’d meant to get in shape for hiking Glacier, but two weeks of over 100 degree weather and a load of ranch work curtailed any Bay Area hikes for a month before my trip. I had booked a day hike with Glacier Guides, thinking the hard-core hikers would all be off on their own or on the overnight trips and my companions would all be middling hikers like me. I showed up at the meeting point and quickly realized I’d be the oldest hiker. By decades. I was just starting to wonder if I should back out when our guide began a hair-raisingly frightening half hour lecture on bear safety. I particularly remember the part about, should the bear spray not work, we were to throw ourselves down on our stomachs, cover our heads and play dead. Oh, and be sure to splay out your feet so the bear can’t flip you over exposing your vitals! Before I could ask for a refund, I’d been herded up with the others and we were off. After an hour long climb up the Going to the Sun Road, I figured I was in it for the duration. Turns out, the High Line is just what it sounds like. Most of the trail is extremely narrow with a shear rock wall on one side and a drop of several hundred feet on the other. The first part is especially technical with nothing but a thin wire handrail covered with a garden hose to cling to as you inch along a hundred feet over the Going to the Sun Road.
When we finally got off the cliff face and into a slightly wider part of the trail, we were walking between large, thick stands of Huckleberry and Whortleberry bushes. This is where our enthusiastic and athletic young guides started telling us how bears really love these berries which make up the bulk of their diets. They assured us that the Grizzlies in Glacier were much smaller than their Alaskan cousins. Which was only mildly comforting. Then they explained that the reason was because there were no salmon up here, so the Grizzlies are protein starved. That was NOT reassuring. I began composing my last will and testament a la Jeremiah Johnson: “This is a good camera and shot the bear what kilt me.”
I didn’t want to ask the guides how great the danger was that we’d meet a Grizzly. They were both so young and fit, I’m sure they felt there was absolutely no danger to them. Plenty of slower and more meaty tourists for the bears to munch on. You may have seen the famous picture of a hiker clinging to a cliff face while a Grizzly walks on a ledge above him. This is that trail. And I wasn’t sure which I’d be more afraid of: facing a Grizzly or going over the side.
Luckily, we met no bears. Nor any Big Horn Sheep or Mountain Goats, who we were told can be just as aggressive. Apparently, with the short growing season, everything in Glacier that eats is in a bad mood. However, we saw acres and acres of beautiful wildflowers and spectacular views that our guides told us were courtesy of the first completely clear day in weeks since the big fires.
A perfect day and I decided to sign up for Wednesday’s hike.
I showed up dutifully at 8AM to find my reservations had been mixed up and I was set for the next day. But they had also mixed up the reservations of an extended family of seven. So the tour company sent out a new bus just for us. Given that they can and do jam up to 27 people on these buses, our bus felt like a private tour. The family had gathered from Washington, Arkansas and Southern California — grandparents, siblings, spouses and one teen. Since we had a three hour late start by this time, my new companions were busy working out the logistics of cocktail time. I decided this would be The Fun Bus. And it was. Everything that could have caused grumbling, the group took in stride, and those negatives all turned into positives. As we topped Logan Pass, the smoke and haze was obscuring every view. But we decided we were getting atmospheric pictures that were so much more interesting than boring sunny vistas. We were also treated, by our excellent guide Larry, to the story of the young bride who was recently sent away for 30 years after pushing her new husband off one of the look out points here. After multiple lies and cover-ups, she finally explained her deed by saying that, while she liked the idea of having a wedding, she didn’t much want a husband. Of course, the husbands on the tour wanted me to take pictures of them with their wives at every stop “just so the police have some evidence when our bodies are found”. As I said, The Fun Bus.
We were not only The Fun Bus, but The Lucky Bus. With our three hour late start, our tour was going to take us into the early evening instead of ending at Four. Apparently, that’s when the animals come out. Our total wildlife count included a baby bear scrambling up a rocky cliff, a yearling bear eating berries, two separate herds of Mountain Goats, and two separate herds of Big Horn Sheep. Our guide Larry said the company used to run an evening trip especially for wildlife viewing and he never remembered seeing this many animals this close on one tour.
For guided hikes, and I highly recommend the safety of a guided hike, you can’t do better than Glacier Guides. They have a variety of tours including fly fishing excursions, river rafting, extended camping hikes, day hikes and combination rafting and hiking adventures.
The historic Red Bus Tours are in historic 1930s bus bodies on completely rebuilt engines and braking systems. I recommend Larry and his assigned bus, Number 24. They offer many tours. We took the all day Crown of the Continent Tour that brings you to all the accessible scenic and historic spots throughout Glacier.