June 24, 2016
This past June, my wife and I spent a week in Montana doing volunteer work on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. From the moment that I knew for certain that we’d be going, I had hopes that if time permitted, I’d be able to explore Glacier National Park and do some hiking.
During our stay, my wife and I had already done the hike out to Saint Mary Falls and to Virginia Falls. While that was quite beautiful, the hike itself had been short and not very physically demanding. Today I would be hiking up to Scenic Point from the Two Medicine area of Glacier and then back down. This hike promised to be much more of a physical challenge. It’s only 6.2 miles long in total, but it gains about 2,400 feet in elevation over the first three miles.
Because I didn’t have my bear spray with me, I decided that I should do the hike with a Park Ranger on one of the many Ranger-led activities that are available in Glacier. I had had to leave my bear spray back home in South Carolina. Bear spray is considered a hazardous material by the FAA and cannot be taken on an airplane even in a checked bag if it’s more than 4 fluid ounces. If I had been able to bring it, I might have hiked alone, although it’s recommended that you not hike in groups of less than three, four, or even five people.
The Ranger was a fit and trim woman that appeared to be in her early to mid sixties. During the summer, she leads this hike about twice weekly and has a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes, she will have a group of as many as twenty people, but today, it was just she and I.
The route to Scenic Point follows the Continental Divide Trail and begins with a gradual climb in a densely wooded area, gaining only about 250 feet in the first half mile before reaching a junction. At the junction, there is a short side trail that leads to an overlook of Appistoki Falls.
Beyond that,the trail breaks out into the open and remains above the tree line for most of the rest of the way. It’s at this point that it also begins to climb steeply.
After the Ranger and I had hiked for another ten or fifteen minutes, the weather, which had been clear and sunny, suddenly began to change. Dark clouds rolled in and a light rain started to fall. Even though we had stopped to put our rain jackets on, I was feeling bad that she was getting wet just to accompany me. There were other hikers on the trail so I told her that I was fine to continue on my own. She said that that would be okay, but cautioned me to turn around if I heard any thunder. I can certainly understand her warning. You’d be quite exposed, with nowhere to hide if there were any lightning.
The terrain, in places, was quite rocky. Even so, there were still several different kinds of wildflowers to be found growing along the trail.
As I continued on, I encountered several other hikers. First, I passed a teenage girl that was hiking with a much older man that appeared to be her grandfather.
Next, I passed a group of three young hikers that were probably in their early twenties. They were stopping frequently to catch their breath. One of them, in particular, was struggling with the steep climb.
A little while later, a man and woman caught up to me and passed me like they were taking a leisurely stroll in the park. Now, I’m a pretty strong climber and have even been compared to a mountain goat, but these two were making it look entirely too easy.
The dark clouds continued to roll in as I climbed and were so low that you could practically reach out and touch them. The rain stayed light and fell only intermittently. Fortunately, there had been no thunder or lightning. The temperature was probably in the low 50’s, but a strong, steady wind made it feel much colder. At one point, I did seek shelter beside a large rock face in order to wait for some of the strongest winds to die down. After a few minutes, I resumed hiking.
By the time that I reached a saddle, I had finished most of the hard climbing. Here, everything opened up and I had expansive views in all directions. It felt like I was on top of the world and I had it all to myself.
From the saddle, there is a side trail that takes you to the top of Scenic Point and to a final elevation of about 7,500 feet. Once I reached the top, I removed my pack, took some pictures, and sat and enjoyed the scenery.
In the distance, I could just barely see the village of East Glacier Park where our hotel was located. The Divide trail actually passes through the town. If I could have set up a shuttle, I would have loved to have hiked the whole way.
For now though, I was content to stay exactly where I was. In fact, I could easily have remained there for the rest of the day, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. It was time to turn around and to begin the hike back to the trailhead.
This trip had given me my first opportunity to hike out West. Until now, most of my hiking has been in the mountains of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Except for the occasional Bald or rocky outcrop, there aren’t a lot of places where you get to see such grand vistas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very beautiful in its own right, but you’re normally hiking in thick forests with limited views (the proverbial green tunnel).
Lord willing, I’ll have more chances to go out West and do more hiking.