Glacier Park, Montana: Hiking The High Line Alone
I consider myself a reasonably fit person. I’ll do 3 mile hikes with 700 ft elevation gain around Los Angeles as a morning workout. So knowing that I had a full day to do a hike in Glacier Park, I thought something 10-11 miles (taking 6-7 hours) sounded like a worthy challenge. This site was helpful in narrowing down what was available to me. Knowing I was coming from the west entrance to the park, I wanted something that would take an hour or less to get to, had good views, and wasn’t going to be crawling with people.
I settled on The Highline Loop from Logan Pass. Glacier’s parking lots past the Visitor’s Center have limited availability, and they strongly suggest using the scheduled shuttle buses if possible. Fine by me, I thought, since I’m traveling alone that means I don’t have to watch the road. I followed the ranger’s suggestions and got there early in the morning to catch one of the first shuttles at 7:30am, which was a wise decision. The first few shuttles are express and the later ones require a transfer to get to Logan Pass. After a first shock of chill at the Visitor’s Center that I hadn’t planned on (I sometimes forget about altitude), that 45-minute trip was direct and relaxing. Logan Pass has a decent visitor’s center with maps, restrooms, and water fountains but no food. It’s also the start of the relatively quick and easy Hidden Lake trail, if you want something more reasonable. But not me! From the Visitor’s Center, go out through the parking lot, take a right, follow signs past the Continental Divide marker, and cross the street to get to the start of the High Line Trail.
You can rent it for $9/day in Apgar Village, far preferable to buying it if you only need it for a day or two. The rental process includes a quick video about the use of bear spray and what to do when encountering a bear, which is to walk away and then spray if they start to follow you (it’s basically pepper spray). The nice people at Glacier Outfitters assured me that only a handful of people every year have to deploy their spray. That didn’t really help my anxiety as I’m the sort to run into a bear, freeze, and then accidentally spray myself. My survival instinct is not strong. But fear wasn’t going to keep me from doing the hike I wanted, so off I went, bear spray banging into my hip the whole way.
For the first mile or so the hike takes you along the same road the shuttle was on. Sometimes, literally a narrow ledge on top of the road - don’t worry, there’s a rope to hold onto. The next six miles are relatively flat with a few smaller hills up and down. It’s a well traveled route, so while I was hiking alone, I’d pass by other hikers every 5-10 minutes, which helped ease any concern about being out there alone.
I started at about 9am, feeling pretty confident. By 11am, I was still nowhere near the Glacier Chalet that was going to be my lunch break. WTF, I thought; I’ve totally covered a lot of ground here!! As I was muttering to myself about this, I turned the corner on a particularly steep area to come face to face with this guy:
He looked me straight in the eyes as if to say ‘What you gonna do about it?’ What was I going to do about it? Glacier Outfitters was full of advice on what to do when you see a bear. They mentioned nothing about what to do in case of mountain goat encounters. Do they charge? Should I keep going? Look away? Make a troll joke? The best course, I decided, was to back away and hang out around the corner until the next group of hikers joined up with me. Safety in numbers. By that time of course, the goat had moved on and I had succeeded only in weirding out my new companions.
Eventually I made it to the break point, Glacier Chalet. Not a bad view:
They have outdoor restrooms and an indoor snack bar that’s pretty pricey - as mentioned, bring food. They sell water, but do not have a water fountain. Seriously, bring lots and lots of water with you. I was feeling a little sore, but felt pretty confident knowing I was more than halfway through. Only four miles left, most of it downhill!
Of course, that downhill is 1K feet over four miles. And my knees, ankles, and the rest of me are no longer 20 years old.
My solution was to search for and find a quality hiking stick, which I was pleased to find that I was fairly successful at. It saved me from having to be rescued off the trail, wailing about my knees. Instead I just slowly made my way down, passing a few other people, listening to podcasts to take my mind off of my leg pain. Finally hobbling out, broken but victorious in 127 Hours-style, I found myself on the main road by the shuttle stop at The Loop.
I lucked out on the way back and got a seat all the way back to the Visitor’s Center (late in the day it’s standing room only). A celebratory beer and bison burger in Apgar Village finished off my day. I was wiped. The High Line kicked my ass. I had a shorter, smaller hike planned for the next day. Let’s just say that hike lasted about 15 minutes before my knees and ankles all shouted in unison, “Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?” and forced me to stop. In the future I’ll think longer about hiking 11 miles when starting at 7K feet. And I will pick up hiking poles. However, even with all the aching muscles, I’m glad I did it. The views are amazing, the trail is an adventure, and you shouldn’t really leave Glacier before taking in some of the wide expanse from up high, away from the roads and the cars...but near unfriendly goats.