Going to the Sun Road photo, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going to the Sun road, in the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park, Montana, in the fall, is one of the highlights of the Rockies.

Hey Folks,

I think Glacier National Park is one of the grandest places in North American, certainly that I’ve been. My first ever solo trip out backpacking in the Rockies was at Glacier National Park, many years ago. I was scheduled to go with a friend of mine, and he bailed out right before the trip – I had to choose between going solo and canceling. Like there was an option! 🙂 I had no idea at the time, but that trip probably put me in Alaska right now, and on the road to being a backpacking guide.

I flew out to Kalispell, got off the plan and grabbed a shuttle straight to the park. I remember arriving in the park, in awe, trying to see it all in one breath – impossible! Trees towered over me as we travelled through the forests of the Western edge of the Rockies – huge, healthy, trees, tall as the sky. The mountain backdrop of Glacier National Park was too much – I fell in love. It was simply amazing. I camped that night in the first available space, and then was up before dawn to get to the permitting office when they opened to schedule my trip. It was a hassle, because they had a bunch of fires going on, which closed a lot of the park, and all the wildlife migrated to the places that weren’t on fire – which means a lot of those places were closed too, because of bears. I’d spent months pouring over maps, reading trail books and guides, talking to the NPS folks at Glacier National Park about hikes, etc – this, of course was back in the pre-internet days, when research took time. All of my research was for naught, as I wasn’t able to do the route I’d carefully picked out, from the north-western corner of the park, east toward the Continental Divide, and south, across Going to the Sun Road, and on down to East Glacier. It seemed like every trail was closed.

However, my research stood me in good stead, as I knew enough about the trails to pick from the available options with at least some semblance of an informed position. So I got my permits all done, watched the Video on traveling safely through bear country, and thumbed a ride to my first trail head. I got there, Kintla Lake, and it was closed, because a grizzly bear had killed a black bear about a mile down the trail, and was still in the area, feeding on the carcass. Now for someone who’d never seen a grizzly bear, but was eager to walk in the woods they lived in, this was a little more than I had planned on. Exciting, for sure, but a little too much reality for me. I headed down to the next trailhead, Bowman Lake, and headed up that trail. Fires had closed the east end of the trail, where I was headed, so I had to just make a day hike of it, and return to Bowman Lake come evening.

Next morning I had to head back to the Ranger’s Office, and re-schedule the rest of my trip. did so, and was lucky to get access to the Highline Trail, right on the Continental Divide, scheduled to head north along the ridge. By the time I got up there, it too was closed, and I had to re-examine my options. I headed east, down Going to the Sun Road, aiming for Two Medicine Campground, near East Glacier, on the south east corner of Glacier National Park.

All of the public transport closed for the season, I had to hitch-hike. Hitch-hiking is quite an experience – I waited a few hours for a ride, mid-September not being the best time to get a ride, the only folks in the area cruised by me in their RVs, always turning their heads to look at some view on the other side of the road as they drove by me. So, finally, I get a ride. During the course of our ride, we start talking, and it turns out the girl in the passenger seat had lived in Eugene, Oregon, for a little while. They both now lived in Portland, Oregon. I mentioned I was born in Eugene, and had actually spent a year there later, when I was 15. She asked me what school I’d gone to, and I said “South Eugene High School”. She’d apparently gone there for a year, too. What year, she asked?

“1983/1984”, I replied.

“No way”.

“Way”.

“I was there that year, I was a Freshman”, she said.

I’d been a sophomore, and it turns out we were on the Swim team together – she remembered me, that crazy Aussie who swam in Lane 4, and I remembered her, she used to train in lane 1. How wild is that? Here we were, riding along Going to the Sun Road, in Glacier National Park, Montana, and we used to train together on the same Swim Team, over 10 years earlier, before I returned back to Australia. So that was kinda cool.

Of course, we got to Two Medicine, they dropped me off, and I ain’t seen them since. 🙂

I backpacked a lot of Glacier National Park on that trip, including a a big loop down in the south-eastern region of the park, and also a trail called Gunsight Pass Trail, over the Continental Divide. Glacier remains my favorite of the Parks in the Lower 48, and my favorite area in the Rockies. I’ve not spent enough time there since, but every time I’ve been there it’s like coming home, in a way. I really enjoy it.

This last fall I stopped in with my parents in tow. The weather didn’t co-operate, it was cold, cloudy, drizzly, even snowed a little. We couldn’t drive over Going to the Sun Road, because they closed it due to weather, and also they wouldn’t let us cross the Divide in the huge over-sized RV dad rented, even when I explained to the ranger that I was probably one of the top 2 or 3 drives ever to tackle the traverse – I think I had her, until she balked at the word tackle. So I didn’t get to show my folks a lot of the park – which means they both have to come back and do it again, soon!

This photo is from fall, the previous year, on the west side of Glacier National Park on Going to the Sun Road.

Cheers

Carl

Glacier National Park Photos.

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9 thoughts on “Going to the Sun Road photo, Glacier National Park, Montana

  1. Peter Zwiers

    Hey Carl,

    Great catching up on your stories & articles. Reading about Glacier has me longing for a good backpack trip in Jasper. Only another five weeks until we can walk on some dry ground there … looking for grizzlies & wolves. Can’t wait!

    Hey … correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t being 15 in 1983/84 put you on track to turn the big 4-0 this year? 🙂

  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Pete,

    Nice to hear from you man, as always. I’m jonesin’ for the high country, too – but I suspect it’ll be more than 5 weeks before I can get up high.

    Ya know, I very nearly edited that little piece of the story – I turned 15 in Feb, 1984. I don’t know nothing about any big 4-0 .. have no idea what you’re talking about. 🙂

    Cheers

    Carl

  3. Beth Lunsford

    Heck, 40 isn’t old,Carl! You don’t look 40,anyway! You act like a big,curious kid. Nothing wrong with that!! This ” Going to the Sun Rd.” is aptly named. Gorgeous photo!! This summer I hope you get to see lots of grizzly bears, in the right manner, of course!

  4. Peter Zwiers

    Carl, shoot … 39 is just a kid! We turned over that 40 leaf back in 2005, no big deal – just do something really big to celebrate (we dayhiked Jasper’s Skyline Trail on my 40th b-day). What’s making me feel old this afternoon is that Carol & I are marking off our 20th anniversary today – yikes! That just sounds way older than 40 (or 50 for that matter).

    Glacier sounds pretty cool, but there’s only so much one can find time for, eh? Do you find it similar to Jasper & Banff, or does it have an entirely different feel to it (besides the differences in NP policies, if any).

    Have you been out in the field much lately? Seems like you’re getting a lot of internet time in! 🙂 We still have 2.5 feet of snow on our yard at home yet, but things are starting to change now. I’m sure you’re in about the same boat. Be fun when the migrating birds start coming through in ernest.

    Cheers.

  5. Mark

    Pretty cool story about meeting up with someone from your swim team – though I didn’t think they allowed thems mens and womens to cohort on the same teams way back thens. 😉

    Have always wanted to go to Glacier. The road in your pic is definitely inviting me!

    40 came and went for me this past Jan – rather anti-climatic if you ask me.

  6. Carl Donohue

    Hey Beth,

    40 is WAY old – especially when you don’t wanna be 40! 🙂 Thanks for the kind words on the photo.

    Hey Pete,

    I’ll do something cool – though I just got thru the 39th one, so I’m not ready to plan anything yet. Probably will be sitting in the shack by the fire, if it’s anything like this year. 🙂 I think Glacier is different to Jasper – definitely different enough to make it worth a trip down there. It’s probably a little drier, particularly on the east side.

    I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I should’ve been doing my taxes. Also getting permits etc organized, and some trip planning, so I haven”t got out lately. Just when I think I’m good to go, something comes up. Definitely am ready for some outdoors though!

    Hey Mark,

    Yeah, that was really a wild thing – not just that we actually we met, but that we learned during conversation that we’d swum together and been in school together. We’d never have recognized each other, so it was only through chatting that we realized we’d gone to school together. I mean, what are the odds of that, eh? I’ve got 2 more stories like this, I’ll share in another post.

    The thing with me about approaching 40 though is I still look so darn P-H-Y-N-E!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Get yourself out to Glacier.

    Cheers

    Carl

  7. Neil Donohue

    Dear Readers,

    Carl gets his modesty from his mother- and I’m well and truly more than 40 but I’ve still got a better head of hair than he has.

    The real reason the ranger said no was because she had seen him driving earlier that day. Just setting the record straight.

    Cheers
    Dad

  8. Carl Donohue

    Hey Dad,

    ‘Well and truly’ takes on new meaning.

    How can you say that’s why we weren’t allowed to drive up there? The ranger actually commented that I was only the only person she’d seen put an RV up on 2 wheels.

    Cheers

    Carl

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