On Wednesday, Christy and I did the premiere hike in Glacier National Park, on the Highline Trail from Logan Pass, along the Garden Wall, to Granite Park. That section of trail is 7 ½ miles long. Originally I planned to continue the hike from there, down to The Loop on the Going To The Sun Road. That would’ve been an 11-mile hike, and the new free shuttle service provided by the Park would’ve returned us to the trailhead. However, my pre-trip research led me to the Glacier message boards. There, I found an even more attractive option. Instead of hiking out to The Loop, we could head over Swiftcurrent Pass and down to Many Glacier. This would require a 15-mile hike, but most of the route would be flat or downhill. On the message board, this hike is reverently known as the Hockey Ref hike, as Hockey Ref was the first person to come up with it (or at least the first person to publicize it there).
The Hockey Ref hike does present some logistical challenges. Camping at Many Glacier ensured that we would be able to simply walk back to camp. However, we needed transportation to Logan Pass to begin the hike. Fortunately, a private company provides a shuttle service from the Swiftcurrent Inn to the St. Mary visitor center at a cost of $8 per person. From there, the free Park shuttle provides access to Logan Pass.
Unfortunately, there was some confusion prior to the trip. The website for the private shuttle service, GPI, Inc., stated that the shuttle would depart from the Swiftcurrent Inn at 7:30AM. The National Park website stated that the shuttle departed at 7. In addition, GPI’s website stated that reservations were suggested. A couple of months prior to our trip, I spent a good hour on the phone with GPI, trying to make reservations. After speaking with three or four people, I finally came to the conclusion that GPI does not accept reservations for this shuttle. Apparently their website is wildly inaccurate.
On Wednesday morning, we grabbed bagels, orange juice, and our packs and walked over to the Inn. We headed over at 6:45, not knowing if the departure would be at 7 or 7:30. It’s a good thing we didn’t wait. The van driver arrived a few minutes before 7, collected our money, and herded everyone into the van. We were over capacity by one person, but everyone was able to squeeze in. We left promptly at 7, and drove over to the Many Glacier Hotel. The shuttle also picks up people here, but fortunately there wasn’t anyone waiting when we arrived. The driver mentioned that he’d have to call for a second shuttle if there were.
On the way out we passed another bear grazing on the hillside above the road. I didn’t get a good enough look to determine if it was a black bear or a grizzly.
We arrived at the St. Mary visitor center 30 minutes later. We had to wait a couple of minutes for the Park Service shuttle, and endured some cold, brutal winds in the parking lot. It was a chilly, cloudy morning, and we could only hope for some sun later as we hiked one of the most scenic trails in the country.
We all piled into the Park shuttle, but we didn’t go anywhere, thanks to transmission problems. The driver called for another bus, and we all shuffled over to that one (where everyone took the exact same seat as they’d had on the previous one). A few minutes later, we were finally on our way.
Another Bighorn Sheep sighting was the only excitement on this ride. We arrived at Logan Pass 8:30, and started our hike on the Highline Trail shortly thereafter.
The scenery on this hike was outstanding from the very beginning. We wandered through woods and meadows, high on the hillside above the road. This stretch of trail passes along what is known as The Garden Wall, due to the lush vegetation and profuse wildflowers found among the cliffs here. Before long, we began traversing a cliff with a sheer drop off just to our left. This part of the trail makes some people nervous, but it’s really quite safe as long as the path is free of snow and ice. There’s even a safety cable bolted into the rock wall on the right, for those in need of a hand hold. At some point, some thoughtful person covered most of the cable with a long stretch of green garden hose. Now, instead of the Garden Wall Trail, this part of the route is jokingly referred to as the Garden Hose Trail.
A few minutes later, we spotted a couple of Mountain Goats grazing on the hillside above us. Just after, 2 more goats, a mama and a kid, came strolling down the trail towards us. We scrambled up some rocks to get out of their way, and they walked right by us. The goats were probably the most exciting wildlife sighting of the day, although the many Ground Squirrels we passed were also quite entertaining. We also spotted several marmots and a Ptarmigan on the way to Granite Park.
From there, we passed through more open meadows, some featuring blooming Fireweed and other wildflowers. A modest climb brought us to a saddle behind Haystack Butte. We stopped for a snack there, and took in our last views of the peaks surrounding the Logan Pass area.
We resumed the hike, heading towards the Granite Park Chalet, which was just barely visible in the distance. Across the valley from us, we had fine views of Heavens Peak and its glaciers, despite the lingering clouds. Farther in the distance, we could just make out some of the peaks in the northern part of the park. The view of these mountains is probably fantastic on a clear day, but unfortunately we didn’t have optimal conditions on the day of our hike.
Shortly before reaching Granite Park, we reached the side trail to the Grinnell Glacier overlook. Originally I’d planned on making the side trip, but my motivation evaporated thanks to the increasing clouds. The high peaks above us were now lost in the muck. Plus, we’d hiked to Grinnell Glacier the day before. Instead we continued on, with the intention of reaching the Chalet for lunch.
We arrived at 1pm, and found the dining area hospitable, but crowded. It was nice and warm inside, thanks to a blazing fire. Despite this, we decided to eat our lunch outside. Before we left, we bought a giant cookie to add a little flare to our typical sandwich and apple lunch. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to sell us soup, hot chocolate, or anything else made with hot water. I was about to ask why, but decided to skip it.
We found a seat at a picnic table outside with a nice view back to the south. From our perch, we watched an endless line of tiny hikers marching north towards the chalet. We’d seen a lot of people that morning, but the crowd that was about to descend on the chalet looked overwhelming. We finished our lunch quickly, and headed out before the tide rolled in.
We began the toughest climb of the day, up to Swiftcurrent Pass. It still wasn’t much of a climb though, as the elevation gain was only about 500’. At the pass, we enjoyed one final view of Heaven’s Peak, before starting down towards Many Glacier. On the way, we passed a junction with the trail up to the fire tower on the summit of Swiftcurrent Peak. I had intended on doing this side trip, but the numerous clouds discouraged me.
After only a few minutes, the Swiftcurrent Glacier came into view. By exploring off-trail, we found some great overlooks of the glacier and the numerous waterfalls below it. We stopped there for a short but enjoyable break, before starting down the switchbacks into the valley below.
The ensuing descent was long, but not overly steep. Views of the glacier, waterfalls, and Bullhead and Redrock Lakes kept us entertained as we descended. We finally reached Bullhead Lake, where we stopped to eat a snack and filter some water. From there we continued to Redrock Lake, and beyond to a couple of small but attractive waterfalls. A lengthy hike through the woods followed, before we finally reached Fishercap Lake. I took a quick side trip down to the shore to see if any Moose were about. I didn’t see any, so we vowed to return there the next evening to look for them. We arrived at the trailhead a few minutes later, and a short walk from there returned us to our campsite.
The Hockey Ref hike was a great one, as every bit of its 15 miles was interesting and scenic. It featured high peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife, and alpine lakes. I’d love to do this hike again, preferably on a day with clearer weather. Another appealing option would be to spend a couple of nights at the Chalet. From there, hikes to Swiftcurrent Mountain, the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, and Ahern Pass are intriguing possibilities.
That night we enjoyed chicken fajitas and Moose Drool Brown Ale. We stayed up a little later, as our plans for Thursday were somewhat less ambitious. We had to pick up the permit for our backpacking trip in the morning, and I thought we might do a short hike or two afterwards.
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