July Turns in Glacier National Park: Wildlife Gridlock and Summer Slush

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Item: GNP July 2012
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“If you’re going snowboarding, where are the lifts?”

He had a southern accent, a pot-belly and license plates from Arkansas, or Arizona, or somewhere in between; somewhere that the idea of snowboarding in July is foreign and self-ascent isn’t a part of the local vernacular.

“We climb up using our splitboards,” Jason Robinson patiently explained for the fifth time that morning, showing him how a splitboard worked. Indeed, of the several million visitors to northern Montana’s Glacier National Park each summer, only a handful leave tracks beyond the well-marked boardwalk underneath the towering face of Gunsight Mountain. To most, we were a novelty, much like the close encounters with mountain goats and marmots that draw a semi-circle of cell-phone photos.

With a mid-morning start from Logan Pass, we set off on a mellow, 1,500 foot climb through a well-traversed meadow, leaving bright pink tracks in the dust-affected snowfield down low, before ascending a waterfall and a final steep pitch to Mt Oberlin. From there, a cairned scramble brought us to a windswept peak with views down to Lake McDonald and across to many of the 10,000-foot-plus peaks of the park, including Siyeh to the south.

A brief encounter with a four-pack of less-than-stoked mountain goats sent us scrambling off the peak, milking 40-degree turns in the corn before a quick portage and further descent, stopping to watch a pair of marmots fight on a rocky ledge. Fading down to a roadside exit, a final traverse over a cliffed-out chute brought us over a snow-bridged waterfall, where the cell-phone cameras came out as Jason sprayed a passing SUV with Georgia plates. In effect, we had created our own wildlife-esque traffic jam. And, when we hitched a ride back to the lot, said Georgians approached us for a group photo, saying it was the first time they’d ever seen a snowboard.

When you think about it, we weren’t much different from the hordes of southerners clogging up the impossibly-exposed Going to the Sun Road—we were just going a little farther to soak it in and doing so with snowboards instead of snow tubes or the ever-popular hiking-boot glissade. A novelty, maybe, but July turns are July turns, and Glacier National Park is an undoubtedly picturesque setting to spray some summer slush.

Sunburned and saturated, we went to soak our feet in Lake Macdonald and plan the next mission—a solid board affair with a bit of airtime and rock-dodging to the West of the pass. And the next day, we would leave earlier to avoid contributing to the wildlife gridlock in the shadow of Mt Siyeh.

All Images: Copyright Colin Wiseman 2012.


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