Off-season in Glacier National Park
The distant peaks of Glacier National Park through the remains of a burn
For us, hiking Montana’s Glacier National Park for three days in late November meant a multitude of ill-informed mid-hike discussions about the sleep patterns of bears. We didn’t even think about the fact we might need bear spray or other protection until we’d hiked 6 miles into middle-of-nowhere Bowman Lake and saw this sign:
Only then did we realize we had no idea when exactly bears lie down to sleep for the winter.
According to this National Park Service site, Glacier’s approximately 300 bears start hibernating in “late autumn.” But when you think about it, the words “late” and “autumn” are pretty open to interpretation, especially given the contradictory facts that snow covered the ground (it’s winter!) and the first day of winter is December 21 (it’s definitely autumn).
The best I can figure after extensive research (i.e. reading the NPS link above), the bears were either sleeping or in a state called “walking hibernation” during the time we were there. Apparently, about two weeks before the animals settle in for winter, they wander around half-sleeping toward the 8000-foot elevation where they’ll eventually make their dens.
(Fun facts: During hibernation, bear body temperatures drop to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, they breathe once every 45 seconds and their hearts beat 25 times every minute. And since their hibernation isn’t as complete as other creatures, they also pee, poop, give birth and nurse.)
In light of all the information/misinformation flying around (mostly perpetrated by me), I’m glad my father passed along this article, about a grizzly mauling a father and daughter in Glacier, AFTER we’d returned.
Here are a few photos from our three days exploring the park on foot.
HIKE TO AVALANCHE LAKE
Avalanche Lake and the peaks behind it
Where the water meets the ground.
Me by the lake (photo by Donnie)
Frozen Avalanche Creek, which we followed up to the lake
Tree roots by Avalanche Creek
HIKE/CROSS-COUNTRY SKI TO BOWMAN LAKE
We had to carry our skis a couple miles along the 6-mile road from North Fork of the Flathead River to Bowman Lake, along the western edge of the park, before the snow got thick enough for us to put them on.
Donnie shredding the snow we found.
Bowman Lake, the midpoint of our day.
Headed back through the pine forests as the sun set.
HIKE TO SNYDER LAKE
We hiked through freezing fog in the lower section of our straight-up hike to Snyder Lake.
Once we ascended above the freezing fog, the trail became snow-covered, the weather sunny and the sky blue.
Snyder Lake was beyond those trees and frozen.
D. Kolb and a mountain that might be but probably isn’t Gunsight Mountain.
Some sunset sneaks through the low-lying freezing fog. (Freezing fog was definitely a theme of our trip.)
Toothpicks on a hillside.