The Highline Trail along Glacier National Park’s Garden Wall is one of the great hikes in the entire National Park system. It is simultaneously splendor-drenched and intimate. As gorgeous a view as you can find anywhere unfolds around you while up close, a delicate micro-habitat is home to bouquets of wildflowers. It is the extreme of expansiveness and quiet. It is also terrifying for someone, like me, who is afraid of heights.
Nevertheless, Sean’s and my first full day in Glacier, Thursday, August 2, was spent on the Highline with friends who return to it like a pilgrimage to a holy site.
Mount Gould (left), Bishops Cap (center), and Pollock Mountain (right), along the Garden Wall
On July 31, a Tuesday, our journey to Montana began with a 5:20pm flight from O’Hare to…Seattle. Then we’d continue on to Great Falls. Sean and I both worked from home until it was time to head to the airport. And we both were stressed tying up some final things before the trip. Our stress continued on the way to the airport in a Lyft. Traffic was extremely heavy, and we’d left later than we’d wanted to because of work stuff.
Glacier National Park was established by Congress on May 11, 1910 with the enabling legislation signed by President William Howard Taft. The Park protects over a million acres of the northern Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. It was the tenth most visited National Park in 2017 with over 3.3 million visitors.
For years Glacier National Park has been writ large in Sean’s and my minds because it is so beloved of our friends Angela and Dan, fellow National Park enthusiasts who have visited the Park many times, often at the conclusion of long summer road trips. (They are both Chicago Public Schools teachers.) During the long Chicago winter, the four of us were part of a Wednesday night Skeeball league at a local brewery. Over the course of our weekly hanging out and playing (often terribly), the subject rose of our joining them at Glacier in the summer of 2018. We knew that we were going to California in July for Andrew’s wedding and that my birthday trip was coming in November, so an August trip to Glacier might work out quite nicely.
Just before 3pm on July 4, Sean and I departed Mist Falls and began the hike down Paradise Valley. The Falls marked the farthest into the heart of the Sierra Nevada that we would reach on this trip. The following day we would continue on to the third part of our California trip: three nights in San Diego and Andrew and Yesi’s wedding.
For our Fourth of July day hike in Kings Canyon National Park, Sean and I chose the popular trail to Mist Falls on the South Fork of the Kings River. From the parking area at Roads End, the trail gains about 800 feet of elevation in just under four miles, with most of the elevation gain at the end.
General Grant National Park was established in 1890 to protect 154 acres of the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias. Then, fifty years later, General Grant National Park was transformed into Kings Canyon National Park, 461,901 acres of mostly wilderness. The push to protect a greater portion of the Sierra Nevada as a wilderness Park was led in large part by Franklin Roosevelt’s legendary Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes. The lands that would become Kings Canyon National Park were held by the Forest Service. In the 1930s, advocacy organizations like the Sierra Club and the National Parks Association were becoming increasingly concerned that development in the Parks was destroying their wilderness qualities. They felt that the lands in question may be better off managed as wilderness by the Forest Service rather than developed for visitors by the Park Service. This led to Ickes’ lobbying the organizations for support in the creation of a new National Park, the reverse of how these things usually happened. As the 1930s drew to a close, FDR’s enthusiasm for the new Park grew after Ickes shared with the president a book of images of the Kings Canyon region by famed photographer Ansel Adams. By early 1940, Ickes and Roosevelt had swayed Congress, and the president signed the establishing legislation for the Park on March 1. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed legislation that further expanded the Park to its present boundaries.
At a little after 1pm on July 3, Sean and I reached the southern edge of the plateau on which Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest sits. We were at the junction of Trail of the Sequoias and High Sierra Trail. In front of us to the south was the gorge of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, some 3,700 feet below. Beyond were the ridges and peaks of the southern Sierra Nevada.