A Glacier Classic

Lake McDonald to St. Mary Lake. hiking over Gunsight Pass and packrafting the upper St. Mary river.  I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while.

The first 4 miles of hiking are in cedar forest, the next two open up with cliffs and alpine meadows on the way to Sperry Chalet.

Shoveling the trail, for mule trains.

The avalanche that damaged the chalet (left) snapped some old trees.

On the trail over to Gunsight, your chances of seeing a Pika are high.

Chances of seeing a goat, even better.

It’s not unlikely that goats will impede your progress, as they like the trail, too.

Gunsight Pass (center) is one of the higher passes in the park, and melts late.

The pass hut.  Useful shelter during bad weather.  (It was cool to see things this time.)

Gunsight Lake.

Until late in the season, crampons and an axe are a good idea on the east side.

Sometime this winter, a massive avalanche came off the south-facing wall just past the Gunsight Lake campground, snapping old growth (for this altitude) pines and clearing several footballs fields worth of forest (and the trail that ran through it).  You can see the area a few photos above if you look closely.

The debris will be around well into next summer.  The trail crews seemed to have wisely given up for this year, putting up flagging through part of the mess and calling it good.

You didn’t want to be standing here when it cut loose.  Study upslope.

Not that way.

All that’s left after the debris field is a trail walk down valley, and picking a spot to bushwack over to the river.  If you wait until a ~1/2 mile below the Florence Falls trail, you’ll find a nice meadow.

Most of the river below this point is flat and winding, with a decent current at runnable flows.  There are three bedrock rapids and a number of gravel-bottomed riffles.  The riffles can get bigish at high flows, while the first and last of the rapids are (for me) unrunnable.  The middle one isn’t bad, until you get higher water and the ledge drops turn into two river wide holes 25′ apart.  Take out above St. Mary falls (the final rapid is only 100 yards above them), and either fold the boat and hike out the trail to the road, or portage and float the last bit of river to the lake.

Allow extra time if riding the shuttle buses, they’re very slow in GNP.

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7 thoughts on “A Glacier Classic

      1. Dave, mind elaborating? Do you mean in the psychological sense or more so physical (or maybe both). I imagine the Alaska venture was quite taxing in both regards. Although never have I come close to such a physical and mental exertion; I can imagine what it might require.

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