Making Memories Along the Highline

by Amy Grisak

Amy is a freelance author and photographer in Great Falls, MT

As each summer flits by, it’s more obvious that time is precious with our children. For many summers, my girlfriends and I ventured into Glacier for a grand “Moms’ Hike Out” exploring the trails and chalets as we recharged our mental batteries. This year, we included our kids as three of us brought our 11 year olds on an overnight trip to Granite Park Chalet.

Securing a room at the chalet is competitive reservations at its finest. There were four of us, including my son Samuel, on the computers at the appointed date in January ready to type as soon as the 8 a.m. hour hit. Although all of us submitted reservations, only two of us were given the dates we requested, but we had our spot! From then it was watching the copious snowfall and counting down the days until mid-July.


Once the time arrived, the second hurdle to reaching Granite Park is finding a parking spot at Logan Pass. In the past we took the 7 a.m. shuttle from St. Mary, but since part of our group heralded from the west side, we thought it best to meet early together. It turned out for the best because the low clouds and biting cold pushed us into our cars to talk and stay warm until we finally decided it wasn’t going to lift. After bundling up, because you never hike in Glacier without being ready for any weather, we hit the trail.

Of course, the cliff area was a favorite for the kids, and while it never bothered me, I undoubtedly had a different view of it watching my son step around some of the more narrow spots as we hiked through the clouds. And as anyone who has hiked the Highline early in the season knows, it can be a beautiful, dry, flower-filled walk, or you might have to cross snowfields. With last winter’s record breaking snowfall, it was the latter. Thankfully, with the hiking poles (because I’m starting Samuel off early using them) there were no problems.


We stopped at Haystack Butte for lunch and chatted with fellow travelers, some of whom were making a short day of it stopping at Haystack or continuing to the chalet, ultimately ending their hike at the Loop. It’s always fun to talk with others, particularly since people are from throughout the country – and the world. While sharing tales with a talkative woman from Michigan, I was amused when she asked my son to answer a question honestly. She wanted to know what electronics he had in his backpack. I had to giggle, but he just looked puzzled. Not only is this no place for electronics, there’s no way the kids would have wanted to pack the extra weight!


While resting at Haystack, a lovely young bighorn sheep ram was silhouetting against the skyline along the ridge of Haystack. We were delighted when he stood up and walked down to the saddle, and were incredulous as he walked through the gathering crowd as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Of course, people were far too close, but thankfully, he walked where he wanted without incident.


For the rest of the hike we played hide and seek with the sun. The running joke was as soon as the sun came out causing us to peel off layers, a squall would soon follow making us scramble to dress again. It got to the point where a couple of our group refused to take off their coat or even a hat.


Over seven miles wearing a pack is a decent walk for 11 year olds, and at close to five miles they were starting to wear. That’s when I shared with them that Granite Park is different than Sperry (when hiking from the west side) because when you see Granite Park Chalet you know you’re close. With Sperry, it taunted you from miles away because you know you had roughly 20 thousand switchbacks to finish before enjoying lemonade and a sandwich or piece of pie. When they asked how far it was once we could see it, I told them, “About a mile.” I knew it was longer, but any 11 year old knows they can walk a mile without a problem, and I was more concerned with morale than mileage. Everyone was happy when we spotted the chalet in the distance, but it quickly became evident that it was not exactly a mile. Now anytime I tell them mileage on a hike, the response is, “Is that a real mile or an Amy mile?”


The chalet, particularly with the meadows of glacier lilies blanketing the final steps, is always a welcoming sight. The kids were tired, but happy to be there. It didn’t take them long to recover their energy and explore the area finding deer and marmots. It was special to watch the three become so comfortable with the place making memories of their own.


One night isn’t enough at the chalet. I packed in frozen chicken and dried pasta/quinoa/veggies, and we made our dinner over that gorgeous propane stove. There was apple crisp for dessert, as well as homemade cocoa mix for coffee hour. The kids played card games and even found a new friend to join them before winding down for the evening. I have to admit, even though I wanted to stay awake and enjoy the time, I was not a night owl that evening, and crashed on those comfortable beds before the sun set. But I was awake long before everyone else and soaked in the early morning sun sitting outside listening to the high country awakened in the mid-summer warmth, a totally different day than when we arrived.


After the kids all ate, Vicky walked with me to the area above the chalet so I could take photos. With the low clouds the day before, I was very happy to see the blue sky, and our walk down to the Loop was the exact opposite as our walk to the chalet. Hungry mosquitoes kept us clipping along, and we were down to shorts and t-shirts as soon as we got away from them.


At the Loop, Vicky jumped on a shuttle, since they only had room for one person, so she could grab the van at Logan Pass. It was a learning experience since it’s often difficult to manage larger groups with the shuttle system, but she (later) told us that when she got on they radioed that there was a big group waiting. This explains why 2 other shuttles arrived within 15 minutes. In hindsight, we could have all gotten on the shuttles, but we didn’t want to mess up Vicky having her return with the van and not be able to find us.

Granite Park was a whirlwind, although a memorable one. And it’s just the beginning of the trips with our kids. We haven’t decided on what to do for next year… I’m sure that will happen shortly… but whether it’s staying at the chalet or camping, there are moments that will make us laugh and be grateful that we spent the adventures together for years down the road.

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