The mountains are calling and we must go… no matter how we get there! Although they are actually worth seeing from more than one perspective!
The 3D view from an aircraft provides a fantastic big picture of the area: its historical topography, its bearings (situation awareness)… its grandiosity. It’s also a much easier way to visit; almost like viewing it from a couch.
However, stepping foot on the trails feels like being a part of the mountains; an extension of them! Hiking through and over the mountains is a great feeling for me. I love the experience, being in nature, disconnecting from everyday life, the exercise, the challenge, the views, the smell, the ability to stop at any moment and, yes, the wild animals even though I prefer to see them from a good (safe) distance.
Let’s use a few examples from Glacier National Park to explain further. (Note that some of the aerial and ground pictures are from two different summers.) I’ll start with Hidden Lake, one of Glacier’s easiest and most popular hikes from Logan Pass.
While one cannot see Logan Pass, you can picture it just south of the lower left corner of the picture. From there, one can follow the trail (partially paved and can be seen in the picture) to view Hidden Lake and its beautiful valley. The aerial view provides a great shot of it and its general area, including Sperry Glacier in the immediate distance.
However, being on the trail allows you to be a part of the landscape. It puts you right in the middle of it all but does not provide views of the area beyond the valley. It’s also not uncommon for mountain goats to be enjoying this same beautiful area as hikers. Unfortunately for some though, this trail is often closed due to “bear activity.” In this case, it means bears chasing mountain goats up and down the valley, left and right of the trail.
Continuing with famous trails… Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glaciers are amongst visitor favorites. The hike to the lake is fairly easy, especially if shortened by taking a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and another one (part of the same ticket) across Lake Josephine. But the hike to the glacier is moderate.
Flying over the area clearly shows the difference between Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier. Many first-time visitors question this because they think Grinnell Lake is the one on top, when it’s the one at the bottom. The lake up top is simply part of the glacier that is melting and receding.
One of my first thoughts when hiking to the Glacier was that the waterfalls were not as evident from the air as they were from the ground. My second thought was that the Angel Wing (the mountain west of the waterfall) is much bigger in actuality than the flight portrayed (even with the shadow). I still would have liked to hike up to it, but it was pretty rainy and stormy when we arrived at the Glacier so it’s on the list again for a future trip.
We could have never seen a ram this close or this good from any aircraft.
Hiking directly to the Glacier isn’t the only way to view the Glacier from the ground. The Highline Trail, also from Logan Pass, has a steep Grinnell Lake Overlook side trail (which may be scary to those afraid of heights), giving hikers a completely different viewpoint. One can look down onto the Glacier. This is the longest of the hikes discussed but it’s also one of my favorites.
One of the reasons I enjoy flying over the mountains is to scout my next adventure. This was the case with Iceberg Lake. I loved the way the lake looked from the air, with its deep blue color and being surrounded by sheer glacier walls.
The sheer walls were honestly just as impressive, but in a different way, flying or hiking. Seeing their vertical nature from the air was impressive and seeing their rugged look up close from the trail was spectacular as well. My mom hiked it with me, making it even more special.
It was a bit disappointing though that Iceberg Lake had no icebergs when we hiked it.
When I flew over Cracker Lake last year, it did not look as impressive to me as other lakes did, but it must have been because I flew too early in the day. The sun was not shining on its water yet and, as it turns out, Cracker Lake has the most beautiful water color of any lake I’ve visited or seen at GNP. It’s very different seeing it in the shade and the sun.
It was quite amazing to see the transition of water color on the lake as the sun rose up over the mountains. I had never seen anything quite like that before.
The details of things like the color of the rocks and the sediment in the water is something one cannot perceive from the air.
Glacier is also a great park to view moose, mountain goats (my favorite!), bighorn sheep, and bears of different types but it’s a bit hard to see them from an aircraft.
There’s no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as ours so get out and explore!
by Yasmina Platt