As I wrote last week, I took a few precious hours off on what would have been Howard’s 28th birthday, to go hiking — after all, my baby brother loved Glacier National Park in that same marrow-deep way that I do, so I thought my time couldn’t have been better spent.

I don’t remember the first year we hiked the Highline Trail as a family, though I suspect it was in 1989.  We probably parked at Logan Pass, with the throngs, and ventured a few feet down the trail, gawking at goats.  Howard would have been almost five years old at the time; Brother Dear six and a half; me, just turned 9.

As the years passed, and our hiking in Glacier National Park increased in difficulty, I’m sure we hiked various parts of the trail together many times, though I’m sad to say I can’t recall those details.  But at any rate, I always love placing my feet where I know Howard’s crossed, and on this particular trip, my heart was light as I cruised to Haystack Butte with Maggie Rose on my back, Brother Dear, Nan, Chuck and dear family friend Bruce and his daughter, Kara.

Chuck, Nan, me, Maggie Rose, Brother Dear – September 19, 2012 at Haystack Butte

The Highline Trail is insanely popular for many reasons: it’s more level than it is not.  The Sound of Music could easily have been filmed on it, and it’s not uncommon to hear hikers singing “The Hills Are Alive” as they drink in the endless views west of Logan Pass, where the trail begins at the apex of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The Highline Trails also offers entre into a number of excellent destinations, depending on your abilities and desires.

You can hike just a few feet from your car, and commune with the mountain goats, or you can hike all the way down down to the Loop, not quite 12 miles.  You can hang a right 7 miles in, at Granite Park Chalet, a incredibly special spot in an already ridiculously singular national park, and hike over Swiftcurrent Pass and out to the Best Porch in the World, in Many Glacier.  Also from the Chalet, you can keep heading north to famed 50 Mountain campground, and on into Canada, if you have a backpack and a permit.  Or you can just hike the 4-ish miles to Haystack Butte, and have a picnic, and turn around, which is what we did.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is currently closed west of Logan Pass for construction; the Highline Trail parallels the west side of the Road, just above it, and as a result of the road closure it was wonderfully silent as we hiked along.

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Whereas normally the Trail is throbbing with people, and passing on its more narrow stretches can be frustrating, especially when hiking behind slower people lacking in trail etiquette (i.e., let those faster than you pass – duh – why is this such a hard concept for some folks?), on September 19th we hardly saw another soul.   These odd circumstances especially pleased Chuck – isn’t this a great picture of him?

When we arrived at Haystack Butte, we picnicked with only the Columbian ground squirrels and chipmunks for company — unprecedented in all the times we have collectively hiked the Highline.  If possible, I will never hike it again in any month but September!

Looking north and west from Haystack Butte.

Looking east.

Because in addition to all this unusual solitude, Autumn has painted the Highline Trail in colors that a Canon just can’t capture, and my heart wept a little at the beauty of it all, beauty that will change by the hour until it is all covered up by the first snow – surely not long off now.

After our hike, we took Kara to see the famed Best Porch in the World …

… and at her request, on a bear hunt.  Well, Many Glacier is the spot to see bears, and she did not disappoint on September 19.  We saw the fattest grizzly I have ever laid eyes on — this time of year, bears are in what is called hyperphasia, as they finish fattening up for winter, and I have no doubt that the griz in question will make it through just fine.  No pictures of Fatty, but here’s another griz we saw, a few minutes later.

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Isn’t she lovely?

The best thing we saw in Glacier National Park?  The absolute joy on Nan’s face on what is normally a very sad day:

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This picture is such a keeper.

Thanks, as always, Glacier — we love you so.

2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Some photo credits to Charlie Stone, Sanford Stone, Bruce Valley and Kara Bestler.  All Rights Reserved.

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