~ Submitted on behalf of the Taylor Hiking Group
“Get off the trail!”
Not the directive you would expect to hear from a United States national park ranger but sometimes there are circumstances that dictate a change in normal hiking protocol and this was certainly one of those instances.
We were hiking in Montana’s Glacier National Park on the Iceberg Trail when we encountered a traffic jam of 20 hikers, a ranger, and a grizzly bear. The ranger had his bear spray canister unpinned and was calmly but firmly talking to the bear. The bear turned and started down the trail towards our group and the ranger ordered us to vacate the trail.
We scurried into the brambles but the bear also decided to leave the hiking path in our general direction. The approximately 4 year old grizzly then found something good to nibble on in the grass about 15 feet upside of the trail. The ranger determined that the grizzly was content and directed us to quickly return to the trail and continue our hike beyond the bear. Phew!
Our hiking group of 31 years has encountered many animals but this was the most dramatic meeting. We were very thankful for the ranger’s management of the situation. The only injuries we suffered were the cuts from the branches. There certainly was much to discuss that night at dinner.
The Taylor Hiking Group, comprised of mostly Bedford women, united for the ladies first organized trip in two years due to Covid restrictions. The much awaited expedition to Glacier was originally planned for the summer of 2020. The group was started by Bedford resident Jane Taylor. This year’s August trip was organized by Bedford’s Lisa Baylis and Mary Criscione. The other participants were Bedford residents Denise Barnett, Dotty Blake, Debbie Caban, Birgit DeWeerd, Carol Long, Judy Morgan Cleveland, Jane Taylor, and Barb Attardo (Winchester), Dorothy Binswanger (Philadelphia) Barb Chase (Andover), and Connie Matheson (Carlisle).
Glacier is a paradise for hikers. There are 734 miles of trails, hundreds of wildflowers, and 20 species of trees. The Glaucous Gentian, a short blue flower, is only found in the park. There are six peaks over 10,000 feet, glaciers, spectacular views, and wildlife abounds. The park is home to the highest density population of grizzly bears in the world. We also observed moose, bighorn sheep, snakes, bald eagles, and mountain goats.
The most popular hikes are the Highline and the Grinnell Glacier. The Highline Trail is partially along a jagged cliff and then by many wildflowers in a section described as the Garden Wall. We were excited to see a young two year old grizzly romping through the meadow below the trail and bighorn sheep temporarily blocked our passage as we finished our hike. Our very informative guides, Eva and Gabby, explained that the young bear had probably been recently separated from his mother. Mother bears normally leave the older cub in a lush eating environment when the separation occurs.
The Grinnell Glacier Trail is an 11.2 mile round trip around two lakes and climbs 2,181 feet above Lower Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Falls. The destination is Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake which is located at the base of the Continental Divide. Our guides discussed the melting of the glaciers. Grinnell Glacier has been reduced by 40% over the past 30 years.
We also enjoyed interacting with the many fellow hikers during our trips. Our mature, senior status seemed to intrigue and even startle others on the trail – many, usually as they were passing us, asked about how we managed to gather such a big group of older women to hike. Many were shocked to hear that we had been hiking together for 30 plus years. A couple of younger women stated that we were definitely the most fun group on the trail and asked to get a photo with us.
We also were occasionally humbled by others. One very sincere young boy observed my knee braces, hiking poles, and limping gait and implored, “You can do it!” Some asked, “Where did you start the hike?” We wondered if they thought we were helicoptered in somehow. We tried to explain that our journey was a little more involved than an afternoon senior field trip.
The incredible “Going to the Sun Road” is the main travel network through the park. We stayed in three different locations on the West and East sides of the park. Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel were classic national park lodges with old west ambiance. We traveled through the Blackfeet reservation and stayed at St. Mary’s Village for our final hike to Two Medicine Lake. We observed a mother moose and calf stomping through a pond.
Our final adventure was a white water rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River on the southern boundary of the park. After an appreciation dinner and tearful group hug with our fabulous guides, most of the crew headed back to Bedford. A few flew to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and traveled to Yellowstone National Park and completed the trip with three days in the Grand Tetons National Park.
Future plans are always on the horizon. Next summer will probably involve the more local national park – Acadia in Maine. Whether we will manage 45 miles of hiking in five days is an unknown. We do know that there will be more stories and laughter to propel us to the peak of friendship and fond memories.