Northern Tier 2010

July 20, 2010

Oh, Can-a-da…

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 02 — Henry Scott @ 9:30 pm

Although I did enter Canada today, this title is a bit misleading because the highlight of today was the hike up to Grinnell Glacier. I got off to a slower start than planned because the rain that had me trapped in my tent last night transitioned into a very cold fog this morning. It got so cold late last night / early this morning that I had trouble sleeping. On the bright side, I’d be very surprised if I experience another sub-40 degree night, so I think my sleeping gear is working out well.

Despite the rough start to the morning, I eventually emerged from my tent to make some oatmeal and tea, and in the process got to know the neighboring backpackers. There were two young electrical engineers (one a recent graduate and the other about to enter his final year at USC), a soon-to-be forestry student from Oregon, and a principal from New York. It was a great group.

After breakfast I made my way to the Grinnell Glacier trailhead and promptly met a black bear. (The young mountain goat shown here is actually from a couple of days ago on Logan Pass.) I saw a grizzly last night, but at too great of a distance to get a photo. We stared at each other few a moments and went about our business. The trail followed Josephine Lake for a mile or so, and started working its way up in elevation through red and green outcroppings of the Grinnell formation — mud cracks and ripple marks were ubiquitous. It is mind boggling to imagine so many episodes of drying out and subsequent deposition of new sediments only to dry out once again.

Before long the trail offered grand views of the jade-colored lower Grinnell lake and, eventually, the upper Grinnell lake and the glacier itself. The picture here show the progression of lakes and the U-shaped valley carved by this once-mighty glacier. It was fascinating to see active glacial erosion — Grinnell is rapidly retreating, and the exposed rocks are covered with glacial striations, clearly etched in the stone during a larger period of the glacier’s life.

I also saw more stromatolites and got good views of a park feature I’d been hoping to see the past few days: the igneous intrusion in the Helena formation. It is notable because it extends through many of the highest peaks in the park and presents some of the few igneous rocks in the park. It is quite easy to see because it is dark in color, but it is bounded above and below by bright white marble. The dark-colored diorite intruded into limestone and metamorphosed the limestone into marble.

By the time I got back from the 12-mile hike my appetite was back so I had a cheese burger and fries from the Swiftcurrent restaurant, but that wasn’t quite enough so I followed it up with a small pizza.

It was important to eat so much because I then broke camp and rode the hilly 34 miles across the border to Canada (Alberta) and into the campground at Belly River. I knew ahead of time that there’s no running water here, and I only wanted to carry enough for some noodles tonight and oatmeal in the morning. I’ll stop for a big meal somewhere early tomorrow. The ride, by the way, was wonderful because the route slowly took me around Chief Mountain, and by the time I reached the border crossing the setting sun had it perfectly illuminated.



  1. So glad to hear from you and see all the sights. I’m as jealous as can be. Keep safe and enjoy…ah.

    Comment by Matt — July 21, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  2. Your trips is really sounding like it is going well, despite the rain and fog. It kinda makes me want to do on a long bike ride. Okay not really! I will just stick to dinky trails near the Garden of the Gods. Happy cycling!!

    Comment by Lauren — July 22, 2010 @ 5:46 am

  3. I am enjoying reading about your incredible adventure! Your photos are amazing and I’ve been sharing them with the girls! Stay safe and enjoy!

    Comment by Kim Hock — July 22, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  4. These photographs are AMAZING! Thanks for sharing them.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 4, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

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