Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | July 1, 2016

Granite Park Chalet Hike: Third Time’s a Charm

I stumbled upon the Granite Park Chalet hike in Glacier National Park by accident. I knew there were backcountry chalets in Glacier, but they were nothing more than points on a map. However, during one of my early season bike rides in Glacier this year, Going-to-the-Sun road was closed to motorists at Avalanche but open to cyclists up as far as The Loop. When we hit the road closure at The Loop, we decided to poke around the area and maybe do a quick hike. The Loop happens to be where the trail to Granite Park Chalet Trail starts, so of course we quickly picked our destination. Unfortunately, the trail hadn’t been cleared yet and was impassible. Which was probably a good thing – we had limited food and water and were not equipped for an 8-mile hike. We turned back after about a mile of scrambling over downed trees.

Granite park trail uncleared

The Granite trail, first attempt. Over, under or through?

But I was intrigued. I hadn’t realized that one of the backcountry chalets was so easily accessible by day hike. Although we’d failed to get there, hiking to Granite Park Chalet was now officially on my list of things to do. So when a friend from back East came to visit, I knew I wanted to show her Glacier and I knew what hike I wanted to do.

Visitors usually get – and are thrilled by – the Avalanche Lake hike. But I’d done Avalanche twice already this year, and Going-to-the-Sun had just opened to cars for the season three days earlier. I couldn’t resist the urge to get a little higher up in the park.

I was happy to find that the trail had been completely cleared (thank you, Park Service!), and we made great progress…for about a half-mile. Alas, we went on a day that was hotter than Vegas in August. The trail heads uphill from The Loop through a large swath burned by the Trapper Creek Fire in 2003, which means it’s in full sun pretty much all day. Even stopping to cool off in trailside streams couldn’t keep us from overheating. We were just over halfway up the trail when the heat got the best of us and we decided to turn back. I vowed to come back another, cooler, day.

I thought my third attempt to get to the chalet would again be thwarted by heat, but the fear of melting was larger than my fear of sleep deprivation. We were on the road early so that we could be well on the trail before the heat of the day. But the trail has some decent elevation gain, roughly 2000 feet in the first (sun exposed) 3 miles. The heat hit us hard and I wasn’t sure we’d make it. Fortunately, shortly after the 3-mile mark, the trail levels out and enters a healthy, dense forest.

revisedtrail - with trees

Look, trees! And shade!

We gladly took breaks in the shade and resisted the temptation to roll in the snowfields still lingering at the higher elevations.

And soon enough, the trail passed through a clearing and we spotted the chalet perched above us.

revisedChalet from afar

Granite Park Chalet from a distance.

revisedchalet getting closer

Getting closer….

revisedchalet sign

Almost there….

We arrived at the top and were warmly greeted by two marmots loitering in front of the toilets. Really, marmots, can’t you think of a better place to hang out?

revisedmarmot crossing trail

Run away, marmot.


Stubborn marmot.

The Chalet, constructed in 1914-1915, is one nine structures built by the Great Northern Railway to provide backcountry accommodations for park visitors. Alas, there are only two chalets left, Granite Park and Sperry. Granite Park offers basic housing for guests – bunk rooms that can be rented for the night. While there is no running water and the accommodations are primitive, it’s a nice upgrade from tent sleeping, and they also have food available for purchase (guests may use the chalet kitchen to cook). The other chalet still in service, Sperry Chalet, apparently offers more upscale housing, including an actual restaurant complete with table clothes, or so I’ve been told. But without question, you come to the chalets not for the accommodations.

revisedThe bunk rooms

Sample bunk room.


You come for the views.


After enjoying the view and getting creeped out by the marmots, we headed back down. The descent was relatively easy, but the heat was brutal by the time we got to the lower elevations. We passed several groups of hikers on the way up who were struggling. We stopped to chat with some of them, mainly to tell them how far they were from the shady section and to offer them extra water.

Given the number of people on the trail and the lack of surrounding vegetation, we weren’t particularly worried about animals. But then we heard this weird sound behind us. Was that…a bear huffing? No, it was a horse neighing. The pack train needed to pass us! We had seen ample evidence on the trail that horses had been ahead of us on the way up. The pack train had made its morning delivery to the chalet (wonder if that’s covered under Amazon Prime?) and they were now heading back down. We got off the trail to give the horses plenty of room and made all the usual stale remarks to the poor guy leading them. (Q: How many people jokingly ask him for a ride when he goes by? A: All of them.)

As we were almost back to the road, we met a family heading up. They had the glazed, excited look of city-dwelling tourists. “How many bears did you see?” the man asked me. “None,” I replied, “we forgot to call ahead and order some.” Alas, not everyone gets my sense of humor, and I’m pretty sure his wife scolded him for not reserving a bear sighting in advance.

Back at the car, we tore into our stashed supply of water and gladly swapped our boots for flip-flops. We then took a quick spin up to Logan Pass, because why not? We saw many bad drivers, several tourists trying to drink stream water (hello, Giardia!) and one cute mountain goat. We turned around at Logan Pass. With the windows down and the radio up, it was time to head back down the hill towards home.

Granite Park Chalet hike: mission accomplished.


revisedgranite park chalet plaque





Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | June 3, 2016

Inspiration Friday: Dog Edition

Did you hear about the dog who ran a half marathon by accident? Her owner let her out early one Sunday morning, she meandered over to a race start nearby, sniffed the runners and when the starting gun went off, so did she. She ran the whole thing in a very impressive 1:32, coming in 6th. But to all the runners who finished after her, I feel your pain. I’ve been beaten by a dog. More than once, in fact. There’s no shame in it.

Happy Friday!


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Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | May 10, 2016

Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road: Bear-Free Edition


2016-05-03 16.17.22

After our last fun and fabulous outing to Glacier, we decided we had to take advantage of the continued run of unseasonably warm weather here in Montana and hit the park again. It had only been two weeks since our previous outing, but apparently the string of warm days, or the shift of the calendar to May, brought out more people. Make no mistake, the park was still mostly empty, but there was a bit more life this time: a smattering of cars in West Glacier; a couple of people wandering around the still-shuttered Apgar Village. Lake McDonald looked magnificent as usual, reflecting the tranquility of the empty land around it.


The last time we were in Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun Road was only open to cars as far as Lake McDonald. This time, however, it was open to Avalanche, where we had biked to on our previous outing. As we drove along, we stopped at the rock where we’d been waylaid by a large black bear. Alas (fortunately?), we saw no sign of him, so we drove to Avalanche and hauled out our bikes.

After our bear encounter on our previous trip, I knew we should be prepared. I kept my can of bearspray clipped on my belt, as opposed to stuffed in my backpack as usual. Because when you encounter ursus horribilis (aka, a big ol’ grizzly bear), you don’t want to dig through your bag to find the bear spray, rummaging past a sandwich and a jacket and a granola bar and sunscreen and Kleenex and a hat and oh look, that hand sanitizer I was searching for earlier. Because by that point, the ursus horribilis would have eaten you, the sandwich, the granola bar, and possibly the hand sanitizer, too.

We kept our eyes peeled on the side of the road but fortunately, we saw no movement. We did, however, saw a few piles of bear scat – four in quick succession, in fact, right in the middle of the road. I guess the bear must be somewhat similar to my dog – fond of going in the same spot every day.

The road was flat and easy for a while, but soon the uphill grade began. I was slow as a turtle, but least I had an excuse. And no, my excuse was not that I’m old and out of shape. My excuse was that I was on a big clunky mountain bike instead of my light and speedy road bike. Fortunately the road leveled out at the tunnel, a great photo-op, even if it meant dodging drips from the melting snowpack above.


We continued our uphill trek to The Loop, and I felt rather bad-ass as we pulled into the parking lot. I felt decidedly less bad-ass when I saw an octogenarian who had biked up as well. What is it with these damn super fit Montana Senior Citizens? They’re making me look bad!

The road was closed at The Loop so we couldn’t ride any farther, but it was a gorgeous day, and we weren’t ready to head back.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.05.30 PM

Several other cyclists were milling about, enjoying the sunshine, but we felt compelled to do something a little more adventurous than sit on a bench. So, just like we did when we decided to hike to Avalanche, we made a spontaneous decision to trek into the wilderness. The trail to Granite Chalet begins at The Loop, so it didn’t take much discussion before we decided to set off. It was a little ambitious – 8 miles round trip, and since we hadn’t planned on doing it, we were short on food, water, and time. But we thought we could probably make it, or at least get part of the way there.



Within minutes, we realized the trail had not yet been cleared for the season. Because the trail is in an area ravaged by fire a few years ago, the winter winds did more than their fair share of damage. It was littered with downed trees. Every few feet we were faced with the decision of which preposition to choose: over, under, around, up, down, through.


It became clear rather quickly that we were not going to make the chalet. We could barely take 10 steps without having to scramble over a fallen tree. It took well over a half hour to cover one mile. We hadn’t even gone two miles when we decided to turn back. But still, the scenery was gorgeous even if the trail was slow going.


We returned to The Loop, now completely deserted, hopped back on our bikes, and began our cruise down the hill with the late afternoon sun just starting to cast shadows on the road. We took our time and soaked in the scenery. We kept an eye out for bears on the side of the road, but other than the same four piles of scat that we saw on the way up, there was no sign of any wildlife. It was simply a beautiful bear-free, carefree ride.

And although I skew towards cynical, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the experience. It was one of those moments that screams “Pay attention! Remember this!” A warm sunny day with a gentle warm breeze. Snow capped mountains against a deep blue sky. The scent of sun-roasted pine needles being carried on the wind. The scenic rush of the river along the side of the road. The road itself an empty stretch of asphalt, not a car to be seen. Yes, there was the worry of encountering a bear, but not a large fear, just enough apprehension to lend a sense of excitement. Remarkable. Gorgeous. Empty. And I was lucky enough to be there to do it.


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Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | May 6, 2016

Inspiration Friday: Centenarian Edition

By now you’ve probably heard of Ida Keeling. If not, be prepared to feel inadequate. The sprightly 100-year-old just set a new world record for the 100-meter dash at the Penn Relays. Granted, the record was for her age group, but even without the record, it’s a remarkable feat. I’m less than half her age, and I’m not sure I could run 100 meters in just over a minute. Fortunately, I have 50 years to train. Watch out, Ida. I’m coming for you.



You can read more about Ida here. Happy Friday!




Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 29, 2016

Inspiration Friday: Pre-Teen Edition

I’ll admit, there have been times that I’ve gotten lost on runs and accidentally gone a little further than planned. But not as many extra miles as Lee Rodriguez-Espada did. The 12-year-old girl recently planned to run a 5k and inadvertently ran a half marathon. She was late getting to the start line and saw that the race had already begun, so she ran. Turns out, it was the half-marathon start, not the 5k race that she intended to run. At around mile 4, she realized her mistake but at that point decided not to quit. She did the whole thing, all 13.1 miles. Kudos to her. You can read more about Lee here. Now excuse me while I go for a 3 mile run. Or maybe 13. Who knows?

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