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The Highline Trail - Garden Wall
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mini location map2010-07-20
64 by photographer avatartibber
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The Highline Trail - Garden WallWestern, MT
Western, MT
Hiking avatar Jul 20 2010
Hiking11.85 Miles 2,023 AEG
Hiking11.85 Miles   7 Hrs      1.69 mph
2,023 ft AEG
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I actually did the hike description for this trail so you can reference it for more information about this "Jewel of the GNP (Glacier National Park)" hike: This mileage, AEG and time is for The Highline Trail to The Loop TH.

The first thing I did when I woke up was to check the weather. We were socked in by low fog and clouds probably created by the rain we had the previous nite; altho that rain was further north in the Many Glacier area. So it looks like our early start would have to be delayed. The one good thing is that we got to enjoy our breakfast before heading out as the fog started to lift. The other cool thing with the fog is that our drive on the GTTSR was very interesting and provided an incredible opportunity to take a photo (right like I would take A photo) of the infamous Wild Goose Island in St Mary's Lake. It was like magic in the daylight.

After a small traffic delay due to construction (I love the traffic delays on the GTTSR. You get to stop and get out to take pictures as the flaggers give you a time frame such as 10 minutes), we finally made it to the Logan Pass parking lot and got on our way to do the highlight hike of our trip. It was a beautiful day!

The TH is across the Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. It is at an elevation of around 6600 feet. The trail loses elevation gradually for about 1/4 mile. This is an area that is somewhat alpine meadowy and somewhat low foresty. We immediately got caught up in the little flowers on the raised bank along the trail before we headed toward our small snow crossing along the Highline Trail toward the Garden Wall.

Next up is the plank-way walk as you weave along just above the GTTSR. Looking down is pretty amazing as you are walking on a narrow cliff path. However, there is a hose railing that you can hold onto if you feel the need. As long as you don't look straight down, it's really not much of an issue as the path is plenty wide in my opinion. Ambika and I kept switching positions as we walked so that we could take pictures of each other going along this plank-way. You almost forget there is one heck of a drop-off just a step or two away.... something that would come to fruition on the last day of our hiking in Glacier Park.

Once you've walked the plank-way you start going down ever so slowly. You come in and out of some tall foresty areas and then have magnificent views of the Garden Wall up and to your right (east) along with Mt Oberilne and Mt Cannon (south) to your left as well as a few different waterfalls off of Mt Oberlin and Logan Pass. Ahead Haystack Butte is coming into view.

You continue on a slight downward walk, crossing 12 streams/falls of water coming out of the mountainside before you reach the saddle at Haystack Butte. It seems I tried to get a picture of every one... imagine that. They all eventually flow into Logan Creek that comes off of Logan Pass. A couple are pretty good size.

We seemed to interchange with a couple different groups of hikers quite a few times during the hike to Haystack Butte Pass because of the picture taking. You can even see the Weeping Wall on the GTTSR. Within a short time we encountered a mom and her kid (mountain goats) right next to the trail. They seemed unamused by us and of course, we were so excited to see them so close. As you cross a couple more snowfields, such fun really, eventually you know you have to start going up to get around that Haystack Butte. It just seems so irrelevant as you continue to soak in the views including the backside of Mt Gould.

It is interesting how the shape of Haystack Butte changes as you make your way around. This area has lots of Beargrass and during blooming years, it is a site to see let alone walk through. Before we climbed the switchback for about 1/2 mile and 400 feet, we took a quick re-fuel moment and walked slowly up to the saddle of Haystack Pass. We ran into a good deal of snow here; much more than we knew would be along the trail. Earlier I had pulled out one trekking pole as snow can be slippery :doh: and it's a long way down to the GTTSR.

The snow field around Haystack Butte was just massive and that along with very interesting clouds in the sky made for a most rewarding journey. We didn't spend much time at the Saddle (around the 3.5 mile mark) as Ambika was concerned about making the 6:00 "Loop" shuttle. It is at this point that many folks turn around. Good for us, too bad for them.

Pretty soon we're walking along and starting to huff and puff a little. We are a little surprised as we thot the elevation gain was supposed to be minimal, especially after the saddle at Haystack Pass. We had hiked 10 miles the day before so maybe it was catching up with us. So we took a quick break and I pulled out the description I had. I could see what I thot was the height of the trail not too far from where we were and that proved to be the case. We only had about another 1/4 mile to the max elevation at 7,286 feet.

We crossed a couple more snowfields and ran into another hiker on the trail. This one had four legs though. So we stopped and discussed proper trail etiquette and decided to let the mountain goat pass. It was a fun encounter that I got on film and video. As you continue for a mile or so you come upon some seriously incredible views of Lake McDonald (at almost 5 miles from the TH). Lake MacDonald stays in view for a whole mile along the Highline Trail while Mt. Cannon and Mt. Oberlin skirt the other side of the Lower McDonald Creek Valley.

In this same area you will come across what I call the "weeping wall" of the Highline Trail as you may need to negotiate around some water as it comes out of the mountain side just like the cars do on the "Weeping Wall" section of GTTSR. After you come around this ridge you get a pretty good look at Swiftcurrent Mountain ahead (slightly to the north and east) plus the Granite Park Chalet in the distance.

We came upon a large field of Glacier Lilys on both sides of the trail so we had to stop and snap some photos here. We were on a good pace but sometimes you just gotta go "whoa". We were not quite done with our wildlife encounters of the close kind as just a little further down the trail, after crossing a couple more snowfields, we spotted a hoary marmot. Now this wasn't just any ordinary marmot. This guy apparently has posed for photos before as he let us snap away. In fact, he was so docile, Ambika pet him. We know it's a no-no but he didn't seem to care.

Ambika was still high-tailing it. I had great faith we would make that shuttle so I would languish on occasion to snap a photo or two. The Highline Trail continues to gradually lose elevation flattening out in a short time. From the junction with the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, the Highline Trail starts going up towards the Granite Park Chalet for .8 miles.

We did not feel we had time to run up to the Chalet (of course, we had plenty of time but just didn't know it) because we figured at a 1.5 mph or so pace on the way down, it would take us a little more than 3 hours to make the shuttle stop. Well we must have been kickin' some tail cuz we were at the TH in 2 1/2 hours. The Loop trip report will be posted separately. But in case you didn't know it by this trip report, this was a pumpkin WONDERFUL FABULOUS hike I would do over and over and over :y: :y: :y:

Throwing a Wendy
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Moderate
For me, sometimes it's just as much about the journey as the destination.
Oh, and once in awhile, don't forget to look back at the trail you've traveled.
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