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GNP conditions report
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David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
GNP conditions report on 06/13/2011 08:08:11 MDT Print View

Got out into the northern heart of Glacier this weekend, and thought some might find this useful for upcoming visits.

For those who don't know, Glacier had a near record snow year, and we've had a fairly cool and quite wet spring, the result being that there is still a lot of snow up there. How much?

I started at Avalanche (end of car access right now) rode a bike to near Packers Roost, locked it to a tree, walked to Packers (the road hasn't even been cleared of deadfall yet), then over Flattop Mountain and down the Waterton valley to Goat Haunt. The next day I walked over Browns Pass and out to Bowman Lake.

The snow started at roughly 5600' going up to Flattop. Across the top of the plateau there is still a huge amount, probably 6-10' (yes, feet) depending on aspect and the extent to which it's been wind drifted. Following the trail is largely pointless, but with that much snow travel is easy anyway, anywhere. The snow line is lower descending into Waterton as it gets less sun; I found almost continuous snow all the way to the Pass Creek, not so much because of the elevation (4500') but because of the dense tree cover.

There was a bit of snow before Lake Janet, then almost continuous snow to Lake Francis (which is still frozen solid), and complete snow cover from there beyond the pass. Following the trail beyodn Hawksbill camp was difficult, but not really necessary. The final push up to the pass above Thunderbird Pond is a steep snow slope, and Browns Pass itself is probably 20+ feet deep in avalanche debris. Going down from Brown's the snow mostly stops by 5500'.

I took small running snowshoes, flexible 10 point crampons, and an ice axe. All were vital at various points.

The thing which will define melt out will be temperature. Check the West Glacier and Polebridge forecasts. If they're getting multiple sunny days in the 70 and 80s, things below 6000' will melt out very fast, and while snow above there is going to linger for quite some time, southerly slopes could melt out completely in short order, even at high elevations.

What does this mean for your trip? It depends. Analyze the route, pay attention to exposure (does the trail go on the north side or south side of a valley? the later will have more snow), elevation, and slope steepness. For me my crampons and axe were necessary going up to Browns because it was still mid-morning on a not especially hot day and the snow was pretty hard. A bit warmer and it would have been safer in terms of arresting a slide, though too warm and you have to start worrying about wet point-release avalanches (which are still happening naturally on warm days).

Check the backcountry trail status updates on the parks website. The BC rangers are out and about and will post the latest info.

You may not have to cancel your trip, but you may have to work a bit harder to do it.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
GNP conditions report on 06/13/2011 08:31:10 MDT Print View

That's great information, Dave. Thanks for posting it. Do you know what the conditions might currently be in the Many Glacier complex? I expect Cracker and Iceberg Lakes will be shadowed and full of snow, being near 6000'. But what about Cut Bank Creek and Two Medicine? Did the east get more, or less snow than the west this past winter? I expect that the Belly R. trail might now be fairly snow-free, but a horrendous mud mess. Please continue posting about the conditions as you see them--it's a great help to those of us trying to plan for our trips during the next few weeks.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
GNP conditions report on 06/13/2011 08:49:42 MDT Print View

Dave, I posted this to the PNT forums as well as the CDT-L. Thanks for doing that legwork. I would've loved to have done this route with you.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
east side conditions on 06/13/2011 09:05:34 MDT Print View

Gary, I haven't been over to the east side of the park in a few months. It generally gets less snow, and more sun, so I'd imagine it's melting faster. I was on top of Swiftcurrent Mountain 8 days ago, and was impressed at how melted out the Swiftcurrent/Many Glacier valley appeared. For what that is worth.

Sam, get on up here! Let me know!

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
east side conditions on 06/13/2011 09:33:07 MDT Print View

Great, Dave. Thanks again.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
CDT on 06/14/2011 10:54:05 MDT Print View

Thanks for the great conditions report. I'm headed out next Thursday to start the CDT, so every bit of info helps.