Friday, February 22, 2013

Many Glacier Adventure

Sunrise next to Wynn Mountain

         Here at Glacier Park, Inc. we receive comments and suggestions about all of our properties. What we have come to realize is that the Many Glacier Hotel stands out when our guests mention which one is their favorite. The Many Glacier area has several trailheads leading into various Glacier National Park backcountry regions and some of the best fishing in the Park. Incredible wildlife viewing opportunities are any direction you turn, but none of these is the main attraction. It’s the setting the Hotel was built in. On the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, with Mt. Wilber, Allen Mountain, Grinnell Mountain, Mount Henkel, and the Garden Wall as the backdrop, there are few places in the world that can match the beauty of its surroundings. By the time that our first guests arrive in the late spring, there is green everywhere, and the smells and sounds of summer are in the air. What few of our guests realize is that despite the lush surroundings found in this pristine area during the summertime, winter paints quite a different picture. 

Kevin's Cabin

          In the first Week of February, we were able to make enough time away from the desk to trek in and say hello to our winter caretaker, Kevin Adams. You may remember Kevin from an employee spotlight post back in November. Kevin reported that the road was mostly clear of snow, with only some long drifts, so we decided to ride mountain bikes in instead of cross country ski, which is a more common means of transportation at that time of year. Snowshoes would not have been necessary due to a lack of snow on the road, and there were some skiers just ahead of us that day whose tracks suggested they had to dismount several times. Cycling proved to be an adequate method of transportation; however we did end up pushing our bikes through several 100-200 yard snow drifts for the first 3.5 miles or so. Once we reached the Glacier National Park entrance station there were a few inches of snow on the road, but it was fairly smooth riding after that. At the entrance station, there is a backcountry registry which the Park Service requests all visitors to register with details of their intended trip. It’s not a bad idea, since it gives rangers a heads-up in case of an emergency. Winter backcountry users should be aware that Glacier National Park treats all roads behind gates in winter to be backcountry, so the regulations change a bit from the summer months. You can check the link below for details. We thought it worth mentioning that we bumped into a couple of Park visitors at the parking area who were planning on trekking in to camp at Iceberg Lake that day. Their plans were to climb Mt. Wilber the following morning. We could only imagine how strenuous, but rewarding that trip would have been. 

The Footbridge

We finally made it up to the Many Glacier Hotel and checked in with Kevin. As per his request we brought him some fresh fruit, Dr. Pepper and chocolate as a thank you for entertaining us, for which he was very grateful. He was gracious enough to give us a tour of what his responsibilities are during these isolated months as the winter caretaker for the hotel. In the summer, you will find a gentle breeze carrying the scent of pine and wildflowers, but as we arrived, we had battled what seemed to us to be hurricane force winds most of the way in. Kevin just smiled and asked if we were enjoying the mild weather! “Normally the wind blows pretty hard around here,” said Kevin in his welcoming words. It wasn't hard to believe, after viewing all of the drifts. Where the foot-bridge crosses the road from the parking lot to the hotel there was a snow drift up to the bottom of the bridge. The direction of the wind is evident, since the drifts are all on the east side of all the buildings. You may not believe the harshness of the weather in this area if you have only visited in the summer months. 

The Garden Wall

Sunrise on Mt Wilber

Mt. Wilber is the first peak to see the sunrise, and the clear skies we saw provided a perfect opportunity to capture lots of images. The clouds pour over the Garden Wall as if it were a cauldron, battling to hold them back. On the trek in, we noticed wolf, elk, moose, coyote and rabbit tracks. We didn’t see much for live critters other than four moose off of Highway 89 between Browning and Babb. Kevin did mention that up until only a few weeks earlier he has seen lots of different animals such as big horn sheep, coyotes, elk, mountain goats, deer and the like, but has not seen much activity in the more recent weeks. It’s typical that this wildlife is very abundant in the early spring once the weather starts to warm up a bit which left us wondering where they had gone. He has been keeping track of a feral cat that we pondered as to how it could have ended up so far from civilization. 

The Many Glacier Hotel itself seemed to be holding up to this mild winter without much complaint. The snow drift on the east side was piled up as high as the bottom of the second story. It made us wonder how deep that drift might get during a snowier winter. Much of the power and heat is turned off in the winter months and the plumbing drained so the pipes won’t freeze and crack. The temperature inside of the lobby of the Hotel was just above freezing as our water bottles weren’t freezing up, but the light snow that was on our backpacks wasn’t melting either. There was a strong draft coming down the chimney of the fireplace and the wind whistled across the top, producing movie-like sound effects. During his stay, Kevin keeps busy making the necessary repairs to window and door trim, drywall, and any other wear and tear on the building from nature and humans alike. Evidently, there was a black bear which thought that making its winter cave under the porch on the lake side of the hotel last fall was an easier alternative than a traditional den. Boarding it up while the bear was out for the day seemed to change its mind. The heavy wind and snowfall require all of the first story windows to be boarded up for protection and it produced a ghost-town feel which contrasts the hustle and bustle of excited guests arriving and departing in the summer season. 

Kevin seemed glad for the company and said to say hi to all the followers he didn’t know he has. Our trip back to the gate proved mush less of a work out as most of the snow on the road was cleared off by the overnight wind and we had a healthy tailwind to push us along. There are regulations for visiting the backcountry in Glacier National Park, and you will want to check those out before you head out on any excursion in the Park. You can call the Glacier Park Headquarters at 406.888.7800 or online here.

View of snow drifts from the inside

The snowy/icy road


  1. wow - thank you for this fascinating report on Many Glacier mid-winter! we frequent the park in summer so to hear about the winter months is quite a treat! ~megan wilcox (san diego, CA)

  2. Climbing Wilbur??? Being that it's the second hardest climb in the Park during summer conditions makes me think that a sanity test is in order. Good luck to them.

  3. I'm really enjoying following Kevin's experience as a winter caretaker. My family and I stayed at Many Glacier during our first trip to Glacier in July 2006. I'm going to forward this to them so they can see the huge difference in seasons!