Glacier National Park ~ Vanishing Glaciers ~ a slow hiker's guide™


Recent and historical Photos of vanishing glaciers in Glacier Park

Thirteen of those glaciers have shown marked recession

Just back 9-3-15 from hiking up to Comeau Pass with peak a boo views of Sperry Glacier. According to one of my hiking partners the entire area was covered by Sperry Glacier twenty five years ago. Hope to locate some photos from that time frame as well as fifty years ago. There are plenty of photos from one hundred years ago.

Some of the more intensely studied glaciers have proved to be just 1/3 of their estimated maximum size that occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850). In fact, only 26 named glaciers presently exist of the 150 glaciers present in 1850 and those that do are mere remnants of their previous size. Other glaciers, such as Piegan Glacier, have remained visibly unchanged as a result of their north- northeast aspect and tendency to accumulate wind deposited snow along the Continental Divide. As of 2008 there is currently 16.6 km2 of ice in Glacier National Park. source USGS NOROCK

I stumbled on another PDF file at NOROCK, Parkwide Named Glacier Comparison Hopefully before Thanksgiving 2015 I will be updating my photos from Swiftcurrent Lookout with names of glaciers visible from the lookout. Thanks to Lisa McKeon at USGS I realize I did not have all the needed boxes checked for Google Earth. There are at least 4 named glaciers visible from the Lookout, plus two recently demoted and now former glaciers Gem Glacier and North Swiftcurrent Glacier. Note: Except for Swiftcurrent, Gem and North Swiftcurrent Glaciers the view is more like a tease, with summer snow on-top of a hidden glacier.

A slow hikers guide™ to Glacier National Park Wildflowers
Available on iBooks wildflower book cover

A slow hiker's guide™ to Glacier National Park Wildflowers

Whitefish Pilot article on my Wildflower Guide.

Will add pics of Lupfer and Pumpelly Glaciers some time this month ~ August 2014. Luckily I got to Dawson Pass before the smoke returned on August 5, 2014.

Siyeh Pass is the highest pass on a day hike in Glacier Park at 8,038 feet. This photo was taken on top of a moraine that was the leading edge of Sexton glacier in 1901. The ice appeared to be close to the top of the moraine from photo taken at that time. Sexton Glacier is a 'fairly' easy glacier to safely get close to in Glacier Park.

NOTE: Unless you have real world ice experience and are using your equipment DO NOT Climb on the glacier. A young hiker came very close to dying in 2013 on Jackson Glacier after falling into a crevasse. As it stands he did break his back!

Sexton Glacier is located on a stub social trail off of the Siyeh Bend ~ Sunrift Gorge Trail.

Sexton Glacier is just below Siyeh Pass

sexton glacier 2013

2011 was a record snow year which resulted in one of the latest openings of the Going To The Sun Road along with delayed openings of most upper elevation trails. Grinnell Glacier Trail didn't open until late August during 2011. The rocks on the icebergs from Grinnell Glacier are the size of small houses. According to the USGS

Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes.
They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy,
set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.
John Muir

In 2006 Grinnell Glacier lost about 9% of its surface area.

Salamander Glacier

I took the photo below from Grinnell Glacier Trail overlook in September of 2007. It shows Salamander Glacier, which rests, above Upper Grinnell Lake. 90 years ago Salamander Glacier was part of Grinnell Glacier. Grinnell Glacier is one of the more famous of the vanishing glaciers. Standing on the moraine that now forms the overlook for Grinnell Glacier my first impression was that Salamander Glacier would be the first glacier to vanish of the three glaciers visible at this location. After studying the USGS repeat photo series on Grinnell Glacier I realized that Grinnell Glacier was much more likely to be the first to go from this trio. Gem Glacier which is not shown in this photo series is the third glacier visible from the Grinnell Glacier overlook.

Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier (note:Gem Glacier was demoted in 2005 to the status of former glacier) unlike the much more famous Grinnell Glacier are visible from the Many Glacier area, almost from the moment you pass through the park gates at the head of Lake Sherbourne. Salamander Glacier was one hundred years ago not a separate glacier but was the upper edge of Grinnell Glacier. The two glaciers are now hundreds of feet apart. This year, 2013, my plans were to hike into the Grinnell Glacier basin in early October but the government shutdown has put an end to those plans.

Salamander Glacier

Grinnell Glacier

The photo below was taken in August of 2006 it shows a small part of Upper Grinnell Lake filled with massive icebergs. The rocks on the icebergs are the size of small houses. In 2006 Grinnell Glacier lost about 9% of its surface area. This is what remains of Grinnell Glacier. Notice that Salamander Glacier has a covering of snow in the 2006 photo of Grinnell Glacier and is essentially bare ice in the 2007 photo. The foreground grass visible in the 2006 photo of Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake would have been under the glacier in 1938. I was unable to hike into Grinnell Glacier for the last two years due to injuries from a car accident. At this point I'm hoping to be able to make this hike in mid July with luck and lots of pain. As of January 1, 2011 snowfall in Montana was 46% greater then the same date the year before. It has been steadily snowing throughout January of 2011 so there is a good chance that the Grinnell Glacier Trail won't open fully until mid July this year. The Cracker Lake Trail opens up earlier then the Grinnell Glacier Trail, although Siyeh Glacier is long gone the 'glacier flur' also known as glacier flour in Cracker Lake is the most spectacular of all the glacier fed lakes in Glacier National Park.

photo of Grinnell Glacier melting 2006

Photo of Grinnell Glacier during the fast melt of 2006

Swiftcurrent Glacier

Swiftcurrent Lookout provides views near and far of the most glaciers in Glacier Park

Once I am able to verify from outside sources the identity of various glaciers taken from Swiftcurrent Lookout I will add them to this page. While doing the preliminary research I was with certainty able to confirm the identity of the former glacier once known as North Swiftcurent Glacier that as of 2005 along with Siyeh Glacier is no longer considered large enough to be a glacier by the USGS. Both of these former glaciers qualified for glacier status during the 1966 survey.

Swiftcurrent Lookout is the only day hike I am aware of withing Glacier Park that allows views of so many different glaciers. Beware this is a tough trail for many hikers there is a 3,000 foot sharp drop off from the summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain on the Many Glacier side. As with many of the higher elevation trails in Glacier Park this trail can be very windy. Despite its elevation of over 7,000 feet at the summit this trail tends to clear of snow very early in the season for Glacier Park. If you know what you are looking for you can see this mountain from the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail. Which is what I generally do to get a feel for conditions on that trail.

swiftcurrent glacier 2007swiftcurrent usgs 1900
Swiftcurrent Glacier

2007 from Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. The views from the Swiftcurrent Trail are some of the most spectacular in Glacier National Park. BW photo was taken in 1900 from what is now the Swiftcurrent Lookout Trail by Matthes and is part of the GNP Archives. A higher resolution copy of this photo is available from the USGS NOROCK Center. Using a telephoto lens, my color photo was taken from Swiftcurrent Pass Trail with a standard lens. Hope to hike up to Swiftcurrent Lookout this year with my telephoto lens. More glaciers are visible from Swiftcurrent Lookout then any other trail that I have hiked in Glacier National Park.

Piegan Glacier

piegan glacier from piegan pass trailpiegan 1938 hileman

View of the Piegan Glacier from the Piegan Pass Trail on a smoky summer day in August of 2007. Due to Piegan Glacier facing north it is the least changed of any of the glaciers in Glacier National Park. Since most of my readers are not mountain climbers I have included my photo taken from the Piegan Pass Trail. Hileman bw photo taken from the top of Siyeh in 1938. Hilemans photos are part of GNP photo archive being used by the USGS in their repeat photography long term project on glaciers in Glacier Park. This is one the easiest hike to get a view of a glacier in Glacier National Park. Piegan Glacier is also the furthest away from the trail.

Cracker Lake Trail with what was once Siyeh Glacier is another trail that takes you near a glacier in Glacier Park. Gunsight Pass Trail also brings you closer to Jackson and Blackfoot Glacier but the trail is still almost two miles away from the glaciers. This is another one of those glaciers that I'm hoping to get closer to this summer. There is a non maintained 'trail' almost a goat track from what I've heard that gets closer to the base of Jackson Glacier.(2013)
Hope to get to the base of Jackson this summer ~ 2015

Siyeh Glacier

Remains of Siyeh Glacier 2008siyeh glacier 1951

Siyeh Glacier ceased to be classified as a glacier after the latest assessment of glaciers in Glacier Park in 2005. (I had confused the previous survey date of 1966 with the current survey date) At this point what remains is a permanent snow field. Cracker Lake's turquoise color is the brightest of any of the glacier, or former glacier fed lakes within Glacier National Park. At this point I have been unable to locate photo's of Siyeh Glacier from the early 1900's, the USGS was taken in 1951. At that point Siyeh Glacier was fast approaching extinction. Well after years of searching I have located a photo of Siyeh Glacier taken in 1915 with two women wearing ankle lengths dresses and straw hats in the foreground very close to were my color photo starts on the trail. I will need to check into getting permission to show this photo but for now there is little difference between the 1950's photo and the 1915 photo. Hope to hike into Cracker Lake this summer will see if I can get a back country permit for the campground at the head of the lake. The color of this lake is something to be experienced with your own eyes! Well the infamous Calgary Flood of 2013 also caused havoc in the Many Glacier are of Glacier Park. One of the results so far lasting far into the summer months is that the classic cerulean blue has now turned to a milky white.

B and W photo USGS 1951 of Cracker Lake next to the color photo taken in 2008 after studying these photos again the similarities in the snow field are pretty pronounced. When visiting the moraine at Grinnell Glacier most of my photos are taken from a location that would have been under a hundred feet of ice a hundred years ago. To give you another idea the photo of Cracker can be taken from the same location over a one hundred year time span. For Grinnell the ice retreated more then the distance from which I was standing at Cracker Lake. Siyeh Glacier as mentioned above was downgraded after the 2005 survey was analyzed.

My primary reference regarding historical information on glaciers in Glacier Park is the USGS "Gallery Guide Losing a Legacy" it is available in PDF format from USG NoROCK