Glacier National Park Grinnell Glacier ~ a slow hiker's guide™


In 2003 USGS predicted that ALL of the glaciers will have melted by 2030 in Glacier National Park.

That estimate in 2007 was revised to ALL of the glaciers having melted by 2022.

You can see a USGS animation of the effects starting in 1850 and projecting to 2100.

According to the USGS"Thirteen of those glaciers have shown marked recession and 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."

This composite image is from the USGS
The 1938 photo by T.J. Hileman, courtesy of Glacier National Park Archives

USGS Grinnel from 1938 to 2006 USGS Grinnell Glacier from 1938 to 2006

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

Although the title is Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier is also visible in this series of photographs from on top of Mt Gould. Grinnell Glacier is the large pancake shaped of gray ice that is easiest to see in the Hileman photo from 1938. Salamander Glacier is easiest to see in the 2006 photo by Holzer, do to the shadows If you look for the clean band of snow starting in the middle left hand side of the image and follow it to the diagonally to the right, that is the upper edge of Salamander Glacier. This photo shown below that I took from Grinnell Glacier overlook in September of 2007 clearly shows Salamander Glacier. When I first saw Salamander Glacier I thought that it would disappear first but after looking at the USGS time sequence photos it's obvious that Salamander Glacier is melting at a much slower pace then Grinnell Glacier. It's was late July of 2008 and the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail still wasn't clear from last winters heavy snowfall. Piegan Pass and Swiftcurrent Pass are also still closed due to snow.

Salamander Glacier, Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins

The photo below was taken in August of 2006 of Grinnell Glacier and shows a small part of Upper Grinnell Lake filled with massive icebergs. The rocks on the icebergs are the size of small houses. In 1938 were I was standing to take this picture in 2006 would have been underneath the glacier. Notice that Salamander Glacier has a covering of snow in the 2006 photo and is essentially bare ice in the 2007 photo. Salamander Glacier losing it's snow cover will hasten the melting of this glacier. The winter of 2007/2008 was a heavy snow year so hopefully it will pick up snow cover this year. I'll be back to Upper Grinnell Lake in late July to take pictures from the same spot of Salamander Glacier. I'm hoping to be able to climb on Grinnell Glacier this summer. My son-in-law who climbed Denali a few years ago has all the necessary gear. We've had so much snow this year in the Flathead Valley that I got to practice with some of that gear recently to shovel snow off my roof. It's been 30 years since I was last on a glacier and that was in Switzerland. That glacier is now gone.

salamander glacier from piegan pass trail june 2008, Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins

Salamander Glacier as of June 21, 2008 from the Piegan Pass Trail. The snow below Salamander Glacier is from this winter and is not a permanent snow field.

Grinnell Glacier melting 2006, Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins

Grinnell Grinnell Glacier August 2006 during the great melt. Grinnell Glacier lost 9% of it's surface area during the summer of 2006.

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.

grinnell 1911

USGS 1911 Stanton, T.W. 708
Glacier National Park, Montana. Lower end of Grinnell Glacier. Mount Gould in the background. Band of dark diorite showing half-way up the slope of the mountain. Lateral moraine piled up by the glacier in the foreground.

Grinnell Glacier 2008
The spot the 2008 photo was taken would have been under the glacier in the black and white photo above by USGS taken in 1911.

As of June 21, 2008 the spot this photo was taken from in 2006 is under at least six feet of snow. See the shot taken from Piegan Pass Trail above.

I will take a print of the 1911 photo with me when I hike to Grinnell Glacier next year and take the next shot from that location.

grinnell 1911

USGS 1911
Glacier National Park, Montana. Cascade in Grinnell Glacier. Terminal moraine in the foreground.
Stanton, T.W. 711

Once again the spot the 2006 photo was taken would have been under the glacier
in the black and white photo above by USGS taken in 1911.
Salamander Glacier in the 1911 photo was part of Grinnell Glacier.
Grinnell Glacier has lost the most mass, followed by Salamander Glacier (which wasn't a separate glacier in 1911) the least changed is Gem Glacier.

In the photo above taken in 2008 if you follow the snow that goes from Upper Grinnell Lake to the continental divide that notch is were the stub trail off of the Highline Trail ends. The photo at the top of the home page for this site is the view from that location.

salamander grinnel usgs 1920

Glacier National Park. Grinnell Glacier. Looking northwest from notch in east side of cirque. Showing moraine, top and curving front slope of the ice and ice on the higher bench on the Garden Wall. (Compare Stanton's photos 707-708 and 711 from opposite direction, taken in August, 1911.) Montana. August 26, 1920.
photo by usgs Alden, W.C.

My color photo above was taken from a rock ledge that in 2008, that point would have been under Grinnell Glacier in 1920. The USGS photo taken in 1920 shows that at that time there was NO Upper Grinnell Lake.

Grinnell Glacier from old town of Altyn 1913

USGS photo of Grinnell Glacier from old town of Altyn 1913