Mt. Oberlin and the Highline Trail

I had only one day off this past week, but I managed to squeeze in two hikes. The first of which was Mt. Oberlin, which towers over Logan Pass and the Going to the Sun Road. My new Slovakian friend Monika and I hit the trail at around 9:00. From the start, we were veering around snow patches that dotted the hillside – we immediately lost our track. I became nervous, but then Monika pointed to the clearly visible summit and said, “We don’t need a trail.” I was a little confused, but I went with it. I had work later that afternoon and didn’t want to spend time looking for a trail that’s underneath snow. On a whim, we started scrambling up the mountainside. Over the next few hours, the surrounding peaks grew more and more prominent the higher we climbed. The Going to the Sun Road became a small thread across the valley, slicing the sheer mountainside in two.

At times, we were using all of our limbs to progress upward. I must admit that I grew nervous here-and-there, but I wasn’t about to let this girl out-tough me… no way in hell. Besides, it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle.

We enjoyed the staggering views from the top, and headed back down via the trail. Snowmelt was draining from the mountain all around us. Ice-cold water was sheening rocks and boulders, causing their turquoise, red, and orange colors to glisten. We were lucky to see quite an array of wildlife as well. A marmot, which looks like a multi-colored, miniature beaver, hung around us for a few minutes before diving into some pine shrubbery; a mountain goat and her young were nestled in a cliff-side crack off in the distance; and we came across two bighorn sheep, which ran away by first sight of us, but then remained for the second time we came across them feeding in a clearing. You definitely want to respect their space – they’re ferocious bastards. A fellow was killed by one last summer, as he got too close to snap some damned photos.

It was a morning well spent. I made it to work on time. It was my first shift this summer as a busboy, and the hard work took me by surprise. I’m too tall for it; my back was killing me by the end.

The next day, I set out for the Highline Trail with my buds Joe and Dan. It’s a fourteen mile haul, mostly downhill, and runs parallel with the Going to the Sun Road, although 500 feet higher-up. Joe and I have been on a few hikes together now, and we pestered Dan into coming along for this one. We knew that he would significantly add to the banter quality, so we fabricated the hike’s details as to its elevation gain and time duration. He was running on three hours of sleep and had just worked a breakfast/lunch shift in the diner, so he wasn’t too keen on the idea in the first place.

We didn’t set out until past 3:00 in the afternoon, which was an ambitious start-time for such a long hike. It’s a one-way deal, so we knew that hitching a ride back up to the trailhead was necessary. We maintained as quick of pace as possible.

The scenery minimized our pace, however, as we were constantly dumbfounded by the staggering views of every type of beauty that “Big Si Country” has to offer. The trail, for much of the way, runs along the Garden Wall, which is a massive arête (glacier terminology) that was carved, over the course of many years during some ancient age, by two massive glaciers simultaneously moving next to each other. The Garden Wall was the wedge between the sliding monoliths, and features a sharp, thin ridge as a result. I have pictures of it below, but if you were to open a geology textbook, odds favor you finding it featured there as well. The trail, at times, carves its way through cliffs, which added some excitement. Dan, however, wasn’t so into this aspect. About midway through, Joe and I did a side-hike up to Grinell Glacier lookout, which sits on the wall’s ridge and offers a view of a glacier draping the other side of the wall. It was a half-mile, straight upward, to get there, and Joe and I raced up to see a different view while Dan took a much cherished nap and waited for us at the bottom.

The trail features an impressive mix of wildflowers and a variation of trailside scenery. I should’ve kept an eye out for fossilized stromatolites, but I didn’t know of my chances to see them until I learned, since the hike, of their presence in the park. I’ll talk more about those in a later post, once I hunt some down with a camera.

Our hike closed out with some steep downhill, which wasn’t hard on the lungs (not that Joe would mind, anyway), but was on the knees and feet. From the bottom I had to hitch a ride back up to the pass to grab my car to drive us home. After about a half-hour wait, a red truck pulled over and a hippie, who looked as if he was experiencing life on different plane, asked me from the passenger seat where I “needed to go.” I was moderately unnerved over the prospect of hitching a ride with this dude, but the driver seemed plenty sober and sane. So, I hopped in the back and waved to my friends – who had previously been taking pleasure in watching me get denied by other passing vehicles – goodbye. The drive itself was an awesome experience. The stoned maniac was hollering back at me and at everything else as he was enjoying the staggering beauty. I got to watch the sun set into the mountains off in the distance as we wound our way back up to the pass.

We didn’t get back to the lodge until ten that night. We bought a couple sixers of IPA and talked about our excursion. Dan faded away rather quickly and hit the rack; he had work at five in the morning.

2 thoughts on “Mt. Oberlin and the Highline Trail

  1. Wow…fabulous scenery, wild life (you included…hitching in these times????) I’m a great vicarious hiker…thanks for the views from the top! Aunt Jane


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