Glacier National Park

Emptying out the Glacier notebook by Josh Trudell

Goat Some leftovers from this trip.

Sell my soul for cell service: AT&T was worthless in the park, getting zero data or cell service. The only hotel with decent wifi strength was the St. Mary Lodge and Resort, which is just outside the edge of the park. The hotels actually in park have pathetic wifi – if you were up for sunrise or up past 10:30 p.m., you could hope to get online, but it was virtually impossible otherwise.

(Yes, I know – in one of the great outdoor playgrounds, shouldn’t I be outside enjoying it? I completely agree – but it would be nice to e-mail my wife or see how the Sox did that day.)

Beer me: Highly recommend the local beers, especially the Going to the Sun IPA. That’s a fine beverage.

Bear me: There are bears (and moose, and other possibly-violent-when-provoked critters). Go hiking in a group. Don't bother with bear bells - ding, ding, dinnertime! - but bear mace is a good idea.

(Not) Bare me: Temperatures change quickly – I noticed a drop of 10 degrees just driving from Columbia Falls to Lake McDonald. Layers are key. (and good socks with liners for your feet.)

Winnah, winnah: Be kind to your servers – they may well have more advanced degrees than you.

For example, our charming waitress from Estonia at St. Mary’s Lodge, who had just finished her masters in etymology with a focus in folklore. And was two weeks from getting married. A word of advice to her new husband - good luck keeping up with her, but she's a keeper.

Class acts and great folks: We didn’t always get the best weather, but I can’t say enough about the group, which is really what makes these trips fun. Jim and Susie Kay kept the ship rolling, and the conversations and camaraderie from everyone were priceless. I can’t wait to do it again.

Glacier National Park, Days 6 and 7 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-7 Up long before the sun, we settled in to shoot the sun coming up behind us , which just happened to be lighting up Mount Grinnell and the lake. It’s a tough way to start the day, really.

The 50 mph wind gusts were chilly, but they also kept the mosquitoes away. (It was a little disconcerting later on to be editing photos from the trip and realize what I had thought was a spot on my lens was really a giant mosquito).

After doing our best to capture it, we moved onto a hearty breakfast and then the longest hike of the trip - 10 miles round trip to Iceberg Lake. My tender feet were complaining a bit, but I wasn't going to miss anything if I could help it.

Iceberg-Lake-TrailThe hills leading to the lake had many thick patches of beargrass - stalks with large white bulbs on the end - and colorful wildflowers.

Sadly, a driving rain forced us back not long after reaching the lake, which sits in a steep-walled bowl at the foot of Iceberg Mountain and Mount Wilbur. The aquamarine water and white ice made a dazzling combination, even in the rain.

After a quick lunch, we quick marched out of the rain squall and enjoyed the fresh air and open spaces on the way down to a celebratory Going To The Sun IPA. My feet celebrated in some comfortable shoes and a long hot shower.

On the last morning, we were again up for sunrise, but cloud banks denied us. With the wind having died down, we each got some memorial mosquito bites to mark our time there.

With the howling winds of the last couple of days, the smoke had finally blown away from the park, and I tried to take advantage of it while on my way back to Kalispell.

From Many Glacier, I headed around the western and southern edges of the park, photographing fields of wildflowers and enjoying the beautiful drive.

With my feet still a little tender, I stopped along the way and gingerly walked out to Running Eagle Falls. It was my last photo from the trip, but ended up being the lead photo in a story I wrote about it (which you can read).

It is a beautiful spot. Harsh direct sunlight on the foaming water made the whites tough to capture, but multiple filters helped.

Sitting in the Kalispell airport - which is remarkably comfortable for an airport this size - it was easy to decide to come back here someday soon. There's still so much to see.

Glacier National Park, Day 5 by Josh Trudell


Sometimes, when everything else fails, you just have to go over the fence. We started our next to last day with plans to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail. Unfortunately, we found that once up on the side of the mountain, our plans were thwarted: Photographically by haze from wildfires and physically by 80-mph gusts swirling around the mountain.

With the scenic lookout hazed out, we walked down the trail to Grinnell Lake, where we had some lunch as the ground squirrels tried to cute their way into some crumbs. (I cannot confirm or deny if they succeeded.)

Hiking back, we wandered up a small side trail to Hidden Falls, a tight little gorge. Sensing an opportunity, we slid a little closer to the falls than might have been prescribed by fences and captured several frames.

Camping out on the edge while we shot was a little interesting, but thankfully the ground wasn’t wet enough for us to slide.

After making our way back to the hotel, we walked outside again to the little creek joining Swiftcurrent Lake to Lake Sherburne, which has a dynamic waterfall rushing through several tiers.

One of the things I worked on this trip was my use of neutral density filters, and this was one place where I felt it really made a difference having one on my camera. The hot whites in the foam were calmed down, and being able to create a two or three second exposure created that silky look.

In the photo at the top, I'm experimenting with black and white conversions with that photo. I may end up making it available as a print, once I fine tune it some more - the dark area in the middle could use more detail.

After another evening enjoying our balcony view of the mountains, we hit the sack early – preparing for our longest hike of the trip.

Glacier National Park, Day 4 by Josh Trudell

Montana-Day-4 Up bright and very early, we were hoping for a sunrise over the waterway joining Lower Saint Mary Lake and Saint Mary Lake, just a short walk from our hotel.

It didn't blossom quite as much as we hoped, but seeing the sun rise over the mountains is a wonderful way to start any morning.

After breakfast we rolled into Many Glacier early – the last stop on our trip, and one of the most interesting places to visit in the park, with trails to three peaks radiating up from the bowl around Swiftcurrent Lake.

We could have taken the rest of the trip and just studied the lake and the backdrop of Mount Grinnell and the Lewis Range. Perched on our balconies overlooking the lake (bragging a little? Okay, maybe a little), we were able to watch the clouds and light shifting from moment to moment.

Some of the most dynamic images from the trip were made while sitting out there. It could be a retirement home for photographers.

Since it wasn’t quite time to retire for the evening, we got in a bonus walk to Swiftwater Falls – a nice combination of rushing water and wildflowers.

Glacier National Park, Day 3 by Josh Trudell

Montana-3 The time between blog entries lately has been roughly equivalent to the time between Red Sox wins this year. Is it time for spring training yet?

I did promise myself that I would wrap up the entries for this trip, so here we go.

After two days at Lake McDonald, we started our path toward the eastern side of the park, starting with a morning photographing Avalanche Creek.

Still plagued by smoky haze obscuring the skies, we focused on the waterfall, which the trail follows for about the first mile before veering away from water until it reaches Avalanche Lake.

Montana-4The lush landscape around the creek is full of tiny details – new leaves, tiny saplings, dripping moss – all with a background of rushing water. It makes for tons of elements to play with. I love those little details – photographically, I think they can make places seem more tangible than wider shots do.

We could have spent all day just puttering around this set of falls, but after a couple of hours we decided to mosey down the road a bit. We had hopped back and forth over the Continental Divide before, but today we crossed it for good, making our way to Virginia Falls.

If you like photographing moving water, this is a great hike – the two-mile-plus trail runs parallel to rushing water for most of the way, ranging from small drops to the more than 50-feet multi-tiered monster that is Virginia Falls. The wind kept showering our gear with spray from the falls, but we all climbed around the falls, getting our feet wet and trying to capture the beauty

We crashed that night at St. Mary Lodge and Resort, wiped out after a full day of hiking and shooting. A noticeable improvement: Wifi was only available in the main building, but it was much faster than anywhere else we stayed.

Glacier National Park, Day 2 by Josh Trudell

Trudell---Goats Work, work, work…let’s get back to talking about something fun – like hiking and photographing in Glacier National Park.

I try not to think of going on these trips in terms of goals – that implies work, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it. But, for lack of a better term, a goal for this trip was to get some good frames of one of the big three that are often seen in Glacier – bear, moose and elk.

Driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we were on a narrow stretch of road when two bear cubs tumbled across the road two cars in front of us as their mother trudged after them. The cubs then ran back to her before all three of them made their way across the road, over a nearly vertical edge, and out of sight.

No chance for photos, but it seemed like a good omen for the rest of our trip.Trudell---Marmots

Another good omen popped up when marmots – promptly dubbed minigrizz – were spotted near the trail. One adventurous type walked right up to the board-covered trail, peaking its head over the edge.

Our goal that day was Hidden Lake, near the top of Logan Pass. It was fun and a little strange to be slipping and sliding on slushy snow in July, but it made the walk entertaining. Getting up the trail early was a definite benefit – by the time we started heading back down, the slippery trail was full of people – some dressed more than questionably for hiking in Montana. Flip-flops were not the best idea.

When we reached the top of the pass, mountain goats ambled down from their perch on the sheer sides surrounding us and nibbled on the grass peeking through the snow.

The original plan was to hike over the pass down to the lake, but the trail to the lake was closed – ironically, because a bear was in the area feasting on the fish. We consoled ourselves with photographing the baby goats following their parents down the hillside to nap on the ledges and the teenage marmots wrestling just below us.

After sliding down the hill, we motored back to our roost at Lake McDonald Lodge. The location is gorgeous – if for some reason you aren’t enthralled with the scenery, you should know that Internet access is as slow as the stuffed animals on the walls.

After dinner, we went back out, photographing a rushing stream and ending with the pink glow of sunset over the lake.

Glacier National Park, Day 1 by Josh Trudell

Glacier-National-Park-Day-1 So, that plan of updating from the road while shooting in Montana? That didn’t quite pan out for a couple of reasons.

One is that AT&T has absolutely zero service in Glacier National Park. Couldn’t call, couldn’t e-mail – nothing. (Which was beneficial, in a way – while it’s fun to occasionally hit Facebook with the Good Morning sunrise photo, it helps to stay locked in).

Second was that I had forgotten how much work a trip like that can be. It’s more rewarding than any day in any office, but being up and focused pre-sunrise to post-sunset makes for a long day.

So here are some thoughts from the trip in the usual day-by-day breakdown format. (Most recently, that was used for the trip to Italy.)

Getting to Glacier National Park was pretty straightforward – one hop via United to Denver, then a second hop to Kalispell, MT. If you’re headed to Glacier, it’s easier to skip downtown Kalispell and fuel up on gas and food in Columbia Falls.

Driving into the park is an experience. From the flat area around Kalispell, the road snakes into a mountain pass before rising into some rolling foothills. The road rises gradually before diving to Lake McDonald, where we started the trip.

My workshop was led by James Kay Photography, and included some brilliant photographers: Carrie LaPow, Claudia O’Grady, Michael Blanchette and Lynda Holman. With Carrie’s daughter and Claudia’s significant other along, we had a varied and interesting group of people. Jim and Susie Kay are wonderful photographers in their own right, and did a great job keeping the troop organized and moving along.

After meeting at the Lake McDonald Lodge, where we spent our first two nights, we went out and photographed a nearby fast-moving creek that emptied into the lake. It was a good trial run for us to get a feel for each other, and for me to get a feel for the gear I rented.

The lenses – a 16-35 Zeiss 2.8 and a 70-400 zoom, both of which I’ve rented and used before – worked like a charm. One of the lessons I had taken away from my last trip was getting a more reliable, sturdier tripod than the $50 Sony I had been using. To that end, I rented an Induro tripod with a Kirk BH-3 ballhead.

The tripod immediately ran into problems, as a joint on one leg refused to completely go back together after being extended. Luckily, I was able to hobble along for the rest of the trip with only two joints that could extend. (Jim offered to lend me his tripod, but I didn’t want to damage anything else.) did issue me a partial refund for the tripod, too (not a full, since I was able to use it.)

So with a slightly red face – because really, who wants to be the kid whose toys break on the first day? – I took up shooting the stream with the others, and we captured some nice extended exposures.

Little did I know that this would become a week of photographing water practice…

Getting ready for Montana by Josh Trudell

That point when you realize you spend more time packing your camera gear than you do the rest of your stuff for a trip – I’m definitely feeling that today. I’m also feeling the procrastination bug – which might be why I’m typing instead of packing. Shhh…

The upcoming trip is going to be a good one, though – six days in Montana, exploring Glacier National Park. I’ve spent some time in the Rockies before – a gorgeous week in Banff and Canmore – but this will be my first time to Glacier. I can’t wait.

I'm renting a fair amount of gear for this trip - in addition to two lenses, I'm renting a tripod and ball head, which I'm hoping will be sturdier and more precise than the cheap tripods I've been using to date.

For lenses, I'm taking three - the Sony Zeiss 16-35 2.8, the 70-400 f4-5.6, and a 30mm macro. I expect the 16-35 lens will be my go-to lens for the trip - I really need to just break down and buy one soon - but I'm hoping the big zoom will come in useful for wildlife pictures. Who has two thumbs and wants to get a cool elk, moose or bear picture? This guy!

So far, this year has been a lot of editorial photography – magazine and newspaper work. This will be my first real chance in a while to get out into nature. It’s been too long, and I’m hoping not to go this long again.

I may try and update here while I’m there – we’ll see how it goes, though. The weather has some occasional showers in the forecast – hopefully those will make for some dramatic cloud cover.

Here’s to focus and clarity for the next week. Cheers!