Hiking to a Ghost

The icy architects of Glacier’s stunning scenery may soon disappear

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Glacier National Park is commemorating its centennial this year. Hoping to celebrate the park’s tremendous beauty in person, I recently submitted a request to camp in Glacier’s high country later this summer. If I’m lucky enough to obtain the permits, I will find myself hiking high trails in the home of grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, Canadian lynx, bald eagles, and more than 1,000 plant species, to name just a few.

But even more than Glacier’s remarkable diversity of wildlife, the park’s namesake attractions are what help to draw 2 million visitors annually to its trails and vistas. Unfortunately, Glacier’s glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate due to warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.

This sad fact means that I’ll be hiking this summer to do more than just celebrate Glacier’s beauty. I’ll be paying last respects.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the park contained 150 glaciers, a trophy set of Ice Age remnants that helped carve the region’s dramatic terrain. That number has dwindled to just 25 today, and some worry that the remaining glaciers may disappear by as soon as the park’s 110th anniversary if current trends of warming continue.

Photos of Grinnell glacier taken over the years by the U.S. Geological Survey show the famous glacier’s retreat. Visitors can hike to the glacier from Many Glacier campground, which I hope to do in August 2010.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization found in a report released last week that the temperature increase in Glacier N.P. over the last decade was exactly twice that of the planet as a whole, indicating the park and its glaciers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

There are countless reasons to combat climate change. As an avid hiker and backpacker, I count the damage to our national parks and wilderness areas among them. These special places are a critical part of our national heritage and should be preserved for future generations to encounter, explore, and marvel at.

Some of my fondest experiences have occurred in the solitude of our nation’s backcountry, and I feel strongly that my character has been shaped by wilderness. Though I look forward to similar experiences this summer in Glacier N.P., I know that I’ll scramble to the many vistas that await with more than a trace of sadness for the looming glaciers that may soon become ghosts.


Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.