Backcountry Office Blog
May 8, 2013
Backcountry permit rangers are currently processing over 1,500 advance reservation applications that arrived prior to April 16th. They are excitedly employing a brand new software program which will modernize permit processing and could provide internet application submittal in the future.
As with any technology advance, new methodologies and several as yet unfinished program functions are causing processing to move more slowly than usual. The backcountry staff still hope to finish processing the initial permit wave by mid-May, but email notifications may be delayed by several weeks until that function is completed. Itineraries will be much easier to read and email addresses are already pre-loaded in the applicant information section so once functionality is established, notifications should move quickly.
Due to application randomization and an inability to search the permit program database, backcountry staff are unable to confirm application receipt, successful trip processing, or trip rejections. They urge patience in the coming weeks and ask that applicants refrain from calling or emailing to check on progress as it slows processing even more.
On a final note, the advance reservation calendars on the park's website are not yet connected to the actual permit program. They will eventually unite and real time advance reservation availability will resume.
April 17, 2013
I arrived back in the permit office a little over a week ago to a constant ringing of the fax machine and a steady stream of snail mail pouring into the office. After a long weekend of skiing Montana's last lift accessible terrain for the season, I find myself at the top of another mountain, the pile of advanced reservations. This year it looks more like the double black diamond chute off the top of the tram. We have received approximately 1600 permit applications this year, which puts us on par with our busiest summer 2010, our Centennial year.
Yesterday, every application received from January 1 to April 15 was assigned a number and loaded into the random integer process. Each application will now be processed in that order. Please refrain from contacting us at this time regarding application status. We will contact you by the middle of May via email if you included an address on your application. Please adjust your spam filters to accept mail from @nps.gov addresses. We will contact you via snail mail if you did not put an email address on your application.
Many of you may be curious to know what type of summer we are expecting. Currently Flattop Mountain Snowtel site readings, http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/ftm_snow.htm, look about average with both snow depth and snow water equivalent at or slightly above average. What does this mean for hiking in Glacier this summer? You can head to our trail status page, http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/trailstatusreports.htm, to find most all of you answers in the trail status summary section, but in a nut shell it means that hikers can expect winter conditions in the high country along the passes until late July or early August and backcountry campgrounds will likely open on schedule. However, cavceat emptor and remember Mother Nature is in charge and things can always change.
I am looking forward to another outstanding summer here in Glacier. I will be posting as much as possible this summer and may even have a few guest bloggers to fill in when I am out exploring the backcountry and wild and scenic rivers.
Mark S Wilson
July 22, 2012
The outlook for the high country is looking up for hikers these days; snowfields in the high country are fading fast, campsites are drying up, and the June rains have given way to more and more sunshine. This is not to say that the trails are free of water and snow hazards ‒ we're talking about the Northern Rockies here ‒ but it sure has been inspiring to watch Mother Nature move water around with her topographical Rube Goldberg machine.
We have the privilege of being situated in a unique position here on the "Backbone of the World." Snow that falls on these peaks has the potential to work its way down to one of three major bodies of water: the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, or the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, from Triple Divide Peak, a visitor can look down on all three of these drainages at once. It's both awe-inspiring and humbling to think that our actions here in the park ‒ whether it is a negligent boater introducing an invasive species or a conscientious backpacker practicing Leave No Trace principles with their grey water ‒ will ripple down these watersheds and out to the places you live.
While hiking near the Continental Divide last week, allowing my thoughts to wander right apace with my footsteps, it wasn't too great of a leap to imagine all of your visits paralleling our water system; after your experiences in Glacier, you scatter to the ends of the continent, and sometimes beyond. We're here in the backcountry permit office both to help you create the lightest impact on the land and the heftiest impact on your memory. Remember these two objectives as you come to plan your trip and pick up your permit.
While we wish for your visit to be stress-free and enjoyable, it's important to keep in mind the grave responsibility as wilderness stewards that accompanies any time in the backcountry. Here's hoping that the weight of your experience in Glacier sends you gurgling up from brooks, careening over waterfalls, and inevitably trickling back to the watersheds you call home!
June 17, 2012
Happy Father's Day!
I arrived back from the east coast this week after a brief trip to find more gray skies and rain. This June has proven to be one for the ages. West Glacier averages about 3.5 inches of rain in June and this year we have received 3.06 inches with 13 days still to go! The vegetation is definitely thriving. Bear grass is blooming and the larches are glowing green.
All of this precipitation may be making for some soggy hiking but is creating memorable experiences for other outdoor enthusiasts playing on the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River. River flows have been staying above average and from the sounds of it we have some of the best snow pack in the country that will keep feeding these waters for the weeks to come.
Our backcountry rangers have been braving the elements and are opening campgrounds on a daily basis. Early season conditions still exist with snow and water hazards making travel treacherous on certain trails. Please continue to check our website at http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm for current trail and campground conditions.
June 4, 2012
Mother Nature was generous today and allowed us to see the bright orb in the sky for a bit. However, it looks like we are back to our normal pattern of the past two weeks of rain, rain, and more rain. The past few weeks have brought an abundance of rain to Glacier and even snow to the higher elevations. The plowing crews even encountered 16 inches of new snow after the storms last week. Despite all of this weather we are still busy getting backcountry campsites open and are preparing for a busy summer.
Trails are in good conditions despite all the rain. A good rule of thumb right now is any elevations below 5,000 feet will generally be free of snow. If you are planning on doing any hiking above 5,000 feet please be prepared with the proper gear as winter conditions still exist. You can check our Backcountry page to check out the current conditions.
See you all in the next few months! Happy hiking!
Mark Wilson, NPS
May 13, 2012
We have completed another advanced reservation backcountry permit lottery and all applications that we have received since April 16th have been processed. The advanced reservation availability link on our website is up and running in real time. Please remember to go to this link before submitting applications to see if the campgrounds are available.
To celebrate this monumental achievement I used my off days this week to go camping and hiking. We ventured over to St. Mary after work and camped in the front country campground. It is still in primitive status which required us to bring our own water and to use the vault toilet. It was a fantastic first night of camping for the summer. After much discussion the next morning we decided that going to Virginia Falls from Sun Point would be about the right distance to test out my new surgically repaired heel. The weather was perfect and we were the only people on the trail. We did however encounter some early season conditions. There were a number of downed trees on the trail as well as snow. I was surprised to find the snow at this lower elevation and we had to remind ourselves that it was still early May despite the 60 degree weather. Looking up in the higher elevation we could definitely see that we had an average Glacier winter and there is still plenty of snow. It turned out to be a great first hike of the summer and my heel passed this first test with flying colors.
April 26, 2012
The only thing in West Glacier that is moving faster than the backcountry permit application pile is the Middlefork of the Flathead River, which is approaching 8 feet. Just two feet below flood stage. We have been diligently processing applications for the past two weeks and are almost half way through the stack. Please don't fret if you haven't heard from us yet as the correspondence takes a little longer than the permit process. You will for sure hear from us no later than the middle of May.
Please remember what you are seeing on our internet page atwww.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry is not in real time yet. By the middle of May our advance reservation availability page will be accurate. Be sure to look at this page before you send in another application or modifications as many of the campgrounds may be full.
Modifications may also be done when you pick up your permit. You may obtain your permit 24 hours in advance of your departure date. You may even change your permit entirely at this time if you so choose.
Thank you for your continued patience. See you this summer!
April 19, 2012
The onslaught has begun! After 365 days we have again begun the advance reservation process. This year looks to be a little above average with over 1300 applications flowing into the backcountry office from January 1 through April 15, quite a number but not insurmountable. With the veteran early season staff this process should completed no later than the middle of May. You will be hearing from us through email or snail mail if you didn't submit an email address. Remember to adjust your spam filter to accept email from nps.gov.
We know that this is a stressful time of year for everyone as you are making plans for your summer trips. Please be patient with us as we diligently process each permit according to the parameters and comments stated on each permit. If you were not granted your first choice or denied a permit please wait until after the middle of May before submitting a new application. By the middle of May we will be caught up with advanced reservations and the on line availability at http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm will be in real time and what you see on the calendar will be available based on the number of permits in our queue.
Remember that only half of our backcountry sites are booked for advanced reservations and walk-in sites will be available 24 hours before your trip is scheduled to begin. At this time we would be able to make changes to you reservation or book you an entirely new permit.
April 12, 2012
Well after 114 days in ski boots and over one million vertical feet skied I am back in the backcountry permit office in Apgar. What an incredible winter we had. After a very dry December, winter came at us with a vengeance dropping more than 21 feet of snow in the high country in the months of January, February, and March. Our snow pack and snow water equivalent at the Flattop Mountain Snowtel sights is showing we are having an average year. That being said we have just had 3 incredible weather days of mid 60 degree weather. Today it has been a typical rainy spring day. It has been raining above 7000 feet and the temperature at Logan Pass is above freezing. You just have to love Montana weather.
Backcountry permit applications are pouring in through the fax and snail mail at a rate equivalent to the January through March snowfall. Phones are ringing with anxious backpackers finishing up their applications as the lottery deadline looms. Don't let April 15 sneak up on you like it does for many of us filing our taxes.
Please make sure that you are writing legibly, including all pertinent information, and checking to make sure that the campgrounds accept reservations for the dates that you are applying. We know that this is a stressful time of the year waiting to hear back from us as you are trying to book flights and other logistics. You will hear back from us no later than the middle of May with snail mail correspondence if you do not have email. Remember to change your spam to allow incoming mail from nps.gov.
Hope you all wintered well and area getting those legs in hiking shape.
August 27, 2011
Well, it was definitely a long winter with a very deep snowpack this year, but it looks like summer is finally here in Glacier. Along with summer, fire season has also arrived. Waterton, our sister park to the north, has issued a fire ban for both backcountry and frontcountry campsites. Currently Glacier has no fire restrictions in place, but warm and windy conditions along with dry conditions over the past few weeks have caused the fire danger rating to be elevated to high on the West side and very high on the East side. Please be vigilant when it comes to your camp fire. All open fires, as well as gas stoves, should never be left unattended and need to be COMPLETELY extinguished after use. Not all of our backcountry campgrounds allow fires, so be sure to check the Backcountry Camping Guide for the fire policy at your specific campground. Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires….oh wait, wrong agency slogan. Still, good advice.
Switching gears from all this summer condition talk back to some winter hazards still hanging on in the backcountry. Apparently, Old Man Winter has been taking his Centrum Silver vitamins. Brown Pass campground is still in unavailable status due to snow cover/avalanche damage and Gunsight Pass also has a few significant snow hazards (high angle snow drifts with long run-outs). I know you guys are just dying to get out to these "killer" view backcountry locations, but you might find yourself getting too carried away (either by snow or ranger rescue). I know what you're thinking. Debbie Downer has secured a seasonal position here in the park. But don't fret, there are tons of great alternative trips if your itinerary can't be completed due to a hazard or unavailability. It's always fun to explore a new section of Glacier. And really, doesn't it all look the same anyway?
July 15, 2011
Happy belated Fourth of July! I hope that everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday. For the first time in 9 years my weekend actually happened to fall on the Fourth. I definitely was not in the backcountry as I was busy grilling, soaking up the sun, and shooting off fireworks (safely of course). I did, however, get to sneak away from civilization on the 6th for a much needed float down the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Flathead. For those of you who don’t know, in 1976 (our Country’s bi-centennial year) congress added 219 miles of the Flathead River to the nation’s Wild and Scenic River System. These Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated by Congress for water quality and outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values. All of which we experienced on a glorious, not to mention wild and scenic, day of floating.
We put in at Great Northern Flats on the Flathead National Forest and I was immediately reminded that the rivers are still running high. We were floating down the swollen river at five miles an hour! To put this in perspective, that’s three miles per hour faster than the average backcountry hiker folks! This was not the clear water float that I remembered from past Julys. The water was pushy with very interesting hydraulics requiring an ample amount of maneuvering. Despite all of this, we were having an unbelievable day. We saw eagles, a great blue heron, and only one other raft. Four hours later (including a nice long lunch break) we were at Blankenship Bridge, our take out. Although not required because it is hand propelled and not in the Park, I made sure to inspect my raft for aquatic hitchhikers before heading home. Days off don’t get much more relaxing.
Now back in the office I am reminded that our busy season is officially here. For the past few days we have had people lined up before 7am. Our walk-in availability shows that many of the 57.6% of our open campgrounds have happy campers in them. Our backcountry rangers are working hard getting new campgrounds open each day. Please be flexible with route selection and have alternate routes in mind when picking up your permit as we still have significant snow and water hazards in the backcountry.
July 8, 2011
I have to apologize for not visiting with you all for a while. Summer season has started off with an abundance of snow, water, and us (the permit office) implementing a new program. Our revamped Aquatic Invasive Species program is up and in full swing. For those of you that don’t know, all non-hand propelled watercraft that enter the park have to be closely inspected for aquatic hitchhikers before launching in park waters. The permit is free and the inspection is painless. Please help out the process by having your vessel clean, drained, and dried before showing up to pick up your permit. Permits can be obtained 7am – 7pm at Park Headquarters on the West Side. For all of you East Side boaters your permits can be obtained at Two Medicine Ranger Station, St. Mary Visitor Center, and Many Glacier Ranger Station from 7am – 4:30pm.
Our backcountry permit writers have been busy issuing backcountry permits. Yes that is right you can backcountry camp in Glacier right now despite all of the snow and water. We have 44.6% of our backcountry sites in summer status. With more and more gaining this sought after status every day. Please make sure to check the trail and campground status on our Backcountry Camping page as we still have early season conditions throughout the park.
Despite the early season conditions, I have been able to get a few hikes done. My most recent weekend consisted of myself and my girlfriend Amanda staying with friends at Two Medicine (my last year’s place of employment) and hiking to Scenic Point. This hike is free of snow except for a few patches in the trees and one very significant snow hazard about a half mile from the point. It is not recommended to venture across this hazard as a slip and fall and the inability to self-arrest would result in serious injury or death. The hike up to this point is well worth it. The views to the west really give you an idea of just how much snow is still out there. You can even see that Upper Two Medicine Lake is still frozen!
Did You Know?
Did you know that eight inches of snow fell during one night in Glacier's high country in August, 2005? The weather forced hundreds of backpackers out of the backcountry.