George Bird Grinnell was instrumental in the establishment of Glacier National Park. Senior editor and publisher of Field and Stream magazine, founder of the Audubon Society of New York, recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Gold Medal of Honor, he contributed a lifelong effort to conservation and environmental issues.
Far away in Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain peaks, lies an unmapped northwestern corner- the Crown of the Continent. The water from the crusted snowdrift which caps the peak of a lofty mountain there trickles into tiny rills, which hurry along north, south, east, and west, and growing to rivers, at last, pour their currents into three seas. From this mountain peak the Pacific and the Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico receive each its tribute. Here is a land of striking scenery.
-George Bird Grinnell, The Century Magazine 1901
It is important for us to give thanks to those who have come before us. In addition to George, countless others have laid the groundwork for us to be able to take photographs in this ‘land of striking scenery’.
It is with this attitude of gratitude I begin my third week in a row up in the northwest corner of Montana. With a new group of guests and Kenton Krueger as the lead guide on this Glacier National Park Hiker workshop, my excitement is brimming.
You know that moment when your adrenaline starts pumping, the wildlife creature(s) in view, seemingly posing for the shot you are about to take? Are my settings where I want them to be? Did I change them from the last landscape shot? Should I be in aperture priority, auto-ISO, or manual? Please don’t move, let alone run away.
Fortunately, this madness of marmots was more concerned about chasing each other than with us. Neither were the covey of grouse flushed by our presence. Nor was the mob of bighorn sheep distracted from their breakfast. All of this wildlife activity before 9 a.m. on day three. Phew! The bighorn sheep excite me most. With flowers in bloom, snow on the peaks, and the male rams spaced apart nicely, the setting is perfect for some amazing shots. Thankful.
The sound of flowing water is meditative to me. Spending time near Running Eagle Falls feels the same. Named for Pitamakan, or Running Eagle, a female warrior of the Blackfeet Tribe in the 1700s. She had a vision quest in the mountains above and nearby the falls and successfully lead several battles. An informative interpretive sign is at the trailhead.
There’s something eerie and beautiful about burnt trees surrounded by live flora. Death. Life. Rebirth. The evening of day four takes us on a 1.7-mile roundtrip hike to St. Mary Falls, where we are treated to this juxtaposed scenery of burnt conifer trees and magenta fireweed. The impact on the trees is a result of the 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire, which burned 4,800 acres.
Snow-capped, towering matterhorns watch over us, with Little Chief, Almost-a-Dog, and Dusty Star Mountains in the background. The shots taken from this vantage point along the way are a pleasant surprise.
We arrive at St. Mary Falls, a 35-foot waterfall that cascades over three tiers. The sky becomes more interesting, as clouds start to cluster and the sun approaches the horizon behind the falls.
Most of the group snap a few photos and carry on to Virginia Falls. I stay back with one guest and we are treated to quite an amazing sunset.
Walking back to our van there was a lightness and giddiness in the air. We were thankful for what we had all just experienced, tonight and on the entire trip. Thank you to each of the guests and to Kenton for yet another amazing Backcountry Journeys trip!
Michael Wichman is a photography and wilderness guide based out of Flagstaff, AZ. His first trip below the rim in Grand Canyon was in October 2004 and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s passionate about all wild and scenic places, with a love of capturing images, hiking, and climbing. With nearly 10 years of professional guiding and trip leading, Michael continues to be dedicated to lifelong learning, and an avid reader of all things associated with Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Katmai, and many wilderness areas in the Western US. In addition to wildlife and landscape photography, his favorite topics are geology, Native American culture, and Pioneer-era history. Michael also loves meeting new people — of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities. He finds shared group experiences extremely enriching, especially when that experience is in nature. Michael earned a B.A. in psychology from UCLA, where he worked with children with autism. He also studied at Northern Arizona University, focusing on Environmental Science & Policy in the Southwest. Michael looks forward to the opportunity to provide quality photography instruction while sharing adventures with you.