Finding Glacier National Park

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by Jennifer Idol

The national parks system in the United States celebrates 100 years of service through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation this year. They have launched a campaign to “find your park”. Unique diving opportunities abound in many of these parks. I discovered an opportunity to dive historic artifacts in one of my favorite parks, Glacier National Park.

Getting to Lake McDonald

Glacier National Park features extraordinary vistas carved into the mountains by retreating glaciers. Views from the Going to the Sun road in the park are unrivaled and unfettered by development.

The remoteness of the park makes reaching it a small journey. I flew into the nearest affordable commercial airport in Spokane, Washington and rented a car to reach the park. The drive to Lake McDonald from Spokane takes five hours, so I left early the next morning.

Since I would not be able to dive my first day in Glacier National Park, I planned my first dive in Idaho. I paused for a remarkable shore dive with Divers West in Lake Coeur d’Alene from Independence Point. Allen Worst led me to the Seeweewana, an excursion cruise boat sunk in 1988. I enjoyed photographing the stack on this well preserved wreck in 72 ft. (22m) of fresh water.

From there, I continued my journey through northern Idaho and into Montana. The mountains led me through the unexpectedly beautiful Coeur d’Alene National Forest.

While I could have stayed in the park, I booked lodging in Kalispell, an hour outside Glacier National Park. Hotels and restaurants dot this small town an hour from the park. Once in the park, the first dive site is only two miles from the entrance near the Apgar Visitor Center.

Lake Treasures

The largest lake in Glacier National Park, it boasts a depth of 472 ft. (130m), filled with melted glacial water. Size and depth of Lake McDonald limits diving to the shoreline.

Though the shoreline was full with stones, they quickly gave way to a sandy bottom. Fins can very easily stir the bottom. When clear, the objects appear vividly as if they only just sank. No vegetation obscures surfaces.

While these are common objects, they look different from our modern tools. I found them intriguing as they protruded in the same position from which they fell a century before. The artifacts are protected. Any moving, taking, or disruption of them is illegal.

Another site less well known in Lake McDonald is near Sprague Creek further up the Going to the Sun Road. A group of immense trees slid into the lake during a historic landslide. They stand in the lake, forever uprooted and ghostly reminders of nature’s power to transform.

Diving logistics

Dive flags are mandatory for any diving activities. The water is clear, so a park ranger will easily be able to see if you are diving without carrying a flag. Some boating activity also takes place on the lake.

Once you set equipment on the shoreline, it’s an easy sloping walk across stones into the lake. Any direction will lead you past interesting historic artifacts left from park construction in 1910. Shovels, rakes, a kitchen sink, and other artifacts dot the bottom within recreational limits. The dive is considered an altitude dive at 3,153 ft. (961m). Water clarity can lure you to the depths just as with an oceanic dive in blue water.

Dry suits are mandatory to enjoy 45°F (7°C) temperatures found during summer. I also donned a thick hood and dry gloves, but was dry and comfortable. My buddies from Glacier Divers wore wetsuits but are used to the cold weather. They also provided me with weights and cylinders for my dive. Without them, I would have needed to rent equipment from Divers West in Idaho and return it several days later.

Continuing the Adventure

The dives were beautiful. My buddy and I recounted our adventure during lunch at a park restaurant near Sprague Creek Campground.

I later drove to Logan Pass Visitor Center at an elevation of 6,646 ft. (2,025m) on the Going to the Sun road. Rising in elevation after a dive risks decompression sickness, so it is best to plan to rest overnight before heading to any mountain summits. They are worth the wait, because my hike on the Hidden Lake Nature Trail led past mountain goats and ended in a wide vista.

As I looked out onto Hidden Lake, I wondered when I would next be able to dive Glacier National Park and if I could visit other beautiful waters in this remarkable park.

Jennifer_Idol the AuthorAbout the Author – Jennifer Idol  the first woman to dive 50 states. She’s earned more than 26 certifications and has been diving for 20 years. Her photography and articles are published inDIVER, Sport Diver,  Outdoor Oklahoma, SCUBA & H2O Adventure, and Texas Aquatic Science.  American Immersion  A wonderful new book by Jennifer Idol

 

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May 2, 2016 |

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