Beyond Haystack Pass, the slopes become steeper and rockier, making the hike a little more exciting. There are numerous dry falls and streams which probably flow pretty hard earlier in the season (we’re hiking in September) and maybe make obstacles on these steep slopes where there is little room to move around. Meanwhile mountain goats are now appearing on the slopes high above. A big, fat marmot suns itself on a rock oblivious to the hikers. Below, a sample of the rough terrain north of Haystack Pass. The trail is in the center just below the gray band. At right, you can see some hikers in a blowup of the same photo.
A couple miles beyond the pass, the trail jags sharply to the right with new views. The Garden Wall is especially steep and jagged to the east. Looking north, Granite Park and the Granite Park Chalet come into distant view. In wilderness-speak, a “park” is a relatively level, open area. Actually, Granite Park is a small hill downslope of the trail. The chalet sits right on top of the hill with 360-degree open views. However, it’s still a couple of tedious, tiring miles to the park and chalet. There is a steep side trail to the actual top of the Continental Divide where there is said to be fantastic views to the east, including Grinnell Glacier. However there’s no way we can climb 900 feet in six-tenths of a mile at this late hour. Below, Granite Park Chalet is visible in the distance.
After getting checked in at Granite Park Chalet (which we’ll cover in a separate article) and resting up, we tried a side hike up to Swiftcurrent Pass, about a 2-mile round trip with moderate elevation gain. Being late in the day, we were rewarded with some solitude and nice lighting for photos. We also observed several big-horn sheep (large-horned rams) on the high slopes. Below, a terrific view of the Garden Wall from Granite Park.
You might ask how bigness and intimacy go together. Well, because you can perceive and feel the bigness. It doesn’t always work out that way. For example, when you stare down at the iconic views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you don’t really have any comprehension of what you’re looking at, not the size, not the depth, not anything. Comprehension comes when you hike to the bottom and back, and that is a tough task beyond most people. (But if you make it, you’ll never forget it.) On the Highline Trail, you feel the bigness completely, and that’s what makes it intimate.
My day on the Highline Trail will be one of my best memories in decades of outdoor experiences.