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Hiking Siyeh Pass

By Sperry Desrosier, Geosciences major, Climate Change Studies minor
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whew, what a packed day!  It’s the second day of camping on the west side of Glacier National Park in Apgar and it’s up with the sun to get an early start to hike Siyeh Pass.  This trail ascends over 2,000 feet Glacier Institute’s Paul Rappaport pointing out melting glaciers.  Photo by Nicky the pass and showcases three separate valleys and a full view of Sexton glacier on the side of Going to the Sun Mountain.  A funny coincidence, I had just hiked Siyeh Pass about a week previous to today with fellow classmate Julia, unbeknownst to us it was the big ten-mile hike planned for this course. When we hiked it previously, we started at Sunrift Gorge and ended at Siyeh Bend.  By a little after 8:00 am we had picked up our guide and instructor for the day, Paul Rappaport.  Paul is a geologist and field camp manager at the Glacier Institute.  The reason this hike was chosen was because its ability to showcase the effects that climate change has had on Glacier National Park.

By 9:00 am we were on the trail with only high peaks and blue sky ahead of us! I didn’t have the greatest attitude going into the hike because I had just hiked it previously, but as I listened to the wealth of knowledge that Paul shared about the area and climate change, it seemed like a completely different hike. This prompted me to think about the changing climate and its effects.  Going along the trail, it was evident that climate change is affecting the Park in many ways as we walked the first couple of miles through Preston Park. Paul pointed out the encroachment of trees into areas of higher elevation. The lessening amount of snowpack in the winter is allowing the trees to survive in these areas that would usually kill them off. Mountain goats could potentially see a loss of habitat because they live in open areas that lack trees.

Glissading down across from the Sexton Glacier.  Photo by Nicky Phear.The most publicized climate change issue for Glacier National Park is the progressive melting of the glaciers. When we came over the pass we had a spectacular view of Sexton Glacier. The night before a lecture by Dan Fagre showed us repeat photography of glaciers present compared to ones in the 1900s and the total glacial ice retreat. As we admired Sexton’s beauty, it was hard to visualize the red boundary lines (as we had seen in Fagre’s PowerPoint) around the glacier’s perimeter showing us the extent of its previous glory. But Paul helped us visualize by pointing out some key geological features including an old moraine marking its past terminus. 

I grew up in East Glacier Park, which is a little town bordering Glacier National Park. My parents loved the park so much they named me after one of the glaciers in the Park, Sperry Glacier. This created some humor during the course, as our speakers would refer to “Sperry” as shrinking J. I feel a deep connection to the park because it is my home. It has dictated what I am studying in school as I am pursuing degrees in both geosciences and climate change.

Blogger Sperry Desrosier (right) and classmate Carlyn Anderson (left) on Siyeh Pass, Glacier National Park.  Photo by Nicky Phear.As we lost sight of the glacier and started the five miles back to our vehicles, I was lost in thought trying to adjust to the realization that things won’t be the same in 10 or 20 years. This is huge! When I was growing up it seemed as though nothing changed and now I’m only 23 and change is happening so fast. It’s a hard concept to adjust to especially when it’s happening in your backyard and to your namesake glacier. It is difficult for humans to accept change when it isn’t forced upon us. But change is necessary to combat carbon emissions. Climate change will force us all to act in the near future as we face fluctuating landscapes, wildlife and a possible loss in our own quality of life. I am not giving up hope and I anticipate my involvement in potential solutions to curb warming, as we all should.