Readers' Choice 2012: Grasshopper Glacier, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, MT
Visit a glacier with millions of extinct grasshoppers entombed in its ice.
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The point of no return, as my wife says, is preceded briefly by the point of return—and we were standing right in the middle. Or, more accurately, she was. I had already gone a quarter-mile up the snow-covered slope to find the trail.
It had been a great hike up until now: After a 1.5-mile stroll from Fischer Creek trailhead through towering evergreen on Trail 31 to a campsite on Lady of the Lake, we’d woken to the call of wolves, eaten breakfast, and set off. Then, somewhere around 9,000 feet, we hit snow, and at 9,800 feet we passed Star Lake, which was frozen solid. We were not prepared for deep snow, and I figured we were now roughly four miles to the glacier. Not far, unless we started postholing.
I had never seen a glacier. This is typical of people who grow up in the Midwest. Glaciers and grizzlies are the things of our dreams, and we dream constantly. So, after becoming Reader Leaders, my wife Eunice and I headed for Grasshopper Glacier in the Beartooth Mountains, east of Yellowstone. It’s small—500 acres of ice—but worth seeing (I had heard) for the millions of now-extinct grasshoppers entombed in its ice, trapped there about the time of Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. Craig Lee, a Colorado archeologist who found a 10,000 year old spear in its ice, says that while glacier has shrunk in recent years, it’s still a sight to behold.
Clouds of Melanoplus spretus once swept across the West every seven to twelve years. By 1900 or so, the species had disappeared. Some think the grasshoppers were wiped out by farmers whose plowing destroyed their eggs, though hopeful entomologists still search for holdouts. I’m a geek for the bizarre, another reason that my wife and I flew across the country, drove hundreds of miles, and hiked to a point the guidebook had assured us would be snow-free by late July.
We continued but were moving slow. Our son, working in Yellowstone for the summer, would notice (and maybe even call in a search party) if we were late, as we eventually decided we might be if we pushed on. So we headed back.
On our hike out, we stopped along a glacier-fed stream, where I unpacked my fly rod and tied on a hopper not unlike those frozen in the unreachable glacier. I landed a brookie on the first cast, but I’d still like to reach the glacier someday. Next time, we’ll try August.
Map USGS Quads Cooke City, Little Park Mountain ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)
Contact (406) 657-6200; fs.fed.us/r1/custer