Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Co. in the News!

Over the years people have had numerous close calls in Glacier National Park. But Randy Gayner’s experience might just take the cake. Gayner just missed being washed away by a “tidal wave.”

Gayner was guiding a party in the Cut Bank drainage when they stopped to rest on the shores of scenic Pitamakan Lake. The shaded cliff side of the lake holds a large snowfield that clings to the rocks. As Gayner recalled it, a chunk of the snowfield the size of an apartment complex broke off and fell into the lake.

“We see this tidal wave coming across the lake,” he remembered.

Gayner quickly gathered the party and they made it to high ground as the water washed over the outlet and down the gully below. It then sucked back, and the creek briefly went dry before filling once again as the lake level sloshed back and forth like a giant bathtub.

Such can be the days as Glacier Park’s only professional guide service. This year Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer guiding clients in Glacier.

It had decidedly humble beginnings.

The year 1983 had a lot of parallels to today. Glacier National Park was seeing big crowds and a conservative president — Ronald Reagan — wanted to cut costs at the federal level.

Secretary of the Interior James Watt charged the Park Service with coming up with ways to privatize segments of the Service. So Gayner, Dave Ames and Mark O’Keefe put together a proposal to offer a backcountry guide service in the Park. Other parks had professional guide services, but Glacier did not.

O’Keefe and Gayner thought up the idea while trudging out of the Salmon River Country after a wild raft trip went south and the pair decided to hike out, rather than face more white-knuckle whitewater.

The three all had professional experience in the woods — Gayner and O’Keefe had both worked in Glacier as backcountry rangers. Ames was a hydrologist with the Helena National Forest and a writer. He crafted a six-page proposal for the Park Service and it was accepted.

That first year, they had about 30 clients total.

Cris Coughlin, who wasn’t a partner at the time, but still worked with the trio, recalled guiding a National Geographic crew to the summit of Mount Cleveland — Glacier’s highest peak — that first summer.

“That was my first gig,” she said. They ended up in a Nat Geo book — “Lakes, Peaks and Prairies.”

“It was a fun summer,” Gayner recalled. “But not very profitable.”

But they stuck with it. Gayner worked winters on Big Mountain ski patrol — something he still does today. The summer guiding business grew slowly. In 1987 the company bought Park River Rafting and that became Montana Raft Co. Two years after that they added fly fishing trips. Ames was bought out by John Gray in 1987. O’Keefe went onto state politics and was bought out by Coughlin, Gayner’s wife at the time. In 2004, Gray sold out to Denny Gignoux and two years ago, Coughlin sold her shares back to O’Keefe.

Ames went on to be a noted author. His best-known work is “A Good Life Wasted, Or 20 years as a Fly Fishing Guide.”

Machinations of leadership aside, the business grew and grew. Today, it employs more than 100, has a lodge in West Glacier, and offers fly fishing trips, guided day hikes and backcountry trips, and rafting. This year, it added bicycle tours on the Sun Road in the spring.

Gignoux’s addition was almost comical. He’d been a wolf researcher in the early 1990s and needed a job. While hanging out with some friends who worked there, he went along on some trips and helped out. They really didn’t need any more hands, but the affable Gignoux was hard to get rid of — he did a good job and was easy to get along with.

So they hired him.

There have been plenty of memorable journeys along the way, the partners noted.

Gignoux said his some of his most memorable backcountry journeys were in his youth, when his father, Tom, was doing research on Sperry Glacier for the University of Montana, boring through its ice to test core samples for pollution from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co.

Denny tagged along on those journeys. He was 7 years old. They camped below Sperry Chalet (back then, the campground was at the creek below the chalet) and hiked up to the Glacier every day. His father had a BMW motorcycle and they rode up to Glacier, Denny in a sidecar.

Gray said there were many memorable hikes over the years, but one that sticks with him was when a grizzly bear grabbed a mountain goat above the trail and flung it over the ledge near Cut Bank Pass.

“This is as far as we’re going,” Gray told his party as the grizzly dropped down to retrieve its meal.

Ames had a mountain goat tale of his own. He was at Gunsight Pass, guiding a British film crew, when a wolverine, not more than 50 feet away, grabbed a goat. The film crew missed the attack by just a couple of minutes as the wolverine hauled the goat away.

Ames also recalled a scene in the first year when he witnessed a cow elk drop a calf. The placenta was still attached to the calf and a coyote tried to attack it. Two other cow elk helped the mother fend off the coyote, forming a circle around the calf and lashing out with vicious kicks until the coyote left with an injured leg.

The first year the Park allowed them to live in the complex that is now the Glacier Institute Field camp in Apgar.

Ames recalled writing stories on a typewriter with the fingers cut out of his gloves — the cabins had no heat.

“Those months living in Glacier were astonishing,” he said.

For O’Keefe, a memorable hike came more recently, when he took the cast of MTV’s “Made” into the Park. This particular show was about two twin sisters who had never spent a day apart in their lives, spending their first night alone in Glacier.

The two parties even crossed paths, without knowing they were close.

When the sisters reunited, their pure joy was memorable, O’Keefe said.

Coughlin recalled an excursion in the 1980s when she guided a pair of young boys from Chicago across the park on a multi-day trip. Pete Metzmaker, who is a schoolteacher at Whitefish today, was along for part of it as he was training to be a guide, but then he had to leave.

The boys wanted Metzmaker to stay. But Coughlin made the rest of the trip memorable for the boys — they saw elk and grizzlies and a host of other wildlife.

A few years later a man from Chicago showed up for a return trip. They set him up with one of their more adventurous male guides, Coughlin said. But the young man remembered Coughlin from years before.

“Can she go with us?” he asked.

What’s it take to be a good guide?

“It involves enjoying people, patience and willingness to learn constantly,” Gignoux said.

  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer

    A Montana raft outing hits the whitewater of the Middle Fork in this file photo from 2008.

  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer 1

    David Ames, Mark O’Keefe and Randy Gayner, founders of Glacier Wilderness Guides in May, 1983.

  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer 2

    From left, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft partners Mark O’Keefe, Randy Gayner and Denny Gignoux. (Chris Peterson photo)

  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer
  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer 1
  • Glacier Guides celebrates its 35th summer 2

Biking to the Sun

As cycling Going-to-the-Sun Road gains popularity, Glacier Guides offers first interpretive bike tours

WEST GLACIER – Sweat is beading down your forehead. Your calves are on fire. Your breathing is heavy.

Biking up Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road is not for the faint of heart. As you pedal your way toward Logan Pass — each wheel rotation a little bit harder — you think, “Why am I doing this? I can see the same scenery from a car in just a few weeks.”

But when you pull up alongside a deer eating lunch or spot a mountain goat spying on you from the rocks above, it all makes sense.

 Any trip on the 50-mile trans-mountain highway is a special experience, whether you’re in a car or on a bike. But without the hum of revving engines and squeal of brakes, exploring the Sun Road in spring before it opens to automobiles is a particularly rewarding experience. That’s why in recent years, bikers of all abilities have been flocking to the road in May and June. 

In late May and early June, the Sun Road is usually open as far as Avalanche. From there, bikers and hikers can explore the road as far as their feet or pedals can take them. During the week, when plow crews are busy trying to clear the road to Logan Pass, access is restricted at The Loop, but on weekends you can go right up to where the plows have been working.

Perhaps the only thing harder than biking the steep mountain road is finding a parking spot at Avalanche. To alleviate that issue, Glacier Park is working with the Glacier National Park Conservancy to run shuttles between Apgar, Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche. The shuttles haul a bike trailer to transport both you and your ride. 

Glacier Park officials remind bikers and hikers on the Sun Road to bring bear spray, water and food, just like you would for any other activity in the park. They also ask that visitors be aware of avalanche conditions prior to starting their trip and to avoid known avalanche paths.

For visitors who want to learn more about the park while burning those extra calories, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft in West Glacier are now offering interpretive biking tours on the road. Marketing director Courtney Stone said the raft company is the first ever to get a commercial-use authorization permit for such tours in Glacier.

The interpretive tours cost $110 per person and start at the Glacier Guides’ facility in West Glacier. From there, participants pick their bike, which is then loaded on a shuttle and taken into the park. The entire trip lasts about six hours. Along the way, guides point out interesting wildlife and ecological facts. Stone said it’s an ideal way to explore the park in a whole new way.

“People always ask, ‘What can you do when the Sun Road is closed?’ But the road is never really closed,” she said. “You can always access it on snowshoes, skis, bikes or your own two feet.”

For information on biking and road restrictions, visit www.nps.gov/glac. For information on the interpretive tours, visit www.glacierguides.com.

Climate Smart Champion Awards Winners

POSTED BY RACHEL SUSSMAN POSTED ON APRIL 28, 2017

Congrats to the winners of the first annual Climate Smart Champion Awards! These awards were created to recognize businesses, individuals, and youth in the Flathead that are going above and beyond to set a standard of sustainability for our community. Thank you to everyone who applied or nominated candidates. It was great to read about the amazing sustainability initiatives that are occurring in the region.

Here are the winners:

Business Category:

Climate Smart Entrepreneur of the Year: Alissa LaChance, Dirt Rich Composting of Columbia Falls. Alissa introduced a new business concept to the Flathead by collecting food waste from businesses, schools and families and converting it into rich topsoil for gardens.

Climate Smart Business Champion: ViZn Energy Systems, based in Columbia Falls, for developing a utility-grade energy storage system that uses stable, non-toxic batteries to balance out renewable energy production for times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Climate Smart Business Champion: Glacier Guides/Montana Raft Company, based in West Glacier, for sustainable practices and environmental leadership in the hospitality sector.

Youth Category

Climate Smart Youth – Individual: Caroline Dye, a Whitefish 9th grader. Caroline led a successful campaign to implement no-idling zones outside three Whitefish schools to keep kids safe from exhaust emissions. She also works with the Climate Smart Transportation Group to find no-idling solutions for diesel locomotives in the rail yard next to Whitefish Middle School

Climate Smart Youth – Group: Whitefish Middle School Student Council. The student council has led efforts to promote composting and recycling to reduce waste in the schools and has been active in the no-idling campaign.

Individual Leadership Category

Climate Smart Champion: Diane Yarus, a Kalispell businesswoman. With her husband Bill, Diane owns Airworks, a heating and cooling service. She’s been a leader in local and regional programs to build clean energy systems and promote conservation. She is a Flathead Valley leader in encouraging young girls and women to enter technical fields.

Climate Smart Champion, Honorable Mention: Jeff Arcel, a Whitefish businessman. Through his company Aeon Renewable, Jeff is a pioneer in deploying renewable energy systems for individuals, businesses, and communities in the Flathead, including solar, wind and mini-hydro. He is a member of the Whitefish Climate Action Plan Committee.

Climate Smart Champion, Honorable Mention: Richard Cohen, a Whitefish electrician. He has led countless tours of his climate-smart home that utilizes passive design, renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures. He works with clients to install renewable energy systems and integrate energy-saving measures into new construction and retrofits.

Montana Ecostar Pollution Prevention Award Winners Recognized

September 18, 2015 — MSU Extension Service.  See news article.

BOZEMAN – Montana State University Extension has announced this year’s EcoStar award winners in recognition of their pollution prevention efforts. Now in its fifteenth year, the award program recognizes Montana businesses that create more environmentally and economically sustainable business models through pollution prevention strategies.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in its 25th year of National Pollution Prevention week.

The 18 Montana winners of the annual Ecostar Pollution Prevention award come from diverse parts of the state’s economy.

“The winners include folks from the agricultural sector, healthcare, tourism, spas, breweries and others,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “These Ecostar award winners serve as excellent models for Montanans and their businesses… On behalf of a grateful state for all that you do, congratulations on winning this year’s Ecostar award.”

The Ecostar award winners conserved 8.4 million gallons of water, 3.5 billion British thermal units (BTUs) in heating, 6,725 pounds of hazardous waste, and they reduced 1,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, while saving $450,000 through their pollution prevention work, according to Jenny Grossenbacher, director of the statewide Ecostar program and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for MSU Extension.

“This is a notable impact on the state of Montana’s environment and people,” Grossenbacher said. “These exemplary efforts are individual to the company and as diverse as the state of Montana, while they share the common bond of maximizing the bottom line of the company, conserving natural resources and protecting public health.”

While saving money is a fundamental reason for many businesses to implement pollution prevention strategies, for Simms Fishing Products, the savings is only part of the reason, said Diane Bristol, director of employee and community engagement at Simms.

“Healthy fisheries are critical to the industry and key to supporting the activity that we are passionate about,” Bristol said

The businesses recognized for EcoStar awards are:

• Bayern Brewing, Inc., Missoula;

• Boulder Hot Springs Inn, Spa and Retreat Center, Boulder;

• Hamilton Wastewater Treatment Plant, Hamilton;

• Delaware North at Yellowstone, Bozeman, Yellowstone National Park;

• Desert Rose Restaurant and Catering, Belgrade;

• Flathead Lake Cheese, Polson;

• Galactic Farms, Missoula;

• Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, West Glacier;

• Glacier National Park Lodges, Columbia Falls;

• Katie Clemons, LLC, Livingston;

• Livingston HealthCare Farm to Institution Program, Livingston;

• MacKenzie River Pizza Company, Bozeman, Belgrade, Helena, Missoula, Butte,

Great Falls, Kalispell, Billings, Whitefish;

• Ravalli County Recyling, Hamilton;

• Sage Spa and Salon, Bozeman and Billings;

• Shelby Recyling Association, Shelby;

• Simms Fishing Products, Bozeman;

• Sleep Inn and Suites of Miles City;

• St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings;

For more detailed descriptions of individual businesses by region, contact Jenny Grossenbacher at (406) 994-4292, jenniferg@montana.edu or visit: http://www.mtp2.org/ecostar.html.

Glacier National Park, Glacier Guides
and Montana Raft In the News

Raft company honored with Eco Award 4/24/2013

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company will be recognized at the state capital with an Eco Star Award on April 24 by Montana State University and the Montana Governor’s office for their 2012 pollution prevention efforts. Eco-Star Awards are given to small businesses in Montana that have shown great effort over the past year in pollution prevention.

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft was founded in 1983. More than a year ago, they joined a two-year program started by the Yellowstone Business Partnerships called UnCommon Sense that helps businesses work towards becoming environmentally responsible.

The company’s efforts include replacing disposable items with reusable items, composting, recycling, not selling bottled water, teaching and practicing “Leave No Trace” ethics on all of their trips, refusing to use billboards, buying local and organic food when possible, and selling more “Made in the USA” and eco-sensitive retail items.

“We are a company that relies on a healthy environment and we are committed to becoming a more environmentally responsible company,” marketing director Corrie Holloway said. “We hope that other companies will see that they too can implement small changes that can make a huge difference.”

Glaciers – A Melting Icon in the Crown of the Continent 2/13/2013

WEST GLACIER, Mont. –

Glacier National Park – carved from ancient glaciers that left the mountains high enough to scrape the sky. “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. I mean views are spectacular and the wildlife is fantastic.”

An important facet to Glacier National Park’s ecosystem and aesthetics – the glaciers – may soon become a thing of the past. In 1850 there were 150 glaciers. Today? Just 26. They’re not the glaciers the park was named for, but they are melting and melting fast.

“For many of the glaciers, there has been a melt rate of about 50% or 70%, pretty high amounts,” said Dan Fagre. “And in a few cases, it’s been 100% because they’ve actually disappeared.”

Dan Fagre and his team at the United States Geological Survey have been closely monitoring glacier melt in the park. They photograph the Glacier to compare its melt across decades. They also do something else called Mass Balance Monitoring.

“Instead of just looking at the footprint, how much area it covers, you look at all the other parameters like the depth, the total mass of ice there. and you try to see what those kinds of change are,” Fagre continued.

Grinnell Glacier is just one of many that is measured and photographed every few years. Dramatic changes can be seen in the repeat photos from 1938 to 2009. Glacier Guides’ Corrie Holloway tells NBC Montana Grinnell is her favorite place to take visitors day-hiking.

“Whether or not you see snow and a glacier, you’re still going to get a valuable experience going up there,”said Holloway.

Fagre said the park’s glaciers are melting because our mountain system has warmed up two times as much as other parts of the planet. The higher you go up in elevation, the faster the rate of change.

“The drivers are pretty clear with greenhouse gas emissions and so forth,” said Fagre. “So we do know that these are pushing the envelope.”

Models predict all of the park’s glaciers will be melted by 2030. Fagre feels there will be some long term shifts in the ecosystem when they’re gone, as they provide a water source to alpine flowers, land, and aquatic species.

“During hot, dry summers they’re still able to melt and provide water when many of the snow fields are gone and the soil is dried up,” Fagre explained. “It becomes a lifeline for some of these aquatic organisms.”

But the world is constantly changing, and both feel Glacier National Park will never be the same Glacier National Park when it was founded in 1910, or the mass of ice that covered the park nearly 12,000 years ago.

“We set a place like this aside. wanting it to be that way for future generations. So clearly, there’s a sense of loss on a lot of people’s part that this protected area is not completely protected,” Fagre concluded.

“Even though the natural process is being sped up, it’s still going to be a beautiful area even after they’re gone,” said Holloway.

Copyright 2013 by KECI, KCFW, KTVM.

CBS News Covers Glacier National Park’s Melting Glaciers 8/09/2012

Longtime Glacier Guide Corrie Holloway takes a CBS film crew to Grinnell Glacier to discuss the park’s melting glaciers.