Waking up to pea soup foggy conditions at a campsite early in the morning can be reason for rethinking the plans for the day. When in the great outdoors, the thick fog is like losing reception on a television, but in this case the buzzing snow storm on the screen is the view of reality. Sounds can be heard, but the source may be a mystery. There may be a soft glow where the sun should be and the illusion of time seems to be placed on hold. Heavy fog is a blinding experience that can present dangerous situations in a wilderness area. This is the reason why most campers simply pull the sleeping bag over the head and take a snooze till the fog breaks later in the day.
During the autumn season in Glacier National Park there will be no guarantee that a heavy fog will breakup anytime soon, especially in the higher elevations. Wet weather fronts sometimes stall out when the winds gradually start to come from the north, which can cause several days of heavy overcast in a row. Assuming that a heavy fog will lift before noon may be a safe bet in the lower elevations, but the mountain peaks at Glacier National Park will still be completely hidden by thick clouds on a heavy overcast day. When camping in the back country, it may be impossible to get a data signal to check the weather report, which will literally leave a camper in the blind. It is then that a judgement call has to be made as to whether it is worth sticking around.
Because of the possibility of wet overcast weather during late summer and early autumn, it is best to make an alternative plan for touring Glacier National Park. The weather can change without much warning in Glacier this time of year and sometimes the foul weather can stick around for a few days at a time. Basically the rule of thumb is if the weather turns sour upon arrival, it may be best to head for a destination elsewhere till the weather clears, then return to Glacier. Having a few extra destination options in the travel plan will make it easier to escape from a few days of foggy weather, because the lack of a smart phone data signal in the back country will make it impossible to search for other options on the spot. For those who think that a GPS will save the day, these devices do not work in dense mountain fog either!
During my visit I camped in the back country the first day and the skies were crystal clear. From the most recent weather report that morning, a weak cold front was supposed to pass through the next day, so I was prepared for a cold morning. Waking up to blinding pea soup fog is what happened and based upon experience, it was easy to see that the cold front stalled out. The foggy overcast weather was not going anywhere for a few days, so I decided to head west toward the Oregon Upper Great Basin Desert where blue skies were likely to be found. The plan was to return to Glacier National Park a week later when better weather was expected and this alternative plan actually worked out well.
In order to get to Oregon from the east side of Glacier National Park, driving west on the Going To The Sun Road in the dense fog was necessary, which is no easy feat! As can be seen in the photos, there is no use looking for beautiful views along the way, because all that can be seen is pea soup fog along this road on a heavy overcast day. This dangerous road is intimidating to begin with and the wildlife is known to jump in front of cars without warning, which greatly adds to the pensive moment when driving blind in thick fog. There were actually panic stricken drivers parked in the middle of the road with the hazard lights turned on, because they were afraid to go any further. This really slowed down the trip going west through the National Park and it literally took till 4:00PM to finally pass through the west exit gate. Needless to say, I did not get too far away from Glacier, but I did find a cozy campsite in the neighboring Lolo National Forest before doing the rest of the drive to Oregon.
All that can be said is bad weather happens, so it is best to make alternative travel plans during the autumn season at Glacier National Park because the weather can be unpredictable. Driving the Going To The Sun Road in the fog is not advisable either just for safety's sake. Heading off to an alternative destination and returning to Glacier when the weather is better will result in a much more pleasurable experience!
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