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HikinginGlacier.com provides detailed information on more than 60 hikes throughout Glacier National Park. You’ll find trail descriptions, pictures, key trail features, trail length, difficulty ratings, trail maps, elevation profiles and more.
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|Explanantion of Hike Difficulty Rating|
You'll probably read and hear a lot about the difficulty of any given trail within Glacier National Park. I've found these ratings to be too general and highly subjective. While researching hikes for a trip to Rocky Mountain N.P. several years ago, I found a website that attempts to remove the subjectivism out of trail difficulty ratings by using a mathematical formula.
This formula originally came from Paul Petzoldt, a mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In 1976 he proposed a theory to help backpackers plan trips and calculate their energy needs while on the trail in his book, Teton Trails. His theory states that one energy mile is equal to the energy required to walk one mile on flat terrain. He also said that you need to add two energy miles for every 1000 feet of elevation gain. In other words, if you hiked one mile while climbing 1000 feet, you would've used the equivalent of three energy miles.
Petzoldt's theory had never been tested before. That is until 2010, when a study was conducted at Western Carolina University's Exercise Physiology Laboratory, by Maridy Troy, assistant professor in WCU’s health and physical education program, and Maurice Phipps, professor of parks and recreation management.
The study measured the energy cost and perceived exertion for walking on flat terrain, with and without a backpack, as well as an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Results from the data show an average of a 1.6-mile equivalent for a 1000 foot gain in elevation. Differences between females and males ranged from 1.32 to 2.02. Professor Phipps stated in an article for WCU news that the range revealed by the study was due to the “hikers” personal weight differences. The abstract from the study states that further research using heavier expedition packs at higher altitudes could also reveal changes in energy cost as well.
"It is remarkable that Petzoldt’s energy mile theory is so close to the actual energy cost measured during our study," Phipps stated. He also said the energy required for hiking up steep mountain trails would vary for individuals and groups, and the variables of the trail would also factor in, but he recommends that backpackers stick with Petzoldt's theory of adding two energy miles for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain.
This formula has allowed me to roughly gauge the relative difficulty of Glacier’s trails.
Of course these ratings are only an indicator of hike difficulty - every hike has its variables beyond elevation gain and distance, including weather, experience/fitness level, unique trail conditions, start/end elevation, etc. This rating system simply gives the hiker a reference point between one trail and another.
As a general rule of thumb, a difficulty rating of less than 5 is considered to be an easy hike. Between 5 and 10 is moderate, and anything over 10 is considered to be strenuous.