Early Mountain Mornings and Alpine Glow

Alpine Glow at Many Glacier Hotel - photo by Jeff Pang
Alpine Glow at Many Glacier Hotel.  Notice that true alpine glow is being pushed out by the direct light. – photo by Jeff Pang

Lucky short-term tourists and almost all long-term visitors to Glacier National Park learn about the beauty of alpine glow (called alpenglow in many parts of the world). While some mistake sunlight on the mountains at sunrise and sunset as alpine glow, true alpine glow occurs only when the sun is below the horizon. It comes from light that’s reflected by snow, water or ice particles in the atmosphere. There is often a red or purple hue within the glow.

One of my three jobs at Many Glacier Hotel in the park’s Swiftcurrent Valley required me to be on duty by 5 a.m. several days a week. When I walked over the rise that separated the hotel from the dorm, I checked my watch to make sure I wasn’t late because the hotel manager, Ian B. Tippet was always there before dawn. Since he was there, he firmly believed everyone else should be there.

Grinnell Point and Heavy Shield Mountain across Swiftcurrent Lake from the hotel - photo by Joe Dsilva
Grinnell Point and Heavy Shield Mountain across Swiftcurrent Lake from the hotel – photo by Joe Dsilva

While the light in the manager’s office near the lobby attracted my attention first, those mornings when alpine glow bathed the peaks and turned glaciers and snow patches into shimmering light sources, my early hours job gave me a gift most employees and guests slept through.

When I saw Ian Tippet at the park this fall, we joked when he said, “we always began promptly at 5 a.m., a beautiful time to be awake.” I agreed, but didn’t mention that I looked at his office window before breathing in the sky.

I always wanted to see the alpine glow on Mt. Everest, or even in the Alps where the term originated. However, the mountains of Glacier made many early mornings worth losing sleep over.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels including “The Sun Singer” which is set at Many Glacier hotel.

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