Mike Foote and Jennifer Lichter Adventure Into The ‘Shining Mountains’ of Montana

Jennifer Licther, Mike Foote set out to creating visual and emotional connections to fight climate change, and photograph every remaining glacier in Glacier National Park.

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Mike Foote and Jenn Lichter were the ideal partners to take on a massive adventure in Glacier National Park last fall. 

With a mutual love for the wild regions of northern Montana, similar backgrounds working as trail guides and, of course, parallel successes running ultra-distance races, the professional trail runners set out on a mission last fall with adventure photographer Steven Gnam to visit all of the park’s glaciers on foot.

In 1850, there were more than 150 glaciers in the region presently known as Glacier National Park. In 2015, that number has dwindled to just 26. On their 12-day journey, the trio backpacked their way more than 120 miles from the southeast corner of the park at Many Glacier to Bowman Lake in the northwest corner of the park. 

Along the way, they took hundreds of photos to contribute to the United States Geological Survey’s Repeat Photography Program that documents the changing landscape over the past 130 years. That meant they had to maneuver their way over trails, through forests, over massive rock outcroppings and glacial ice to put themselves into position to take photos from specific points of view.

A short film documenting their adventure, called “Shining Mountains,” was released on May 19, depicting the stunning beauty, the challenging grind and the off-the-grid fun they experienced. 

The film was produced by The North Face in conjunction with Protect Our Winters. The name of the film is an acknowledgement of how the local people of the Blackfeet Nation have long referred to glaciated mountains shining in the sun.

“I think that we wanted to find a balance of telling a climate change story without hitting people over the head with climate despair, which is tricky,” Foote says. “We’re talking about the poster child of climate change with these melting glaciers and a lot of people have done that. The whole goal of the trip was to have a more intimate portrayal of what’s happening out there. The hope is people will connect with it and might be excited to care a lot about Glacier National Park. Or maybe they have a place that they care about somewhere, and it  sparks an interest in being involved with some of the climate change issues where they live locally.”

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Foote, who moved to Missoula more than 15 years ago, has found great success running some of the world’s top ultra-distance mountain races, including three runner-up finishes at the Hardrock 100 in Colorado and two top-15 finishes at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France. 

Licther, meanwhile, was on a cross-country road trip a few years ago while relocating to Portland, Oregon, but stopped along the way and hiked in Glacier National Park for four days. After 10 days in Portland, she packed up her Honda and moved to Whitefish, Montana, before eventually settling in Missoula.

Working as a guide in Glacier National Park from 2020 to 2022 rekindled her love for running trails that she first experienced with her high school cross country teammates in Wisconsin. She began running trails in the park and after long days of guide and then, after crewing her boyfriend at a 100K race in Idaho, she signed up for the Run the Run 50K—a race that Foote co-directs at Big Sky Resort.

Licther, 26, and Foote, 41, met at the finish line of the race—literally after the finish line—just after Lichter won the race in course-record time. Since then, she’s been on a rising trajectory, winning numerous trail races around the western U.S. since 2022—including this year’s Lake Sonoma 50-miler. 

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Her talent, hard work and passion have helped her earn opportunities to compete for the U.S. team in the 2022 and 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships. She’ll be racing in the 40K race during this year’s event June 7-10 in Innsbruck, Austria. 

But what trail running and her exposure to the wild terrain of Glacier National Park really did was create an emotional connection to the mountains. And that’s something, she believes, is more important in the effort to promote climate change advocacy than historical data about how much the glaciers have receded. 

“Visually seeing it makes it a lot easier. I think the more people get behind the emotion of what’s happening, the more they’re gonna understand, the more research they will want to do. They’ll ask, ‘how can I help?’ And ‘what organizations can I start to work with?’ And ‘what can I support to make a difference?’ I think that’s kind of step one of trying to make change—just word of mouth. Ultimately, when people can feel it on a deeper level, they actually want to change and want to care for it. And I think that’s honestly what we need—it’s not only knowledge or understanding, it’s caring.”

Although the trio covered 30 miles on their biggest day, they averaged between 10 and 20 miles depending on terrain, weather and navigational logistics. The 26 remaining glaciers in the park have mostly receded into remote, high-alpine basins, but only one has a trail to it. But it turns out they didn’t reach that one by trail because they had to cross treacherous terrain while coming from another glacier on the other side of the continental Divide.

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As most adventures are, the trip was less than perfect with numerous unforeseen challenges, Foote said. They experienced cold weather, rain and some snow, making it more difficult to navigate to the next location and just stay warm. They also had a bear spray canister explode and spray Jenn and Steven, as well as me

“We had a lot of adversity on the trip, and I think that makes for more of an adventure in hindsight, but it was not easy all the time,” Foote said. “We’ve both spent a lot of time in the park, and I expected it to be slow, arduous travel and it was even more so than I expected,” Foote says. “It wasn’t like the beauty of the ridgelines and summits or like following a trail in the valley. It was constant sidehilling through choss in and out of these alpine basins. So it forced us into really unique travel.”

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