Saturday, July 6, 2013

Glacier National Park


Photo from http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm
July 6-12, 2013

Glacier National Park, Montana is toted on the National Park's website as the "Crown of the Continent."  The website describes the park as having pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes.   "With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a hiker's paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude."    I think Glacier is just what the doctor had ordered for me this summer!

For many years my good friend Greg, who has visited the park on three previous occasions, has praised the beauty of this park and we've talked about a rendezvous together to further explore what Glacier has to offer.  I'm excited that in 2013 I finally have the opportunity to experience it first hand!


In the beginning stages of planning Greg and I had tossed several ideas around and after the dust settled, it was planned that he would arrive a few days before me and raft Hell’s Canyon with a friend of his George.   We would then meet in Missoula after their rafting trip and drive together to Glacier.  In planning this trip, I had also considered trying to fit in a summit attempt of  Granite Peak (12,807 ft) but the logistics and extra expense of a guide service made this option nearly impossible.   Finally the last day of our adventure would conclude with the Missoula Marathon the following Sunday.

Saturday, July 6th

As planned Saturday the three of us meet in Missoula at the Iron Horse Pub for introductions, a few beers, and dinner.   We caught up and shared stories of each of our past adventures and made our final plans for the next 6 days in Glacier.

Brian and Greg in front of Iron Horse Pub Missoula, Montana

Since we each made plans for the various parts of our trek we had a duplicate reservations for hotels.  Our first night would be downtown at the Day’s Inn.   This is not the fanciest place to stay by any means, but it was perfectly located for downtown access walking distance to everything marathon related.   After dinner we walked a block away and checked out the Holiday Inn Downtown and it was much nicer but also double the cost so we were fortunate to find there was a cancellation for next weekend’s marathon weekend at the Day’s Inn so changed our following weekend’s hotel reservation and planed to return to Day’s Inn for the marathon.   Later we find this was the perfect choice!

Sunday, July 7th


Sunday morning we pack up the fine rent-a-car, a Subaru Outback, and headed north to Glacier.   Since Greg had been here 3 times prior, we were in great hands with our own personal guide to the park.   Our plan was to stay in West Glacier for 2 nights, then head over to East Glacier the remaining 3 nights at a different campground.   Our first stop was in Polson, MT at a grocery and loaded up with a week of food and drink for our days and nights in the wilderness.   Our plan, breakfast and lunch we would make ourselves and for dinner we would find somewhere to go out for dinner each evening.  Amazing how the three of us agreed on the same things for our shopping list!

Welcome sign West Glacier
The whole trip north on I-93 was beautiful, but just after our grocery stop we reached Flathead Lake, a giant water mass that we opted to drive east of and enjoy the view while bypassing a bunch of small little bergs on the other side of the lake that would slow us down.   We finally arrive at West Glacier entrance and pay the $25 fee for a 7 day pass to the park and head directly to the Apgar Visitor Center to talk to a ranger about trail conditions and recommendations for our best experience while in the park.   We learned that the Going-to-the-Sun Road just opened June 21st and that the trail Greg had hoped to hike called the Highline trail was still closed because of snow!

Greg, Brian, and George at Park Entrance
Leaving the visitor center our timing was about perfect, because the camp sites are first come first serve and at noon you can squat on a site to make it your own.   We made our way to Avalanche Campground and found a great site.   Camping in Glacier is primitive, running water, but no electricity or showers!   It had been a while for each of us since we last camped, so our first challenge was to see who was the least rusty when it came to assembling their tent.   Only two tents allowed per site, so we had 2 different adjacent lots to accompany our 3 tents. 
  
My Home for the Next Week!




Avalanche Creek (Round Trip 6 miles)


Our first hike we did was a trail called Avalanche Creek.  The very beginning of our hike we passed by a tight canyon that the water rushed through and we had our first real glimpse of the blue/green glacier water!   We followed the 3 mile trail to a spectacular lake view.  At the far side of the lake many large water falls all fed into the lake.      We enjoyed the view of the falls from afar then walked to the far end of the lake which was the end of the trail before heading back to camp.   




 
Talk about a small world, Greg had another friend Steve and his family who were also visiting the park for week and of all the trails we end up running into them on the way back to the trail head and made plans to meet for dinner at West Glacier park entrance where there are a couple gift shops and restaurants.  At dinner we made our first discovery of the local grown tasty fruit called a Huckleberry, this night in the form of ice cream, but as the week progressed we would find huckleberry pie and huckleberry chocolate treats!  

Monday, July 8th

Hidden Lake Trail at Logan Pass 


Monday morning we were up early with our plan to drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan pass to hike to Hidden Lake.   We were greeted with heavy fog and occasionally had views but we wouldn’t get to appreciate the magnitude of this road until later in the week.   This road was cut into the side of the mountain in 1932 and extends 53 miles.   The section going up to the continental divide was an engineering breakthrough with a drop off cliff off to the right the entire way up.  A little nerve racking to drive up!

We finally made it to Logan Pass, one of the first two cars in the parking lot!   I grabbed my jacket, back pack, and hiking poles and we were going to attempt to follow the trail to Hidden Lake, the only problem is the fog was so thick that you could barely see 10 feet in front of you and we are hiking on snow with no clue what was any direction.   There were yellow trail markers in the snow which George was happy to replace any that had fallen for hopes that we could find our way back if they were all standing.   There were a couple times I think we all thought about turning around, but we forged on and caught the group in front of us who was equally freaked out by the lack of visibility.   Strength in numbers I guess, because all 5 of us now headed into the abyss.    Honestly, there was a pretty sketchy area that was steep and not having been on this trail was a little concerned where we would end up if we lost our footing.

Trying to find the trail in dense fog

Found footpath

Came upon this marsh above the snowfield


Our first friend along the way, a little marmot we found at the lookout for Hidden Lake.   A few minutes watching him and then the skies opened up leaving us with a breathtaking view of the lake below.  None of the peaks in the pictures below were visible our entire way up to the lookout.  Also this is near one of the high points of the park, apparently mountain goats all live up in the high alpine terrain and we saw a small heard of white mountain goats up on a ridge.   

Marmot
Magnificent view all of a sudden when the fog lifted
Hidden Lake
New look and feel now that we could see where we were going on way down!
Already a whole line of hikers on their way up
At Logan pass there is a nice facility that acts as a ranger station and gift shop.  At Logan Pass is also the trailhead for the famous Highline trail, but ranger said about 5 more days until it’s safe.  More updates on this trail in another day or so!

 
So adventures for Monday have only begun at Logan Pass, we have the whole rest of the day ahead of us.   We drove back down the Going-to-the-Sun Road and with the clouds now lifted we had a whole new set of views to enjoy all the way back towards camp.   At camp we refueled for our "more strenuous" afternoon hike.

This lil' guy was staking out our campsite when we stopped for lunch

Before our afternoon hike Greg had stressed the importance of visiting each of the turn of the century lodges in the park so we made a quick stop at Lake McDonald Lodge.  This is an absolutely beautiful building with giant pillars from big trees with logs of animal heads inside as well as a great patio overlooking McDonald Lake.   The lodge was also one of the many stops for the red bus tours through the park.
Rear Side of Lake McDonald Lodge

Inside Lake McDonald Lodge

Red Bus Tour anyone?

Our next destination was Apgar Peak where there is an old lookout tower.  In contrast to the snow and fog in the morning, the day really heated up so it was perfect shorts weather.  This trail is one way 3.3 miles and gains 1,850 feet.   We kept an eye on the weather and the week guaranteed lots of sunshine, however Monday was the only day that had the chance to get a little sketchy.   Finding the trailhead was fun in the Subaru, dirt roads, old wooden bridges over rivers and finally the end of the road which was also the beginning of the trail.   

Old bridge on back road towards Apgar Peak Trailhead


This was another beautiful trail which starts out fairly flat first through some woods, then into an open meadow, and eventually it appears that the last part of the trail is where we would gain most of the elevation.   

Greg was feeling good, so took off while George and I took our time snapping a few photos on the way up and just enjoyed the views.   We could see a long ways off and had some great view but it was apparent that a storm was brewing and we were hoping it would skirt us.   


Halfway up to Apgar Lookout

More great views on the way up to Apgar Lookout


Greg summited first and was waiting on the lookout tower when George and I made it to the top.   We had only time to snap a few more pictures from the summit and thought it would be best if we got back down the mountain as soon as possible because the storm that we had hoped would miss us was now right on top of us.


Storm moving in on us fast near summit of Apgar Lookout
No sooner than we leave the lookout tower the wind starting gusting, heavy rains, hail and lighting surrounded us.   There wasn’t a good place for cover so we all decided to run like hell.   George took off and Greg and I followed.   I was the only one with hiking books while the two of them had running shoes so they were a little more nimble.   I had a pretty full water pack so it was excess weight so I opted to stop running for few seconds and expunge all my water to lighten my load.   As the rain turned to hail it stung like crazy as it pounded my head, face and body.   


View from Apgar Lookout
Soon we were off the steep part of the trail and back on the flats, but it was still lighting, so again it didn’t feel safe so no break in the dead sprint for the car.    The trail turns into a logging road on the flats with big tire ruts.   No problem on the way up, but there was so much rain so quickly that both ruts were filled with several inches of water on the way through this time!  Since my two friends had running shoes they took off and I was left bringing up the rear, my first time in the park in complete solitude and the thought of running up on a bear crossed my mind once or twice.   About the time we all returned to the car the storm passed and we were left wet and cold as the sun began to shine again.

No better time to return to McDonald lodge for a home cooked buffalo burger in the bar overlooking the lake. 


Tuesday, July 9th

St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls - 6 Miles Round Trip 



So our first 3 nights were spent inside the park at Avalanche campground.  Inside the park did not offer the luxury of a showers, so by now we were ready to get cleaned up so we packed our tents and planned to drive through the park from the West Glacier area up Going-to-the-Sun Road once again (this road never gets old!) toward St. Mary side of Glacier NP.

This time the route up was not foggy like yesterday morning, but bright and sunny.   The road gets busy so we got an early start and were one of the first cars through the construction zone.   Bicycle traffic is limited to non-peak hours so we saw a few cyclist pedaling up the route as well.  Will definitely  have to go back and try that sometime!   We took our time up the route exploring a little more the scenery on the way up.    Glaciers, waterfalls, the “weaping” wall, snowfields, etc.

Roadside View

Still tons of snow in July!  Burnt trees starting to recover from recent fire

Waterfall under Going-to-the-Sun Road

Brian by waterfall under road

Weeping Wall

Amazing construction here for the road!

More waterfalls

Sample bride in side of mountain!

Waterfall going under road

Have to be silly sometimes!  Not as scary as it looks!

More snow along the road


When we made it to the top of the Logan Pass (Continental Divide) there was a crowd gathered and we were greeted by one of the mountain goats we had seen from afar at Hidden Lake now this time up close and personal.   

Mountain Goat in Parking lot near Logan Pass

Highline Trail still closed =(

Highline trail closed sign

Gregg, George and I at the Pass


We continued over the top and down the east side for the first time.   Our first stop was at Sun Rift Gorge, a beautiful slot of water that had carved a path through the rocks.    


Sun Rift Gorge

River at Sun Rift Gorge



We continued on and enjoyed the views of St. Mary’s Lake on the right and finally the visitor’s center at St. Mary’s entrance to the park.  
 

St Mary's Lake

St Mary's Lake

One of the most photographed parts of Glacier NP



On to reserve our camp site at Johnsons and exit the park at St. Mary side where there is a camp ground just outside the park boundary called Johnson’s Camp Ground.  (and has a shower!)
http://www.johnsonsofstmary.com/services/campground/campground.htm

After a quick lunch at camp and then the afternoon plan was to take one of boat tours at St. Mary Lake.   This was more than just a boat tour, the boat takes you to a remote trail where you have the option to hike to 1, 2 or 3 different waterfalls.   Of course we chose the option of all three.   Along the boat tour we got to see Sexton Glacier, Wild Goose Island, rugged cliffs, and ancient forests.  









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