Monday, September 3, 2012

Glacier National Park Excursion - 8/26 thru 30/12

                                Gunsight Pass from East Side

Seven Around the Bend Friends club members (some of whom are also prominent members of the Lone Mountain Hiking Club) escaped the City of Lights for nine days on a road trip to Glacier National Park, the Crown of the Continent, for five days of intense hiking. Although the trip was not for the faint of heart nor weak of legs, it was a wonderful week full of awesome scenery and exciting wildlife. (There was an originally scheduled eighth member of the team, however due to an injury she joined us in the latter part of the week.) The remaining team members overcame various physical issues to reach the expectations of our leader and coordinator, Brian D., who herded us from place to place with courage and forethought. We would all like to thank Brian for sharing this experience with us. (Check another one off of the "bucket list!")

Brian's calculations on the statistics of the five days of hiking are as follows:

Sperry Chalet Trail : 6.6 miles, 3393 ft gross gain
Sperry Glacier Trail : 7.8 miles, 2326 ft gross gain
Gunsight Pass Trail: 13.6 miles, 2513 ft gross gain
Highline & Swiftcurrent Trails:  16.0 miles, 2301 ft gross gain
Grinnell Lake / Hidden Falls Trails: 8.1 miles, 668 ft gross gain
Totals : 52.1 miles and 11,201 ft gross gain

 Sunday - McDonald Lodge to Sperry Chalet
                The Team L-R (Kay, Mary, Brian, Diane, John, Jerry, & Paul)

                                The Lobby of the McDonald Lodge

 After two days of sitting in the car for a thousand miles of driving, the team of seven hikers arrived at the Sperry Chalet trailhead which is located across the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park. Gnawing at the bit like a bunch of racehorses, we still took the time to look at the old lodge where we took our team photo and got our first look at a mountain goat, albeit stuffed. From there, we hiked up to the trailhead where we saw a missing person sign, a bleak reminder that we were now entering BEAR COUNTRY! Never fear, Kay had her bear bell, bear pan, and bear spray at the ready! Oh yeah. Out of the seven of us, there were four cans of bear spray! Hmmm. That should do it.

                             Hiking through the moss covered pines.

 Today's hike was supposed to be the hardest. After all, there were over 3000 feet of elevation gain over 6.5 miles. But, as we skipped our way up the trail, we didn't take into account the adrenaline rush we all felt. At this point, we were all very excited to get up to Sperry Chalet while trying to slow down and enjoy the surroundings on our way. We passed a train of horses that were coming down from its bi-weekly supplying of the chalet. Then we stopped for our lunch break at a convenient rock.

                                Approaching the highlands.

 We hiked up through the pine forest hung with moss. Views were few and far between. Snyder Creek flowed below our right side until we dipped down to cross it. At that point, we hiked over a ridge and found Sprague Creek. This creek stayed at our right until a crossing only one quarter mile from the chalet. As the pine forest opened out, we found ourselves on the side of a very large scree field. Across the way, up on a cliff, sat the chalet. We still had to curve around and go up from the left.

                                Sperry Chalet on the cliff as seen from the trail.

 On our way up, we noticed different berries on bushes along the trail. The berries in the photo to the left are huckleberries. Huckleberries grow abundantly in Glacier National Park and tourists can find pies, jellies, jams, cordials, shakes, etc. made with this little purple berry. A couple of the hikers tasted samples direct from the bushes.

                                           Sprague Creek

 When we arrived at Sperry Chalet, we were welcomed with ice water, lemonade and hospitality. We checked in, found our rooms (2 with 4 beds each), and explored our surroundings. The women hiked a half mile up the hill to the Sperry Campground where there is a pond for dipping your feet. We later saw that some hikers use the pond for dipping more than just feet! We washed out a few articles of clothing at the bathroom basins and dined that evening on turkey and dressing. The sunset was somewhat obscured by the arrival of smoke from forest fires in Idaho and southern Montana. We fell asleep easily on comfortable beds under a thick layer of blankets.

                                Sperry Chalet (built in 1913)

                                Avalanche area from Spring 2011

 Monday - Sperry Glacier Trail
                                        Sperry Glacier

                                   Akaiyan Falls

 We woke the next morning for a late breakfast at 8:00am. The hike to Sperry Glacier is advertised as the most beautiful trail in the park and it did not disappoint. We hiked almost all the way back down to the Sprague Creek crossing then took a trail junction to the right. This trail took us around the wall of a very large glacier carved canyon passing the Akaiyan Falls flowing from the lakes above. The morning was only slightly cool but the heat promised to return when the sun rose over the mountain ridges. Unfortunately, the smoke had by now covered the park.

                                Hiking past Akaiyan Falls

                                Switchbacking up to Comeau Pass

 We hiked up the switchbacks that followed then turned around to take a photo of the trail as seen to the right. The trail had leveled out and we found ourselves in a large field of boulders. The first small lake came into view and only hinted at the treat that was in store for us. Stepping stones led us across the water outlet and we hiked up past waterfalls, huge boulders and snow patched mountainsides.

                     The team reaches the boulder field and lakes meadow.

                                Paul stands above one of the lakes.

 There were three small lakes in the meadow area. Wildflowers were still plentiful since the weather at Glacier was stubbornly holding on to high temperatures. We stopped for many photos of the ice edged lakes. We observed some fresh grizzly poo on the trail, but we were settling in to somewhat of a false comfort about the bear situation. In the dining room, the night before, we had heard about a sighting of two bears over at the Lake Ellen Wilson Campground. But that was five miles away....
                                Jerry enjoys photographing the scenery.

                                Entertaining varmints of Glacier National Park

 By this time, we had all seen a few marmots. They are very funny creatures! They don't seem to be afraid of humans as long as they have a way to get away if necessary. They will sit on top of rocks and watch hikers as if to say, "May I help you?" or "Have you seen any food around that I might enjoy?" or "You are really funny looking!" They have a very furry two-toned coat of reddish brown and blonde. We also saw a few ground squirrels of different types and one pika.

                                Just a sampling of the wildflowers in the park.

                                Diane hikes happily through the wildflowers.

 A wall of rock guards Comeau Pass, the high point of the Sperry Glacier Trail. When this trail was first being hiked in the early 1900's, a long treacherous ladder was bolted onto the rock to gain access to the top. Since then, a three foot wide crevice was blasted out of the wall where high steps were installed. A safety cable lines one side of the wall and after a group photo of the team at the bottom of the steps, we ascended with grace.

                                Terrain from Comeau Pass to Sperry Glacier

                      Smoke from regional forest fires shrouds the distant views.

 On top of the pass, the terrain quickly deteriorates as the hiker is obliged to cross three or four fields of snow divided by mounds of rock which need to be scrambled over (a la RRCNCA). Humongous cairns mark the trail. We found a place to sit and observe the glacier up to the right for our lunch break. Below us, there was a light turquoise glacial lake sitting at the top of the cliff that empties into Avalanche Lake below. After eating, some of the team decided to hike down past one more snow field for a different view.

       Mountain Goats on the Glacier Trail plus a Moose seen at Swiftcurrent Pass

                       Huge cairns mark the trail over the snow and rock.

 On our way back to Comeau Pass, we went right by two mountain goats (Mother and Kid), our first actual goat sighting. The mother was none too pleased with my approach for a better photo. We quickly moved out of her way then proceeded down the steps. Soon, we ran into yet another goat that was using the trail coming up. Once again, we were asked to move out of the way (in no uncertain terms). The goat promptly peed on a rock and moved on. We found out who was in charge!

After taking another break in the lakes meadow, we slowly moved on down past the boulder field and switchbacks. Stopping at the Akaiyan Falls, Diane and Mary soothed their feet with the cold water. That evening, a dinner of Chinese Chicken was served. We went about the ritual of trying to wash up. One more day and we could get a shower!

                             Kay wonders which way the goat wants to go!


 Tuesday - Gunsight Pass Trail
                                On Top of Gunsight Pass (Gunsight Mtn. on left)

                             Pond at Sperry Campground

 The day to hike out had quickly come. We would be hiking over Lincoln Pass, past Lake Ellen Wilson, over Gunsight Pass, past Gunsight Lake, fording the slow moving creek, over several miles of flat land and up the final tortuous hill to the road. But, wait, there's more! Three shuttles and a two hour drive still would stand between us and that warm shower!

 We left Sperry Chalet before 8am. Feeling fresh, we made short work of the hike up to Lincoln Pass passing above the pond and campground as seen in the photo to the right. This would be our high point of the day. As we came over the pass, we were all well aware that Lake Ellen Wilson was nearby, therefore, possible bear sightings were on the horizon. The lake was shadowed by the morning light but, in retrospect, the photo taken below shows where we were when we saw THE BEARS!

                         From West End of Lake Ellen Wilson in the Morning

                                From East End of Lake Ellen Wilson

 We hiked the length of the lake catching the glow of the morning light in photos. We rounded rocks, hiked through tall foliage, hiked through open fields, and passed beautiful waterfalls adorned with fireweed. No bears. The photo to the left shows the trail as it rounds the end of the lake and begins switchbacking up to Gunsight Pass, our second climb of the day.

 Still in awe of the scenery, we took this photo of the lake from the end and crossed the waterfall. Out of fourteen feet, at least one foot went under water as the stepping stone gave way. At this point, fate began playing in our favor. The most experienced bear country hiker, John, took the lead as Brian stayed back to help the team with the crossing. Kay, anxious to start the climb, was in second and Mary came third. Jerry was working that new camera back in the sweep position.

                                Crossing falls without bridge.

John passed the first two switchbacks and was working on the third when he turned around and said to Kay who was twenty feet back and happily taking photos of the pass above, "Bears!" Kay turned to speak to Mary and soon all of us knew what was up. On the hill at 1 o'clock were two grizzlies perhaps 50 yards away. They saw us but seemed unconcerned as they played there while looking for ground squirrels among the ditches. As the team gathered, Jerry hung back taking photos. It was when the bears separated that the writer became concerned. It became more difficult to keep eyes on both of them. Goofy slowly headed up toward the pass while stopping and sniffing the nonexistent wind for our smell. Snort hung back and stayed below the swales of rock and dirt. There was a large concern that Snort would suddenly appear over the dirt and charge. We all had our bear spray out ... and, oh yeah, the bear bell didn't work, I guess. As an aside, we also found out first hand that the bear spray DOES WORK!

                      Goofy and Snort, the 3-year-old grizzly bear siblings.

 Finally, we watched both bears disappear over the pass among the rock and trees. A couple of strong guys hiking up behind us took the lead and we hiked on up the rest of the switchbacks. We didn't know where the bears went but we couldn't see them anymore so the only thing left to do was keep hiking. On top of the pass sits a shelter cabin. We took a short break here as it seemed that the coast was clear.

 Since we had been delayed by the bears, several hiking groups bunched up at the pass. When we started down, lo and behold, there they were way down below the trail. The hikers and the bears, now feeling much more safe, went on about their business. The next couple of miles were a feast for the eyes as we took two long switchbacks down toward Gunsight Lake. We passed a mountain goat on the way down but didn't stop for a photo. Are you kidding? We got grizzly photos!!!

                Gunsight Lake looking northeast from Gunsight Pass area.

                                Thick trail foliage at bottom of switchbacks.

 When we reached the lake shore, we came to the famous ford. A bridge had been washed out and although the pieces for the bridge lay there waiting, the bridge had not been rebuilt. The rocks were small and the water flow was lazy so off came the shoes and socks. For Jerry, crossing the watery thirty feet was a slow procedure. Mary and Diane, again took advantage of the cold soak and the rest of us found a great place to sit and take a lunch break.

 Realizing we needed to make up some lost time because of the bears, our lunch break on the shore of Gunsight Lake looking toward Gunsight Pass only lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes. The next four miles would be flat and we intended to make up a lot of time there. Starting out again, we found ourselves on a newly carved trail as the original trail was covered over with fallen trees from a recent avalanche.

                                         Gunsight Lake lunch break.

                  Brian burns the jets for the flat latter part of the day hike.

 Getting back on the original trail, we started making very good time. At one point, we passed a park ranger who was on his way up to the pass to check out the bear situation that he had already heard about from someone before us. He was very interested in our first hand experience and looked at Jerry's great photos. He said they looked like three year olds and were probably siblings. He said he was afraid that the bears were becoming "habituated" and they would have to do something about them.

The trail was following along the St. Mary River and we sailed along passing questionable footprints in the sand as seen below right.

 The last mile was rough. We had burned our engines on the flat terrain and now we had to ascend around 600 steep elevation feet. It was decided that Brian and Jerry, the drivers, would reach the road as soon as possible and take the shuttle if one came before we emerged. It turned out that two minutes after everyone had reached the Jackson Glacier Overlook shuttle stop, the shuttle arrived. We took 3 shuttles, Boom-Boom-Boom, and got into our cars at McDonald Lodge. Two more hours and, at 7pm (the predicted time), we drove into Many Glacier where we would be staying at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

                                One of three swinging bridges. We had to hold on!

                                       Now they tell us!!

 Wednesday - Highline Trail / Granite Park Chalet /
                        Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
                                Granite Park Chalet from Highline Trail

                Swiftcurrent Pass Lakes (foreground to background) - Bullhead,
                          Red Rock, Fishercap, Swiftcurrent, and Sherburne

 Clean again, we woke to a blustery cold rainy morning. During our two shuttle ride up to Logan Pass, the rain hit the windshield and the temperatures dropped. We were prepared for bad weather. However, amazingly enough, as soon as we began our hike on Highline Trail which begins across the road from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, the fast wind had taken away the heavy clouds and residual non-threatening clouds were making their way across the ridge. John led a very fast warm-up mile and we were good to go.

                  Highline Trail begins with a cliff and a safety cable.

                            Hiking with a view all the way to Canada!

 Highline Trail has expansive views to the west from beginning to end. It lies on cliffs and steep scree slopes just under the Garden Wall. The knife edge Garden Wall was created by ancient glaciers rubbing on either side of the rock wearing away all but a few hundred feet of mountainside. At least five of the twenty-five glaciers that are left at the park lie on the opposite side of the Garden Wall; The Salamander, Piegan Glacier, Grinnell Glacier, Swiftcurrent Glacier and Bishops Cap.

                                Haystack Butte from Highline Trail

                                Valley below toward McDonald Lake

 As we hiked, the wind died down and the temperatures rose a little. The clouds became fewer but the scenery never stopped coming. The trail is relatively level with only one climb over the pass at Haystack Butte. There is quite a bit of exposure on this trail but the trail is wide and accommodating. As we neared the Granite Park Chalet which would be our lunch stop, Jerry took a spur trail up to the right (as seen to the left) to see what he could see at the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. We waited for him inside the warm chalet. He reported that it was difficult to see the glacier as it recedes into the shadows.

                                Looking backward to the Garden Wall.

                     Granite Park Chalet with Heaven's Peak in background.

 We were all feeling a little worn as this was a 16 mile hike the day after a 13 mile hike. Some were feeling stronger than others but the rest in the chalet was welcome and we passed the time with a lot of other hikers who were also passing through. Seven miles down and nine to go, we climbed the hill to Swiftcurrent Pass slowly while we warmed up our legs for the second go 'round. At the top of the hill, we passed a couple of trail junctions to Swiftcurrent Mtn. and Swiftcurrent Glacier.

                                Topping off the Swiftcurrent Pass

                    Switchbacking down the cliff past Swiftcurrent Glacier

 Starting down the other side of the pass, we got the fantastic view of the lakes below as seen in the second photo of this day's entry. From there, we simply switchbacked down the side of the cliff, stopped for a cold soak in the creek at the bottom, then hiked out through the woods for 3.5 more miles. The last part of the hike took us by the lakes that we saw from above but we only had a couple of views of the water during that time. The photo to the left is of Red Rock Falls. As we got closer and closer to the hotel where we were staying, more and more tourists appeared on the flat terrain. The arrival at the hotel room was a blessing as sore feet hobbled in.

                 Finishing the 16 mile trek among the late afternoon strollers.

                                Awaiting a well-deserved meal.

 Thursday - Grinnell Lake / Hidden Falls Trails
                                Swiftcurrent Lake in front of Grinnell Point

                                Grinnell Lake in front of Grinnell Glacier

 Plan A for today was to hike to Ptarmigan Tunnel. Plan B was to hike to Iceberg Lake. Plan C was chosen by six exhausted hikers. It was a relatively flat eight mile hike up to Grinnell Lake from the Many Glacier Lodge. The hike was accomplished quickly and several views were enjoyed. As we left the park at Many Glacier, a bear sat in a field near the road. One last photo and we were on our trip back home.

This was a once in a lifetime adventure and the bear story will continue to be embellished, no doubt!

                 Endless road construction on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

                                Y'all come back now, ya hear?


Jerry Thomas said...

Great post, Kay! I don't know how you could tell the difference between the two bears. They looked the same to me. It was a great trip. Glacier NP is truly one of the most beautiful places in the US (or world). It definitely deserves another trip.

Jerry Thomas said...

Great photos, too!

Larry Dunn said...

Kay: A terrific adventure wonderfully told and photographed! Thanks for sharing it with us. ...Larry

Las Vegas Cockapoo said...

Sadly, we have received news that the historic Sperry Chalet burned down on August 31st, 2017. The following link takes readers to an article about the fire.