Escaping the Las Vegas heat
We decided to head for Glacier Park and escape a couple weeks of Las Vegas summer heat leaving 8/3/11 early in the morning and driving about 650 miles to Idaho Falls, ID where we stopped, had dinner and spent the night. Since we were going to car camp with our tenting gear, we hit the road before 4 am in order to reach the St Mary, MT entrance to the park before noon. The campgrounds are generally first-come and had been filling up early each afternoon according to the park campgrounds internet site!
We arrived at Rising Sun campground to find 3 sites remaining and quickly claimed site #3 which was the same one we used two years earlier. It is near the front of the campground and thus closer to the lake plus it has a fresh water tap right in the middle of the campsite. It is also fairly close to the restrooms. The only drawback is that it is perhaps the campsite most subject to winds in the afternoon which is partly offset by the effect said winds have on mosquitos and other flying insects.
We reserved our site for the first 4 nights and started to get settled in before taking the shuttle bus up the lake a short distance for a hike in to see St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls before supper. At 8 pm we went up to the camp show which featured singer Jack Gladstone, a Blackfeet tribe entertainer who sings and plays the guitar very well.
St Mary Falls
Pat agreed to climb Napi Point
with me and we set off to find the trailhead. The route follows the boundary line of GNP and is seldom used resulting in a much tougher hike than Pat expected. There is no trail maintenance so downfalls lay across your path and the brush can be chest high in places. By the time we reached the base of the summit, she was quite ready to abandon the project, but unwilling to wait alone for 30 minutes while I scrambled to the top and back. Thus she trudged up the steep slopes and finally reached the summit with glazed eyes that were unable to fully appreciate the magnificent views afforded by the effort. We headed back and my fears of losing the track were only briefly realized after crossing the creek on a couple of logs. The remainder of the hike was uneventful and Pat arrived back at the trailhead ready for a day of R & R Saturday. That night the ranger led talk was about wolverines in GNP.
Saturday morning we made an early breakfast and I caught the first shuttle heading to the St Mary Falls trailhead. From there I hiked past the falls and headed east on the St Mary Lake trail for about 5 – 6 miles exploring various potential routes to climb Red Eagle Mountain
. The last spurt of exploration led to several possible climbing routes, but after consideration of their flaws, I decided not to pursue them further and retreated back to camp to consider other options. I was tired after expending steady efforts for 8 – 9 hours and ready for a day of rest. Meanwhile, Pat walked over to the boat dock and took a tour of St Mary Lake with a ranger led group. As they were partway through the tour, a moose walked into the lake and swam across not far from the boat. The wind was blowing hard all day and we barely managed to cook our supper on the stove. To eat it, we walked over to some boulders beside the car where we had a bit of shelter from the gusts. The ranger talk this night was about early trappers in Glacier.
After my strenuous Red Eagle exertions, I was happy to join Pat and her friend Terry from Whitefish on a hike to Iceberg Lake at Many Glacier. Terry drove over and met us at our campsite along with her friends Tom and Sonia.
Pat and Terry at Iceberg Lake
The 5 of us then continued to Many Glacier and headed up the trail. The hike is about 10 miles roundtrip and the lake had only recently broken up its solid covering of ice. It was still about half filled with floating icebergs which looked to be several feet thick.
There was excitement as a sow grizzly and her 3 cubs were wandering around the trail near the lake. The next day they took over the trail stranding several hundred tourists and rangers for several hours before moving away to allow passage. This resulted in closure of the trail for a few days to prevent any unfortunate encounters. When we finished the hike at the Swiftcurrent Inn, we joined a group of tourists watching another sow grizzly and her two cubs on the side of Grinnell Point. On the return trip to camp, we spotted a cow moose and her calf standing in Swiftcurrent creek below Lake Sherburne. The camp show featured a seasonal ranger who played guitar and sang some poems written about the area that he adapted to song.
Moose in Swiftcurrent creek
We decided to move our tent site to the west side of the park at Sprague Creek campground. This campground is located on Lake McDonald, just a mile southwest of the lodge. Lake McDonald is the longest and deepest lake in the park, carved 472 feet deep in places and 10 miles long by glaciers. On the drive over, we encountered a 2 year old black bear that decided to cross the highway right in front of us as we slowed down to watch it amble across.
Bighorn rams at Logan Pass
It was a great opportunity to see a healthy bear up close. We arrived at the campground to find an apparently available site overlooking the lake, but the prior camper still had his tent up. After much discussion with other campsite seekers and the camp hosts, we claimed a backup site with the understanding that we would get #10 if the camper removed his tent and moved on.
Camp 2 at Sprague creek
They expect you to depart by 11 am, but if you have a tent up they will extend the time to about 2 pm at which time the camp host calls a ranger to come remove any unclaimed equipment remaining at the campsite.
Awaiting resolution of the campsite situation, we took the shuttle up to Avalanche Creek and hiked the 6 miles roundtrip up to Avalanche Lake and back by about 2 pm. When we returned to the campground, the camper had returned and taken his tent with him, so we set up our camp in our preferred campsite. It was right above Lake McDonald and even had a few huckleberry bushes which we harvested for about a cup of fresh hucks for our yogurt and pancakes in the morning. There was a nice set of steps down to the lake and we walked down and gathered a few pieces of driftwood for a campfire later in the week.
The ranger led discussion was about the glaciers that formed the parks features.
On Tuesday morning, we caught the first shuttle at about 7:30 to go to Logan Pass and hiked the 11.5 mile Highline trail. We considered going along with a ranger led group, but after a ¼ mile slow start and a complete stall on spotting a Pika beside the trail, we headed on at a pace more enjoyable to our desires.
We met another hiker, Laura, from Great Falls and the three of us enjoyed the hike together stopping at Granite Park Chalet for lunch about 12:40 pm and then hiking the last 4 miles down to the Loop where we caught a shuttle back to camp. As we were transferring to a connecting shuttle at Avalanche Creek, a strong thunderstorm hit complete with thunder, lightning and hail. It was finished by the time we reached camp. The ranger led talk was about Glacier…not just a pretty place.
Wednesday I awoke with the desire to return to my exploration for a good climbing route on the north side of Red Eagle Mountain from the trail around St Mary Lake. I caught the first shuttle to Logan Pass and transferred to the shuttle that heads east to St Mary. When we reached the trailhead for St Mary Falls, I headed down the trail and enjoyed the fact that there were few hikers at this early point in the day. Perhaps a mile into the hike, I noticed some bushes shaking beside the trail and as I arrived there spotted another young black bear busily grubbing for some treats in the woods. I called out to it, but was totally ignored as it continued its efforts to find something good to eat.
After passing Virginia Falls, I once again headed east on the trail around the lake. It was a little unsettling to pass 4 large piles of fresh bear skat along the trail where none had been just four days before. The size of the skat indicated a large bear(s) was recently active in the area as well as signs of digging beside the trail and I tried to raise my normal level of alertness.
After arriving at the location that I had scouted as a likely route, I climbed up from the trail and found that it was indeed a viable route, although steep, and loose scree was difficult to climb in places. Having climbed high enough to see that the top of the ridge was not going to be a problem to reach, I headed back due to time constraints imposed by the shuttle schedule and road work delays between me and camp. My return hike was about 2 hours back to the highway.
I was passing through some high brush that obscured the trail about 1/3 mile before reaching Virginia Falls where I would be joining the normal tourists on a much better trail. Without warning, an adult black bear jumped up 5 feet in front of me and dived off the trail. We were about to run into each other as it was coming under the brush toward me apparently. Since I didn’t notice any movement of the bushes, I suspect the bear may have sensed me first and stopped movement. As I plunged forward, it decided to flee rather than fight which I appreciated. The ranger talk was about mountain lions.
We left camp and drove to Coram, MT about 7 am to have breakfast with the Thursday Over the Hill Gang at the Glacier Café. It was nice to see many of my former hiking buddies and Vern Ingraham and I made plans for an ambitious climb of the SW summit of Mt Cannon
which we had climbed once before in 1998. Pat headed back to the campground and shuttled to Logan Pass where she hiked to the overlook. Most of the hike was on snow due to the high accumulations last winter.
For Jim and Vern, it was a tough outing climbing from McDonald creek for over 5,000’ vertical gain with challenging brush in spots and cliffs to climb. The climb started out fine, but we encountered some severe challenges higher up and after we started back, it began raining and the rock became extremely slick. It was all we could handle to find our way back down safely before dark and we were both thankful for safely completing the outing after nearly 11 hours of effort and excitement. Pat was mad at us for arriving late (after 8 pm) and worrying her, but glad we had survived mainly intact. Both Vern and I were ready to get cleaned up and relax after a trying afternoon.
Hike to overlook
Pat prepared to drive to Whitefish for the weekend while I decided to spend the last 3 nights in our primo campsite. After yesterdays climb, I was looking forward to a relaxed day and headed for the shuttle after Pat took off. She met with her friend Beth and they had lunch in a new place in Whitefish, Le Bistro.
Pat and Beth
I rode all the way to the St Mary boat dock where I talked with an employee about possible rides across the lake for climbers and took a few more pictures of Red Eagle Mountain. Then I rode back to camp and went for a long swim in Lake McDonald which was a pleasant, cool temperature before supper. Pat played a round of golf with Terry, Lee and John at the Whitefish Lake Golf course managing to get a round of cheers for her one birdie.
On Saturday morning, I headed up the Sperry trail on my way to the Mt Brown lookout and beyond.
Mt Brown Lookout
It was cool and quiet as I trucked up the steep trail and dozens of switchbacks. No one was there when I arrived and I took a few minutes to sign the register before setting off to climb to the summit about a mile and 1,500’ added elevation gain beyond the lookout tower. The weather was perfect and I was glad to be experiencing the enjoyable conditions I fondly remember from my numerous outings in Glacier in the past. The terrain was user friendly and I found some game trails that made it even better. When I reached the 5 or 6 large bumps near the summit, the rock was dry and solid making for excellent climbing.
The views were enjoyable as I reached the first Glacier summit I had climbed back in 1990.
I found some nice huckleberries on the way up to the lookout in the morning around 5,100’ elevation and picked a few.
On the way back, there were more nice ones at about the same elevation and I stopped and added to my pile ending up with about a quart of ripe berries.
Pat slept in at Terry’s until almost 10 am. Then she and Terry shopped at The Sportsman and the Army/Navy store. They met John, Rockett and Alice for dinner at the Back Room in Columbia Falls.
After ribs and wine, Pat and Terry headed for Kalispell to pick up Lee’s son, Paul, who spent the night at Terry’s house..
After breakfast, I once again headed to the shuttle stop to ride over to the east side and hike the Sieyh Pass trail. The first shuttle passed without stopping, but I got lucky hitching a ride up to the pass with some hikers who were heading to do Floral Park. I warned them that it would be a snowy experience this year where the heavy snows were still lingering. On the bus continuing east, I decided at the last minute to start at Sieyh Bend and took off hiking after stopping by a ranger led group that was going to Piegan Pass where a grizzly attack occurred a week earlier.
On the way to Preston Park, several hikers were stopped beside the trail and pointed out a cow elk grazing close by.
After a couple of pictures, I headed up to the pass and upon starting down the other side I ran into Bud Izler, an old climbing acquaintance.
We hiked down to Sunrift Gorge together and visited about many Montana climbers we know in common.
Pat, Terry, Lee and Paul hiked partway up Big Mountain in the morning.
Pat and Terry on Big Mountain
After a snack lunch, Pat and Terry went out on Whitefish Lake on air mattresses and then she was invited to join Terry and her family for a fancy celebration of Terry’s birthday complete with multiple hors d’oeuvres, steak, wild salmon, and adult beverages. After supper, she headed back to the park to spend our last night together at the campsite.
We got up at dawn and broke camp loaded the car and headed back to Coram to enjoy their “hikers breakfast” which is an egg made to suit, a slice of meat and a foot wide pancake with huckleberry sauce. Then we drove down the Swan highway to I90 and I15 and to Idaho Falls where we checked in early and relaxed before enjoying the endless pasta menu with all the breadsticks and soup or salad you desire at Olive Garden. We retired early and hit the road shortly after 6 am for the final 650 miles of our journey. To add a bit of excitement to the final drive the check engine light came on, but oil and temperatures remained normal and there were no symptoms of any immediate problems.