Cataract Peak Eclipse, August, 20-21, 2017: Tough Climb Challenges Gals, But All Make Top for Chilly, Windy Eclipse Viewing
The GiG has had quite a year: The Chinese Wall, Crypt Lake and now Cataract Peak for the eclipse. Wow.
We decided to make Cataract an overnight. The only place that we could find rooms was in East Glacier, so we made reservations with Katie’s friend Terry Sherburne at the Mountain Pine motel. We left Great Falls at 11 a.m. on Sunday to give us a leisurely start but also provide a little time for a small hike in Two Med before the big day on Monday of the eclipse and our mountain climb.
We arrived at Two Medicine Lake around 2 p.m. and hiked to Aster Falls and then Paradise Point, stopping at the pond both coming and going to view a mama moose. On the way in, she was resting by a tree and then on the way back, she was eating in the pond. We did not see her baby but others had seen the young one before. We figured she had her little one stashed in the willows surrounding the lake. We also enjoyed observing the trees down by –and almost downed by—beavers along with their lodge.
The flowers were mostly dried up, due to no rain since June, but a few showy asters and harebells brightened our path with a splash of purple along with a few yellow groundsel.
After our hike, we headed into East Glacier to queue up at Serrano’s. While a few held our place in line (we were first and got there at 4:35), the others shopped at the Mercantile and the Little Brown Pottery house. The gals bought huckleberry and lupine earrings, unique.
After our dinner, we checked in and got all our gear prepared for an early start the next day.
On Monday morning, we got on the road just before 6 a.m. with the sun just starting to give us some daylight. We had to watch for free-range black angus on the way in addition to wildlife. We stopped at St. Mary Lodge to leave some eclipse glasses at the desk for the Canadian gals to pick up on their way as they would be meeting us at Piegan pass, but not before we climbed the peak. We wanted to make sure they had glasses for viewing the eclipse.
We got on trail at Siyeh Bend at 7:30 a.m. under smoky skies that cast an eerie, but pretty red, light on the lake and surrounding mountains as we drove the Going to the Sun highway.
And we booked it to Piegan pass, with only three parties passing us on the way. One bad thing: Sue Michels didn’t have her expensive ($280) down jacket secured to her lumbar pack. While she was looking for items in her pack, it went tumbling 50 feet down the side of the mountain. We knew we didn’t have time to retrieve it, if anyone dared do so, so we marked the spot to assess the dangers on the way back. And Catherine lost the cover to her bite-valve on her water bladder.
We arrived at the pass in 2.5 hours, took a a quick 10-minute break looking over the pass into the Many Glacier valley and snapped some pictures of ourselves in front of the back side of the Garden Wall before starting our ascent. Another party also decided to climb Cataract, which disappointed Katie a bit as she had thought no one else would think to climb this mountain. However, the other party turned out to be a blessing as one of the men guided us to what he called a “full frontal attack,” which proved to be a better way than what Katie usually does. This is quite a challenging climb as it passes through the Diorite Sill, an igneous intrusion in the Siyeh limestone. The talus is quite large with may loose boulders to navigate and rough rock that can cuts and scrapes hands.
Maddie and Catherine looked like they may give up several times due to the rough rocks, but they kept going, so we all made it to the top!
It took us exactly an hour to climb the peak, as we arrived at just after 11 a.m., stopping a few times to pull out the eclipse glasses to view the start of moon covering the sun since it started at 10:35. At the top, Anita realized she had lost her bear spray from the holster somewhere during the climb, making it three items lost so far on this trip. We all sat down (some lay down) and settled in for some eclipse viewing.
On the top, it was windy; and as we approached the height of the 89.9 percent eclipse that we would see, the temperature dropped noticeably. At its height, the sun cast an eerie greenish-colored light with odd shadows, and the wind picked up.
Several of us put on two or more layers. We were grateful that we already had gloves on from the climbing.
In fact, it was so cold, we decided to head back down before the entire eclipse was over but not before having our picture taken by the other party. And we asked them to keep their eyes open for Anita’s bear spray on their descent. On a side note, the other party was using double garbage-bag plastic for viewing the eclipse. We didn’t think this too safe.
It took us a while to navigate the boulders on the way down, so we were very happy to reach the grassy vegetation on stable ground once again. We were also happy to see our Canadian friends waiting for us at the pass. And we were happy that the other party found Anita’s bear spray. We said a quick “hi,” and “goodbye,” to our friends as they headed back down to find out what happened to the rest of their party. They think they accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up at Siyeh instead of Piegan Pass. Unfortunately, they hadn’t given each gal her own glasses, so the “lost gals” didn’t get to view the eclipse.
We took some photos of us pointing to our peak and then found the spot where Sue lost her jacket. It took us a while to locate it and were afraid someone else had retrieved it but then we did see it. Mary S volunteered to climb over the steep side and get the jacket. We all told her not to risk it if she thought the angle too steep, but she was able to get the jacket in its stuff sack and climb back up with the strap over her wrist.
We never did find Catherine’s bite-valve cover, but we felt good to retrieve two out of three lost items.
We arrived back at the cars by 3:30 p.m., a half hour before our anticipated time. We drove to St. Mary lodge for a break, some sodas and coffee as well as for Katie to leave a nice note and tip for Alfred, the desk attendant who had given the package of eclipse glasses to the Canadians. Unfortunately, he had just left for the day so sh couldn’t do it in person.
Being Monday, many small restaurants were closed, but Buffalo Joe’s was open, so we headed back via Dupuyer and Choteau. Our meal was good, finshed off with “Piegan” pie (really “pecan”); the drive back was fun as we were still high from the exciting day we just had.
We got back into Great Falls around 8:15 p.m.
Who went: Sue, Mary S, Mary N, Catherine, Maddie, Anita, Katie
Waterton Weekend: Crypt, Bertha Lakes, Aug. 11-13, 2017: Most Giggers Say They Won't Do Crypt-Lake's Challenging Obstacles Ever Again, so They Bought the T-Shirt
The Bob and Chinese Wall, July 22-July28, 2017: Six-Day Trip to Prairie Reef, Chinese Wall and Many Adventures
Bullhead Lake, July 19, 2017: Iceberg Trail Closure Prompts Gals to Change to Bullhead Lake
Snyder Lake, July 16, 2017: Red Flag Day Doesn't Deter Gals as They Hike to Lake
Two Med Lake and Upper Two Med, July 11, 2017: Bear Grass is Bear Grass as Photos Slow Gals
Deadwood and Florence Falls, July 2, 2017: Fantastic Falls Dominates Water Features; Rare Flowers Fascinate
Cracker Lake, June 22, 2017: Fun Day with Canadian Friends at Amazingly Aqua Cracker Lake
Willow Creek Falls, June 20, 2017: Flowers Dot the Day of Views and Lost Poles
Gold Butte, June 9, 2017: A Butte of a Day with our Canadian Friends
Even though we were warned of gumbo roads from the rain the night before, we braved the two-track to get to the Gold Butte trailhead. Fourteen of us met in Sunburst for this somewhat crazy ride, filled with gate crossings and ruts (six from Great Falls GiG and eight from the Canadian hikers group). Our backup plan was West Butte, but we were able to drive the roads--the howling wind dried them quickly.
Thank goodness the day wasn’t too hot as this hike is a steep climb (about 2500 feet of gain over 2.4 miles), but we did wish for a bit less wind as the gusts made a few lose their balance on the rocks a few times.
The meadows on the way up were filled with wildflowers: golden pea, prairie smoke, lupine, prairie rose, sulfur buckwheat, stone seed (gromwell), with some chickweed, spring beauties and a few shooting stars hanging in there.
On the way up, we left two of our gals huddled against the wind as they didn’t quite have their summer legs on yet. We promised not to forget them on the way down.
Once we left the steep grade and uneven clumps of the meadow grass, we were happy to get on the rocky talus game trails that were switch backed and at a more reasonable angle. The wind did howl around the butte, however, making this stretch a bit treacherous. A few gals stumbled when they caught gusts but the only mishap was a bloody arm. Several questioned if we should continue due to the wind. The leaders forced us on—saying we had come this far, we need to tag the top and sign the register, even if the wind is too bad to linger long.
At the top, the wind miraculously died down, making for a wonderful late lunch with 360-degree hazy views; we could the Rocky Mountain Front, Badger Two-Medicine, Glacier—barely, as well as Writing on Stone Provincial Park. Twelve gals summited. Along the way and at the top were American Indian prayer flags and a medicine bundle as this is a holy site for Montanan and Canadian tribes. We signed the register and took group shots before deciding to say goodbye to such a special place.
The way down was precarious at times as we picked our way down the rocky slope. This time, it was the grass that was a welcome reprieve from the loose stones that threatened to throw us off our feet. But we all made it down safely; and we managed to find our two comrades, patiently awaiting our return. (one small mishap: Sue scraped her arm when she fell on the rocks).
Before jumping in the cars, most of us wandered to Miss Jessie Rowe's grave that is along on the hillside (actually, there are five other unmarked graves). She--and the others--were left behind when the graveyard was moved to the Gold Butte cemetary due to an underground spring disturbing the graves. Read more here. And her grave posting on findagrave.com
We drove the quarter mile up the road to see the old mine and almost slipped into some deep ruts created by a truck going through the road when it was gumbo. Kuntzie did an excellent job negotiating the ditches before we turned around and headed into Sunburst, saying goodbye to our Canadian friends and then heading to Shelby for dinner.
Thanks to our cell phones, we found a nice restaurant in Shelby to rest our feet and have some much-needed food after our strenuous hike. We raced to get into the restaurant—and use the bathroom—before we realized that no one had let Ellie out of the way back seat. We joked that we had “left the baby in the car.”
We shared many other laughs over our dinner. The meal was quite nice—many ordered the prime rib—however, the service was so slow, due to only one waitress on a Friday night. We felt sorry for her, but it took us two hours and 20 minutes to eat and pay our bill. We finally got up and went to the bar to pay. This made us get into town at 9:30 p.m., way later than expected.
Who went: Cathy "Kuntzie." Katie, Anita, Ellie, Bonnie, Sue
Flesher Pass and Sculpture Garden, May 31, 2017: Orientation Hike Provided View, Flowers,Art
Sluiceboxes to Tunnel, May 23, 2017: Flowers, Rushing Water, Sunset Highlight Evening Trek to Sluiceboxes
North Fork Highwoods, May 20 and 21, 2017: North Fork Greenery and Flowers Times Two
Mount Helena, April 22, 2017: Climbing Mount Helena and Shopping Out of Town
Cathy Kuntz led a group of four gals up Mount Helena: Christi Kenter, Jean Jones and Anita Gazzero, followed by lunch at Karmadillo's and then some shopping at Macy's and the walking mall on Last Chance Gulch. This is an excellent beginning season hike to test your legs. Enjoy Christi's photos below.
York Hike, April 13, 2017: Rare Rose, Kelseya, Blooms along Limestone Cliffs Fascinate Gals
Seven gals made a four-mile up and back hike along Trout Creek to view the rare rose, Kelseya, that only blooms in Montana and select places in Wyoming and Idaho. The flower clings in mats to limestone cliffs and can be seen in the Big Belts and the Gates of the Mountains area as well as the Beartooth highway.
Read more here
The gals found the flowers by a picnic table, and after a short bushwhack, they observed some patches in bloom, while others were not. After observing the flowers and enjoying the limestone canyon and cliffs along Trout Creek, the gals stopped at the York Bar for burgers.
Who went: Bonnie, Cathy, Sue, Jo Ann, Anita, Gail, Carol
Wagner Basin, April 8, 2017: Bluebird Day Brings Wind, Views, Ticks; Night of Grizzlies Revisited
Essex, West Glacier March 11-13, 2017: Dangers Lurk as Gals Head to Izaak Walton on Icy Roads, Climb Trains at Marias Pass
The GiG’s adventure to Essex and Glacier began and ended with dangerous situations, from icy roads to climbing over and under trains.
It all started on Saturday morning with a hairy drive. The roads, thankfully, were good until Browning, but that’s when the fun began. With cold and mixed precipitation predicted all weekends, we caught the worst of the driving between the Two-Medicine Bridge in East Glacier until Marias Pass, about 40 miles. A big thanks to our drivers Kathy M and Bonnie J. In Browning, the temps read three degrees. At Marias Pass on the west side of the mountains, it was 26.
At this point, the snow and black-ice-covered roads turned to slush. But since the ice was gone, we stuck to our original plan to drive into West Glacier for the day for a hike along McDonald Creek. The weather held with a few hints of blue sky and absolutely no wind as we crossed two bridges and marveled at the ice formations along the river on our 4.5-mile hike.
We stopped for pictures at McDonald Creek Falls and Sacred Dancing Waters as we got a good look at why so many people have slipped off the rocks to their deaths in this beautiful spot, some never to be found as their bodies got deposited into the very deep Lake McDonald. Read more in the book Death in Glacier National Park: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness.
Then we took off our yaktrax and headed back to Essex for an early supper and check in at the Izaak Walton Inn, an old historic railroad lodge built in 1939 as a bunkhouse for railyard workers. Read more here. After dinner, a few hit the hot tub, and then five of the gals headed out for a moonlit (and headlamp-lit) walk along the Starlit Trail, which snakes around the cabins and cabooses across the railroad overpass.
The next morning it was up for a yummy breakfast at the lodge restaurant and then, despite the rain, we hit the trails. We were in two separate groups with one following the Pileated Trail, while others taking the entire outside loop of Essex Creek to Towering Pines to Pileated, going to the bridge and waterfall. We had “hikers” lunches, so we ate in the downstairs lounge and enjoyed a respite from the wet. Normally, we would have been eating on the trail, but with the rain, no one wanted to stay out for all day.
Then after lunch, Gail and Sue took another snowshoe hike, some stayed at the lodge, but Kathy, Katie, Roni and Deb tried out skiing, Roni and Deb for the first time. We followed the Essex Creek Road, gaining about 600 feet and connected with the Towering Pines to view the bridge and waterfall, for some a second time. The newbies couldn’t believe how quickly we covered ground on skis as compared to snowshoes.
After this damp day, with slushy snow and rain, we had to dry out our clothes and take warm showers. Dinner at the Izaak Walton was very good again, with several praising the bacon-wrapped filet mignon, the golden beet salad and the beef bourguignon. And as an added bonus, the toy train that runs around the restaurant on a high ledge has been fixed, so the waiter kindly turned it on so we could enjoy it for awhile, even though it is a bit noisy.
Then Cathy and Kathy organized a game night, with Bonnie providing the game: Apples to Apples. Lots of laughs highlighted this game of cards, but no one lost quarters tonight except to the jukebox that mostly had songs that no one had heard of.
The next day we had to say goodbye to the Izaak Walton after a Katie, Roni, Deb, Bonnie and Maria took one last ski. We made a donation to the Glacier Conservancy and headed to Marias Pass for a short two-mile hike to Three Bear Lake. We knew we were on the east side of the mountains again as the temperature dropped a bit and the wind was howling. Although the hike is short, we had to break trail the whole way as only skiers had been on the trail. At the lake, we saw our first pussy willows of the year. They were just starting to bud. Then when we returned, we found a train blocking our way. It was waiting for another train to pass but had its engine off. We figured the other train was going to be awhile since it was stopped completely. So we threw caution to the wind, threw our snowshoes and poles under the train and climbed over or under being careful that another train wasn’t coming on the other tracks. Whew! We all made it, but we encountered the other train coming as we left, which was a bit scary.
With our dangerous parts of the trip behind us, we then ended our trip in East Glacier for a bite to eat at the Two-Med Grill. We saw Laurie and talked to her about her PCT trip and what she has planned for this summer. When we left, Bonnie’s car decided to travel though Choteau to enjoy the views of the Rocky Mountain Front and possibly see the snow geese at Freezeout Lake. We saw a few geese in the ponds, but the lake was still frozen over.
We arrived home around four. What a trip!
Jefferson Creek, Jan. 11, 2017: Nice Day for First Snowshoe along Jefferson Creek
Seeley in the Snow, Jan. 27-29, 2017: We Made it to Morrell Falls Frozen Water Formations
Mary did it! She pulled it off! With help of her husband Mark who got the sleds up and running and guided us to the trail, she arranged everything perfectly--even the weather cooperated-- for us to finally get to Morrell Falls to see the aqua crystals formed over this impressive cascade.
It all started on Friday with four gals heading from Great Falls and one from Helena to meet Mary at her cabin in Seeley Lake around 11:30 a.m. After eating lunch, Mary led us on a wonderful three-mile hike by the Ranger station, which wanders the north shore of Seeley. The lake was frozen with the red willows rising from the icy shores. After our hike, we headed to the cabin for snacks and drinks while Anita and Sue cooked a wonderful taco dinner with all of the trimmings. Everyone was too tired for games, so we went to bed early in anticipation of our big hike the next day.
The next morning it was up early for our main event: Morrell Falls. We awoke to a very frosty two degrees, so we dressed in extra layers. Luckily, the predictions said the weather would warm to 20 degrees. Katie and Jaye cooked a pancake breakfast with embedded eggs and berry compote. Mark, Mary’s husband, arrived from Missoula to start the snowmobiles and guide us to the road leading to the trailhead. Gail, Jaye and Mary were our fearless drivers. Susan was going to be a driver, but she broke her ankle and couldn’t attend; luckily, Gail was game and said she would give it a go. We were hoping Syd from Condon could join us, but she wasn’t able to either.
The ride took about 45 minutes and included crossing the highway. The drivers discovered that the sleds did not turn on pavement so were a bit worried about making all of the way across before traffic came. They had to take a diagonal path to make it. The ride to the trailhead was splendid with the sun coming out and shining on the Swan range, particularly highlighting Pyramid Peak.
When we arrived at the trailhead, a bit cold from the ride, we encountered two others also hoping to snowshoe to the falls. However, they rented snowmobiles and didn’t have time to complete the hike before the sleds were due back. While we were gearing up, Jaye’s pole broke; the day before, one of her snowshoe straps had split, but a little duct tape can fix most anything. Then, after about a half hour of slogging around looking for the trailhead, we finally found the right path and got on trial.
It took us about two and a half hours to reach the falls, and boy, were they worth it: cascades of aqua ice, gleaming in the sun with the water breaking through here and there. The snow in the Morrell Creek formed ice mounds reflecting in the clear water. Since it took us a bit longer than expected to reach the falls, we only stopped for about 15-20 minutes to eat a quick lunch and head back out.
On the way back, we really marveled at the footbridge as we saw that snowmobiles had gone over it, despite its narrow width and large holes in the sides of the snow covering. It seemed a bit iffy to cross on foot, let alone on a sled.
We also saw some strange tracks in the snow that looked like a snowmobile but without the runners. We wondered what had made the track. Speaking of tracks, we saw many from small critters and large alike (elk, deer, squirrels, rabbits, possibly moose).
We arrived back at the sleds right at 3 p.m., the appointed meeting time with Mary’s husband who came back to help us start the two sleds that had pull-cord starters. We were very grateful that he did as we may not have had the arm-strength to get them going.
It was around 4 p.m. when we pulled back into Mary’s driveway, tired and hungry, so we got out the snacks and leftovers and some wine to hold us over until our big dinner at the Double Arrow. We messaged Syd, who said she would be able to come to dinner, a nice surprise that we would be able to catch up with her after all. After a nice meal, we headed back home and did play some games, all of them dice games, courtesy of our planner extraordinaire Mary! We were all grateful Susan didn’t make it as some others had a chance to take home some quarters this time: Sue, Katie and Mary all won a round.
The next day, we had a nice breakfast bake, cooked by Gail, along with pineapple with leftover berries and donut holes. Then it was clean up and packing time. Since we all had so much gear and overnight items plus one more person for the ride back, Mary volunteered to take some of our “stuff” in her car. That left us to pile just our snowshoeing equipment and backpacks into Sue’s. Our day would include a stop in Lincoln to tour Sculpture in the Wild, a sculpture garden created by internationally known artists and a three-mile hike along Flesher Pass.
In Lincoln we met the three gals coming from Great Falls at 11 a.m. at the gas station, only to find that the gas pumps were all out of order due to a computer malfunction, and Sue needed gas. We assured her she could get to Simms, since there were pumps there.
We really enjoyed the sculptures (Read more about them here), followed by lunch at Lambkins (we first tried Three Maries, but despite a bit “open” sign on it and hours listed as 10:30-3:30, the place was closed). The sweet-potato tater tots were delish! Gail filled us in on the origin of the place along with the man who started it all. Then off to Flesher for what seemed like a spring day, with temps in the 40s and granular April-like snow.
We arrived home around 5 p.m., tired but happy for a fun weekend with the gals. Mary really did it!
Who went: (stayed over) Mary, Sue, Anita, Jaye, Gail, Katie; (Flesher pass/Sculpture) Bonnie, Brenda, June
Official site of Sculpture in the Wild
Mary's Coconut Cake Recipe
While you are mixing the cake, toast (325') the remaining ½ c or so of coconut...be careful, it will burn very easily. Check every 3-5 min and move around in pan. This is important; otherwise you will be making another trip to the market.
Grease two 9" cake pans; line bottom with parchment paper and grease again. Dust with flour. Bake according to box directions, checking to make sure you don't over bake; set
time for at least 10 min less. Cake should begin to pull away from edges.
Cool in pans 10-15 min; then turn out and let cool completely. I cover at this point with a light cloth, to keep moist.
Drizzle: 1/2 c culinary coconut milk and 2 Tbl. powdered sugar; mix and set aside.
of crumb, go slow, distribute evenly. I try to end up with a top layer .... on top!
Press remaining toasted coconut into icing and pat it to make it stay. It helps to set it on a cookie sheet during this process; it's messy. Refrigerate cake.
Jefferson Creek, Jan. 18, 2017: Glorious, Glittery Hike along Jefferson Creek with Snow Rolls
Finally! Finally! We had a nice weather: it wasn't below zero, nor cloudy. The sun was shining (but the wind tossed the car a bit) as we headed out of Great Falls for a quick four-mile snowshoe along Jefferson Creek. The roads weren't even very bad except the last two miles or so out of Neihart.
We noticed that the trail was well used, despite the weather we had had the last few weeks, with both snowshoe and ski tracks. We did run into one skier along the way. Unfortunately, there is no designated trail for dual use, so the snowshoe tracks obliterated the ski grooves. We thought a sign pointing out for snowshoers to stay to one side while skiers to the other would help educate recreators not to snowshoe on the ski tracks.
On our mostly flat, fairly easy snowshoe, we took many stops to take pictures of the wonderful ice formations in the creek and to analyze all of the wildlife tracks too (and some dog tracks). We saw mouse, chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit, elk, deer, maybe moose, various birds and some little critter tracks we didn't recognize. The easy grade helped Camille, who had recent knee surgery and Doris, who had been traveling for many weeks and was just coming from flat elevation.
But what caught our attention most was the "snow rollers," which looked like giant icy cinnamon rolls.
After our hike, we had lunch at Bob's bar in Neihart. When we returned home the wind was howling just like when we left and the temperatures about 10 degrees colder than in Neihart. We were sure glad we decided to get out to enjoy a nice day outdoors. We were amazed that we got back to Great Falls so soon, before 3 p.m.
Who went: Randi, Doris, Camille, Katie