Two Groups Tackle Ten Miles, Views, Bears, Sheep, Shuttles
Sue's Group: Some Riding, Some Hiking, Fighting Heat and Smoke
Deb's Group: Stormy Days Challenge Gals
Beth and Suzie's Group
With all of our gear and much anticipation, we left Great Falls Tuesday afternoon, August 17th, and we headed to our evening stop: Suzie’s cabin at Lake Five. The western sky was dark, with rain expected. We hit that at Valier, and by Browning it was raining hard. It looked as if Glacier was getting rain, but we were out of it after we crossed the divide. Mick and Suzie had prepared a delicious dinner; George, their dog, was glad to have lots of extra attention. There was a little extra excitement as Beth discovered her bladder had a leak. No worries. Mick used his creative talents and some supplies and repaired it, leaving it to sit and dry until morning. After a time of good food and conversation, we headed to bed, knowing that 4:30 would come quickly.
There was bustling around, grabbing a mug of coffee, and loading our packs and poles into Mick and Suzie’s vehicle. Thanks to Mick for making us coffee and for the fine repair job on Beth’s bladder. It held!! Now George was quite excited as he thought he’d get to go along. Mick arranged our packs in the back, and sure enough, there was room for George! With Beth at the wheel, we followed Mick as far as Lake McDonald where we left Beth’s vehicle for when we returned. With all four of us now in Taleff’s vehicle along with our chauffeur, Mick, we headed on up Going to the Sun road. George poked his head between Beth and Carol most of the way to the trailhead. They thought it was because George liked the loving and attention he was getting, but we were reminded that it was likely because George was a bit bent out of shape that we were sitting in his space! We arrived at the Jackson Glacier trailhead about 6:30, and readied ourselves to set out on the trail. We said goodbye to Mick and extended our appreciation for his kindness and help. George just looked with longing eyes, and then disappointed eyes when he realized he wasn’t going to get to go.
Off we were. After the rain the previous day, the foliage was wet, so we were glad we were wearing our rain pants. The forest smells were fresh and inviting. No smoke, but we did have low lying clouds for the first part of the hike. As the morning progressed, clouds moved in and out, lifted and then settled back some. All of this enhanced our views with such variety. There were many photo opportunities along the way, and the cooler temperatures were very welcome! Several hikers came towards us, and they reported it had been very rainy and cool the previous day. We were grateful that we didn’t have any rain this day. A single hiker passed us; we caught up with him at Gunsight Lake, which was as far as he was going. He asked where we were headed. When it was reported we were going to the Chalet, he asked how you get reservations there. He and his son had tried, and were very disappointed to be somewhere “around #13,000 on the list”, and then he clarified that was somewhat of an exaggeration. He was from someplace south, maybe Tennessee. We were concerned that he was hiking alone as we had many signs of the presence of bears.
We headed on to Gunsight Pass, frequently commenting on the beauty, the cool temperatures, the waterfalls coming down yonder mountainsides, (We believe there were more than 21!) and the lack of wind. At the pass, it was windy and cold. The hut was occupied by other hikers, so we hunkered on the non-windy side and ate a quick lunch. Then it was down the trail to the beautiful Lake Ellen Wilson, and again there was no wind. There were many moments of sunshine as the clouds moved in the distance, sometimes hanging on those mountain peaks. There were frequent notations on the beauty and appreciation of the geology! It’s helpful to have a science teacher along to explain some things to us. Thanks, Beth! The wildlife to this point: marmots, chipmunks, pikas, and ground squirrels - but no bears (only lots of scat and bear scents).
On up we went from the lake for our second big climb of the hike. The rocks became even more of a part of our discussion as we passed through boulder fields. We were making good time, and we checked off the miles with Amber being our recorder/reporter. At the pass, we saw our first distant view of Sperry Chalet! It was a first time for Amber and Carol; Beth and Suzie had been there previously. Then it was down to the Chalet with a very interesting lesson from Beth on the classifications of pebbles, cobbles, and boulders as we passed through some amazing boulders. Arrival at the Chalet allowed us time to check in, get out of our wet boots and socks, and settle in a bit prior to our 5:30 dinner seating.
After our dinner, the other GIG group who had hiked in the previous day arrived for their dinner seating. Hearing about their hiking in the wind, rain, and cold, we were grateful for what a perfect hiking experience we had had that day. After a long day, we all settled in quite early that evening.
We awoke to clouds the next morning. After a hearty breakfast, we prepared for hiking up to Sperry Glacier, but we weren’t in a big hurry as we anticipated the clouds would soon lift. As we waited, the pack train arrived, so we watched them do their unloading and loading. We were able to pet a horse and visit briefly with the pack workers as they did their thing. We remarked how much we appreciated their work - both human and animals.
Then we were off on our day’s hike. The clouds did lift as we proceeded. Views were amazing all day long. It was fascinating as we got up higher to see mountain peaks above the clouds. It was a perfect day with cool temperatures, much sunshine, and no rain. That morning, a gal named Stacy asked if we were going up to the Glacier as the people she had come up with weren’t going to hike that day, so she joined us. This allowed for some great photos with all 4 of us in them. At the top, were scampered and maneuvered our way over the open rock areas and around snow fields. Just an amazing experience with amazing views!! It is disappointing to know that we walked where the glacier used to be and is no more. As we calculated our time and the need to get back in time for dinner. Glorious views were offered all of the way back to the Chalet. This was the day of the goats!! All day long we encountered goats: on the trail, in the distance, up above us, and one even beat us up to the top when we went up the stairs in the crevice to get to the top! We were worried that he was going to follow us right up those stairs. Beth and Amber stayed up on top a little longer than the others of us so Beth could take more goat pictures and videos. They also reported seeing a couple of pairs of pikas.
At about 4:10, we encountered a hiker headed up who wanted to know if he was about to the top. He wasn’t, and 3 people who were in his party lagged behind him. We didn’t think they looked very prepared to go on up and then back out to Lake McDonald yet that day! It started to sprinkle as we returned to the Chalet just in time for dinner. By 6:00, it was raining. Of course, we wondered about the unprepared hikers (and not very wise). For certain, they would have been soaked and cold by the time they arrived at Lake McDonald at whatever hour that may have been.
After only about 11 miles that day and with a break in the rain, we sat on our deck (We had adjoining rooms.) to let our prime rib dinner settle as we visited, shared stories, and laughed a lot. It was a perfect day!
The next morning, we arose to rain and clouds. After breakfast, we packed and got on all of our rain gear. Another of our group of GIG gals had arrived the previous night, so we posed for photos outside the dining hall. Then, we were on our way down, hiking in the rain for about the first half of the trip. Clouds cleared, the sun shone, and we had glimpses of Lake McDonald ahead. After changing from our boots and into more comfortable clothes, we shopped in Apgar for a bit, and had something to eat at Eddie’s Cafe there. We would recommend the huckleberry cobbler and the huckleberry peach pie.
We enjoyed more conversation on our return trip to Great Falls with a brief stop in Valier. Suzie’s house was our first stop. Again, we loved on George, who was very glad to see Suzie, and we again thanked Mick for all of his support in making our trip possible. Off to Amber’s house, where we discovered that a critter had visited the bags of snack chips which had been left in the car when it was parked at Lake McDonald. We assume it was a mouse.
All in all, what a grand time for Beth, Amber, Suzie, and Carol!
Magenta Fireweed Appropriately Colors the Day on Firebrand Pass
Gals Go On Overnight to Crescent, Heart and Glacier Lakes in Smoke
Despite unhealthy air with view-busting smoke and extreme heat, four gals tried to pick a spot for a backpack that wasn't in the direct line of wind draw. We knew that with the Hole in the Wall 6-day trip was looming and that we need to schedule a shorter backpack to see how we handled the extra poundage. Plus, one of our gals had never backpacked before.
So, Katie studied the smoke patterns, which seemed to indicate the more northern places weren't as smoky, so we picked the Mission Mountain Wilderness, a place most had never been.
We planned for short days of 5 miles or under, due to smoke and extreme heat and being unsure of our legs. So we got up early on Thursday--it was raining in Great Falls-- and hit the trail around 9:30 (no rain and already 70 degrees) with only two other cars in the lot.
Our hike started with a nice walk along Glacier Creek with a waterfall but also several creek crossings on sketchy log bridges. We thought we would face one fording as a Camille saw a sign at the trailhead saying once bridge had been "decommissioned." There wasn't a rope or sign at the bridge, so we crossed it anyway, avoiding getting our feet wet.
At our first junction, we decided to take the short 3/4 mile sidetrip into Glacier lake on the way in, thinking we might not have the legs for it on the way out. And we were glad we did. We met another couple, who were only going into Glacier Lake and back, but we continued on, backtracking to the trail split where the path leads uphill to Crescent and Heart Lake beyond.
We arrived at Crescent lake and spied an excellent camping spot and debated for five minutes if we should snag it and then just day hike into Heart lake, so we did, thinking the few spots at Heart might already be taken. We were glad we did as it was a perfect spot. We set up our tents and hung our food and toiletries (we had a hard time finding a decent branch to hang), with Amber doing the yeoman's work of hefting both bags on one rope! What strength she has.
While setting up camp, Katie saw something red partway hidden under a log. She thought it was a gas canister, but it turned out to be a 2.5 pound jar of Jif peanut butter. We guessed someone didn't want to carry the weight and abandoned it. It was a bit frightening to think we had peanut butter in bear country near us, so Katie decided to walk a quarter-mile down the trail and place it on the trail in case someone would carry it out. After placing it on the trail, she ran into two male hikers, who looked --and talked--like young military men. They agreed to carry the peanut butter! Such great guys, thank you, thank you! And they literally had to carry it in their hands as all they had on were hydration packs.
Peanut butter wasn't the only concern in camp. Huckleberry bushes covered the trail and surrounded the camping area, making us a bit nervous. However, we saw no sign of bears: no scat, not tracks. And no little critters either.
Then we hiked into Heart Lake, which was a bit of a climb with many rocky and rooty sections of trail as we climbed 200 feet up and over a ridge. Once we arrived, we were so thankful that we had set up at Crescent, since we would have had to cross the outlet to reach decent campsites. We walked through brush, Susan leading the way to a nice peninsula that jutted out into the lake for a nice resting spot to sit and enjoy the views. After a half hour of sitting and chatting, we headed back to Crescent to make dinner and have a nice evening.
On our way back, we met a family that asked if we needed a camping spot. She said she found "Shangri-la" out on a point that jutted out into the lake. We could see them from our spot, enjoying swimming and fly fishing, their dogs wading out and back too.
Ater we got back, we made dinner, with Susan and Amber using lake water. Katie and Camille were worried they didn't boil the water long enough to kill giardia, but we thought they would be okay. Recommendations for over 6,000 feet is 3-5 minutes for future reference.
We were surprised that the smoke really set in in the evening and the temperature didn't cool down. We discussed if we really should hike into Turquoise lake, our next day's plan. With the smoke and heat, we decided to cut our trip short and hike out. All of us had issues with the smoke, and the temperatures were supposed to rise even more. Plus, the camping spots at Turquoise lake weren't many. On a Friday, we were worried about getting there and having to turn around anyway.
It was hard to sleep it was so hot and it remained light out all night long too, possibly reflecting fires in the smoke. So no one slept very well. But it was fun, still and we didn't hear any critters in the night, which calmed us.
We got up, had breakfast and packed up camp. Susan was feeling pretty well for a first time backpacker.
We hit the trail around 8:30 and were glad we made our decision as so many people were coming in. We even saw people carrying inflatable kayaks and boats with paddles. Unfortunately, Camille had a small mishap as she slipped off one of the rickety log "bridges" across one of the streams, getting a bruise on her hip and her arm.
We finished at 10:30. The parking lot was full, and we had a very scary ride out, with people driving in the middle of the road and very fast as we tried to exist. Amber did an excellent job avoiding collisions on blind curves! A few were close calls.
We decided to go to Condon for one of the yummy deli sandwiches from the mercantile. They were yummy and the gal inside so fun. We asked her favorite sweet since she asked us whey were weren't getting dessert after a backpack!
We got home around 4 pm. What a fun trip with wonderful ladies.
Who went: Camille, Susan, Amber, Katie
Gals Try Riding Instead of Hiking: Glacier Gateway Trail Rides
Cool Canyon with Waterfall Beckons Gals on Hot Weather Streak
GiG Goes to Glacier's Two Med to Escape Extreme Heat
Perfect Day to Sit on a Mountain Before the Heat Wave Hits
In Pursuit of Limestone Columbine Turns No Luck into Nice Evening
Six Giggers headed out at 3 p.m. for an evening hike to find the rare limestone or Jones columbine that inhabits alpine rocky peaks. We had seen some before on the top of Kings Hill, they were blooming on other mountains, so hoped to see them again. Alas, after a climb up the jeep road, we were skunked. We saw the leaves but no flowers. We didn't see but one or two seeds, making us think that this year's weird weather, warm, below freezing several days and then over 100 and in the 90s for a week in May might have done them in.
And, indeed, we didn't see many flowers at all. The only prolific flower was white phlox. We saw a few others such as Jacob's ladder and larkspur, but not many of them; such a change from a year ago.
But the evening was so pleasant that we enjoyed the warm weather with a slight breeze, the views and the company.
As we came down the hill, we found a BMW biker stopped at the top. Susan started a conversation with him; he was from Wisconsin and headed to the BMW biker rally in Great Falls.
We arrived home at 7:30.
Who went: Susan, Maria, Debra, Noreen, Jo Ann, Katie
Girls in Glacier and Katie Kotynski