GiG Goes Over the Divide to Catch Fall Colors in West Glacier
After the September snowfall on the east side of the Rockies ruined our fall colors, we decided to get in a little autumn by going west. So we chose Apgar Lookout to enjoy the reds, yellows and oranges of the underbrush on the way up and the snow-covered mountain views at the top.
We left Great Falls at 6 a.m. and planned to meet Madelon at the trailhead at 9:30.
The day was very sunny but wintry as we drove through Browning and East Glacier with piles of snow lining the streets, but once we crossed Marias Pass, the snow dissipated and gave way to autumn splendor along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
The west side, however, was unusually windy and cloudier than predicted; the path muddy from the rain of the day before. As we made our way to the top, we marveled at the views into the Great Bear wilderness, of Grant Peak Great Northern, and Columbia mountains. On the way up, Mary S had more breathing trouble than normal for her; her inhaler had no positive effect either, so we were a bit worried about her. But she persevered, and we made it to the top in good time.
We were passed by several parties and met several coming down, including our own Camille with her husband, also out to see a bit of fall before the snow settles in for good. Most were from the Flathead area, but one couple was from Ohio and some women from Helena.
When we crested the last rise, spotted the lookout tower and peered into the Lake McDonald valley, we were awed by the grandeur of Glacier National Park's beauty. The snow on the mountains accentuated the clouds and held our attention despite the gusts of 30-40 mph. requiring all our layers to keep warm, including gloves and hats.
We ate our lunch on top with a view of the iconic horn-shaped mountain, St. Nick, whose head was kept covered in clouds until our drive home later in the day.
We started to get cold so we headed down at a fairly good clip, just to keep warm. We arrived at the cars by 2:15, so we said goodbye to Madelon but decided to continue our fun since we had driven all the way to the west side.
So on we drove the single track road from Apgar trailhead, encountering numerous cars along the way, necessitating much backing and good driving on Mary S's part. Then we took the backroads through West Glacier to the South Boundary trail to hike the half mile to the historic Belton Bridge, the original entry into the west side of Glacier park.
The hike hugs the river bank, giving us even more color for the day of the turquoise water set against the autumnal hues. Some of us checked off another of Jake's hikes.
Then we hit the road for home with a quick stop to check out the ford of the Flathead to see what we thought about trying for Harrison Lake later in the fall when the larch are yellow. We climbed down to the tracks, crossed over, bushwhacked to the river to assess how deep the water might be when we spotted a couple on the other side and convinced them to cross so we could see how deep it was. It was deeper than it looked: above the knee on him and to the crotch on her. We weren't sure if we wanted to attempt it or not.
Then it was on to East Glacier to eat at the Whistlestop, which turned out to be their last day. The snow had ruined the end of their season, so owner Linda said they, along with the motels, had to close early. Only one other couple was in the restaurant. We even had dessert: pecan pie and cheesecake.