Autumn colored our way through three hikes in three days in North Fork Country (Polebridge, Bowman and Kintla Lakes)
It all started on Friday morning when five gals left at 7 a.m. and wound up at the Polebridge Mercantile for a quick lunch around 1 p.m. with a quick stop at the Home Ranch Bottoms to make sure they would hold dinner for the gals who had to work and wouldn't make it to Polebridge until 8 p.m. that night.
After purchasing huckleberry bear claws for breakfast, the next morning, we drove a block to the North Fork Hostel, to greet our host Oliver, who was just sneaking out for a hike.We too decided to head out for a hike on the shore of Kintla lake, so we quickly ditched our overnight belongings, leaving just our hiking gear on the car. We used Oliver's very cool and funky cart to save us from multiple loads back and forth because, of course, we over packed.
The ride along the south boundary of the park had been very pretty with yellow cottonwoods and aspen, but some were already fading to brown or had dropped most of their leaves while the road into Polebridge was just starting to light up with light green western larch and lemon-colored aspen; but the two-track lane into Kintla was alive in color from reds to oranges to hot lime. We had a nice hike along both shores of the lake, but the real treat was meeting Lyle Ruterbories. the 95-year-old park ranger who still works the Kintla station. He told us how he had had to use bear spray the day before and also told us how he got his Blackfeet name Gray Eagle. Watch him tell his story here.
We made it back to the hostel around 5:30 p.m., just in time to decide for sure that we wanted to stay upstairs in the mixed dorm area, which accommodates about 13. Luckily, Oliver let us have our pick of the top floor, so we had enough beds for all of us to avoid the top bunks. But there is no way to avoid going out to the outhouses in the middle of the night nor climbing up and down stairs that are more like a ladder, which proved a challenge on day three after a long hike the day before.
Oliver told us we were the only people staying that night, so we made ourselves at home. Some of the gals were a bit shocked that we were definitely off the grid for a few days: no cell phone service, no electricity for curling irons or blow driers and only enough hot water for four gals to take three-minute showers. Oliver relies on solar and propane power, so the lights were like lanterns with mantels and had to be lit with a match, so most of us went around wearing our headlamps..
Anyway, we settled in and then headed out to the BBQ restaurant, Home Ranch Bottoms, to meet that four gals who were coming after a full day of work. This is the only restaurant in Polebridge open this time of year. It was very crowded and the owners, a husband and wife team, had no other help. He was serving and taking orders while she prepared the food. The food was good, the gals preferring the pulled pork to the brisket; however, they did run out of food and one gal had to substitute her order. But the desserts made up for the delays and the mix ups: homemade huckleberry peach pie with to-die-for crust and homemade huck ice cream with whole fresh huckleberries in it. We ate here both nights, and on the second night, we ran into a black bear on the road home.
When we arrived back at the hostel, it was past 9 p.m., so most headed to get prepared for bed while a few stayed up visiting to a glass of wine, but morning would come early, with 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls to get on the road by 7 a.m.
In the morning, we hurriedly prepared oatmeal, scarfed down a banana or two and our bear claws from the Merc along with instant coffee before heading out the door for the eight-mile, half hour ride to Bowman lake; and yes, it did take that long on the very rutted road. (Interestingly, the road to Kintla is usually the worst of the roads in the area, but the road crews had just graded, graveled and oiled the road the week before, according to Lyle, so it was excellent.)
We ended up getting on trail for the Quartz Lake Loop, a 13-mile hike with 2400 feet of elevation gain, at 8:15 a.m. All of us started up the trail, but at about a mile and half when it started turning uphill, three gals decided to have an easier day and hike the other side of the lake, which is flat instead of doing so much up and downhill. So we said goodbye as the other six stated the initial 1500 foot gain to the top of Cerulean ridge before dropping into the beautiful Quartz lake, with views of Vulture Peak for lunch. Then this group went on to Middle and Lower Quartz lake before tackling the 1,000 foot Quartz ridge and then a steep drop off back to Bowman Lake. Although the day was mostly cloudy, we felt a sprinkle or two and ended the day with sun shining through the clouds, playing with shadows across the lake. We finished the hike at 5:15 p.m. just in time to catch up with the other three who had hiked about 12 miles themselves. All day long we feasted our eyes on the fall colors. As for animals, we only saw birds, especially female spruce grouse, also called fool's hens or Franklin's grouse. Again we ate at Home Ranch Bottoms, getting in late and tired.
We were disappointed when we heard they had run out of pie, but we settled for the fresh huck ice cream.
Again, a few had some wine before hitting the beds, but no one played the games of Catch Phrase or Pictionary that we had hauled along. The next morning, we planned to eat pastries and breakfast sandwiches with fresh coffee and latte's at the Merc before packing and saying goodbye to Oliver and the North Fork Hostel. But before we left, Oliver gave us a tour of his grounds, including his greenhouse. Then it was out the door for one last hike in the Polebridge area: to Covey Meadows, a short, but gorgeous, less-than-two mile warm up before our drive up Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road. This hike's trail is cut through a grove of lodge pole pines that have sprung up since the 1988 Red Bench fire that destroyed many buildings at the historic ranger station in addition to killing one firefighter and injuring 19 others. These pines provide a distinct wall on both sides of the path, unlike other Glacier trails except Hidden Meadow in the same area. On this hike we saw much wolf scat, which went along with Oliver telling us he has been hearing wolves at night.
After we warmed up our legs on this hike, we headed up Logan Pass, stopping for a short looksee in Apgar for snacks and a few souvenirs that were all marked down for end of season. When we reached the pass, we hiked to the Hidden Lake Overlook, as four of the gals had never done it; however, the goats and sheep were nowhere to be seen, which was very unusual, until two women with spotting scopes said they were tracking two wolves. Then Gail and Bonnie, who had stayed behind, said they had watched a coyote, so we had an answer to why the goats weren't around.
It was sad to leave the park but interesting to see the results of the fire on our way down the pass. A quick stop in Browning and we found our way home by 7 p.m. We all agreed it was one of the best trips ever: seven gals got to see Polebridge for the first time, four saw Kintla for the first time and four hiked Hidden Lake trail for the first time. And the colors and company could not be beaten! When we arrived home, we were treated with a super moon eclipse and red moon. We can't wait until the next trip. See you on the trail soon.
Who went: Mary S, Mary N, Bonnie J, Kathy M, Gail, Susan, Catherine, Sara, Katie