International Group of 18 Gals Conquers 16 Miles, Wind, Exposure; Amber Survives Shot of Bear Spray in the Face
It was a big hike and a big group. Sixteen miles and 18 gals from two countries: Canada and the United States, a true international event. Dawson-Pitamakan loop is normally 18.8 miles but we shaved off .8 by shuttling the cars and two miles by taking the boat.
We really had a great time on board the 8 a.m. tour on the Sinopah, the boat named for the most commanding mountain at the head of Two Medicine Lake, meaning Fox Kit Woman. The guide gave us information about the mountain names, the geology, the sacredness to the Blackfeet as well as the animals and how the bison may be reintroduced to the park since the tribe has a herd.
We debarked at 8:30 and were geared up by 8:40. At the pit toilet a half mile down the trail, several needed to offload some coffee or other beverage already, so most of us scattered in the bushes since waiting in line for 18 people would take too long. Others waited until No Name Lake spur trail another two miles away.
This section of the trail is pretty nondescript, mostly in the trees with a few views of Pumpelly's pillar, a shard of a mountain standing out by itself. A handful of huckleberries here and there entertained us. We did happen upon a few hikers coming from No Name lake, probably campers. One gals refused to yield to us as the uphill hikers and tripped trying to go around.--and the trail was uphill as we climb around 900 feet to the lake. We didn't have time to drop to the lakes today, No Name or Old Man, Young Man, Boy or Pitamakan later on, as the Canadians had to get across the border and one car of U.S. gals were driving home too.
Once past No Name Lake, the trail really starts to climb, with steep switchbacks and often times, steep stone stairs, and oh, the flowers! But we made it to the top by 11:30, even with stops to take pictures and enjoy the views of Two Medicine Lake, Sinopah and Rockwell Mountains, as well as Helen, Lone Walker and Rising Wolf Mountains.
The top of Dawson Pass blew us away, literally, as we had to layer up to keep warm while we ate lunch, but the views also blew us away. As we peaked over the edge to the other side of the pass, the mountains of the Cutbank Valley, Southern Glacier Park and St. Mary Valley came into view: St. Nick, James, Stimson (one of the six 10,000 footers), Jackson, Little Chief to name a few. We also marveled at the remains of the Lupfer Glacier and Pumpelly Glacier on Blackfoot mountain. We also enjoyed the deep greens of the Nyack valley, a bit marred by the Nyack fire from three years ago but still pretty.
After a half hour of lunch, break, photos and fun, we started to gear up. All of a sudden, we saw Amber go down to her knees, spitting and throwing up. She had been hit with bear spray in the face. Marillee had accidentaly elbowed her spray, attached to her front fanny pack, which knocked off the safety and depressed the lever slightly. Loural to the rescue with lots of water, rinsing Amber's eyes and face and cleaning her cap. Somehow, Amber recovered after about 15 minutes and was able to keep hiking. In this way, she earned her trail name: Pepperjack, given by Nora.
It was a bit hard to face the trail after lunch as it rises another 400 feet in switchbacks before it curves around the edge of Flinch peak and turns into a narrow goat trail. Lorna later said if she had known about the goat trail part, she never would have gone, but everyone handled the trail easily despite the steep drop-offs on one side and the cliff on the other. We walked about five miles high up on the goat trail, coming to two passes along the way, often called upper Pitamakan passes. These give glances way down onto Old Man Lake and the Cutbank country.
At Pitamakan Point, just before Pitamakan Pass, we took another stop for pictures at this breathtaking place. Some even ventured all the way out on a narrow ledge to the actual point. Others stopped at the rocks. We all took a group photo here.
Then we dropped over the pass, picking up the pace since we all felt the urge to head to the trees after being high up on the scree goat trail for so long. We did happen upon four or five other parties, all but one going the other way. The couple going in our direction were from Barcelona. Katie talked to them since she had just visited in June. Then at Pitamakan Point, we met two men from France. Nora, who taught French, conversed with them as they took our group photo.
The way down was filled with the beauty of high mountain lakes, little jewels the color of turquoise: Pitamakan lakes, Old Man, Young Man and Boy. Young Man was nearly dry. As we descended, we entered another flower zone with many bright yellow sulphur buckwheat, bright pink cushion buckwheat starting to seed out, lilac lupine and bright red paintbrush.
Then we dropped into the trees, noticing all of the dead whitebark pine trees from the blister rust desxribed by the boat guide hours earlier in the day.
We made lots of noise on this section as bears do tend to frequent the huckleberry bushes here. But we only saw a couple piles of scat and spruce grouse that was not afraid of us; luckily, it wasn't in attack mode either. The last two miles of this hike are brutal as they have many ups and downs on tired legs. When we finally reached the bridge to the campground, we all let out a collective sigh. Then it was hit the bathrooms and load the cars to head to the newly reopened Whistlestop to eat while the Canadians headed to the border.
We enjoyed the Whistlestop food and had a nice time visiting with owner Linda. She said they are still kicking out the kinks in some of the processes--which we could tell, but it didn't take us too long to get seated, food ordered and food on the table.
Susan was staying over in East Glacier with her husband, but the rest of us headed back to Great Falls, arriving at 10:45 after a very hairy drive that involved drunks in the middle of the road, rez dogs meandering across the streets, a car driving 35-45 mph on the highway with no way to pass due oncoming traffic, a car driving into oncoming traffic to turn left, a car coming at us without headlights, two fawns about to jump across the road and us hitting a small animal of some sort.