Highline Trail Closure Blessing in Disguise as Gals Enjoy Quiet Chalet
The Highline Trail was closed due to a recovery effort for a man believed to have committed suicide as well as many grizzlies in the area, possibly due to the body. The Park was flying helicopters to drop search crews and sending drones to haze bears and take pictures of the terrain. But we still had hope that by the time we reached the pass, the body would be recovered and the trail reopened by the time we arrived.
So we planned to drive at 4:30 a.m. to St. Mary to catch the shuttle and meet Suzie at the pass. Her husband Mick would be driving her from their cabin at Lake Five. We said if all works out, 8:15 a.m. would be the time. And all did work out, even after facing construction between Cutbank Creek and St. Mary; even after trailing a slow car; even after the shuttle driver delayed leaving 10 minutes as he checked messages on his phone.. We caught the 7:30 shuttle, by now 7:40, which dropped us off at 8:15--we did see a bear on the way up, which was a good omen on the day. Suzie followed one minute later. On the shuttle, the driver told us it was unlikely the pass would reopen that morning. A volunteer on the bus was upset at how much was being spent to find the body. Others were upset the trails were closed due to this incident.
We were still hoping, so we asked other shuttle and bus drivers what they knew. Katie even tried knocking on the Viistor Center door to try to catch attention of the rangers inside, but they shook their heads. So we decided that the Highline wouldn't reopen any time soon; Mick had us all pile in his Highlander, with some of us putting backpacks on our laps and headed to the Loop. So now instead of a very long day, we would have short, but steep, hike into the Chalet.
Before we reached the loop, a very sick grizzly, about two years old, was wandering, staggering off the road and then on the road. He caused a huge bear jam both directions. We waited and watched for 10 minutes and still no cars were moving. Some people got out of their cars to take pictures, prompting Beth to say loudly, "You can't fix stupid."
Finally, Mick drove around the jam and down the road, only to be stopped by a Park volunteer who hollered at him for "getting to close to our bears!" We were really shocked as she ranted in his face. We think she mixed us up with people who had gotten out of their cars or else the person in the lead car. Mick held his cool and just listened to her until she settled down. Then we drove on our way.
We reached the loop at 9 and got on trail at 9:15. Almost immediately, a single hiking gal approached us and asked if she could hike wtih us. We agreed, so Alexis joined us. She was surprised at how fast ladies our age walked, she said much faster than she would have done on her own.
About 10 minutes down the trail we came upon Barb and Sooz. They were waiting for a few others from their party and in the meantime, talking to a man, his cousin and his son, also headed into the chalet. Sooz wasn't too wild about having to hike the steep Loop trail. We said goodbye and headed out.
The flowers were gorgeous, especially paintbrush. St. John's wort, stone crop, penstemon, and bear grass. We took a ton of photos. We also enjoyed the views of Heavens Peak as well as the lookout. Just before the chalet, a curious deer and then another got a bit too close to us. Both were nursing mama does.
We arrived at the chalet at 12:15, just in time for lunch. We had our tour of the kitchen, stashed our food, toured the room and listened to the rules. The staff said he could tell we were experienced in the back country since we left our packs downstairs until we emptied all food into our food container. Unfortunately, some people had been taking food into the rooms as we did have mice, even with an upstairs room. Sigh.
It was now that we noticed the beauty of the Highline trail being closed--no one else was at the chalet--no one except the staff. We had the entire chalet to ourselves while we ate lunch. And no through hikers either. It was so quiet and peaceful. Staff said that they had many cancellations and expected no shows as many aren't capable of climbing the Loop trail: sad for them but a bonus for us. The entire time, it was quiet. We only had five other parties besides ourselves at the chalet.
After lunch, Beth and Amber made a a water run and we emptied all unnecessary items from our packs (some switched to fanny packs) and headed up to Swiftcurrent Lookout. Bonnie and Katie headed out before Beth and Amber returned so that flatlander Bonnie could get a head start. The others said they would carry bottles up for them. Alexis wasn't up for joining us after the morning hoof up the Loop, so she stayed behind and read a book. It was now 2:30 and still no Sooz or Barb. We worried a bit.
Going to the Lookout was the best decision. It was windy; it did sprinkle a bit, but if we hadn't done it this day, we would have missed the unbelievable views as the next day was foggy and cloudy. And the views were stupendous as were the flowers, especially the moss campion, sky pilot (which you don't see much in Montana), penstemon and mountain avens/dryads. We loved the 360-degree sights of the mountains and glaciers all around. Josy, Amber, Beth and Suzie caught up to us. They left around 3 but still hadn't seen Sooz and Barb.
At the top, we visited with the young family who was filling in for the main lookout employee: a couple with two young sons around 6-7 years of age. They did allow us into the lookout. They boys showed us around a bit. Bucky, the regular lookout, never invited us in, so it was a treat. By now, off in the distance, real clouds were forming, we put on jackets and it looked lide a snow squall was happening near Heavens Peak, brrr.
When we started our descent, we noticed a chopper coming in and landing at the chalet. Two people came up from a valley, tossed what looked like duffel bags into the chopper and then climbed in. We asked when we got down and were told that they were searchers for the suicide victim. They had a grid to cover and would be brought in each day around Haystack Butte. Dogs had traced his scent to this location.
We arrived back just before 6 p.m., in time to get ready for our 6:30 kitchen time. Amber and Beth cooked --ha, I mean boiled the water for our dehydrated meals. Boy did they taste good after a 9.5 mile day with 4200 feet of gain! Katie brought caramel corn and Bonnie Dove chocolates for dessert. The Dove candies had appropriate sayings such as "Every moment matters, including this one," and "Don't stop until you're proud."
After dinner, we listened to naturalist Ashley Mason discuss the geology of the park. Then we were warned about the resident marmots that were hanging around the bathrooms and not to get afraid at night. There weren't any deer wandering this year though.
Both Amber and Beth got into battles with the ladders as they were staying in the upper bunks as was Josy. Beth really bruised herself--she said she had a mammogram scheduled and the technician may wonder if someone had beaten her. Thank goodlness nothing was broken.
At night, mice moved between rooms, prowling for food that unwise visitors brought into the rooms, despite the warnings from staff to put all food in the bins in the kitchen area. The staff emptied traps into the bushes in the morning. If only people would follow the rules and not take any food into the rooms, no mice would be around. Since there were mice, people need to watch their packs and any other items that might have salt as the mice could chew through the items looking for tastier morsels.
The next day, we left at 9 a.m. after the mule train came. We were amazed at mule Ticket, who carried two 100-pound propane tanks up. He had about 60-70 pounds on the way down. the other mules, carried 48 pound of laundry/garbage on each side, so less than half of Ticket's load.The wranglers were amazing, lifing and tying the heavy loads to the mules. What amazing animals that over the years have done so much for humankind, so willingly.
We were very glad not to have to hike up to the top of Swiftcurrent mountain with full backpacks and water. Instead, we had an easy day; however, Katie threw in some sidetrips: Swiftcurrent Glacier overlook, a scramble by Red Rock Falls, Fishercap Lake and Wilbur Falls to give us 9.5 miles again.
On the way down, the beargrass was amazing, reaching to our heads. And we watched two moose move across the unnamed lake between Red Rocks and Bullhead. We could see their tracks through the shallow water.
We arrived at Swiftcurrent at 3 p.m. to find our car right by the restaurant, so easy to see. Thanks Gail and crew for shuttling it for us! After getting a cold drink, and for some ice cream, we headed to the Many Glacier Lodge/Hotel. Several had not been in it or seen the new double helix staircase and new gift store, so we headed there. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full. After two circles and no luck, Amber and Beth decided to follow people to their cars and block the space for us. it worked right away. Those two were a team.!
So we shopped and then ate in the lounge. Our waitress was from Lituania and the bar tender so attentive. Before we left, Amber had her picture taken with the workers wearing their lederhosen. It was very tempting to drive home since we finished so early; however, we paid for our rooms already with no refunds, so we thought we might as well stay and enjoy the evening and a good shower.
We stayed over at the St. Mary Lodge, Bonnie and Katie in the lodge and the other four in one of the new Tiny Houses, with a bedroom with a queen and a day bed with a trundle underneath. They also had a small kitchen and an outside bathroom. It was very nice, but $300 plus tax per night. The lodge room wasn't so nice: a concrete floor, dirty carpet in the hall and spider under the pillow. Yuck! The Lodge staff didn't seem to care much when we reported it and showed them pictures.
The next day, we tried to have breakfast at Johnson's, walking up the hill to stretch our legs, but it wasn't open, even at 8 a.m., so we ate at the Park Cafe, which had been pretty bad since it switched hands, but it was better than a few years ago. The service was quick and the food good.
After some shopping in the gift store and writing postcards to grandkids, we drove home, arriving around 1 p.m.
Who went: Amber, Beth, Suzie, Josy, Bonnie J, Katie