Surprise Animal Blocks Trail; Backtrack Turns Eight Miles into 10
It all started out at 6 a.m. from Great Falls with a stop to meet Ann, a newbie to the group, on her maiden voyage with us in Browning as she was coming from Rudyard. She was 20 minutes late, but not without cause: she faced 35 mph construction and an oncoming car hitting a deer, which sent "particles" hurling into her car. She called 911, checked with the other driver to make sure he was okay, inspected her car for damage and then headed to meet us.
Then Susan C got in the car with Ann to get to know her and give her some company as we took the gorgeous drive into Many Glacier. The saw a moose while the other car didn't. And it was gorgeous with blue skies but clouds outlining the mountains of Glacier, especially accenting Chief Mountain. As we drove in the Many Glacier valley, however, the clouds hung over us and the temperatures plummeted into the 20-degree range.
So when we got to the picnic area, we had to bundle up before donning our packs for a fun day of hiking. Right away, we saw quite a bit of bear scat, some with mountain ash berries, some with grasses and some with hair, indicating the varied diet during the phase of hyperphagia that the bears enter before hibernation. The bear poo unnerved several gals; however, the trail was wet from the snow the night before, and we weren't seeing any grizzly tracks. Besides, Katie tried to calm everyone: bears haven't attached groups larger than five, she explained. Her words didn't take the edge off, but everyone made lots of noise and kept talking.
We rounded Swiftcurrent lake and started the west side of Josephine when Maria and Anita saw some goats high on the mountain side. We all squinted to see them, but those two had the eagle eyes. Maria said it was due to her prior hunting.
Then at the head of the lake with Katie leading, she stopped short after the first board walk and bridge crossing: she saw something dark brown and fuzzy lying in the trail. It didn't appear to be moving. At first, Katie thought it was a sleeping or dead bear and backed off. Then both she and Ann thought they saw a hoofed leg sticking in the air, indicating a dead moose. At this point, Katie did get afraid, afraid a bear might be around eating on the carcass. She got out her camera and zoomed way in. Then the foot went down and the head arose with twitching ears. It was a mama moose and she was alive.
We were relieved it wasn't a carcass but we couldn't get around her on the trail as the willows were thick on both sides. So we tried to haze her by clicking our sticks and shouting. She wouldn't move. Perhaps she was injured or, more likely, conditioned to humans, given how crowded Many Glacier has been these past few years. Katie watched along with many others a mama moose with baby play in the shore of Fishercap lake. They came out right in front of people with no care. Our group has walked within 10 paces of other moose and even scared a bull moose out of the water when we didn't see him. He just stood up and looked at us. It is still scary to see a big animal so close.
Anyway, we determined she wasn't going to move off the trail. At first, we thought we could bushwack around her but then we thought again: What if she has a young one hiding in the willows and charges us. So the only real thing we could do was backtrack and go around the other side of Lake Josephine, which we did. We retraced our steps to Swiftcurrent lake amid a bit of graupel, took the cut across and bridge to the other side and arrived at Oaster shelter at 1 p.m. to eat our late lunch.
By then, we were really running late as we added 2.4 miles to our expected day. During lunch, the snow really started coming down; we had to get out more layers to keep warm. We also visited the outhouse, which someone had left ajar, so it was a bit unnerving to open the door to enter as we wondered if any critters would be inside making a nest: luckily not. But this incident reminded Maria of kindergarten days in a one-room school with an outhouse for a bathroom. She was so terrified of using it, she got a kidney infection and then had to have someone go with her. She noticed that the boys didn't have to go into the outhouse to go urinate so she asked her mom one night how she could "get one of them penises." Well, her mother was a bit annoyed at her comment and wondered what they were teaching in kindergarten! We all got a laugh out of that tale.
After lunch, we made it to Hidden Falls, the turquoise color as gorgeous as expected, bubbling though a carved canyon, but decided to pass on going to Grinnell lake due to the late hour; not many were too anxious to put on water shoes to cross the creek in such cold weather either, and the farther we went, the more snow was on the trail. So we headed back.
We didn't have any more scares for the day, but we saw lots more bear scat. And we saw that the paving has begun on the nature trail around Swiftcurrent Lake. The Glacier Conservancy has many projects to create more handicapped accessible trails and this one is done from the boat house to the Many Glacier hotel. The pavement was tough on tired legs, but we recognize what a nice thing it will be to have. Right now, the only handicapped trails are very short. This will be 2.7 miles when complete. Interestingly, we tried to take the upper trail that ends at the parking lot but instead hit a new road with heavy equipment and lots of torn up dirt. We didn't know if the equipment was for the paving or for work on the boat house or other projects. So we went to the lower trail instead of hunting around for the upper one.
As we completed the circle around the lakes, we took in the view from the Many Glacier Hotel/Lodge, climbing the stairs on tired legs to the viewpoint. Storm clouds still swirled, but this area had mostly sun. We saw a few trucks by the worker dorm with tons of wood piled up for the winter. We also saw an open door on the lodge, indicating that the lodge was still getting more of a facelift.
Then we continued the last .8 mile around the foot of the lake back to the picnic area and our cars. Karen's knee started acting up but she made it back. We hoped she would be okay since she was driving, but she seemed fine once off her feet.
We had more foiled plans come on our way home. First, we said goodbye to Ann in Browning as she would drive through Cutbank to get to Rudyard. Then we continued on intending to eat at Buffalo Joe's since Karen hadn't been there yet. However, it was closed on Tuesdays! So then, Katie had a bright idea to try the Rose Room in Pendroy, even though she knew they require reservations. And yes, they did unless it was just two people, so we turned around and continued into Choteau to the log cabin. There, one waitress got on her coat and left after seating us. The other gal looked very stressed and didn't get to us right away. We felt bad for us. It did take us an hour and a half, further putting us behind schedule. But we did get our meal and some of us got pie for strength. The waitress told us all about how the owner home makes desserts daily and has inventive creations.
We made it home by 9 p.m., a great end to the Glacier hiking season.
Who went: Ann, Susan C, Anita, Maria, Karen, Katie