Everyone Wins when Team Canada and Team USA Combine for Three Days of Snowshoe Fun over Long Weekend
It didn’t start out well. It didn’t start out well at all. When we met at the DOB to begin our journey, the sleet was coming down in full force. As Katie met each car, she became soaked though even her ski jacket, discussing with each gal whether we should head out or not, due to the storm warning in effect. June’s husband thought we should stay home; Susan’s husband wouldn’t chime in; Katie’s husband said “you always go to the trailhead.” Mary was the last to arrive and she was the driver. Susan said to ask her since she had to face the storm. Mary said she was ready to go and we should go, so we did. And it was the best decision.
So the four of us made it to Essex, keeping in contact with our six Canadian friends who were meeting us. Their drive was one and a half hours shorter, so they had less weather to drive through. They arrived about 20 minutes ahead of us to find it wet, but not icy at Essex—very wet, with lakes for puddles that we had to navigate on our way into the Izaak Walton Inn. After a quick 15 minutes of check in, at which time the Canadians were successful in switching to slightly larger rooms, we decided to go into West Glacier despite the rain coming down and the snow predicted for later in the afternoon evening.
However, we found that Going to the Sun Road was closed, which ruined our change of hiking along McDonald Creek with a possible look at the nesting harlequin ducks; we briefly discussed snowshoeing the South Boundary trail to the original entrance bridge to the park, but the rain was coming down harder. The Canadians were interested in shopping in Kalispell; we opted to head to the Inn for some snowshoeing and relaxation.
Back at the Izaak Walton, we quickly unpacked and stretched our legs on a walk around the starlit trail, looking at the cabins and cabooses and then a stroll around the neighborhood marveling at how much snow the local cabins had with tunnels to their doorways and roof snow that hung from the eaves to the ground creating caves alongside the sides of the houses.
Then after a late lunch and break by the fire, we put on the snowshoes and headlamps and hit the Essex Creek Trail, for a beautiful two-mile hike along the creek side. We ran into tons of moose sign: droppings and hoofprints everywhere! We even heard crashing in the trees thinking we scared a moose in the dim twilight. We heard a bull moose along with a mama, her yearling and newborn calf lived there. Alas, we didn’t get a glimpse of the actual animals, but we saw tons of snow fleas.
When we arrived back around 8:30, the Canadians were just getting in from a successful shopping trip to Costco. We all had a great day. Katie then took the Canadians on a moonlit tour around the Starlight trail to see the cabooses and cabins before some decided on a soak in the hot tub.
The next day, Katie, June, Susan, Mary and all six of the Canadians, Linda, Laura, LaVern, Stephanie (Linda’s daughter), Paula, Sharon took to the Essex Creek trail again, getting in a quick hike before the rest of the American’s arrived around 11. After they did, they quickly checked in, we ate lunch together and all of the Canadians and seven of the 12 Americans (Kuntzie, Katie, Susan, Mary, Sue, Sara, June) did the most spectacular hike of the trip: a climb to Garry’s lookout. The rest of the Americans, Gail, Catherine, Anita, Jeanne, Jo Ann, went on a tour around the Essex Creek Trail. The actual lookout is no more, but we also knew that Marta and her son and a waitress at the Izaak Walton had created an igloo to mark the spot of the old lookout, so our trip to the top was not just to see the views. We were not disappointed in this climb. But before the climb, we had a nasty stretch of walking the highway and climbing two berms because the plows had not hit the parking area for this trail head, located at mile-marker 168 (Forest Service Road 499—but the marker was buried). The weather held, revealing breathtaking views of Mount St. Nicholas, Threetops Mountain and big daddy Stimson as well as Loneman with its lookout perched on top. We could also see the results of the Thompson and Nyack Creek fires from two years ago. It was hard to stop taking pictures of these glorious sites. Then a few of us stepped into the igloo—and it was a BIG step down and another to get fully inside this space. Our friends the builders did an excellent job of building a nice hut.
We lingered on top for perhaps forty minutes, not wanting to leave this wonderful place in the sun. Then it was down, down until we had to face the berms and highway again, this time in pretty heavy Friday afternoon traffic. All told, it took us around three and a half hours to complete this fabulous hike ( one hour 40 minutes up and one hour down). We had a bit of down time before our six p.m. dinner reservations at the lodge. We all enjoyed our dinner and our servers. One of our waitresses was the one who helped build the igloo.
This day didn’t end yet as Kuntzie has a fun night of games planned for us of foosball, pool, shuffle board, and two dice games: Left Right Center and Shut the Box. We mixed it up but we did have a few instances or Team USA versus Team Canada, yet everyone was a winner when Kuntzie handed out various to prizes to each gal, recalling memories of the trail as she did so. The next morning saw us out early again (9 a.m.) for a longer morning hike (3 miles) to the waterfall. At this time Stephanie and her mother left us so Stephanie could get back to her son, but we picked up LaVern’s husband, who was on his way back from the Flathead Valley.
After lunch, it was back out for some to Ole Creek to go across the hanging bridge before we had to say goodbye to the rest of our Canadian friends, who wanted to get back ahead of an impending storm. June, Susan, Katie, Sara, Anita, Sue continued up the trail a bit further, coming across a wolf or mountain-lion deer kill. We could see the deer fur and tracks running though the little trees before it was forced onto the narrow trail with steep sides. We surmised that a couple wolves may have trapped it from both sides of the trail this way.
Then we decided it was time to turn around. No one wanted to see more blood and hide plus the trail was giving way as the sun heated it to slush on this narrow canyon trail, making it dangerous. Before we ended this hike, we went down to where Ole Creek meets the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. What a glorious sunny sight. While we basked in the sun admiring the snow and ice along the water’s edge, two deer came out of the bushes to drink, then a few more. They looked our way but decided we posed no threat and continued down to the water. We stayed still and hushed so as not to spook them. We didn’t want them to use up what little reserves they had from this long, deep-snow winter and not be able to outrun those nasty wolves hanging around.
Then it was back again. Some of the gals who had been relaxing instead of hiking decided they did want another hike, so we went into Three Bears Lake before dinner at the Snow Slip Inn. Some of us had a half hour in between so we really got our exercise for the day, pegging in at over 25,000 steps! To get into the lake, we had more berms to cross plus the railroad tracks. Luckily, no trails were present this time, as we recalled climbing over and under trains in the past. Three Bears Lake often has a moose or two hanging around, but not this time. Still it was pretty despite the wind of the east side battering us a bit. We had become used to the calm of the last few days. The lake was surprisingly frozen solid with lots of snow on it. Katie had never seen it completely covered. We didn’t see moose tracks either, indicating that moose were not breaking though. Nor did we see evidence of browsing on the willows that surround the lake. However, we did have one find here: Katie’s husband’s car was parked for his ski through to East Glacier. She put a “love” note under the wiper for him to find when his group came back to shuttle his car.
Then dinner—St. Paddy’s day dinner to be precise at the Snowslip Inn. The Izaak Walton had forced us to go elsewhere when it announced the only menu item would be a $40 meal consisting of corned beef and cabbage with leek soup and dessert. No one really wanted to spend that much, plus we had a couple vegetarians. So Katie planned for eating at the Snowslip Inn, thinking the Canadians would be headed out that direction anyway. When Katie was getting ready to make the reservation Friday evening, David—a waiter at the Izaak Walton—offered to make it for her, as he knew the owner. This saved trying to make a wi-fi phone call since Essex has no cell service. What a nice thing David did for us.
Our meal was excellent, is all we can say! For $14, gals who wanted corned beef and cabbage not only received a huge helping but also got homemade green cake, which they graciously shared with the others whose meal didn’t come with it. Very delish. Conversation was around what to do about the storm warning coming in: when should we leave in the morning?We made the call to leave around 9 a.m., not too early before the plows but early enough to miss the brunt of the oncoming storm and hopefully miss most of what would hit Great Falls.
After dinner, a few headed to the hot tub, a few played Left Right Center and then to bed.
The drive home was better than expected overall but started out very bad. We couldn’t see the road in places, relied on the rumble strips and sighed relief when the Valier cutoff was mostly slush and no ice. We did see a few vehicles in the ditch, some that had gone screaming around us. The interstate was wet but not snowy or icy. And we all made it home safely. What a wonderful, full, long winter weekend with fun friends.
Who went: GiG: Sara, Catherine, Susan, Sue, Gail, Jo Ann, Mary, Katie, June, Anita, Kuntzie, Jeanne Canadians: Laura, LaVern, Paula, Stephanie, Linda, Sharon