Polebridge and North Fork Country of Glacier Park Reveal Remote Gems: Covey/Hidden Meadows, Kintla/Bowman Lakes, Numa Lookout
It was quite the three days staying in Polebridge in the North Fork area of the Flathead River for nine gals from the Canadian WoW group and seven from the GiG.
It started on Monday with both groups, two cars each, meeting in West Glacier and then heading north along the gravel/dirt Camas road and then the Outside NF road to Polebridge. Upon arrival, about 50 minutes later, we briefly went into the Mercantile to survey the baked goods and souvenirs. Then we headed for two short hikes: the first a two-mile into Covey Meadows for a gorgeous view of the mountains and then a three-mile into Hidden Meadow.
The Covey hike took us downhill on a trail made in a cut path through lodge pole pines growing so close together after the Red Bench fire in '88 that not even a deer could navigate between trees. At the end of almost a mile, we broke into the open to reveal views of Kintla Peak, Numa and Rainbow, to name a few. We could even see the lookout tower on the shoulder of Numa, the place we would hike tomorrow.
In the meadow, Susan found an elk shed, so huge and lovely. We realized the value of such a beautiful horn, and then she set it back right where she found it. We ate our lunch, enjoying the few remaining flowers: butter and eggs (common toadflax) and mullein were the most common along with a few late asters and going-to-seed fireweed.
What really surprised us were all the fungi: so many different mushrooms dotted the sides of the trails and clung to every downed log. We even saw the turkey-tail on standing trees.
After we returned to our vehicles, we headed three miles down the road the Hidden Meadow trailhead. This hike is similar, in the trees until it breaks out into a meadow. However, this meadow has a small lake and marsh. We saw some merganser ducks, but no swans or wolf prints, which usually are there. We did see many indents in the tules and rushes, indicating that elk, moose and deer probably bed down there at night.
Along the side of the trail, we also saw many boulders removed, exposing the holes from which they came. We knew griz were in the area. We also came upon a place where the griz had rototilled an entire 10 x10 spot. However, we didn't see any bear scat. We surmised that they were very polite bears who didn’t poop on the trail.
Then it was time to split up. For the WoW group, along with Susan and Anita, they all wanted to go see Kintla Lake, which required a very long, but short distance-wise, drive on a very rough and narrow road, while the rest of us went to the Merc to chill. Some had a beer; others a huckleberry bear claw, some both, as we waited for the 5:30 check-in time of the hostel where we were staying.
The gals who went to Kintla said it was very beautiful, but the drive was hairy. Many large vehicles were approaching from the opposite direction, requiring us to drive backwards for a wide spot in the road. Other times, the other truck got by with only inches to spare.
The other gals checked into the hostel, bringing in whatever gear they could as well as arranging food in the refrigerator and getting the low-down on procedures from Oliver, our host.
The others got in around seven and got right to work making dinner: homemade soup, chips and dips, cheese and crackers as well as many, many yummy desserts.
Then it was time for a "get-to-know-you" activity and then bed. No one was up for any other games as we had our big hike day ahead of us.
The next day brought many low-lying clouds and rain, but we bundled up, put on our rain gear and headed to Bowman lake. One group (all the Canadians plus Katie, Susan and Sara) planned to climb Numa ridge to the lookout while Gail, Maria, Anita and Jo Ann opted for the walk around the north shore of the lake.
The Numa group took off at 7:30, while the lake hikers left Polebridge at 9.
When we arrived at the Bowman Lake, it was drizzling rain so we put on our rain gear and headed down the trail. We stopped for lunch when the rain stopped, about half way. Along the way, we observed Bead Lily berries which are colored a striking, deep porcelain blue; bright red Bunchberries; dusty blue Oregon Grape berries; and Red Clover, which is actually a light purple color. At the end of our 7 mile hike, we took photos of the lake and paused on a bench to enjoy the scenery. Then, we headed back to Polebridge with a stop at the Mercantile for huckleberry bear claws and other pastries before returning to the hostel. At the hostel, Oliver, the owner, generously answered our questions about the facility and his world travels. Oliver also helped us start the oven to prepared the lasagnas for dinner.
The Numa group hit the trail at 8:40 after a quick picture at the lake. The weather was only threatening showers at this point, so we had a nice hour of walking before the rain hit and the clouds lowered to zero visibility. We all started questioning our sanity for doing such a hard hike if we wouldn't have a payoff at the end with views. But we soldiered on. We wondered if the other group would bag the whole thing, since they started later after the rain. At least the Numa group had a bit of hiking before getting wet.
Loural mentioned that on many hikes with clouds, she "blew" the clouds away, so some of us challenged her to do the same for this hike. And it seemed to work. About an hour from the top, the clouds lifted and gave us peeks of the peaks and into the Bowman Lake valley. We also caught a glimpse or two of Polebridge and the North Fork Flathead River.
Another distraction on the way up were all the fungi, from huge white-colored ones, to orange to velvety brown to small orange mushrooms aligned on a log, and huckleberries. We were surprised to see so many this late in the year among the leaves changing to red.
Susan led the way to the top; and with a handshake, welcomed each of us to the lookout. After looking around, we enjoyed our lunch on top amid mist and clouds that continued to reveal sights every once in a while. Then it was down, down, down. We formed two groups, as one was eager to get down to alleviate sore knees while the other was enjoying the views that were starting to open up into the valley across the lake. Rainbow mountain even showed off a bit.
By the time we reached the lake and flat ground again as predicted at 5 p.m., both Sharon and Sara were hurting, nothing that a huckleberry bearclaw from the Merc wouldn’t fix. As we all gathered to admire the gorgeous vista of Bowman Lake and the surrounding mountains, Katie suggested we drop our packs and head to the other side of the lake to see the view from the bridge over the outlet/Bowman Creek. So we did and were immediately rewarded with the sun hitting the shoulder of Numa Peak, shining a light on the look from where we had just been.
With our picture taking, we were about 40 minutes behind schedule to meet the other gals, so we skedaddled to the cars and back to Polebridge. When we arrived the Numa group found that the lake hiking group had dinner waiting lasagna, Caesar salad, bread and the many leftovers from the night before. Everyone raved about the Rice Krispie treats with caramel sauce and the Eat More Bars. Both the young couple staying in the Goat Chalet and Oliver joined us as we had plenty of extra.
After dinner and clean up, some played a rousing game of Left, Right, Center, with Susan and Maria each winning a game. We were sorry to learn that Sara’s knees were still bothering her, so she put her feet up early.
Oliver told us that showers were likely the next day, so we really didn’t plan a hike. The Canadians opted to go to Columbia Falls to pick up parts and possibly shop. We said goodbye to Oliver, giving him a thank-you card and getting pictures in front of the North Fork Hostel. His cat, a tuxedo tom also named Oliver, made a surprise appearance too.
Then it was one last stop at the Merc to pick up pastries to go for family and friends. Then the two cars from the States ventured into Apgar and did some shopping, getting some end-of-season deals on earrings, T-shirts, scarves. Gail’s’ car headed back to GF while Susan’s car with Anita and Katie did do some hiking and sightseeing once Katie and Susan discovered that Anita hadn’t seen much of the westside of Glacier Park. We hiked Rocky Point from the campground with some bushwhacking thrown in for good measure, then to Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Gorge, and Sacred Dancing Waters. Finally, we stopped at Lake McDonald, visited the lodge and walked to the boat dock. We arrived home around 7 p.m. Side Note: Maria entered the 100-Miler club on this trip! Who went: Susan, Anita, Maria, Sara, Gail, Jo Ann, Katie; From Canada: Sharon, Dina, Doreen, LaVern, Laura, Linda, Lorna, Joan, Loural