Outstanding Views; Bull Moose Highlight Long Hike Over Piegan Pass
Whoosh! It sounded like a tsunami hit the creek that lay in front of us. A flash flood? What could it be? And then we saw him, water flowing from his back, his enormous rack still barely in the velvet: a huge bull moose, standing face-to-face with us.
This incident took place toward the end of the hike, but the whole of the day contained more excitement: outstanding vistas, animal visits, chance meetings and tired feet and backs as we hike the section of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) that leads from Siyeh Bend on Going-to-the-Sun Road over Piegan Pass and into the Many Glacier valley..
It all started at 4:30 a.m., when we started from the Paris Gibson Square parking lot with Jaye driving. Jaye had on hot coffee as well as muffins to sustain us on our drive to St. Mary. And she drove in record time without a stop in Browning. We had just missed the 7 a.m. bus, so we had plenty of time to visit the restrooms and gear up for the day. We had hoped for a 7:30 or 7:40 bus like last year; however, the next shuttle didn’t arrive for a full 60 minutes. And the driver was chatty, delaying us at every stop, so we didn’t get on trail until 8:40.
At the trailhead, we happened upon a young gal named Shelly, who wanted someone to hike Siyeh Bend to Sunrift Gorge with her. Since no one else was going that way, she decided to hook up with us as we offered her a shuttle back to her car since Carol was unable to join us last minute. We told her she would have to travel at an old lady’s pace, but she was happy not to travel alone.
So we set out on a bright blue day that was promising thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Although the flowers were fading at this time in the summer, we still enjoyed may late bloomers, especially grounsel, rosy crown sedum, asters, blue explorer’s gentian and beard tongue penstemon.
As we climbed the trail, an older couple overtook us as well as some younger hikers. We passed an elderly gentleman with a Santa beard, slowly determined to make the pass one last time. We were impressed with his determination despite a hitch in his gait.
After quite a bit of gain and two miles, we arrived at Preston Park, where the trail splits and where Shelly had to decide if she were to continue on with us or hike solo to Siyeh Pass; however, serendipitously, a group of hikers came upon us. They were going over Siyeh Pass! So we said our goodbyes to Shelly and parted ways, her going to the right and we taking the left-hand path. Check out her blog Living on the Dirt.
From this juncture, the trail starts the outstanding alpine section with views in all directions. We slowed our pace significantly as we took numerous pictures and enjoyed the vistas and wildflowers. Chrissie spotted two rams crossing a snow field, so we watched them for a while as well. Then we gained the pass.
As we crested the top, we saw more people, groups enjoying lunch as well as many climbing Cataract mountain. We had to save that climb for another day due to the lateness in the day and a storm abrewing on the horizon. The pass had more people than Katie had ever seen on the Piegan trail, a surprise especially for a Wednesday. Another surprise was that several parties had come up from the Many Glacier side, which includes much more uphill. Here we had our lunch from noon until 12:30, joined by a marmot mama and her two young. She especially liked Sue.
After a lunch with outstanding views overlooking the valley on the Many Glacier side, we reluctantly started our descent, following Cataract Creek to the bottom of the valley floor. We knew we had to get going as the thunderheads were starting to amass over the tops of the mountains. The descent is a bit grueling with many switchbacks and large rock steps that take a toll on the knees, but we broke it up with huckleberry stops as they were out in profusion. But then Katie mentioned that we were travelling at 1 mph and we wouldn’t get in until 8 p.m. at that pace, so we gave up the berries for faster walking, especially in light of the impending storm.
Along the way, we passed Morning Eagle Falls, still gushing strongly, and Feather Plume falls, which had hardly any water. The rock on the creek bottom was decorated in bright turquoise, maroon and reds.
As we hit the bottom and got set to cross Cataract Creek, we heard a loud “whoosh” of water rushing, as if a flash flood were imminent. We didn’t have to look long for the cause of this noise as a very large bull moose arose from the creek just in front of us. We had disturbed his afternoon soak! His rise was one of the more thrilling things we had ever seen; however, he was a bit too close for our comfort and did not yield the trail, continuing to stand right in front of us, so we got out our bear spray and waited. After a minute, he wandered a bit farther away and decided to start eating some willows and ignore us, so we slowly took to the trail again, being ever mindful of just how big and just how close he was. We were all a bit relieved to get around him yet hesitant to take our eyes away from this awe-inspiring sight.
Then it was on down the last set of switchbacks to Grinnell Lake. We thought of stopping to rest our feet and soak them in the water, but decided to continue on to Josephine lake as it was only another mile and had the boat dock, Oaster shelter and bathrooms.
As we arrived at Josephine, the boat was blowing its whistle, indicating it was going to leave soon. The captain asked if we were riding back. It was tempting, but no one had brought money and we wanted to hike the last two miles anyway, to complete our 14-mile trek. Chrissie, Katie and Jaye took their boots off and went in the water, which wasn’t as cold as expected and felt oh, so good. Chrissie was feeling the heat and struggled a bit with her back the last mile.
The weather finally blew in, so we raced down the trail to the Many Glacier Hotel in hopes of beating the storm. Jaye raced ahead, having put on tennis shoes at the lake. Katie and Sue encouraged Chrissie to keep going as the thunder intensified and the first raindrops fell. But we reached the hotel—and food--without getting wet at 5:40. Chrissie found her aunt—our ride—and we took our packs off and settled into the makeshift lounge for dinner (The hotel lobby is under construction, so the lounge is acting as the gift store).
After a nice dinner at the lodge (lentil burgers, cobb salad, bison chili with huckleberry cobbler for dessert), we crammed ourselves and our gear along with Chrissie and her aunt’s camping gear, into a Rav 4 (five plus gear), while Chrissie’s aunt shuttled us back to our car at St. Mary. Along the way, we were in for one more final treat: a bear grazing on berries on the side of the road. We arrive back home around 10:30 p.m., a wonderful end to a very long day.
Who went: Katie, Chrissie, Sue, Jaye