Golden Glow of Larch Leads Way to Scalplock Followed by Rock City
Five gals from Mountain View, Alberta, joined 8 from Great Falls and one from Eureka for a magical march up to the top of Scalplock Mountain. The day started at 6 a.m. with arrival at the trailhead just before 9 a.m. and getting on trail by 9:15.
It was a bit chilly, hovering around 30 degrees, when we started out but we quickly shed our layers as we started the climb of the 20 switchbacks. To make it fair for everyone to have a chance in or near the front, as that is a common complaint of those who always get stuck in the back, we switched the leader every switchback. However, a few got shorted with only a few steps before the trail doubled back again.
We made quite a few stops to glance at the views of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River surrounded by larch in full "bloom," as we wound our way up the trail. We were surprised that we really didn't see any bear scat, or other scat for that matter, along the trail. We just saw the road apples left from the mule train that would have carried the lookout's belongings, gear and remainder of food down after a long summer watching and spotting this year's fires. Near the top, Susan C thought she saw some old moose droppings, but that was it. However, on the way down, we were treated to three bald eagles catching the thermals and playing in the wind, such a majestic sight.
Some of us struggled with the intensity of the uphill; after all, this hike has over 3,000 feet of gain, making it just barely, but still in the very strenuous category for our hiking group.Some of us struggled on the downhill even more, wishing for younger knees. But at the end of the hike, the Americans were all looking forward to a nice soak at the Izaak Walton's hot tub, as six of us were staying the night.
At the top, we were happy to rest and have lunch, either at the picnic table, or on the side of the mountain enjoying the views into the Great Bear Wilderness with its majestic Great Northern Mountain with Stanton Glacier on its flank or St. Nick (St. Nicholas) on the Glacier Park side.
We stayed about 45 minutes before starting our descent, with one group of Roni, Nona, Deb, Madelon and Josy going in a fast group and the rest of us stopping for more pictures of the glowing larch and taking a more leisurely trip down.
When the second group made it down at 4:30, the others said Katie's husband had dropped by on his way back from climbing Ousel Peak. He too couldn't resist a hike seeing the golden colors this time of year.
Then it was off to Izaak Walton and saying goodbye to the Canadians who were headed home, Madelon who left right away before the others got down and to Deb and Roni who went into Kalispell for the night to say happy birthday to one of Deb's daughters. The rest of us drove the one mile to Izaak Walton for a fine dinner. But we had two surprises: Katie's overnight bag was in Deb's car, so she was without her toothbrush, toiletries, clean clothes and pajamas (the rest of the gals came through with clean shirt and leggings and the Inn had toothbrushes). The second surprise was that the hut tub wasn't working. So some of the gals could instantly feel their muscles seizing up even more without a good soak. But we all survived.
Some of the gals headed downstairs to see what was on TV or play some games. Kuntzie found a copy of the Wizard of Oz and put it into the DVD players. Several stayed to watch it.
The next morning, we wanted to eat at the Snowslip Inn; its website said it was open from 8 am.-10 p.m. every day of the year. However, when we arrived at 8:20, it was closed, despite the OPEN sign on the door. So we headed back and had breakfast at the Izaak Walton. After breakfast, all but Kuntzie took a mile and a half walk around the grounds, looking at the cabins and cabooses and hiking up the icy and snowy Essex Creek trail. It looked quite a bit different from in the winter, and no trail signs were up yet. We also saw Gumbie with his dog Jake. He said "hi" and hoped to see us come winter time too. He was showing the winter help staff, newly hired, the trails and how to ride the fat-tire bikes that the Inn rents.
After stretching our legs (at 10:45), we packed up, Deb and Roni came to meet us and pick some of us up, and we then drove to Valier with a quick stop at Rock City, a place only two of the eight had visited before. Most were amazed at the hoodoo formations and the beauty of the Two Med river where it and Birch Creek and the Marias converge.
We arrived home before 4 pm, in time for Kuntzie to stump for Tester. Who went: Susan C., Susan W., Josy, Roni, Deb, Anita, Katie, Madelon, Kuntzie; Canadians: Laura, Joan, Carol, Nona, Dina