Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ptarmigan Tunnel

Last Wednesday our hiking group drove to the east side of Glacier Park to the Many Glacier area where we hiked up to the Ptarmigan Tunnel.  The Many Glacier valley is one of the more beautiful valleys in the Park.

The trail to the Ptarmigan Tunnel is 5.2 miles and climbs 2300 ft. The trail has two major elevation gains, each over a short distance. The first gain is at the start and gains about 700 ft. The second major climb is at the end, from Ptarmigan Lake to the tunnel. Here the trail gains 600 feet in .9 of a mile. The remaining 1000 ft of elevation gain is spread out over the rest of the trail.

Click here to see another map. When you move your cursor over the red dots, photos appear of places along the trail.

This was about the first chance to hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel this year. Because of snow the trail opens late. Then this year there were two sub-adult male grizzly bears frequenting the trail. The Park had the trail closed for many weeks due to the grizzlies. Finally last Saturday the trail was reopened as the grizzlies had moved off.

It was a very early start for me Wednesday. Joyce and her husband, Edley, came to get me at 6:45 am. I may have had six hours sleep. As mentioned in my post about the two Holsteins I also had cattle issues before I left in the morning.

There were eight of us in the hiking group today. Gary and Suzy weren't here today but Arnie joined us. Arnie is 81 years which surprised me greatly when I learned this late in the hike. I took him to be in his mid 60s. Arnie had no problem hiking this trail with us. Near the end of the hike when he was leading the group some people had trouble keeping up with his pace.

A short distance into the hike we met an interpretive ranger on his day off work. He pointed out an area on the south side of the valley where seven to nine grizzlies come out in the evening to forage. On our way back in the late afternoon we stopped a few times to scan the other side of the valley but didn't see any bears.

The interpretive ranger was a retired military man. He and his wife live in their large motorhome. He works at two to three national parks each year as an interpretive ranger. He hasn't worked at the same park twice. What a nice way to live one's retired life.

While there were open areas, the hike to Ptarmigan Lake was mostly in trees. A few miles before we reached the lake we caught up to a couple from Chicago, and they joined our group so as to hike with a larger number of people in case there were bears. I chatted with them for quite a while as they were interesting. He was born in Denmark and moved to the U.S. back around 1972. "The time of Nixon, McGovern, Kent State, etc." I talked of my visiting Denmark and Sweden.

Somehow we got on the subject of the minimum wage and the initiative on Montana's ballot this Fall to raise the minimum wage. That led to talking about big box stores and Walmart. Even though she described herself as a very liberal person, she did shop at Walmart - unlike many of my other very liberal friends. I had to tease her about shopping at Walmart. She took it well.

At Ptarmigan Lake we stopped for lunch. Sue Ann took her shoes off and waded into the lake. A few other people who arrived later also waded in the lake.

Two young ebullient women arrived and sat to our right. They left the lake before we did and we could see their progress on the trail as it climbed to the tunnel. The small white girl bounded up the trail then waited for the slightly overweight black woman to catch up before bounding up the trail again. Later Sue Ann, the Chicago couple, and I caught up to both of them at the tunnel.

Georgia and Jasmine. They looked to both be around 20. Jasmine was part Jamaican, English, and Cherokee. The blend did her justice as she was pretty.

Georgia is best described as being a "sprite". She was petite and seemed a little over half the size of Jasmine. Okay, that may be an exaggeration but that is the best I can do to describe her size. One could easily draw Georgia as a cartoon character: she seemed to be hiking boots and dreadlocks. Georgia is white as she originally is from New Hampshire and now lives in Florida. She said she accidently ended up in Florida.

"Accidently?", I asked. "How does one accidently end up in another state?" Her parents had divorced and a relative asked if Georgia want to stay with her for a while.

Georgia and Jasmine (from California) are working at a privately owned tourist restaurant and campground in St. Mary. Georgia said that the owners took one look at her dreadlocks and said she would be working in the campground and not the restaurant. I don't know, I thought her dreadlocks were cool. They fit her personality: lots of "wow"s and wide-eyed wonder and laid-back attitude.

If Georgia had been around when I grew up, I would say she would have been a "flower girl". You know, a hippie. But this being 2006 she wasn't wearing a flowing dress like the flower girls wore. Her hiking boots made her feet seem oversized, like a cartoon character. The rest of her outfit, blouse and short shorts, seemed more suited to tripping down a city street instead of a mountain trail.

Georgia and Jasmine planned to hike to the Chief Mountain customs station. They were now 5.2 miles into a 19 mile hike. Yes, the trail does go down from the tunnel but the end of the hike from the Belly River ranger station to the customs station is uphill. Though not up a mountain, 16 to 17 miles into the hike that uphill may feel like up a mountain. Then they would have to hitch a ride back to St. Mary.

After I took some photos of the two girls with Jasmine's camera, they bounded down the trail. Or I should say, Georgia bounded and Jasmine followed.

"Don't worry, we have plenty of food!" As they had small packs, I wondered where?

This is the view of Ptarmigan Lake with the tunnel in the background. Okay, you can't see the tunnel in the photo but trust me, it is there.

The trail as it switchbacks up the mountain to the tunnel. Look along the ridge for the lowest point. It is where the red rock meets the gray rock. Then go down towards the trees above the lower red rock. Just above the trees is a small back spot. That is the tunnel.

The lake and Mt. Grinnell in the background. Mt. Grinnell is on the south side of the Many Glacier valley and along its flank is where the ranger said one can see bears in the evening. The mountain on the right side is Ptarmigan Wall.

From the tunnel the view back towards the lake. Above the trail, above the snow, on this side of the trees, we saw a half dozen big horn sheep grazing. Mothers and babies.

I was the first to reach the tunnel and I called down that it had doors. The Danish man thought I was joking. It makes sense to have doors to keep the snow out. The doors were metal: heavy and thick. They looked old.

Here is the view as one exits the north side of the tunnel. The lake is Elizabeth Lake. This lake is in the Belly River section of Glacier Park: the very NE part of the Park.

While this view is impressive, I recommend hiking a half mile down the trail. To the west (left) are tall, jagged, snow covered mountains rising out of a high valley that has Helen Lake. Try as I may I never was able to see Helen Lake as the mountain's shoulder in my foreground hid the lake in the deep valley below.  But we were able to see the very large Ahern Glacier.

Sue Ann told a story of when she hiked to the tunnel with a previous boyfriend. While he readied to take a photo, he had placed her bag on the stone wall, as can be seen in later photos. A strong gust of wind blew her bag over the side. All her important stuff was inside, such as keys, driver's license, money, etc. The bag came to a rest among the rocks below the yellow circle. You can see a line where the rocks come out a bit and don't go straight down. The boyfriend climbed down to retrieve her bag. When climbing back up and reaching a narrow steep section he lost his nerve and everyone there had to encourage him to continue. He made it. Crazy!

As you can see, without the tunnel, crossing the mountain is impossible unless you are a mountain / rock climber.

No snow when we were there, but it was cold! The rock was cold to the touch.

What an effort it was to carve the trail out of the mountain side! I believe the trail and tunnel were made for hunting access in the old, old days.

As I had hiked further down than the rest of my group, I caught back up to them as they waited on the southern side of the tunnel. This was in the sun and warmer. Here we sat and ate and talked with other people who had recently arrived. The interpretive ranger told stories of people and their bear spray accidents. A fun time.

Even though my arms were tired from the previous days work, and my wrist was swollen, I went on the hike thinking it wouldn't affect my wrist. I was wrong. I discovered the swinging action of my arm aggravated my wrist so it ached more by the time we headed back to the trailhead. I ended up putting my hand in the pocket of my hiking shorts. That helped my wrist but later my upper arm ached from not moving as I walked. Can't win!

I was very glad the group decided to take a break at Ptarmigan Falls. As we approached the falls I seen a young woman in a bikini laying sideways on a rock near the stream. Wow! Initially I thought it was some sort of photo shoot as everyone we seen on the trail were dressed for hiking.

She wore a small bikini and lay sideways reading a book. That bikini was small! I found a spot a short distance away from the group that offered a good view of the woman. Enough looking at trees - I wanted to look at her curves.

After our hike was over we stopped at the Park Cafe in St. Mary to have a slice of pie. A popular place with excellent pies.  We sat outside on the deck and made small talk and savored our pies. A wonderful day. Perfect weather with clear skies and temperatures in the 70s.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Apgar Lookout

Last Friday I went hiking with the group again. This hike was to the Apgar Lookout in the SW part of Glacier Park. The Apgar Lookout trail is 7 miles round trip.

Here is another map which has a photo slide show when you put your cursor over the red 1.

Joyce and Gary arrived at 8:45 am to get me. Along were Gary's sister Suzy, and Joyce's husband Edley. In Columbia Falls we met Bill, his wife Marilyn, Edwina, and Sue Ann. Edwina is originally from Hinckley, Minnesota.  She and her husband moved to Montana in 1999. We compared notes on Minnesota.

After a several mile drive on a one lane gravel road we arrived at the trail head. During the hike the group spread out. Sue Ann, Bill and I were in the lead with the others behind. We got talking and kept walking. We stopped a few times for the others but ended up continuing on before they caught up. We arrived at the lookout about 20 minutes before Joyce and Edley. Five minutes later Gary and Suzy arrived. A few minutes later a couple of hikers passed word on that Bill's wife stopped and decided not come all the way to the top. Edwina was with her and Bill went down. Later Edwina made it to the top.

Here is the lookout.

The view from the lookout was great, even if it was a warm and hazy day. We were high above the foot of Lake MacDonald. As I don't have a camera these are photos from the web. They are old photos as the one of Lake MacDonald does not show the burned area from the 2003 Robert fire. The lower trees on the left (west side) of Lake MacDonald are all burned except for a small area along the lake. And not much snow on the mountains now.

The south and west sides of the lookout building had a reddish stain on the wood. We think it was when the firefighting planes dropped flame retardant to save the lookout from being burnt.

Much of the trail was through burned areas. Walking down I enjoyed the view of the black and white trees as they curved away, down and around the mountain side. Very much a heightened 3-D effect.

Bill and his wife were sitting in the shade near the trail head waiting for us. We had a tailgate party as Joyce had made a huckleberry dessert for all of us that was fantastic. The bottom crust was flour, nuts, butter and a little sugar. It wasn't hard yet held its shape to hold the dessert. Then a layer of cream cheese to which Joyce added some ingredients to make lighter and fluffier. Then topped with a thick layer of whole huckleberries. It tasted fantastic. The right sweetness, and tasted light and not heavy. I can't rave enough about her dessert.

As I hadn't tasted gooseberry pie Bill invited me over to his place for a slice of pie. However he wasn't home yet when I got home to get directions and it wasn't long before I fell asleep. I took a rain check for another day.

I found out the group also hikes on Wednesdays. This past Wednesday the hike was in the east side of the Park. I apparently missed a great hike, and an interesting one. The east side got lots of rain, but they were able to get the 3 hour hike done between rain storms - barely. During the drive back they had heavy rains with snow mixed in at times. Sue Ann said she felt sorry for all the motorcyclists on the road.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cobalt Lake

Last Friday I went hiking in Glacier National Park. Joyce, one of the women who I picked huckleberries with, called and invited me to join her hiking group of friends.

Joyce and Gary picked me up at 7:40 am. Yes, I can get up that early when the occasion arises. We met the others at Super 1 Foods in Columbia Falls around 8 am.

There were six of us in total. The most any vehicle could carry was five so we took two vehicles with three each.

The group was:
  • Joyce
  • Gary - Joyce's nephew
  • Bill - a retired R&D planner at Hughes Avionics. While he had worked for Hughes when Howard Hughes was alive, Bill started in 1952 after Hughes withdrew from public life so he never met him. I asked Bill if he thought Hughes still made suggestions that came through his department and he thought maybe so in the early years of his career.
  • Larry - a number of jobs in his life, the last being a car salesman. He also is retired and now occasionally drives cars for that dealership when they need a driver.
  • Sue Ann - an artist. Originally from Iowa she is a former Miss Iowa.
  • me
I was the youngest person as all except Gary seemed to be in their 60s and 70s. I believe Gary is in his 50s. All except Gary and Sue Ann are retired. Do artists ever retire? Even though they were all older than me, they all hiked at a good pace, one I was comfortable with. Last week several of the people had hiked the entire Gunsight Trail over the continental divide. That hike was almost 20 miles.

They all are a variety of personalities, no one exactly alike but somehow have a common denominator as they all seem comfortable with one another. They seem to range from being quiet and a little introverted to an extrovert. The extrovert is Sue Ann. She talked a lot, had lots of opinions on everything, said what was on her mind, has led an interesting life, yet somehow wasn't annoying.

Sue Ann's sun sign is Libra. She said they are artistic and good lovers. My hearing is not the best as I have tinnitus and I missed "artistic". I confused it with something like cheapskate. I know, they don't sound the same. *shrug* That's how my hearing is sometimes. I asked Sue Ann again what the first word was. After she told me, she asked if I had caught the second words, "good lovers". Yup, I heard that clearly. I had no comment.

The group usually stayed together on the hike but at times people would stop and fall behind and other times people kept going and later everyone came together. The group order shifted and I was able to chat with everyone during the hike.

The hiking group has a hiking itinerary they develop and follow each year. They usually choose to hike a trail in Glacier National Park.

Today's hike was a 11.4 mile roundtrip hike to Cobalt Lake in the Two Medicine area of the Park.

Here is a link to Glacier Nat'l Park web page of the map where you can see photos that accompany the red numbers.

Two Medicine (in the SE part of the Park) and the southern Park boundary are the only parts of the Park I hadn't visited yet. I was happy to be able to visit the Two Medicine lake and area.

The previous day it had been hot but this morning was cool, cloudy, and rainy with a predicted high in the Valley in the mid 70s F. I wore cutoff jeans and upon arriving at the Two Medicine Lake to begin the hike I changed into long pants. I also had grabbed a light jacket at the last minute which was a good thing. During the hike it began to rain and I put the jacket on. I forgot to bring a hat. When it started to rain Joyce put on a rain poncho and then lent me her hat.

As we climbed the rain turned steady. We were 45 minutes from the lake when the three people ahead on the trail came back down as we climbed up. Gary had no coat and was getting wet. He had been in the Two Medicine area and this trail a few weeks ago. We held a conference on whether to turn back. Initially the sentiment was to turn around as it looked like the rain would continue for a while. The group thought about splitting into those who wanted to continue and those who wanted to go back. Larry said he would continue. I said I would join him. When Joyce decided to join us, the rest changed their minds and went with us.

Less than 15 minutes after we decided to continue the rain quit.

Along the way we saw Rockwell Falls, a clear mountain stream with wildflower petals floating in it, and closer to the lake, fresh bear scat. At least it wasn't steaming so it wasn't that fresh. But it was fresh. This group has seen lots of bears so they weren't afraid of the scat. Sue Ann said she seen 47 bears in her hikes last year.

The lake was in a mountain cirque. Some snow was on the scree that rose south of the lake and up the mountain. The shade made that area the last to melt. We sat on a few large boulders on the lake's north shore and somewhat out of the cool breeze.

Occasionally breaks in the clouds would let the sun through and we ooh'd and ahh'd enjoying the warmth as the sunlight dried our damp clothes. The sunlight moving along the mountain and lake was pretty.

More and more sun appeared during our hike back down the mountain and we now would meet other hikers on the trail. One young couple stopped to tell us they had seen a bear on the other side of the narrow valley a short distance down the trail. We stopped and looked and looked but didn't find it. The bear probably had moved into the berry bushes.

During the hike up Joyce, Gary, Bill and I stopped to smell the roses and to munch on lots of huckleberries. On the hike down the mountain we stopped to sample the thimbleberries. We also spotted lots of ripe elderberries. Joyce, Gary, and I used our lunch plastic bags and began to collect the elderberries. Joyce and I were especially "bad" about picking and picking the clusters of berries and we lagged behind as we found yet another group of bushes loaded with them. Joyce will make a batch of elderberry jam from the berries.

The trail had a wooden swinging bridge over a river. Only one person at a time was allowed on the bridge. It swayed and bounced up and down as I strode across it.

The photo is one I found on the web. The woman was not part of our group and is unknown to me.

On the hike back Gary, Sue Ann,and I took a tenth of a mile side trip to Aster Falls. The others continued back to the cars.

The photo is one I found on the web. The water was not running near as much as when we visited the falls.

A group of people were sitting on the rocks around and in the water. One older man was trying to fish in the small stream with no luck. We worked our way around him to cross to the other side, then up the steep bank. The fainter trail climbed up along the left side of the water. We climbed higher than what can be seen in the photo.

The falls were in steps with a fall then a round pool or two then another fall. The pools ranged from a decent size to small. Usually the pools were an empty bowl of just water. One pool was filled with rocks. That pool's round bowl was smooth but had jagged rocks filling it. Unusual as most pools I have seen have been empty or with only a few round rocks in them.

We climbed higher and higher and the trail got fainter and fainter. At one point as I stepped up a rock ledge I hit my head on an overhanging rock. Bang! Ouch! If I were bald I would have the same forehead mark as Mikhail Gorbechev.

Sue Ann and Gary waited as I checked the "trail" beyond another rock ledge. I found that the route ended as one had to be a rock climber to continue on ahead as the stream went right around a bend.

We found that going back down was harder than going up as we had to hop down over rock ledges and the ground was littered with loose rocks. We made it.

Before leaving I quickly checked out the Two Medicine store/gift shop/eatery. Yup. like the others in the Park, albeit smaller.

Driving through East Glacier we again saw the two dogs wandering down the middle of the road. I guess they own the place.

Back on Hwy 2 Joyce and Gary started to nod off. That was not so good as Joyce was driving. I then drove her car the rest of the way back to my place. They said they usually nod off after their hikes. I think it was my flat Midwestern voice telling stories that put them to sleep.

The group has some interesting and challenging hikes planned and I plan to join them.