Saturday, October 28, 2006

Packer's Roost to Flattop Mountain

Group: Me, Bill, Arnie, and Sue Ann
Mileage: 10.2 miles roundtrip
Time: I forgot, but it was many hours

Flattop Mtn elevation: 6,872 ft.

The last Friday in October in Glacier Park our hiking group hiked from Packer's Roost to the Flattop Mountain back country campground (the first campground in the map on the right).

Part of the reason this hike was chosen was that the Sun road was closed beyond the Loop since snow now covered Logan Pass and the higher trails. Earlier in the week the group - without me - had hiked up the Sun Road to Logan Pass. On the road they had met a young couple with kids from Minnesota. The MN family naively planned on hiking the Highline Trail to the Granite Park chalet once they reached Logan Pass.

I used to live in Minnesota so I know first hand that Minnesota people don't understand mountains and winter. Minnesota people think they understand winter and snow. This past April a mother and son visiting from Minnesota froze to death when they tried to drive a back road through some mountains in SW Montana and their SUV got stuck in the snow that covered the road. Their bodies were found higher - not lower - on the mountain above their stuck SUV. In April winter is a distant memory in Minnesota. Not so in the Montana mountains.

My hiking group said they tried to talk the MN family out of hiking to Granite Park chalet. They don't know if they succeeded or not. My group just shook their heads when they told me. I told them I only lived in Minnesota for a few years, so don't put me in the same category.

Another reason for today's hike is that Joyce and others in the group really want to hike next year between Goat Haunt on Waterton Lake and a place in Glacier Park.

Bowman Lake has been mentioned as the Glacier starting point, but this hike is 22 miles from the foot of Bowman Lake. Joyce and others are trying to find someone with a boat that could take us on Bowman Lake to the head of the lake and save us a 7 mile hike along the lake. No luck so far.

Someone in the group spoke with someone else who thought we could hike from Packer's Roost to Goat Haunt. Today's hike was to check out the Packer's Roost end of the hike.

Packer's Roost is a .6 mile side road from the Sun road just below the Loop. The Park uses Packer's Roost to load and unload the horse and mule supply train for the Granite Park Chalet. This side road is a one lane, barely gravel, road.

The first time I had ever been on this road was this past June when Brian visited me. At the end of a day of sightseeing I convinced Brian to drive down this road to check it out. The sun was setting and dusk had fallen. Brian was worried his car would drop into a pothole and cause damage to the underside of his car. The .6 mile seemed far longer. At the end, was a lone building and a hitching rail.

Immediately two park rangers in a pickup appeared behind us. I jumped out of Brian's car to ask the rangers about the reason for Packer's Roost existence. As they swatted mosquitoes coming in through their open window they told me about the horse and mule pack train.

Brian and I didn't hike the trail as it was getting dark.

Today's hike was under overcast skies. A mile into the hike a trail split off to the Granite Park chalet. After that we didn't see any more horse sh... poop on the trail.

It wasn't long before we encountered the burn area from the Robert fire in 2003. Most all the trees were burnt. Through the burned trees we could see that we were hiking in a large valley with mountains on our left and right. Heaven's Peak rose up into the clouds. We hiked a number of miles through burned trees.

The wind picked up and we could hear it move through the burned tree tops. It was a pleasant surprise not to feel the wind. Another surprise was there was no wind once we climbed higher on the north end of the valley. The wind hadn't stopped as when we hiked out and came to this same area we again heard the wind.

On the hike out the wind made a very eerie sound. The wind had the sound of wild animals, or ghosts, and we looked around as we hiked out never seeing anything other than dead trees and the mountains around us under low, overcast, gray, dreary skies. It was very creepy for a mile or so.

Almost half way into the hike we came to Mineral Creek. The park had rolled up the suspension bridge that crossed the river. We looked for a spot to cross the creek near the bridge with no luck. We went downstream a little ways. I thought that if I tossed in some rocks maybe we could hop across them to cross the river. But the effort was slow going and we decided try upstream. I found a narrow enough spot that we could hop over. Bill and Sue Ann were hesitant but jumped from the one rock to the other rock over the one narrow section.

It seems as if almost every hike I do with this group we do some sort of bushwhacking. I am glad they don't quit when we face some obstacle.

We hiked on the exposed stream bed rocks back to the bridge and trail. It was late morning now and the rocks still had a slippery feel to them. No one fell as we were careful.

MacDonald Creek was to our left. We could hear it and not see it. After we crossed Mineral Creek the trail started to move further from MacDonald Creek as that valley continued in a curve to the NW while we were now climbing to the north.

The trail up to the creek was generally level but now we started to climb. The trail got steeper and began to switchback. We couldn't tell where we going up the mountain.

On one of the switchbacks we saw some mountain goats high on a steep ridge to our right, as seen in the following two photos.

At one point we looked back and saw that we were near the same level as Logan Pass. Logan Pass is 6,646 ft. Flattop Mountain is 6,872 ft. We never climbed to the highest part of Flattop Mountain. We had been climbing a lot as we started a few hundred feet below the Loop on the Sun Road.

In the following photo, left of center is Logan Pass. See the green area below Logan Pass? The green area is the non-burnt trees. The rest are the burned trees from the 2003 fires. The green area is where we started our hike at Packer's Roost. Logan Pass and Packer's Roost are miles and miles apart, so that should give you an idea how far we have hiked now. Over 4 miles.

As we climbed higher we started to see more and more snow and the waterfalls had ice in them.

When the trail became fairly snow covered Bill called it quits and said he would rest then start back down. Even though the top seemed to be just ahead for some time now, I was sure we were close and wanted to press on. Arnie and Sue Ann joined me.

It wasn't much further after Bill turned around that the trail flattened out and the steep climbing ended.

Flattop Mountain has its name for a reason. There is no peak where one can see out over the other mountains and valleys. The trail was in a high, large, relatively flat area.

To our left and right one could see through the burned trees where the mountain still went higher.

I was determined to reach the campground. It was over a half mile to the campground, which then was a short ways off the trail.

The campground consisted of three campsites. The trees were all burned, and with the snow on the ground, we only went to the center of the campground and didn't check out each campsite.

Attached to a pole was a plastic watering jug. I guess the park would like campers to bring back water back for the vegetation when they went to the stream to get water for themselves.

The main trail continued northward with no sign of soon joining the Fifty Mountain trail going to Goat Haunt. Later looking at a map I discovered the Fifty Mountain trail was some distance away. The people Joyce knew who had mentioned this trail said the trail would be level for the most part until we dropped into the valley where Goat Haunt is located.

The group was all in agreement that we didn't care for this trail. Too many burned trees and the climb up Flattop Mountain was long with the scenery so-so. This trail to Goat Haunt is 23.7 miles; further than the estimated 22 miles from Bowman Lake. We are back to using Bowman Lake for our hike to Goat Haunt next year.

We didn't stay long at the campground.

We caught up to Bill at Mineral Creek. He had already crossed it and was waiting for us. After crossing the creek we found a large log and all sat and ate our lunch before hiking back to Bill's car.

During our journey back we came across a large partially burned tree stump and an interesting yellow rock.

During the drive back along Lake MacDonald I had Bill stop his car so I could take a few photos of the lake and the tamarack trees across the lake. The tamaracks were in full color.

I also got a photo of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and the tamaracks, and a photo of West Glacier's main street and more tamarack color.

The first photo shows where my hiking group had hiked along the Middle Fork earlier in the week. Another hike I had missed when replacing my hot water heater.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dragon Tail

Saturday, October 14, I went to Glacier Park to hike down to Hidden Lake since the weather forecast said this would be the last nice day for a while. There would not be many good days left to hike as the alpine section of the Going-to-the-Sun road was scheduled to be closed to driving November 1. (It turns out the road was closed for the year a few days after my hike due to snow and ice.)


While I have been to the Hidden Lake overlook many times I have never hiked the 1.5 miles down to the lake itself. This year, when Brian and I visited the overlook, I promised I would hike to the lake before the year was out.

I tried, but I failed. I got sidetracked by Steve and Sarah and the Dragon's Tail. It turned out to be the absolutely right choice in breaking my promise.

I took these photos along Hwy 2 west of West Glacier. That's Glacier Park in the background. The mountain in the first photo under the eagle is the one we had hiked up to the Apgar Overlook  to see a beautiful view of Lake McDonald.

The next several photos are of Lake McDonald, looking towards the NW. One sees this view every time they drive on Sun road as the road follows the east shore of the lake for almost 9 miles.

The next photo shows the valley with the Packer's Roost trail. Last Friday our hiking group hiked up this valley to Flattop Mountain.  On the point to the left of center is the Heaven's Peak lookout.

The following photo, taken just below "The Loop" on the Sun road, is of Heaven's Peak. I've also included the photo Brian took of Heaven's Peak when he visited me the end of June. Lots less snow now!

I was delayed on my drive as a number of cars in both lanes of the road stopped. Apparently a bear could be seen up on the mountain side above the road. A couple from Idaho in the car ahead of me walked up and back before I could walk up for a view. They said one needed binoculars to see the bear and that it was moving out of sight. "Besides, we can see lots of black bears back in Idaho. So it's no big deal to us." A few cars were moving so I took the opportunity to slip through the traffic jam and continue up the road.

The Sun Road as seen from near Logan Pass. Notice the Bishop's Cap in the upper right corner.

Notice they have the poles out so they know where the road is next Spring when they plow the road to clear of it snow. In the second photo, that's Going-to-the-Sun mountain in the background, left of center.

Several views of Clements Mountain and the trail to Hidden Lake. The trail skirts the mountain's shoulder to the left. Keep in mind this view of Clements Mountain as later you will see a view of Mt Clements (and Hidden Lake) from the Dragon's Tail.

Moon and jet and Clements Mountain.

There were only a few people on the trail. I met the Idaho couple coming back down the trail. "Already been to Hidden Lake?" I asked, knowing full well they could not have hiked to the lake and back already. "The altitude is getting to my wife so we are heading back down the trail."

I passed a couple where the wife was scanning the mountains with binoculars. "See anything?" I asked. "She is looking for mountain goats but hasn't seen any." After a few more pleasantries I continued on up the trail.

I stopped to take a few photos (with their camera) of the next couple I met on the trail. A small stream/waterfall still had water even this late in the year. I used that as the background to one of their photos, and the mountains as a backdrop to another photo. The "binocular" couple caught up to me and passed with the wife saying, "You are a kind soul.", as she passed.

A short distance later I again caught up to this couple and began a conversation. This is Steve and Sarah. She asked if I worked for the park. "No. Why do you ask?" Sarah thought I may work as a park interpreter as I seemed to stop and chat with everyone and offer to take their photos.

I learned that Sarah worked as a Glacier Park interpreter during the summer. I was all curious as to how she became an interpreter, and how one goes about getting an interpreter job. It turns out it is not easy as Glacier Park is a popular place to work and there are many more applicants than positions. It is a full time job during the summer as each interpreter has to come up with their own presentation. And multiple presentations as they have to be able to talk on four (if I remember right) different subjects. It was like being a teacher and developing their class. Before changing careers to become an interpreter Sarah worked as a science teacher. That helped her eventually get an interpreter job this past year.

Later, as we walked the Dragon's Tail, Sarah would explain the geology to me. My own interpreter! Sarah explained that while the Rocky Mountains are a "young" mountain range, due to how the mountains had been created, the rocks are among the oldest in the world. That I remember. The rest? In one ear and out the other as I was taken in by the view. I'm a guy... we don't multi-task well.

I was chatting away with the two of them as we walked along the Hidden Lake overlook trail when Sarah suddenly exclaimed that they missed the side trail. "Side trail? Where?" I asked. We backtracked a short distance and found it. One doesn't notice it unless they were looking for it. I asked if this was the trail to the Dragon's Tail and they didn't know. They were planning to just hike to a ridge that overlooked Hidden Lake from the east side. I asked if I could join them and they said yes.

Here is a view of Logan Pass from the ridge. The visitor center and the Sun road down the east side of the pass can be seen on the right side. See the Bishop's Cap?

From the ridge here is a view of Going-to-the-Sun mountain (on left), the Sun road as it goes east towards Saint Mary Lake (lake is not seen), and part of Reynolds Mountain and snow on the right side.

Snow was on part of the ridge and someone had made a small snowman.

The view of Hidden Lake was even better than the view from the Hidden Lake overlook. Here are views of the south end and the north end of the lake.

Here is a view of the entire lake.

We buttoned up our coats to keep out the stiff breeze as we all ate some of the food we brought along. Steve and Sarah had heard of a trail that went SW up from Hidden Lake to a saddle. Using binoculars Steve was searching for signs of the trail when he saw a bear on the saddle. After we all looked at the bear we agreed it had to be a grizzly as it was large even though it was miles away on the other side of Hidden Lake.

The bear is the small dark dot in the zoomed in photo.

I could see five other people on another higher ridge of a mountain SE of Hidden Lake. I convinced Steve and Sarah to go further with me as I wanted to see if we could hike to that same mountain ridge. I was convinced this was the Dragon's Tail. They agreed and I led the way.

The farthest we, and the five people we saw, got was the part of the mountain directly above the large snowfield. The remaining part of mountain with snow on it is separated by a large gap that probably (as I didn't see a trail down into across the gap) is only cross-able if you are rock climber. I believe the mountain without snow (right of center) is not part of the Dragon's Tail. Still, that doesn't matter as the view from we reached was fantastic.

The trail got narrower and narrower as it went along the west side of Reynolds Mountain. At the first tricky spot I convinced them to continue with me. At the second tricky spot they decided to go no further. I didn't want them to quit but even I agreed the trail was getting trickier to navigate. Then Sarah saw a well defined trail below us. That trail was wider and easier and on the scree, and not right against the mountain side. I am not sure, but the trail we were on may be one of the trails people use to climb to the top of Reynolds Mountain. Not where we wanted to go!

We backtracked and found where I had missed where the trails had forked. The snow covered the actual fork of the trails.

After a bit Steve and Sarah stopped to rest. After the rest Steve decided he wouldn't go any further. He didn't do well with heights and he was beyond his comfort zone. We didn't want to leave him but he insisted we go on ahead without him. This was a nice spot to sit and rest and he had great views of the lake and also could watch the grizzly on the saddle. And there was no wind at this spot.

Sarah and I pressed on. I noticed the next fork in the trail. The upper trail looked to be better defined so we took it. Later we realized that we wanted the lower trail as that one went over to the Dragon's Tail. The trail we were on was another one that skirted around Reynolds Mountain. Before scrambling down to the lower trail I decided to go further on our trail so as to see the view as the trail curved around the mountain. A great view! And I also found a connecting trail down to the lower trail.

Photo 1: Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers in the distance.
Photo 2: Sperry glacier

As we reached the lower trail we met a 20-something man making snowballs and tossing them down the mountain. A short distance later we met four 50-something women coming back down the trail from the end of the Dragon's Tail. After exchanging pleasantries Sarah and I continue our hike up the ridge.

The ridge was narrower but not too bad as one had ground on each side of the trail so one didn't have to look straight down each side to the valleys far below. We did get to a spot where one had to use their hands and feet to make a short climb up a rock. Sarah said she didn't plan on going further. We were almost to the end so I encouraged her to continue and helped her up the rock.

These photos were taken by Steve of Sarah and I on the Dragon's Tail.

Sarah was glad I encouraged her as the view was fantastic. We were high above Hidden Lake. To the west Sarah claimed we could see Lake McDonald beyond the saddle where the bear was. The bear was still there though he had moved to another spot since we last looked.

The wind that blew off and on as we had hiked the trail was calm. We could hear the sounds of talking as the four woman and young man met up with Steve where we left him far below. Later Steve said he could hear Sarah and I talk from where he was.

The rocks all around were colorful from the algae that grew on them.

The backside of Reynolds Mountain.

Sarah and I ate more of our lunch as we sat and marveled at the views. Sarah thought I was a vegetarian as my lunch was fruit and vegetables and a smushed tomato sandwich. No, I'm not a vegetarian, but that is common assumption about me.

This photo shows the location of the Hidden Lake overlook that most everyone visits, and the location of the ridge and saddle where Steve, Sarah, and I first climbed to and saw the snowman.

The Hidden Lake overlook is NE of the lake (we are looking north). Look below the tallest mountain (Clements Mountain). Between the long ridge on the right side middle and Clements Mountain is a gap. You can make out a thin brown line that comes from the right side to a clump of trees. This is the overlook.

The ridge with the snowman is the snow circle on the edge of the middle right side.

Notice we are near the same height as the top of Clements Mountain.

Here is a view (left to right): Hidden Lake, Clements Mountain, the ridge with the snow man, beyond the ridge: Logan Pass and the Garden Wall (with the Bishop's Cap), and Reynolds Mountain.

Reynolds Mountain as seen from the Dragon's Tail.

As we started our hike back down we could see in the far distance Steve started on his way back. We never caught up to him until we were back at the Hidden Lake overlook trail.

When Sarah and I reached the saddle and the first fork where I had taken the wrong tail, I had us take the lower of the two trails back to the Hidden Lake overlook trail. Partly because it was a different trail and partly because the lower trail got us out of the wind quicker.

This trail faded away in spots and we often had to hop around a few boulder fields to find the trail again only to lose it later. Losing the trail was partly due to the lack of trail use, and partly because I was busy talking and not paying complete attention to the trail.

Sarah likes to collect rocks as I do. I picked up a good sized rock before we reached Steve and we pretended I was carrying it because Sarah wanted it. Steve fell for the gag and took the rock from me before I confessed I was carrying it for show.

Clements Mountain yet again below the ridge and before we reached the Hidden Lake overlook trail. The second photo is of the Going-to-the-Sun mountain as seen from the Hidden Lake overlook trail.

Just before we reached the visitor center (closed for the season) Sarah noticed digging near the trail. It appears to be the work of a bear who tried to get at some small animal.

When Sarah and I hiked to the Dragon's Trail she had forgotten her camera, leaving it with Steve. I had taken lots of photos, and since they live in West Glacier I offered to stop by their house so they could copy my Dragon's Tail photos onto their computer. It was 6 pm when we had returned to Logan Pass and 7 pm by the time we reached West Glacier.

After copying my photos, and making me a copy of their photos from today, we had supper and a conversation late into the evening. Eleven years ago Sarah had visited Glacier Park for the first time along with her mother and daughter. She knew she had to move here, and a few years ago convinced her husband to move here sight unseen. They are now renting a condominium right on a golf course. The previous evening they didn't get much sleep as a number of elk were on the golf course outside their window. The elk were bugling and raking their racks on tree branches. Ooohhh... life is tough.

It was almost 11:30 pm when I left. A long day. A great day. A great hike and new friends. Who cares that I didn't make it down to Hidden Lake?! I always have next year.

The golf course where Steve and Sarah heard the elk the previous night.