Saturday, April 28, 2007

Finger and Lagoni Lakes

Friday, April 27, my hiking group hiked NW of Kalispell in the Tally Lake Ranger District. We hiked to Lagoni Lake then to Finger Lake.  The hiking group today was: Bill, Gary, Joyce, and I. Sue Ann had another appointment.

In the image on the right, Lagoni Lake and Finger Lake are located in the brown "8" section. "8" indicates the LeBeau Research Natural Area within the Tally Lake Ranger District within the Flathead National Forest. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the "8" area - which explains why you don't see any green national forest roads in this area.

The brown and white areas are part of the Flathead National Forest. The grey areas are private land. The red line is Hwy 93.

Finger Lake is located at the end of Trail 803. Lagoni Lake is not named. The blue words listing "Upper Stillwater Lake" should say "Lagoni Lake". Becky, the Tally Lake ranger I spoke with, never noticed the error until she went over the map with me to tell me where Lagoni Lake is located.

We did not hike to Hole in the Wall Lake as we missed the sign and forgot about it.

Initially we thought of hiking the mountains behind Joyce's ranch, and while I enjoy hiking those mountains, I suggested we hike somewhere different this time to get some variety and go somewhere new. I called the Tally Lake Ranger Station to ask which trails were good and which had snow. Pretty much all the higher trails still have snow on them. I got four or five recommendations of lower elevation trails.

Everyone but me had hiked Lagoni Lake and Finger Lake. The others hiked it last Spring. They decided they wanted to hike it again. So off we went.

On the drive to the lakes we stopped briefly at the Tally Lake Ranger Station to get a map of the district. Gary had no map, and my map was from 1971. A lot has changed since then! Back then there were more roads and no restrictions on motorized access.

The short road from Hwy 93 to the trailhead at the Upper Stillwater Lake campground is a single lane gravel road. It is drivable in a car as Joyce had no problems. She did have to drive slow and navigate around a few large rocks embedded in the road.

At the trailhead there were three or four large boulders placed in what formerly must have been a drivable road to Lagoni Lake.

It is a one mile walk to Lagoni Lake. The trail is mainly flat and wide. Along the trail the trees are fairly tall. Lagoni Lake appears to be a relatively shallow lake surrounded by trees. The water is very clear as I easily could see the trees and branches on the lake bottom some distance out.

The trail arrives at the lake about in its middle. The trail continues on a short distance above the head of the lake where it turns to marsh. Possibly the trail was made by failed attempts to walk around the lake. The lake near the head is so shallow the bottom is a green color.

It was very quiet. The only occasional sound was a distant rumble from the trains that passed in the distance. The Burlington Northern and Amtrak train tracks were between our location and Hwy 93.

On the way back to the trailhead we took a side trail to Finger Lake. This trail was not as wide as it was not a road in the past. This trail was 1.5 miles in length and gained an elevation of 300 feet. Large rock outcroppings were here and there along the trail. At one point after we did a bit of a climb I took a path to an overlook of a small valley.

Usually I have a good sense of direction, but not this time. My sense of direction got messed up during this hike. To me the lake felt like it was going NE to SW when actually it went NW to SE. What felt like the head of the lake was the foot.

We arrived (apparently) at the lake's foot. The lake is very long and narrow and is mostly lined with rock cliffs. Occasionally the terrain went down to the lake. The trail ended at one of the high rock cliffs.

Looking over the edge of the cliff the clear water showed a few spots where the rock extended a short ways out from the cliff, else it was straight down. If one was brave (or foolish!) one could dive from the cliff into the deep water. Gary and I scrambled down a crack in the rock and reached the water. It was cold!

At the foot of the lake was a humongous beaver lodge. It towered over the water. The foot of the lake was too wide to dam so the beaver built this large lodge. We could see the half dozen trails through the watery grass where the beaver swam and brought branches to add to his lodge.

We all sat on the rock above the lake and ate our lunches while enjoying the view. While the weather forecast predicted sunny skies, the sky was mostly cloudy. By the end of our lunch some openings occurred and we occasionally saw blue sky and the sun shone of parts of the lake. I need to get a camera!

A man was fishing from an inflatable boat while his friend was fishing from the shore. After a short while the man in the boat hooked a rainbow trout and reeled it in. It wasn't big but he kept it. After catching the fish he and his partner packed up and left to return the next day for more fishing - or so they said. It was so quiet we could hear most of their conversation even though they were below and away from us.

After our lunch we walked on a trail that bordered the lake for a half mile or so. It went to another rock outcropping further up the lake. From this outcropping we still could not see the head of the lake. The lake appeared to curve around another rock outcropping, to which the trail did not go.

The lake must be popular as along the lake we saw a half dozen old campfires lined with gathered rocks.

From the second rock outcropping we saw two amazing diving ducks. Loons? When we first noticed them we initially thought they were fish that were surfacing. All the time we were along the lake many fish jumped out of the water. These ducks would be above the water for less than a minute then would dive and swim underwater. They were underwater more than above. The water was so clear we could follow their progress as they swam on the other side of the lake from our rock cliff outcropping. It was amazing at how long and far they could swim underwater.

During the walk back I began to find interesting rocks and so I ended up with a half dozen interesting ones. I got all but one in my small backpack. The last one I had to use two hands to carry.  My backpack was starting to feel heavy by the time I got back to the car.

From the car we did a short walk down the road to look at Upper Stillwater Lake. This lake is far larger. Along the one side were the railroad tracks. No trains passed by while we were at this lake. At the head of the lake was another large beaver lodge. A few picnic tables overlooked the lake.

We hiked about 5 miles. Along the way people kept finding interesting and odd items.
  • a good folding knife (by Gary)
  • small binoculars whose lens were cloudy (by Bill)
  • a round handle to something (by Gary)
  • camp stove regulator (by Joyce)
  • a hinge (by me)
  • short piece of rope (by me)
  • fish hook and line (by Joyce)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spring bicycling in Glacier

Friday, April 13, my hiking group and I rode our bicycles in Glacier Park for a change of pace from hiking. We rode on the Going-to-the-Sun road from the Lake McDonald Lodge up to The Loop. Or some of us did.

I was to meet Gary, Joyce, and Bill near the old Costco store along Hwy 2 at 9:20 am. This would save them from having to backtrack to my house to pick me up. I was a few minutes early but found they were even earlier as they already had been to the rendezvous point and were now backtracking to get me. I was a half mile away.

We were early at Sue Ann's house so we loaded her bicycle into the pickup bed while she finished getting ready.

Last weekend Sue Ann decided to burn some grass in the field behind her place. The fire apparently was getting away from her - or at least one of the neighbors thought so - as the local volunteer fire department arrived before she got the fire put out.

We started our ride before 10:30 am. Only a couple other vehicles were in the Lake McDonald Lodge parking lot. While the morning sky was clearing and sunny in the Valley, the clouds hung on in the mountains.

Bill didn't think of bringing gloves. It is a good thing he is a hardy Scandinavian and that living in California for many years didn't erase his Wisconsin upbringing. He survived. Me? A few times my hands felt a touch cool in my light gloves, but I too survived.

The snow is off the road the 7 miles between Lake McDonald Lodge and the Avalanche Creek area. Past Avalanche Creek snow was sometimes on part of the road as it was mixed with rock debris from last Fall's heavy rain and flooding.

When we stopped for a lunch break Joyce rode a little ways up the road to take a bathroom break. She came back and told us that in the middle of her bathroom break, and with her pants down, she saw a black bear a little ways away in the woods. Each quickly went their own way. When we later rode by the area no bear was to be seen. Joyce... were you making up a bear story?

After about 10 miles Joyce and Bill turned around. Gary and I wanted to continue a little further up the road. Sue Ann joined us. After a little bit Sue Ann told us to go on ahead as she planned to turn around soon. The road was now climbing steadily. At the west side tunnel - 13 miles into the trip - Gary told me he planned to turn around. I continued on to The Loop. It was another half mile - up.

While taking my bathroom break before heading back down the mountain I was surprised by - not a bear - but Gary as he decided to continue riding up to The Loop.

While it was still cloudy, up higher the clouds didn't seem as heavy. Looking further up the Sun road there were no signs of snow on the road or of the plowing equipment. Gary heard on the news that the crews were clearing the road several miles beyond The Loop - up where there is serious snow.

After Gary took a few photos of the snow capped mountains we coasted back down the mountain. We went at speeds up to 25 mph for over 2 miles before we had to begin pedaling again. Some small rock debris was on the road. Fortunately the one small rock I hit with my bicycle tire did not cause the tire to go flat.

During our ride back we met over a half dozen other bicyclists heading up the mountain.

Gary and I caught up to Sue Ann a few miles from his pickup. When we reached the pickup Joyce and Bill were returning from a walk down to the Lodge and the Lake.

Gary and I rode a little over 27 miles.

Later, after I returned home, I went to downtown Kalispell to a talk on the damage in Glacier Park from last Fall's massive rains. The talk was held at the local art museum, the Hockaday Museum of Art.

The talk had a park official show photos of the damage to the Sun Road and also some of the trails. Then George Ostrom showed slides of Park trails and scenery and spoke of hiking in the Park. He has hiked in the Park since 1936, when he was a kid.

George is hard of hearing and he couldn't hear the audience's comments - which was good and bad. Bad in that he couldn't hear people give the names of mountains and lakes whose names he forgot. Good in that a few people (quietly) made a few comments about George. George is - I believe - a founding member of the "Over-the-Hill Gang", a group of older people who hike in the Park weekly. Another member of the group, sitting next to me, explained George doesn't hike much anymore and is also a fair weather hiker. A few people grumbled when George mentioned the "Over-the-Hill Gang" as being HIS group.

After the talks were done door prizes were given away. The group had George auction off a framed print and an out-of-print copy of one of George's books. George is not an auctioneer and is hard of hearing, so the auction wasn't a success.

The audience was mainly older and retired. I suspect a number of people were members of the "Over-the-Hill Gang" hiking group. The few younger women looked to be affiliated with the museum as they looked too delicate to be serious hikers.

The event had wine or pop, cookies, veggie items, and other finger foods for people to snack on. I had a small glass of wine.

The event was mainly to get people to donate to a fund to fix the trails. They want to raise a half million to a million dollars to fix the trail damage. I am not sure how successful they were in getting donations. I think most people were mainly interested in seeing and hearing about damage to their favorite trails. A number of gasps were audible when some photos were shown.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hiking from Joyce's ranch

Friday our hiking group did another hike from Joyce's ranch. Joyce, Gary, Bill, Sue Ann, and me.

After a little initial confusion the night before as to the starting time, we finally decided to start at 9:30 am. Gary and I had thought the start time would be later and we planned on riding our bicycles to Joyce's place. But with the 9:30 am start we decided that was too early to bicycle there. The way the mornings have been lately it also would have been a chilly ride that early.

I was under the impression it would be a 3 hour hike so I didn't bring any food along to eat or water to drink. The 3 hours would fit between breakfast and lunch. It wasn't three hours. We hadn't turned around yet when Joyce commented we had been hiking for three hours already. I was surprised as I guessed only half that time had passed.

The hike started from Joyce's ranch up onto a ridge line using a mixture of public and private lands.  Most of the private lands were owned by the large lumber companies and they allowed the public to hike on them.

As the others sat on the rock out cropping I wandered to each side to look at the view. By now we were on the ridge line and could see back east to the Swan Mountain Range all the way from east of Flathead Lake to where it ended on the north at Badrock Canyon. Then I could see over Teakettle Mountain into Glacier Park. I could see miles and miles of snow covered mountains in the Park.

To the west lay mountain after mountain that stretched to the west and SW. These are not as high as the Swan and Glacier mountains so they did not have as much snow covering them.

Down below to the west was Smith Lake, Haywire Gulch, and Kila, Montana.

Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous! I really wished I owned a camera.

A little earlier we came across a house being built on the ridge line. At this elevation it was probably a summer home. A million dollar plus summer home. It was huge and made of logs. The house sat in a saddle straddling the ridge. We walked around and below the house on the west side. Large windows faced the view to the west. A porch was around the top floor where it was off the ground. Due to the landscape the east was ground level and the west was the second floor.

Some of our group were hesitant about passing too close to the house. But I felt since they built it on the path, and now the path skirted below the house on the west side we were justified on passing by. Sue Ann also wanted to walk this path so we would be closer and could look at the house. The others were nervous someone would come out with a gun to chase us off. From the sounds it appeared the workman were still building the house.

I suppose I should start playing the lottery, then if I won I could build me a house like this on a mountain ridge.

We took short cuts from Joyce's house to the ridge line. We would hike along logging roads then go straight up through the bush to get to a higher logging road. After a short walk along the road we would again go straight up. Sometimes the logging road would be old and filled with trees.

Sue Ann didn't like taking the short cuts as she had on her hundred dollar Lycra hiking tights and they didn't protect her shins as well as the jeans the rest of us were wearing.

At one point we came across an area where young pine trees were surrounded in tubes of yellow plastic netting. Probably another piece of private property? Most the land we hiked on was Plum Creek Timber Company land. They let people hike on their property, unlike people who build houses on their property. The timber companies are finding it more profitable to sell their land to developers instead of logging the land. As the timber companies sell more land to individuals, the less land will be available to people to hike on as these home owners then fence their land to keep people out.

We could see the Blacktail Mountain ski resort with its ski runs to our south / southwest and headed in that direction. We never got anywhere close before we turned around to go back.

As we headed back down we did the same as when we hiked up the ridge: we bushwhacked to reach logging roads. Once back down in the valley we crossed a small stream. Joyce's dog, Laddie, was happy and stood in the stream to drink. His head was downstream of his feet which were mudding the water. But he preferred drinking from the creek instead of the water bottle Joyce brought for him. Once his thirst was satiated I got to drink the rest of the water from his bottle.

While we left Joyce's ranch to the NW, we returned from the SW. Joyce's husband, Edley, was out cleaning up trees which had fallen over the winter. Using his tractor he was piling them on a large burning slash pile.

The cattle were about the pasture and in the sunny, warm, Spring day were quite relaxed to watch us pass by - as long as we didn't get too close to the baby calves.

It was almost 2:30 pm when we returned. 5 hours of hiking. We estimated that we hiked 8 miles. A slower pace due to our bushwhacking.

I have never been anywhere where there were so many deer ticks! A few weeks ago in these mountains other people got a number of ticks on their clothes. I never got any then. Today the same thing was happening as the people with lighter clothes were again attracting the ticks.

My good fortune didn't last as during my return trip I started to find a tick or two on my black pants. Then I felt one crawling on the small of my back. Another time while waiting for the women to catch up I took my shirt off and found a few more ticks. At the end of the hike I again took my shirt off and found a tick over my heart starting to burrow in. Sue Ann and Joyce were giving me grief and compared me to the TV show "The Bachelor" where the bachelor was taking his shirt off numerous times during the show.

When I got home I stripped and found more ticks. All total I must have had 10 - 12 ticks on me that day. I can't remember having that many ticks on me in my entire life. *sheesh!*

After the hike was over I helped Gary retrieve his trailer from his former property where we hiked the previous time. It was wetter earlier and he was unable to pull the trailer out without getting stuck - even with a four wheel drive. The trailer was loaded with logs. Using a shovel I filled in the tire ruts from the previous attempt, then Gary backed in and hooked up the trailer. We had no problems getting the trailer this time.