Friday, August 31, 2007

Logan Pass to Many Glacier

Friday August 31 my hiking group again resumed our hikes. Our previous hike had been August 1. It had been too hot and smokey (due to the forest fires) this August to do much hiking.

The hiking group today was:
  • Arnie
  • Bill
  • Sue Ann
  • Joyce
  • Edley
  • me
Our goal was to hike the Highline trail from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet, then hike over Swiftcurrent Pass and down to the Many Glacier valley. The total distance is 15.2 miles. Due to a mishap (which I'll explain later) I hiked more, probably around 16.5 miles.

Between Logan Pass and Granite Park Chalet the distance is 7.6 miles and the elevation change is 200 ft . Between the Chalet and the Swiftcurrent Pass my guess is that we gained 600 ft in 0.9 mile. We then lost 2300 ft in the 6.7 miles down to Many Glacier.

Because I hiked a greater distance I also climbed more elevation as my extra hiking was on the steep downhill section to Many Glacier. I climbed and then lost at least an extra 1000 ft.

We met at 8 am. Bill's wife was our chauffeur since this was a point-to-point hike and we needed transportation back to a car. Actually two cars as our group was 6 people plus Marilyn. A few too many people to drive a long distance in one car.

During the drive up to Logan Pass, after we passed Avalanche Creek, we saw a medium sized black bear on the road. He stood in the other lane watching us slowly approach, then quickly turned around and dashed off the road into the trees.

By the time we started our hike at Logan Pass it was 9:40 am. The weather was decent: not too hot nor cold. We had some sun but clouds were coming from the west and rain was predicted for later in the afternoon.

Two Park employees were repairing two sections of the Highline Trail after it passed through the narrow section along the rocky cliff above the Sun road. The man had a tattoo from his elbow to shirt sleeve. I stopped and admired it and asked him about it. It was a landscape image of mountains and trees and two mountain peaks reflected in a lake. With the reflection he could also see the image as we saw it. Not a bad tattoo, but a bit much as it covered his arm with green and black. The woman didn't have any tattoos that I noticed as she was wearing a long sleeved shirt and long pants.

Not too many people were on the trail, at least not as many as I expected to see as this is a popular trail.

It took us about 3 hours to reach the chalet where we stopped to eat our lunch on an outside picnic table.  We sat and looked at the view of the Garden Wall and back to Logan Pass. After our lunch we checked out the interior of the chalet. A few snack items were sold and there were a half dozen tables inside for people to sit and eat out of the elements.

As we hiked up to Swiftcurrent Pass the last hiker of a group of three men said "Good Day, Mate!" when he saw me wearing my "Good Day Mate!" Australian tshirt. He stopped and he, Bill, Arnie and I chatted with him a bit. Before Sue Ann continued up the trail she guessed his accent as being Australian. Wrong. I said "New Zealand" and I was right. Still it wasn't as pronounced as other people from New Zealand I know. He now lives in Ohio so that may explain why his accent was muted slightly. He and his buddies, for the past five years, have come each year to Glacier Park for a multi-day backpacking trip. Their trips usually last four to six days and they were coming off another long trip.

Later we passed a young couple backpacking. They were not as energetic as the previous three men. I gave them encouragement as he didn't look to be in shape for backpacking. While she looked to be in better shape I thought I detected a sliver hesitant quiver in her voice when she answered that their goal was "Many Glacier".

Sue Ann, Joyce and Edley were well ahead of us - and moving - by the time we reached Swiftcurrent Pass. By the time we neared the Pass the occasional rain drop turned into a frequent drizzle. The wind picked up and blew hard. At least the wind was at our back. Bill, Arnie and I had brought coats and windbreakers and we put them on. Bill carried his hat in his hand to keep it from blowing away. I cocked my head and occasionally reached to hold my hat to keep it from blowing off my head.

Even down the other side of the Pass the wind blew in spurts and the rain still fell. As I turned back and forth on the switchbacks I looked back up towards the Pass and saw the rain being blown out in sheets as the mountain side quickly dropped down. I had hoped the Continental Divide would have kept the rain on the west side of the Divide. Occasionally I would stop to take photos of the Many Glacier Valley below. Arnie and Bill then hiked ahead of me.

Arnie also had a digital camera and he took a few photos. As we rounded a cliff we saw the Swiftcurrent Glacier and he stopped to take a photo of it. I did the same and before I could put my camera away a strong gust of wind blew my hat from my head before I could reach up to grab it. I turned around to see my hat rolling down the trail on its brim. It was like a wheel rolling. I began to chase it but it took a right turn and blew off the cliff. I did not lunge for my hat before it went over the side.


Bill and Arnie turned to see what was the matter with me.

"My hat is gone!"

I was in shock and after a quick look over the cliff I decided I needed to get down the mountain to find my hat. The area between the trail far below and the mountain side looked flat and not all that much of an area to search. Yeah, right!

I raced down the mountain passing Bill and Arnie, then catching up to Sue Ann, Joyce and Edley and passing them.

The cliff from the bottom looked different so I made a guess where I had lost my hat. The scree and rock that went from the trail to the cliff was steep and I had to scramble on hands and feet to get up towards the cliff. By now the others had reached the trail below me and would point out light colored objects they thought was my hat. Nope. ..Nope. ...No.

I scrambled along like a mountain goat occasionally finding and using faint mountain goat trails. No sign of my hat. I scrambled and half slid down the grass growing among the rock in my attempt to return to the trail. The grass was wet from the rain that had now quit.

"I love that hat! It is my favorite hat!" I had bought the hat back in 1986 when I visited my friend Mark when he lived in Chicago and was going to optometry school. I didn't want to lose the hat. From below I could see the cliff face was not all straight down, some areas had shorter rock cliffs sticking out from the main one.

In my shock and haste I didn't really look over the edge where my hat had rolled off. I decide to go back up to where I lost my hat and look again. This was not a trivial task as the distance was more than half way up - or down - from the Pass. I left my day pack and ran up the trail while the others continued on to our end destination. I didn't run up all of the trail - it was too steep and long.

Just below where I had lost my hat I met the young couple who were backpacking to Many Glacier. They were holding onto their baseball caps as they hiked.

At the spot where I lost my hat I looked over the edge. A small, somewhat steep, gravel area was located next to the trail where my hat had rolled. I walked back and forth along the edge of the trail looking for my hat down below on this small outcropping. No hat. I climbed down on this area and slowly and carefully worked my way back and forth. No hat. I could not get to the edge of this area because it was loose rock and a little steep. I had no way of knowing if another outcropping was below or whether it was straight down at that point.

I carefully looked out to the ground far below to see where the trail went and for identifying landmarks I could to orient myself better when I returned below. I saw how the trail turned away from the cliff and also saw a lighter section of land, probably due to trees or scree with no grass. My earlier search looked to be too far to the south.

I ran back down the trail passing the young backpacking couple who had paused to take photos of Swiftcurrent Glacier and its waterfalls.

At the bottom I again could not tell where I had lost my hat. The perspective from up and down were so different. I couldn't tell where the lighter section of land was, but I could tell where the trail started to bend from the cliff. I had a large area to search between the trail and cliff and it was a very steep slope of mainly scree. While this area was mainly cliff with little in the way of outcroppings, still my hat could have landed on one above once it got out of the wind above. I was getting discouraged and fought off the impulse to quit due to how impossible it would be to find my hat. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I couldn't bear thinking that a mountain goat would find my hat and eat it. I was here now. I have to at least try. If I don't try, I won't ever find it.

I scrambled on my hands and feet up the scree slope. There was not as much grass here.  With each step the scree slid under my foot so that I only made a half step or less in going uphill. Occasionally I would find a mountain goat trail and I would follow it sideways in order to catch my breath, then upward away.

I decided to search in a triangle shape as I wasn't sure exactly where to search. I had to do a short "zig" to get around a long rock outcropping in order to get to the uppermost left corner of my imaginary triangle. It was during this "zig" on a more level section that I noticed my hat sitting normally on the ground. I couldn't believe it was my hat. Isn't something the last place you look for it? I was just starting my upper corner of the triangle and I expected that if I found my hat it would be later and below or above me, not a foot from my hand as I scrambled along the steep scree. I'm not complaining; I was overjoyed to find my hat. I found the needle in a haystack.

The first thing I did was to flip my hat over and look at the label. Yup, it was my hat. I tried it on. Yup, it was my hat. A little worse for wear as the fabric below the hat's brim was coming loose. But that was probably more due to the earlier rain that the long fall.

Going down the scree was like gong down a steep snow bank. I would kick one foot then the other into the small loose rock and then would ride the flow of rock down the mountain side. Over and over I did this. Sometimes I would have to move to another scree run when the one I was on ran out. It was great fun: fast and far easier than climbing it up.

I found a neat rock during one of my scree slides and picked it up as a souvenir. However after I reached my day pack and took a photo of the cliff I discovered my rock was missing. I did a short quick search of the trail between my day pack and where I had rejoined it. No sign of the rock. No way was I climbing the scree again to search for it!

I ran down the trail to catch up to the group. I thought I wouldn't catch them before the end of the trail but then I saw them waiting in a dry river bed before we reached Bullhead Lake. They had stopped and had lunch and also used their binoculars to search for my hat or me. They were worried I would fall off the cliff in my determined search for my hat.

I was carrying my hat and initially they didn't see it as I approached. I raised my hand and hat and they were shocked and overjoyed I had found it. They didn't think I would find it. After a short celebration we continued our hike. They teased me that I now looked like I belonged on the TV show, "Hee Haw" due to how my hat looked with its sagging brim fabric. It didn't matter - I had my hat.

By now the front had passed and the sky was clearing. The temperature was the warmest it had been all day. I was shirtless due to all my running and climbing.

It wasn't long before we reached the wood swinging bridge below Bullhead Lake. This is where Bill, Wendy, her sister, and I had been stopped during our Spring hike on this trail. The creek back then was high from the Spring runoff and the bridge had not been hung yet for the season.

I was starting to drag by the end and was happy to be done with the hike. Marilyn was waiting for us at the Swiftcurrent trailhead parking lot in Joyce and Edley's car. Bill and Marilyn's car was waiting at St. Mary. While we hiked Marilyn drove their car from Logan Pass to St Mary, then rode the free bus back to Logan Pass to get Joyce and Edley's car and drove it to Many Glacier. We all barely squeezed into the car for the relatively short ride to St. Mary.

At St Mary we naturally had to stop at the Park Cafe for pie. We heard the cafe would be closing Sept 17 when the road over Logan Pass was closed. We have to eat pie when we have the chance. Besides we earned it with our long hike this day. Not only did most of us have pie (pecan for me today) but we all ordered a meal to eat before the pie. I had a bisonburger and it was good.

After the meal we split among the two cars and drove home via Logan Pass. It was 7:30 pm when we left the Park Cafe and I didn't get to my house until 9:30 pm. Arnie and I rode with Joyce and Edley.

Less than five minutes before getting to Arnie's car in the Super 1 parking lot it began to rain. And rain hard. We desperately need the rain, and it was good the rain hadn't started while we were hiking, but it sure would have been nice if it had waited five minutes until Arnie could get into his car. He had left his car keys in his other pants which were in his hiking day pack in Joyce and Edley's car trunk. We waited a few minutes but the rain was not letting up so he made a dash to get his stuff and get into his car. He didn't get too wet.

As we drove through Columbia Falls the lightning flashed strong to the west over Whitefish. I hope we had enough rain to prevent any fire starts from the lightning.

It was a long day where I had seen the sunrise and it was well after sunset when I got home. It was a good day - even if I had temporarily lost my hat.

Photo 1: Garden Wall as seen from Logan Pass
Photo 2: Herd of bighorn sheep near start of trail. I have never seen so many sheep near Logan Pass as I have this year.

Walking along the Highline trail

Photo 1: Looking back at Clements Mountain
Photo 2: looking forward to Haystack Butte

View to the Northwest

The Highline trail is relatively flat, except for a few spots. This spot is at the back of Haystack Butte

While the forest fires have been contained, some are still burning inside the containment lines and produce smoke. Still, this is nowhere near as bad as it was weeks ago. Here are a couple photos looking down the Lake MacDonald Valley towards West Glacier.

Lots of bear scat on the Highline trail. Much of it was fresh bear scat. Looks like the bears are finding the berries.

From left to right: Garden Wall, Haystack Butte, Reynolds Mtn, Mt Oberlin, Clements Mtn, Mt Cannon.

Granite Park Chalet - front and back - and extra building with more rooms.

Photo 1: Nails on the window shutters to keep the bears out.
Photo 2 and 3:Views inside the chalet.

Photo 1: view from Granite Park Chalet back to Logan Pass
Photo 2: view looking back down on the Chalet from the Swiftcurrent Pass trail

Photo 1: Swiftcurrent Lookout. See the small building? We did not go up there.
Photo 2: sign
Photo 3: at Swiftcurrent Pass previous travelers left these rocks here. It was raining and blowing so I didn't add to the pile as I continued on down the pass.

Photos of the Many Glacier Valley from Swiftcurrent Pass. Note the dark rainy skies.

Photo 1: Swiftcurrent Glacier
Photo 2: Bullhead Lake (first 3 linked lakes) and then Red Rock Lake

Photo 1: The cliff where I lost my hat. The little bit off the side of the trail doesn't look steep does it? It is. I scrambled carefully down to the large white rock in the "V" outcropping and checked to each side in case I couldn't see the whole area from the trail.

Photo 2: Fortunately, an area where I did not lose my hat as there were plenty of rocks for the hat to get caught on on the way down.

The view from below. Photo 1 somewhat gives an idea of the steepness to the loose rocks.

I marked where I think I lost my hat at the top. I also marked where I did find the hat at the bottom. My goal was to search from A to F but I found the hat between C and D. The area below the cliff is steeper than it looks in the photo, that is why I zig-zagged and was going from C to D to get around the rock so I could get to E.

The bridge where Bill, Wendy and I were stopped when we hiked up the trail last Spring. The Park hadn't put up the bridge yet.

Hmmm... wonder why they call it Red Rock Lake?

Looks like a bear dug this?

Photo 2: Red Rock Lake.

My battered - but found - hat. Compare it now to when I wore it when hiking to Apgar Lookout with Colleen August 2. My poor hat!!

Last, but not least, at the end of a long day here are a couple of photos from the St Mary entrance to Glacier Park. The clouds and rain were coming back.