Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Numa Ridge Lookout

Wednesday, October 31, Joyce, Sue Ann, Arnie, and I hiked to the Numa Ridge Lookout.

Trail distance: 11.2 roundtrip.
I also hiked over where Bowman Creek leaves Bowman Lake and that added another .2 mile or so to my total.

Elevation gain: 2930 ft

Highest Point: 6960 ft

The Numa Ridge Lookout trail head is at the foot of Bowman Lake, which is in the NW part of Glacier Park. To reach Bowman Lake drive 34 miles on the North Fork road from Columbia Falls to Polebridge, then enter the Park there.

Once we entered the Park, in my pickup it took me almost 45 minutes to drive the 6+ miles to Bowman Lake.  The road to Bowman Lake is a one lane barely gravel road with bumps and dips. I have driven this road in my car which is low to the ground and it took longer to do as I had to be careful I didn't scrape the bottom of my car.

We saw no one on our drive in to Bowman Lake. On our drive out the others cautioned me that we may meet another vehicle around one of the many twists and turns in the narrow road.

"The odds are against anyone driving in to the lake at 4:30 pm."

Wouldn't you know it we met another vehicle coming in to the lake this late in the day. Must be a tourist. We slowly squeezed by one another on the road.

As mentioned, I drove this time. That was because we had many miles of gravel road to drive on the North Fork road, which is very rough. I drove my pickup due to its high clearance, but it was a tight squeeze for the four of us. "Like sardines" as Arnie said. It helped that Sue Ann, Joyce and Arnie are all small and thin.

The North Fork road had been bladed a few weeks earlier and we were able to make good time driving it. A good part of the distance along the road had black dead trees from the 2002 and 2003 Moose and Roberts fires.

The Polebridge Mercantile was open but we did not stop. The entrance into Glacier Park had no one staffing it. Who would come to the Park this early in the morning this late in the season on a weekday?!

We arrived at Bowman Lake at 9 am.  We were the only people there. No one was in the campground, not even the campground host who stopped us from using our boat on Bowman Lake this past July.

Numa Ridge Lookout is at the top of the darker part of the mountain in front of Numa Peak.

Notice how large mountains can be easily hidden. All one has to do is move a short distance down a trail and "voila!" another mountain.

It was chilly when we started our hike. In the 30s. The sun was still behind the eastern mountains. As we hiked we warmed up, especially after we turned off the Bowman Lake trail and onto the Numa Lookout trail. The first .7 mile was along the lake and relatively flat. The Numa Lookout trail immediately began to climb. It wasn't long until the sun made an appearance. And no, we did not see any bears.

After we reached the top of a ridge the trail was relatively level a short distance as it headed north towards the mountain with the lookout on it. 

A southern route up the mountain with the lookout on it was a good thing as that meant no snow on the trail. I had called the Park office yesterday and was told that the previous week the trail was mostly snow free with a small amount of snow in a few spots. We didn't encounter any snow on the trail though we did see the last crystals in one spot where the snow was 99.9% melted. At the top we did see snow on the northern side of the mountain in shady areas.

The trail continued past the lookout and it appeared to go down, perhaps to Akokala Lake below. No maps show the trail going beyond the lookout, though it makes sense a trail would go between the lookout and the lake. This trail was snow covered with hard snow and the tracks in the snow appeared to be deer or elk tracks.

The lookout is staffed in the summer though it was boarded up now. Solar panels glistened in the sun on the southern side. The panels looked new and out of place on the old lookout.

The lookout was two stories with the first story being the storage area and the top part the living quarters. The living quarters had windows all the way around the lookout for a 360 view. All the windows were boarded up.

I flipped the clips on one board and took it off temporarily to look inside the lookout. Inside were:
  • a small single bed
  • desk and chair
  • cupboards
  • propane stove
  • a covered object in the center of the room, which most likely was an Osbourne Fire finder.
It would be a simple austere life, but it would be so cool to work in a lookout over the summer.

Like at the Loneman Lookout there was a small outhouse below and south of the lookout. Again one had a great view from the outhouse if they wished to keep the door open.

The views in every direction were great. To the north/NE Numa Peak rose blocking the view northwards. While no trail went to the top, it looked doable to climb to the top. Next time.

To the north were Reuter Peak with Kintla Peak in the background. Both had snow on their southern side our level and lower.

To the east was the massive Mt Carter with Rainbow Peak and Square Peak (the pointy peak - go figure) to the right of it.

To the left of Mt Carter is Thunderbird Mountain with Chapman Peak beyond it. When we hiked from Bowman Lake to Waterton Lake we passed over Brown Pass which is between Thunderbird Mountain and Chapman Peak.

While the following photo isn't stitched together very well, it does give you an idea of the view from the NW (Reuter Peak) to the east (Square Peak).

To our south stretched out Bowman Lake. According to the map we were only half way along the lake. In person it looked as if we were closer to the northern end of the lake.

Beyond Bowman Lake, and past the Cerulean Ridge, stretched the North Fork valley. To our west/SW lay more of the the large North Fork valley. Beyond lay the mountains of the Whitefish Range.

Beautiful views all around. While the sky was clear the day was surprisingly hazy. Unusual for the Fall. I must say that after hiking to Loneman Lookout a week earlier, this hike - while very good - didn't feel quite as nice. Perhaps too much of a good thing with the second hike being unfairly compared. Or perhaps it was not quite the adventure this time as we didn't have any cold streams to ford.

At the lookout the wind blew cold from the west. As we ate our lunch we sat on the east side of the lookout trying to both stay in the sun and out of the wind. Arnie shared some of the cookies his wife had made. They were very delicious!!

During the hike up to the lookout Arnie and Sue Ann hiked together as I stayed back with Joyce who is a slower hiker up mountains. During the hike down Joyce and Arnie took off. I lingered behind to take photos until the trees obstructed the views. Then I caught up to Sue Ann and hiked with her back to the pickup. One thing to say about hiking with Sue Ann, there is no fear of surprising a bear. She talks non-stop. My brain was numb by the time we got back to the trail head.

The others waited by the lake while I hiked the short distance to the bridge that went over Bowman Creek as it left Bowman Lake. There is a nice view of the lake from the bridge.

It was only 4:30 pm when we left. It felt early. I offered to drive the North Fork road the 22 miles to the Canadian border but Joyce and Arnie wanted to head back home.

We arrived in Columbia Falls at 5:15 pm. It wasn't even dark yet. That's a change!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Loneman Mountain

Date of the hike: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In a nutshell:
great hike with fantastic views. One I want to do again.

Time to do the hike: when the river level is low as this involves fording the Flathead River.

Trail Length:
15 miles.

I know the book says 6.5 miles one way, but:
  • from the car to the river, then to the Nyack trail head on the other side of the river (half mile)
  • Nyack trail head to the lookout (sign said 7 miles)

Elevation gain: 3900 ft

Joyce, Sue Ann and I hiked to the top of Loneman Mountain. Arnie had another commitment, and Bill didn't want to hike in the potential snow. We weren't sure if there would be snow on top of Loneman, but this time of year the odds were that there would be some snow.

Because the Middle Fork of the Flathead River provides an effective barrier much of the year, and the trails in this area are long (The Nyack Loop is 35 miles), I think this may be the least visited part of the Park, even less visited than the out-of-the-way NW section near Polebridge.

I never heard of Loneman until this past July when I met a couple at the Event at Rebecca Farms who had ridden this trail on horseback and recommended it.

Joyce had wanted to hike to Harrison Lake which also meant crossing the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. That was the plan until I pushed for Loneman Mountain. Harrison Lake is in a valley and we can do that hike later when the mountain peaks are snow covered.

The sun didn't rise until after 8 am. While waiting for Joyce to pick me I watched the sun rise over the Swan Range.

Then the valley inversion took hold and the fog/clouds grew from the mountains out my way obscuring the sunrise. It was foggy when Joyce arrived. Surprisingly the fog cleared at Columbia Falls where we met Sue Ann. But once we crossed Bad Rock Canyon and entered the mountains the fog again got thick.

The previous week we had scouted the location of the river crossing but could not find it. This time with the map and description we easily found it. The previous week we had not driven far enough along Highway 2.

The fog was heavy when we arrived at the parking area. We could hardly see the river much less Loneman Mountain. Our plan was to check out the mountain from the parking lot to see if and how much snow was on it before deciding whether to hike up it. Unable to see it, Joyce and I decided to "go for it!" We are fairly adventurous.

Sue Ann was concerned about the river crossing.  Years ago with another hiking group she crossed the river on a hike to Harrison Lake. She remembered the water as being fast and deep and that her hiking group did not wait for her and another woman to help them across.

We brought sandals and shorts for crossing the river. The river didn't look high and I thought it would be knee deep or less. I decided to roll my pants up above my knees instead of changing to shorts like Joyce and Sue Ann did. A big mistake.

We walked down until we found a wider section where the water rippled as it flowed. I figured the river would be shallower here. As we walked across the river the bottom steadily dropped and the water level rose. We held hands and Joyce and Sue Ann used ski poles for extra support and stability.

The water was very cold, and with the river getting deeper and the current getting stronger Sue Ann and Joyce wanted to get across as quick as possible. I concentrated on stepping carefully on the rocky bottom and was blocking out how cold the water was. The next I knew Joyce and Sue Ann were pulling me along as we crossed the river. Half way across Sue Ann cried out that she couldn't do this but we encouraged her to go on and we all crossed the river and reached the exposed river bed on the other side.

We were all excited and our hearts were racing but we made it. I found that my right sandal had broke and had only partially remained on my foot. The ankle strap was the only strap left holding the sandal onto my foot. I couldn't fix the sandal and decided not to worry about it until we returned.

The water was deeper than I expected. It had come up above where I had rolled my pants. I rolled my pants down and with my hands I ringed the water from my pants. Sue Ann and Joyce changed from their shorts to different pairs of shorts. They are shorter than me and their shorts got wet from the river crossing. We placed the wet clothes, sandals, and the towel used to dry our legs and feet on a small pine tree and hoped the sun would come out later and dry them.

The next order of business was to find the trail on this side of the river among the small cottonwood trees and brush growing on this low area. I believe this area floods during each Spring runoff. Eventually we found the trailhead sign on a higher bank across a dry gravel riverbed.

We passed by the old Nyack Ranger Station. There were two buildings: one looked to be the ranger station residence, the other to be a storage barn for animals and supplies. The buildings were still standing but both were old, run down, and unused for many years.

Not long after the Ranger Station the trail came to the Boundary Trail. We took a left and hiked among tall trees on a trail buried in leaves. It was past the peak Fall colors and most leaves and tamarack needles were now on the ground.

Imagine our surprise when we came to the Nyack Creek and discovered there was no bridge. Umm... that is not what the guidebook said. The guidebook is from 1994, but the bridge looked to be gone well before then. We found the former bridge's supporting structure on each creek bank but they were old and starting to rot. The only way to cross was via the horse ford.

We were all dismayed as we had left our water crossing clothes and shoes back at the river. If we were to cross this creek we would have to do it barefoot. Joyce and Sue Ann were hesitant but I was determined not to quit. I took my shoes off and rolled my wet pants up - again.

The creek wasn't wide, had no current, and did not look deep. As I waded into the creek I discovered that each step took me deeper even though with each step the river bottom looked to be getting shallower. This ain't making sense! Without Sue Ann and Joyce to drag me along I took care where I stepped. This protected my bare feet but my slower crossing meant that I felt how cold the water was. Remember this is the end of October in Montana and this water was from recent mountain snows. This creek was deeper than the river crossing but (thankfully!) the water did not quite reach my crotch.

I was so happy to get across the river! Joyce and Sue Ann took off their shoes and long pants and crossed the river in their extra pair of shorts. The river level came up to their crotches and they both howled. But they made it.

"What's next? Snow?"

On we hiked. We passed the trail junction with the Nyack Creek Trail. Then we came to the junction where the trail to Loneman split off from the Boundary Trail. 5.3 miles to the top. The trail now was steeper.

As we climbed higher the clouds/fog tried to lift. We could see patches of blue sky then the fog would come back. Then more trees; then less trees.

Then the clouds sank and we could see several mountain tops above the tops of the clouds. The mountains rose into clear blue skies. Then the clouds rose and hid the mountains again. Minutes later we could see the mountains to the south and west again - this time more of the mountains.

The see-saw effect went back and forth for five to 10 minutes before the clouds finally shrank and started to dissipate into smaller clouds in various valleys. These smaller clouds moved along the valleys shrinking as they went until none were left.

It was beautiful. Everything. The mountains coming through the cloud tops, the see-saw effect, and the snow covered mountains once we were able to completely see them.

On we hiked through a burnt forest. Judging from the tree bark that remained on the trees, its color, and the size of the carpet of new pine trees growing, we estimated the fire to have occurred back in 2002 or 2003 during those bad fire years.

Contrary to the drawing showing the elevation gain, the trail did not go steadily upwards. Once we climbed up part of the mountain, the trail almost leveled for a distance (half mile to a mile) as we went along the shoulder to reach the main mountain.

From here we could see our destination: the lookout. In the following photo the lookout is on top of the left peak. From here the right peak looks higher, but it is not. The left peak is higher.

We had started up the main mountain when a sound startled Sue Ann. We had all stopped to catch our breath and Joyce and I were looking back at Sue Ann so we both saw the horse as soon as it snorted. Sue Ann was looking as us and initially thought the snort was a bear.  We met an older couple on horseback. They were just as surprised to see us as we them. They never expected anyone would cross Nyack Creek, especially this time of year.

We chatted a bit then let them by as horses travel faster than we do.

As we climbed higher we encountered a couple sections of light snow on shady areas of the trail. Nothing too deep or too long.

Eventually the trail turned from going NW to east, then north. Shortly after we headed north we reached a small saddle between the peak with the lookout on it and a smaller peak to the SE of the lookout. From here we could see the lookout. Once we reached the top of the saddle we could see on the north side of Loneman. Wow!

We saw the Nyack Valley as it went north/NE. On the other side were the massive Mt Stimson and also Mt Pinchot.

The trail continued up along the east side of Loneman then moved around the north side of the mountain as it curled up to the top reaching the lookout from the west side. By the time one climbs reaches the lookout hey have done a 360 circle of the mountain.

This photo is looking towards the top with the lookout, though one can't see the lookout in the photo.

On the north side of the mountain the trail was covered in deep snow. The horses sank their legs into the snow and I saw footprints where one of the riders walked. The horse tracks helped in walking through the snow. Even so Sue Ann was nervous about walking through the snow. Even with the trees on the mountain side below us rising to provide a feeling of security against falling, Sue Ann fretted about the drop down.

From the top of Loneman we could see Harrison Lake far below on the north side in another valley. The lake looks long and large. It is beautiful from above. Beyond are more mountains and a mountain-less area which I believe is where Lake McDonald is located, and we could also see to the North Fork Valley.

The horse couple were still at the lookout. Their horses were tied to a couple small trees and they sat on the ground with a map, eating and looking at the mountains to the east. They also had been to Dawson-Pitamakin recently and they and I tried to find Mt Morgan, Flinsch Peak, and the passes. In the end I feel we could only see part of Flinsch Peak between and beyond Mt Stimson and Mt Pinchot.

To the south was the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and the valley with Hwy 2 and the train tracks. Beyond were tall mountains that went as far as we could see and into the Bob Marshall wilderness.

The lookout was shuttered for the season.  Below the lookout to the south was an outhouse. The outhouse door faced south and one had a tremendous view as one sat there.

Sue Ann was "chattier" than normal. Joyce and I talked with the husband while Sue Ann explained her life story to the woman.

Joyce and I learned the husband had worked on a Park survey crew back in the 1960s and spent a summer on horseback in all parts of the park surveying the mountains and valleys. We also got suggestions on other places to hike.

It was after 3 pm so Joyce didn't want to linger long on the mountain top. It took us five and a half hours to reach the top. This time of year it gets dark before 8 pm, and while going down the mountain should be quicker than climbing it, we didn't have much time to waste.

The couple also came down the mountain when we did. Instead of going back on the trail and snow, we all bushwacked down the mostly treeless southern side of the mountain, down to the saddle where we rejoined the trail. This entire southern part of the mountain was snow free, though we still had to be careful walking as the thick grass could be slippery. The couple walked and led their horses down as the terrain was too steep to ride on the horses.

At the saddle the couple got on their horses and quickly went ahead and were gone. I now had the reverse situation: when hiking up Joyce is slower than Sue Ann; when hiking down Joyce is faster than Sue Ann as age and activities have taken their toll on Sue Ann's knees.

Along the way we passed through an area with lots and lots of pines tree "ends" on and along the trail. It appears a squirrel had been very busy.

Once we reached Nyack Creek I changed into my bicycle shorts. Now that my pants had dried I was not going to get them wet again!  Man! The water was cold!

I crossed the creek first because Sue Ann and Joyce decided to take off their shorts and cross in their underwear. They did not want to get their shorts wet as it was the last of their dry clothes. I had my back to the river to give the women their privacy.  They sure whooped and hollered when crossing in the cold water.

Sue Ann had taken a bathroom break just before crossing the creek, and as she and Joyce were about to enter the water, Sue Ann remembered that she forgot the ski pole she had been using. The ski poles were Joyce's and Joyce told her to forget about it as she wanted to cross the creek and get dressed as soon as possible as she was getting cold.

We quickly dried off and put our shoes back on. The sun was behind the mountains and soon it would get dark.

The following two photos were taken prior to our re-crossing Nyack Creek.

We quickly hiked back to the Flathead River. There we found our clothes where we had left them on the pine tree branches. They were dry. I was still wearing my bicycle shorts so I only had to change from my shoes to my sandals. I couldn't fix my broken sandal so I resolved to walk carefully and try to keep the sandal's sole under my foot.

I waited for Joyce and Sue Ann. We started out together but due to my sandal I let go with my hand and let them cross faster as almost immediately I was lagging behind their quick pace.

While we crossed in the same area, it wasn't exactly the same spot. Maybe the morning fog had made it hard for us to remember the exact location now. Or maybe the evening dusk made it harder to find again. Or maybe the river rose during the day making it seem a different and deeper location.

3/4 of the way across the river it got deeper and the current stronger. Joyce and Sue Ann started to go more at a sideways angle than straight across. Fear was starting to enter their voices so I forgot about my sandal and dashed forward to reach them. I grabbed a hold of Joyce's hand and stood upstream of them to break the river current and got them across the river.

The almost full moon had risen above an eastern mountain just as we reached a large gravel bar more than half way across the river. It was quite beautiful.

We still had to make our way across the large gravel bar with bushes and small trees, then a small bit of water before reaching the river bank.

Once I reached the river bank I turned and looked at the moon again. I could see it's reflection in the small bit of water. Only minutes had passed but the sky was darker and the moon higher.

We dumped our stuff in Joyce's car's trunk and jumped inside. With the dark came the cold and we wanted the warmth of the car's heater. I sat in the front passenger seat so I could put my bare feet under the heater's blower.
It was 7 pm when we reached Joyce's car. Our return hike was in a shorter time than hiking up, but still it took us over 3 hours to hike down and cross the creek and river. 9 am to 7 pm - a 10 hour day of hiking. Pretty much from sun-up to sundown.