Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Trout Lake

On November 20, an early Tuesday morning, Sue Ann called to get the hiking group together for a hike that day. It was short notice, but at this time of year with this type of weather, it is the only way to fit hiking in. One takes advantage of sunny nice days. It turned out to be our last hike of the year.

Joyce and I had errands to run in the morning so we could not meet Bill and Sue Ann until 11 am.

The Trout Lake trail head is at the NW corner of Lake McDonald. It is on the road that services the private ("inholder") cabins along this part of the lake.

At the point where the road narrows to a single lane of gravel the road was blocked by a "closed" sign. We parked the car and walked along the road. We quickly found out why the road was closed: a half dozen trees had fallen across the road. This part of the forest had been hit hard by beetles that have killed many pine trees. A little wind and over the trees go.

We found many trees across the trail which made travel slow. Some trees had branches broken already by earlier hikers to allow passage; some trees had to be walked around well off the path; some trees Bill and I broke branches to allow passage across the trees and on the path.

Immediately from the trailhead the trail steadily went upwards. My book's description has the section from Lake McDonald to Howe Ridge at 2100 ft and the Howe Ridge to Trout Lake section about 1100 ft. The Howe Ridge to Trout Lake section, while shorter, was mainly switchbacks, and quite steep, for about .8 of the 1.2 miles. The bottom .3 mile from the junction with the Camas Creek trail to the lake was mainly flat. Each side of the ridge appeared to be equally steep.

Due to the steady climb Bill and Joyce hiked slowly. Where the trail crossed a creek bed Joyce told me to not wait for her and Bill, and to hike ahead. I did so eventually catching up to Sue Ann. Together Sue Ann and I hiked to the top.

To give Joyce and Bill a chance to catch up I took time to break large paths through the deadfall or move the smaller trees entirely off the trail as Sue Ann continued to hike up the trail. On the return trip Sue Ann mentioned she wondered if she was on the correct trail as she didn't encounter the same amount of deadfall on the way out as she did on the way in.

Near the top of the ridge there was a light dusting of snow. Just enough to add white to the color palate.

Sue Ann wasn't interested in hiking down to the lake as she dreaded hiking back up from the lake. However I had never been to the lake and wanted to visit it. Joyce and Bill were some time behind us so I convinced Sue Ann to hike down with me.

There were only a half dozen trees across the trail on the west side. Of those I removed three trees from the trail.

Partway down we saw what we thought was Trout Lake. Later as I hiked from the lake back to the top of the ridge the lake confused me as my sense of direction had the lake more to the north.

After checking the maps when I got home I found the lake to be Rogers Lake, a lake to the south of Trout Lake.

Once we got down to level ground near the lake Sue Ann pointed out a large frozen waterfall to our right and back through the trees. I missed it until she pointed it out. Nice.

Trout Lake was much larger than I expected. The fishing lakes in the Park I've seen in the past tend not to be too large, and with a named called "Trout" Lake, I expected a small lake.

The trail arrived at the lake probably near its southern third.

Near the lake was a hitching post to tie one's horses. Apparently people ride up the Camas Creek trail from the Inside North Fork Road as that is supposed to be fairly level, though longer.

The view from the lake was great! On the Park's web site, there are photos of the lake and mountains taken during the summer. Even then it looks nice.

When I visited, the mountains were draped in snow and were even prettier.

Near where the trail came to the lake, logs floated in the lake stretching from shore to shore. It was odd the logs were in the middle of the lake and not along one or other end. Bill had hiked to Trout Lake years ago and he remembered seeing the logs in this same spot back then. He had the same idea as I... "I wonder if one had a good balance if they could cross the lake on the logs?"

The lake had ice on parts of it. No surprise as the temperature was barely above freezing when we hiked.

Sue Ann was concerned about getting back to the car before dark. It gets dark before 5:30 PM now which didn't leave us much time. It was around 2 pm when she and I had first reached the top of Howe Ridge. I was too busy taking photos to ask her the current time when we were at the lake.

Sue Ann decided to start back while I continued to take photos. She said she would go slowly to the top of the ridge to allow me to catch up.

"Fine. Fine. I'll catch up to you after I take some more photos and check out the trail I see along the lake shore."

The trees went right up the lake and a fisherman trail threaded the trees near the shore. I followed the trail much of the way to the southern end. I stopped when the trail got even fainter and when I could see the southern end of the lake.

Back at the 'main' trail I decided to follow a faint fisherman trail north and right next to the lake shore. More great views. After a bit this trail faded out. I found after moving away from the lake and into the trees, the Camas Lake trail which went to Arrow and Camas Lakes. This trail was in very good condition. No tree roots or rocks to trip on.

I decided to go a little further north on the the trail. Then a little further. Then further. I didn't want to turn around and go back. The views of the mountains changed slightly the more I went. I stopped for a while and watched the clouds move across the top of what I believe to be Mt. Vaught. What I think is Heavens Peak could occasionally be seen through a gap in the clouds. Yes, this is the same Heavens Peak one sees from The Loop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. But now I saw the "backside" of the mountain. I didn't recognize the mountain and never realized it was Heavens Peak until I got home and looked at a map.

I passed an inlet that was completely covered in ice.

Eventually, reluctantly, I stopped. I so wanted to hike further and reach the northern end of the lake. However some time had passed since Sue Ann left and I was sure to get an earful as she does not like to hike alone. And I could see the sun was getting lower in the sky. It is one thing to hike in the dark on a trail in the forest, and another thing to hike on a trail with lots of deadfall to navigate.

I turned around vowing to come again to hike north of Trout Lake.

I moved quickly, but slowly enough, to take in the beauty to last me until next year. I was cold and for some reason my left hand was really cold. I wore a glove and had my hand in my pocket yet it still felt cold.

The switchbacks back to Howes Ridge were steep. Up and up... and up. Before I reached the top I could see the orange ball that was the sun as it went below a mountain.

I forgot the switchback ended about a tenth of a mile below the top of the ridge. My elation at thinking I was at the top was dashed. At I hiked up the last tenth of a mile it felt as if a heavy object was attached to me and I was dragging it up the mountain.

Once I reached the top I moved quicker. I also was no longer cold. In fact I was soaked in sweat from my effort.

In the dusting of snow on the last little bit to the top I had seen Sue Ann's footprints. From the top of the ridge and down I could see Bill and Joyce's tracks. They only hiked to the top of the ridge then went back down.

I ran as much as I could to make up time - and beat the darkness.

Lake McDonald below could be seen in the dusk.

I ran much of the distance only slowing down to cross the deadfall. I was happy I had taken the time to move some of the deadfall as it made the return trip faster.

It was getting dark by the time I reached the car. Joyce had her car's lights on for me to find the car. She and Bill had been back for some time and even walked along the road for a mile. Sue Ann had only returned a short time before I did. Apparently when going around the final deadfall near the trail head she took a nasty fall.

Because of the short notice of the day's hike I had not gathered or brought any food or water with me. I was starving! Joyce shared half of her granola bar with me. Sue Ann had baked and brought cranberry bread and I had a slice. This food had to last me until I got home.

The moon was rising as we drove along Lake McDonald and out of the Park. This is the third month in a row now that we have returned under a full or near full moon from a late hike. But they were all after great hikes.

Horse bridge rebuild

On the way to our hike to Trout Lake we stopped and checked on the progress of the rebuild of the horse bridge over McDoanld Creek. The bridge had been pretty much destroyed in the heavy rains one year ago this month.

As we walked down to the bridge a workman excitedly rushed over to tell us the area was closed.

The main part of the bridge has been built. The workman were now working on the side rails. The new bridge will look nice when finished.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Grinnell Glacier

Friday November 2 Bill, Sue Ann and I hiked to Grinnell Glacier.

Since Bill had missed the Numa and Loneman hikes he wanted to go on a hike this day. He wanted hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel but I learned from Edwina that there was a foot of snow up there in September. Anyway, by now the Park had closed the tunnel's doors.

As this was two days after the hike to Numa Ridge Lookout Arnie wasn't up for another hike so soon. After all he is 81 years old. Joyce had fallen during the Numa hike and bruised her knee so she wasn't up for another hike so soon.

Because the previous two hikes were to the tops of mountains, I suggested we hike to Grinnell Glacier. I had never been there. I tried to visit the glacier when Brian was here this past July but a dead mountain goat closed that trail in case a bear may be attracted to the goat carcass.

So Grinnell Glacier it was.

The trail length was 11.6 miles round trip.

Grinnell Glacier is located in my favorite part of the Park: Many Glacier Valley. Because this was closer to the NE part of the Park, the Sun Road was closed and we had to drive Hwy 2 around the park, we met Sue Ann at 7:30 am in Columbia Falls in order to get an early start.

When I got up it was still dark outside. Venus was very bright in the eastern sky and the Big Dipper was to the east and standing on its handle. An odd view of the Big Dipper for me as I usually see it in the northern sky and relatively level.

The highway 49 shortcut between East Glacier and Hwy 89 was closed for the season. It was over a 2 and 1/2 hour drive to the Many Glacier Valley.

We started our hike at 10:15 am from the trail head on the west side of Swiftcurrent Lake. Only one other car was in parking lot.

When I left home the temperature was 14 F degrees. At the start of hike it was 30 F degrees. The warmest it got during our hike was 38 F degrees. To make it seem even colder an eastern mountain blocked the sun for a while. We could hear the wind but we were in the trees and did not feel it.

How cold was it? You can see ice on Swiftcurrent Lake around the boat dock. At the other end of the lake is the Swiftcurrent Lodge.

The mountain with snow is Mt. Wilbur.
The mountain was the moon above is Grinnell Pt.

We hiked along the west side of Swiftcurrent Lake, then along the west side of Lake Josephine. Sunlight was finally on us when we reached the end of Lake Josephine. But by this time we had moved out of the trees and now felt the wind.

The following photo is taken near the boat dock at the north end of Lake Josephine. It shows the lake, Mt Gould, and Angel Wing. The valley to the right of Angel Wing is our destination. The valley to the left leads to Piegan Pass.

Photo 1: The sun is coming!
Photo 2: boat dock at southern end of Lake Josephine. In the summer one can take a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake, then walk .2 mile across land, then take another boat across Lake Josephine. Taking the boat saves 1.7 miles of walking. I've taken the boat. To me it is not worth the price as the trail is level and easy to hike.

For some reason I had thought this hike wouldn't gain much elevation. While the gain was less than 2000 ft, it was still noticeable and we had some switchbacks along the trail as we climbed higher.

At the start of the switchbacks Bill decided to stop and turn back. He hadn't hiked in over two weeks and was starting to feel the effects. There also started to be some snow and ice on the trail. Bill had hiked this trail before so he was ok with turning around.

Sue Ann had hiked ahead of Bill and I. After Bill turned around I caught up to Sue Ann. Shortly thereafter we encountered lots of ice where a waterfall went across the trail. I tossed some rocks through the shallow ice and into the creek so we could step on them to cross the creek. I talked Sue Ann into continuing and ended up helping her cross to the other side. Then I talked and helped Sue Ann across another icy section. At the first snowfield she elected to climb up and around the snowfield on the steep grassy slope rather than follow in my footsteps across the snow.

Sue Ann said she has hiked this trail almost every year since she moved to Montana. At least 15 times. But she has never hiked the trail so late in the season.

More snowfields. Sue Ann one was partway across the next one when she felt she couldn't continue. But then she found she couldn't turn around and had to continue forward. I helped her across more snowfields and waited on other snowfields as she slowly made her way across them. The snow was hard but not slippery.

As we climbed towards Grinnell Glacier we passed above Grinnell Lake. I had visited the lake this past July with Brian. I wasn't impressed with the lake, but that may have been because I was bummed that the Grinnell Glacier trail was closed due to the dead mountain goat.

Coming around a bend I met a medium sized mountain goat. We were both surprised to see each other. It moved off the trail then cocked its head as if to try to understand why any human would be up here this time of the year. Its coat was long and white and waved and moved in the strong breeze. Usually I see the goats during the summer when they are shedding their winter coats and they don't look as nice. I tried to take a photo but my camera was acting up and would not take a photo. The goat got bored and moved on before the camera would work.

Photo 1: getting closer to Grinnell Glacier. Note: the wall of mountains is the east side of the Garden Wall and are the Continental Divide.
Photo 2: looking back at Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Lake Sherburne. Swiftcurrent Lake is hidden by the mountain on the left.

Near the campground below the glacier we again had trees. The area was covered in snow. With all the snow we lost the trail until we saw the campground. Then it was 0.4 mile to the glacier over a treeless area. We lost and found the trail repeatedly as we followed snow and bare ground. I think the bare ground with small loose rocks was slipperier and more dangerous than walking on the snow but Sue Ann didn't want to walk on the snow unless she had to.

Once when she was hiking down over the snow to where I was Sue Ann started to move too fast and I had to catch her to stop her. Another time while waiting for her a strong gust of wind blew me back and down the snow and mountain side until I stopped myself. I, and the snow, wore her down until she felt more comfortable on the snow.

Over the years Grinnell Glacier has melted and shrunk until there are two separate glaciers now. The second glacier on the western side is called The Salamander. The lake at the bottom of Salamander Glacier was completely frozen. I think it was solid ice with no water underneath, but I am not positive.

Notice the snow (glacier) in the upper left of the photo matches the snow (glacier) seen several photos earlier.

We had reached the frozen lake at 1:15 pm. The wind blew and it was cold! We walked briefly on the lake. My camera took a couple photos before refusing to work again. Due to the wind and cold we didn't stay long and we headed back down the trail as this was no place to sit and eat our lunches.

As we hiked back down to the campground we met a man hiking up to the glacier. He was dressed for winter. As we talked he turned his head sideways to take a sip of water from a plastic tube for a Camelback under his clothes.

Sue Ann greeted him with "Another idiot coming to see the glacier!"

Sue Ann and I disagreed as to the direction of Grinnell Glacier and the lake. We were both right and wrong. She was right about where Grinnell was located and I was right as to where the lake was located.

During the hike back over the snow and ice I held Sue Ann's hand most of the time for stability and to ensure she moved quickly across the snow and ice. It was easier to cross if one had confidence and did not psych themselves into fear and uncertainty.

Once we crossed the last of the snow and ice sections we stopped to eat. We were both starving. Once we stopped to eat clouds came over from the north and blocked the sun. The wind was still blowing and we got cold so we didn't stop for very long and eat. I wore a hooded coat and used the hood. I had forgotten my gloves but fortunately Bill had an extra pair as merely keeping my bare hands in my coat pockets did not keep them warm.

When we were back along the lake we were again in trees and out of the wind more often than not. Also the sun came back out. It was still cold, but not as cold.

At the parking lot Bill's car was gone! Would we have to walk on the road and around the lake to the hotel? A minute later he drove up.

It was 4:15 pm. Bill had brought brownies that his wife had made for us. They were yummy as we sat in Bill's warm car and warmed up.

There was still only one other car in parking lot. Probably for the guy we had met on the trail. The only other vehicle in the Many Glacier Valley that we saw was a van for the Swiftcurrent Lodge's winter caretaker.

We drove to the end of the road. The Many Glacier Inn was all boarded up with large numbers painted on each board that covered the windows and doors. The better to easily reuse them each winter.

As we drove back along Hwy 89 we met horses on the road. That was different as usually it is cows that one has to watch out for on the road.

On the way home we stopped near the Issac Walton Ranger Station along Hwy 2 and checked the Scalplock Trail to see if the swinging bridge was still up. The Park usually rolls the bridges up for the winter. As we hiked down the trail Sue Ann and Bill wanted me to go ahead as I had more energy and could move faster. They then turned around and went back to the warm car.

The trail was covered in a thick layer of Tamarack needles. A faded orange color. Pretty. I saw tracks on the trail where an animal slid to a stop with all four legs. Hmmm... One track looked to be a hoof. Good, as that was better than a track with claw marks. I found the bridge was still up.

It was getting dark when we arrived back in Columbia Falls at 7 pm.