Saturday, September 26, 2009

Quartz Lakes

Saturday, September 26, I hiked the Quartz Lakes loop in Glacier Park with Joyce, Patti and Gene. This is a hike I've been wanting to do for some time now.  As it is in the NW corner of the Park it is not the easiest to reach, especially as one has to drive 40 miles or so on the rough North Fork road.

The hike's distance was 12.8 miles.  We hiked the loop clockwise. We first hiked 6.2 miles over the ridge that lies between the Bowman and the foot of Quartz Lake gaining 1800 ft up before descending 1600 ft.  Then we hiked 3.1 miles along Middle Quartz Lake and to the foot of the Lower Quartz Lake.  The return to the start at Bowman Lake was 3.5 miles with another climb of 1000 ft over the ridge before dropping 1200 ft to the start.

The climb back to the ridge top from Lower Quartz Lake was less in elevation but much steeper than to Quartz Lake.  Now that I have done the complete loop I agree with Patti that the best part is the hike to Quartz Lake.

Patti had hiked this loop a few years ago and was willing to do this hike again with Gene, Joyce and I who all had never hiked the loop.  Even though I had been up the rough North Fork road a few days earlier I was willing to go on it again so soon.  Patti drove and her Subaru has a smoother ride than my car.

It was a slightly cool but reasonable morning when we started our hike.  With clear skies the sun warmed the day up to be perfect.  The forecast was for high winds in the afternoon because of a cold front and jet stream. While it became windy we were sheltered in the trees.  We could hear the wind in the tree tops and see them sway.

The hike up the ridge was through mature trees and thin undercover.

The hike down from the ridge top to Quartz Lake was through a young forest and we had good views of all lakes.

Once we reached Quartz Lake we were able to sit on the small pebble gravel beach and still be warm.  Patti, Joyce and I took our shoes off and waded in the lake and found it not to be as cold as we had expected.  Still no one went for a swim as we hadn't brought swim clothes. Naturally when I waded in the water I pushed the limit and got the bottom of my shorts wet.  In the warm sun they dried in the hour plus we were there.

The lake is quite beautiful with the mountains all around.  Several of us called this lake "Little Bowman" as the mountain views reminded us of Bowman Lake.

Gene is a big fan of Subway sandwiches. This year he decided to pack a sandwich along on our hikes as he never cared for eating his granola/power/energy bars.  He's always made a dry comment about cardboard when eating them.

The campground is right on the lake.

A camper was wading and fishing in the distance using a floater.  The other camper was an older man from Georgia who had came just to camp and relax three days at this lake.

When it came time to leave I asked the Georgia camper to take a photo of our group at the lake.  It wasn't until much later when the group was taking a break on the ridge before hiking back down to Bowman Lake that I realized I had left my flannel shirt behind at Quartz Lake. I had taken it and other stuff out of my pack and set them on a log while I got food to eat.  In my hurry to have the Georgia man take our photo I forgot to put my shirt back into the pack. 

Before leaving the lake we stopped by the patrol cabin and checked it out.  Bears must be a problem as the door was full of nails and the windows were barred.

The hike between Quartz Lake and Lower Quartz Lake was through a mature forest with a dense undercover, and area where one would not want to go off trail and bushwhack.

We stopped at Lower Quartz Lake to rest and snack.  Several groups were camping at the lake.  A young couple were fishing from fallen tree logs below the food prep area.  At one point he slipped off the log into the lake and used a naughty word when doing so.

While at the food prep area we had heard lots of giggling and laughing.  We met this group of campers when we left.  They were very early 20s people: three girls and one guy.  They moved off a narrow log bridge over the river outlet from the lake  so we could cross.  They planned to fish but I think they were having too much fun giggling and laughing.

The hike back up the ridge was through a young forest and the other side was back to the mature forest with the littler undergrowth.

There were more people boating on Bowman Lake than I expected.  When we started our hike several people left on motorboats, which I had never seen on the lake before. The campground host (a jovial portly woman volunteer from Ohio) was there to check that their motors were 10 hp or less.  When we returned, kayakers were out and about on the lake.

The Bowman Lake view was better in the morning than the afternoon as it was hazy from forest fire smoke.

On the way home we stopped at the Polebridge Merc so Patti and Joyce could buy some of the Merc's delicious baked goods to munch on the way home.  Gene and I soaked in the atmosphere of the store. Each time I visit the store I see something I never noticed before.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Mountains, One Lookout, One Bear

Thursday September 24 I finally realized my long stated desire to hike up to the Mount Thoma lookout and also Mount Hefty.  I had to hike alone as I am wearing out hiking partners.

I have lots to write about and 238 photos to go through to save, toss and stitch.

In brief...
  • I didn't shake any of my teeth's fillings loose on the North Fork and logging roads (rough is an understatement!),
  • I climbed to the top of both Mt Thoma and Mt Hefty,
  • I didn't get lost (though I lost the trail briefly),
  • I didn't cross into Canada (other than to take a photo of that side of the U.S./Canadian border survey monument on the top of Mt Hefty's shoulder - in the middle of nowhere), 
  • I sank a little one time but did not slip off the logging road and down the mountain side as I drove, 
  • no rocks ripped out the under carriage of my low clearance car, and
  • the large bear did not eat me (the very closest I have ever been to a bear!!!  Let's say about 30 ft give or take. )
Yes... there is much more to my day of hiking and exploring.  And I'll leave you with that as I am off to bed after a long day.

Here is the east view from the Thoma Lookout.  Of the far mountains, the right half are in the U.S. (Glacier Park) and the left half are in Canada.  You can see it was a very smokey day from the forest fires.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cedar Lake

Saturday I hiked to Cedar Lake south of here in the Mission Mountains with Patti, Gene, Joyce and Cheryl.   Cheryl was in Kalispell this week from Wisconsin to visit Bill in the nursing home and she was also interested in going on a hike with Joyce and I.  The distance to Cedar Lake was 3.6 miles so a 7.2 mile hike was the right fit for Cheryl.

We met at 8 am as it was at least an hour drive to the trail head.  Gene has visited this lake in the early part of this decade so he handled navigation duties with his map while Patti drove.  Still, we temporarily got lost.  When we turned off Hwy 83 it was onto branching gravel roads.  According to the map we were on the right road.  That is, until we came to the forest service gate blocking the road.  We had not driven near the nine miles from the highway to the trail head, and there was no parking lot so we knew this was not the place.  After Patti and I helped look the map over we backtracked and took a previous left turn.


Cheryl only had tennis shoes for hiking and Patti lent her an extra pair of hiking shoes she had along.  In doing so Patti got distracted and forgot her camera in the car.  I offered to go back to get her camera but she refused my offer.

The elevation in the Mission Mountains is generally higher than in Glacier Park.  The elevation of Cedar Lake is 6517 ft, almost as high as Logan Pass in Glacier Park. We started high at the trail head and had only a little climbing to do as we went over a saddle between No Name Lake and Cedar Lake.  I didn't think it was bad but then I am used to much higher elevation changes.

The trail was nice: no downfall or bushes or vegetation crowding the trail.

There were quite a number of ripe huckleberries along the trail and I grazed as I walked.  On the return trip Cheryl and Joyce stopped and picked some huckleberries to take back for Bill.

After the saddle we hiked down to Cedar Lake then around to the other side where a primitive camping area was located.  From here one could get to the lake and sit on rocks by the lake.  Everyone but Gene took their shoes off and soaked their feet in the cool water.  Patti waded around but decided not to go for a swim as the water was too cool.

We had a long lunch before hiking back to the car.  While we seen plenty of footprints on the trail during our hike we only saw four other people and three dogs.

It may have been because of the change in the light, but as we hiked back out we all noticed all the Fall color along the trail.  It seemed far more colorful than during our hike to the lake.

A cold front was predicted to come through Montana Saturday.  We hiked in the Mission Mountains as it would get the front later in the day than our other usual hiking areas.  We had a clear warm day until our hike back to the car when the clouds came.  No rain though.

Overall it was a nice easy hike.

During the drive back to the highway we passed by a couple of nice waterfalls.  Cheryl wanted to get photos of them so we stopped.  I took photos of them also.

No Name Lake

Cedar Lake showing where we had lunch on the opposite side of the lake

Cedar Lake as seen from our lunch spot.  The middle of the photo is the saddle we hiked over to reach the lake.

The view from the saddle back in the direction of the trail head.  The Swan Range can be seen in the far distance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heaven's Peak Lookout

Today, September 17, 2009 Gary and I hiked up to Heaven's Peak Lookout. Yes... you heard right. Most people don't even know there is a lookout there, even though you can (kind of) see it from The Loop on the Sun Road (if you look closely).

In the photo below that I took from The Loop before we began the hike, the "X" in the photo below marks the location of the lookout. Heaven's Peak itself is the mountain on the left side. We started the hike at Packer's Roost, which can't be seen in this photo but is located near the lower left corner of the photo.

The following photo was taken on McDonald Creek.  The green, unburned area in the center of the preceding photo can be seen on the following photo.

(Click on the photos to see a larger image.)

We made it, though it was a major challenge. There used to be a trail up to the lookout but the Park let the trail go and we saw no signs of it. We had to bushwhack for about half the distance and 3000 ft up (and down!) the mountain until we got above the treeline. At times the brush was heavy.

It was a long day (11 hours and 20 minutes from start to finish) and I'm a bit tired. My legs are cut up and sore from all the bushwhacking. In hindsight long pants would have been better to wear.

It was an awesome hike. An adventure. The views from the lookout were incredible

The lookout was originally built was built in 1945 by conscientious objectors in the Civilian Public Service (CPS) and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The lookout was in operation from its construction in 1945 through the 1953 fire season when it was abandoned in favor of aerial detection.

The lookout now is in sad shape. Hopefully the Park restores and protects this historic lookout some day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Abandoning trails in Glacier Park

Here is an example of how Glacier Park is letting trails go and then later be abandoned in the Park. In prior decades the Park had over 1000 miles of trails. Now they say there have 700 miles of trails and they are fine with that. And now with the Obama administration in office they are seeking for 95% of the Park be classified as wilderness. Wouldn't that mean no new trails - or even reactivating old trails that have fallen into disuse?

When checking the Park's trail status report I came across the following in the description. This is the same as what the forest service is doing in the forests. They remove bridges and culverts and eventually the trail/roads fall into disuse because of the difficulty in using them and then they are abandoned. Looks like Glacier Park may have this in mind for this trail to Trout Lake.
Camas Creek Drainage
North Fork Road - Foot of Trout Lake/ 7.0 mi.
Initial clearing scheduled for: complete 7/30/09. Snow Cover: N/A Trees Down: 200, 07/14/2009 per U.S.G.S.
Bridge adjacent to Rogers Lake was removed in September 2005 and will not be replaced. Ford is upstream of old bridge site but not recommended for hikers until later in summer when water is slower moving.

Now you may say 700 miles of trails sounds like plenty, but consider the number of people who use the Park, and that quite a number of hikers average over 200 miles of hiking on those trails each year and you can see with less miles of trails, the trails remaining in the Park will get overused. Then the Park will limit the number of hikers on the trails.

Park's summer busiest in 15 years

Glacier National Park just finished its busiest summer in 15 years, tallying 1,473,250 visitors through its entrance stations in June, July and August.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Harrison Lake in 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009 I hiked with Leah's group to Harrison Lake in Glacier Park.

Harrison Lake is a hike Joyce and I wanted to do for several years now. Because the best (shortest) way to reach the lake is by fording the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, late Summer or Fall when the river is lower is usually the time to do this hike.

Patti, Gene, Joyce and I rode together in Patti's car. We were a group within the group as we have all hiked together before. The overall group size was 13 people, including three kids ranging from about five or six to eleven years old. I think the hike was too much for the five/six year old as she hadn't hiked much and the hike's length was about eight miles round trip if one went only to the foot of the lake. The mom carried her part way. The kids and their moms and aunts all reached the foot of the lake but that is all the farther they went.

In the beginning we were all grouped together and it quickly got annoying as the kids walked slower and constantly jabbered with youthful energy. I, then Patti, Joyce and then Gene eventually broke away from the group and hiked at our own pace and in quiet. While Leah, Amy and Jeanie eventually caught up to us after we reached the campground, we never saw the kids again until we returned to the cars.

Where I crossed the river
The hike started out wet. Very wet for me. The place to ford the river wasn't marked. When we saw that looked to be a shallow spot I went in to cross. Even when I was in the river it looked shallow - but why was I getting deeper in the water with each step? I moved this way and that zig-zagging across the river and still went deeper with each step when it looked as if I should be getting shallower.

The water was not cold so I kept going while the group watched from the river bank. The water was above my waist, and my t-shirt and flannel shirt were getting wet, but the other side was so close so I kept going. The group called out to me that the pack on my back was getting wet and I could feel it float up from my body.

I kept going. I was so close to the other side the river had to be getting shallower as it didn't look like a drop off on the other bank. It wasn't a drop off but it was pretty darn steep as I only rose from the water during the final half dozen steps. At least the current was mild and didn't affect my crossing.  Looking at the photo - taken after I crossed the river - it doesn't look deep, does it?

I was soaked from my chest down and I stripped off my t-shirt and flannel shirt. Fortunately the sun was warming up things quickly and I was warm as my shirts dried. My shirts never completely dried until we rested at the beach on Harrison Lake so I had to hike shirtless.

The group decided not to cross where I did. The river depth would have been over the heads of the kids. They shouted something to me but right then a long freight train passed by and I couldn't hear a thing they said. By the time the freight train passed they had moved on down the river. Out of the blue a forest ranger drove up and told the group where to cross the river. Great. Where was he before I crossed the river?

I stood on my gravel bar and watched the group ford the river.

When we returned from Harrison Lake I forded at that spot. While the river depth at their ford didn't reach my knees, their ford was over large slippery rocks and I could feel the river current.

While I knew I was closer to Harrison Lake than they were I didn't know where they would go or where the trail was. My section of the river had a wide mostly dry riverbed that only was underwater when the water was high in the Spring. I crossed it and once I got up on the true river bank I headed back their way via game trails through the brush and forest and began the search for them.

Loneman is the mountain on the right. Harrison Lake is in the valley left of center.

Calling out to them I eventually found them even further west of me. They wandered and found (made) a route up a very steep hill. It looked to be the historic river bank from centuries past. They were single file climbing up the hill until they reached the Boundary Trail.

We followed the Boundary Trail east for about a mile until we reached the side trail that went to Harrison Lake.

At the trail junction of the South Boundary Trail and the Harrison Lake Trail we found the old cabin of moonshiner Josephine Doody. She was a colorful historic character written about in the book, "Wild River Pioneers".
If I remember the story correctly the passing train engineers would blow their train whistle the number of times to indicate how many jugs of moonshine Josephine was to bring them. She would load the jugs on her boat and cross the river to meet the train. This was many years ago as I did not see any signs of the river near her cabin now.

The remains of Josephine Doody's old homestead

Josephine Doody's old tractor

After everyone checked out the cabin ruins we headed to Harrison Lake. Ever since we had crossed the river we were in trees with no views. Occasionally we would pass through burned sections from a forest fire earlier this decade. Patti wasn't happy about the lack of views.

Once we reached the foot of the lake there was no real good place to sit by the lake to eat lunch. I encouraged the group to keep going with the goal of reaching the back county campground near the head of the lake. It was only another 1.9 miles.

Even walking along the lake the views were limited.

Foot of Harrison Lake

By the time we reached the campground and saw a beach along the lake shore Patti had had it and declared she was going no further and that she would never do this hike again. I was okay with the lack of views and I continued down the trail.

After a third of a mile or so I came to a back country patrol cabin. It was locked up and no one was there.

The door handle was a curved branch.

I continued on and reached the head of the lake. In this area the trail became a game trail and after a short distance that faded away in the thick brush. Apparently a trail had gone further up the valley but the Park has abandoned it. I've heard the Park used to have over one thousand miles of trails but has abandoned a number of them and now only has seven hundred miles of trails. It seems they are being abandoned not because of lack of money but because the Park wants to manage the Park as wilderness and doesn't want all these trails. Too bad.

A good stream of water entered the head of the lake so there is still plenty of snow up the valley. On the lake shore I found an excellent walking stick and used it to hike back out.

Head of Harrison Lake

I stayed at the head of the lake only a short time as the rest of the group may or may not still be at the beach at the campground. Upon my return I found Leah, Amy and Jeanie had come and joined us. Everyone was laying around the beach eating and sunning themselves. Or the women were, as Gene, as usual, was well protected from the sun with his hat, long sleeved shirt and long pants.

Patti, Amy and Leah all had gone for a swim and were drying out as they had swum in most of their clothes. The water was so clear and not cold and I could see where the lake bottom dropped off quickly. Even though I was wearing long pants, the lake looked so inviting I thought about going for a swim. The women all encouraged me to do so. They all said it would be fine if I stripped down to my underwear to go for a swim. They claimed that seeing a guy in his underwear was nothing they hadn't seen before.

Hmmm.... they all seemed a little eager for me to strip down and go for a swim.   I decided to eat my lunch instead. Later when everyone got back together at the cars Patti told the others that all the women went for a swim in the lake but the guys (me and Gene) had chickened out.

Under a clear sky on a perfectly warm day the fine rocks felt just right for laying on. Other than a sightseeing helicopter high above the mountains it was absolutely quiet. We sat and watched the water flow as it passed by. Often fish would jump out of the water and I could see a number - and even a small school at one point - pass by. I found a small fish can make a big splash.

Occasionally butterflies would float just above the water seemingly to dance upon its surface. Patti insisted these were "boy" butterflies and were attacking their reflection not realizing it was of themselves. Then suddenly with a splash one butterfly was gone. Wow! We then sat and watched another butterfly dancing on the water and waited for a fish to get it also. But luck was with this butterfly as it was halfway across the lake before we all lost interest and quit watching for its demise.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time at the lake and all talked about coming back again. Even Patti changed her mind about the lake and the hike. Well... not completely about the hike as she still thinks it is boring. But she loves the lake.

Our beach

During the hike back Patti, Gene and Joyce were in the lead and they all took off. Leah offered to let me by as I was trailing the group. I declined and hiked with her, Amy and Jeanie back to the cars.

Fortunately Patti and Leah had tied some cloth to mark the location where we would leave the Boundary Trail and go back to the river as I would have walked right past it. Jeanie wanted to find another path down to the river as she was concerned about how steep the hillside was. We walked down the trail a short ways but it all looked the same so we returned to the spot we had climbed up.

I went down first, and while steep, it wasn't too bad. Amy was next and after she started she got quite nervous about climbing down. I climbed two-thirds back up and told her to not to go face forward but to back down and use her hands and feet on the slope. She was hesitant to do so as she wanted to look where she was going but with my and Leah's encouragement she turned around and found it was easier to use her hands to hold on to small bushes to help her move down.

After I helped Amy down I watched while Leah then Jeanie came down. Everyone made it down ok. Then it was off through the tall grass underbrush to find the river. We had the advantage of seeing the grass bent over from our earlier hike from the river so we easily found the place where to cross the river.  The others were waiting on the other side.

This was the first time Joyce had hiked with Leah's group and she had made and brought her excellent huckleberry dessert for all to share.

Back in Columbia Falls most of us went to the local Mexican restaurant for supper before parting ways.

The sign said the Harrison Lake trail from the Boundary Trail junction to the campground was 4.8 miles. I estimate I hiked at least a half mile past the campground to the head of the lake.  I also estimate the distance from the car to the Harrison Creek trail junction was at least a mile and a half. All total I hiked about 14 miles.