Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Glacier National Park

Over the past couple of years we've seen a handful of time-lapse videos of various glaciers retreating (in Iceland) and calving (in Greenland), and plenty of pictures depicting the rate of these changes, which is even crazier (here's one in India). So, visiting these majestic giants has been on my must do list. In my mind, that means planning elaborate treks by plane and boat and foot to faraway lands. When I brought up such a trip last year (to the farthest reaches of Alaska!) my pragmatic half brought up the point that we haven't even been to see glaciers closest to home. Okay, fine. To Montana it is!

Glacier National Park has it's own depressing statistics - of the 150 glaciers that existed within the park 100 years ago, only 37 remain, and of course most of those are significantly smaller. Along this course glacier recession models project they'll be gone by 2030. That's soon. Really. Soon.

We set out and decided to break up the 10-hour drive by stopping in Coeur d'Alene National Forest the first night.

our luxurious roadside campsite

Clark Fork River

We pulled into the park midday and snagged a campsite at Avalanche Creek. After setting up the tent we ventured out on a cold, rainy, mudy hike up to Avalanche Lake, which is fed by Sperry Glacier. The waterfalls were barely visible in the socked-in basin, but the sheer wall rising above the lake gave us a sense of the grandness surrounding us.

this guy was poking around just behind our tent

It continued to be cold and rainy that night and the next day we awoke to learn that Logan Pass 3,000 feet above us was closed to traffic due to snowfall. We had planned to hike up near the pass that day, so we changed course and explored some of the lower lakes and rivers.

morning coffee at the North shore of Lake McDonald

McDonald Lake from the South shore

snowy peaks

McDonald creek


We spent a second night at Avalanche and the next morning were told by the campground host that the pass had opened. The hikes we had hoped to do at that elevation were still a bit snowier than we were prepared for, so we just drove Going-the-Sun Road over the pass and down to the East side of the park. The drive is spectacular and offers so many views from the comfort of your car...why hike when you can idle in a pull-out?

foggy pass

Our next destination was Many Glacier for a day hike. As we pulled up to the trailhead we saw a crowd gathered around a few telescopes on tripods. Looking in the direction of their gaze we saw the subject: a bear, likely a grizzly according to the 'scopers who had been watching it's movements all morning.

We hit the trail, prreeetttyy sure we'd have a run-in with a griz.

Redrock Falls

HUGE moose

Bullhead Lake, Swiftcurrent Mountain, Swiftcurrent Glacier

yup, another run-in with a ferocious grizzly. knew it.

We moved South from here and spent a windy night at Two Medicine campground. The next morning we awoke to a large animal walking in the narrow channel between our tent and the bushes...

Next up was a hike to Dawson Pass.

Two Medicine Lake

up, up, up. Two Medicine Lake in the distance.

at the saddle

soooo windy!

ptrail ptarmigan
snow chicken

The next morning we left Two Medicine and drove along the South border of the park, pulling over for a random hike along the way. I can't even find it on a map now. The trailhead wasn't far off the main road but was deserted. About a mile in the trail narrowed and soon became so overgrown that we were stepping over branches and wading through brush. It was quiet. As the trail wound back towards a creek we started seeing areas of overturned dirt on either side of the trail. Some looked like messy footprints, others looked like purposeful digging. We clutched our bear spray a little closer and walked on with an eerie feeling that we were approaching something ominous. As we got deeper into the brush we saw a few large rocks that had been dug up and tossed aside with deeper and wider holes in the dirt. By this time we were sufficiently creeped out and decided to play it safe and turn around before we were confronted with this beast and left with no escape route. It was weird. We spend a lot of time hiking alone without thinking twice, but this time our spidey senses were tingling and I couldn't help but look over my shoulder occasionally on the way back. We made it without hearing or seeing anything, but I can't help but wonder what, if anything, was ahead of us on that quiet, overgrown trail...

We got back to the trailhead, bathed in the creek, and headed toward civilization.

Back in the park we settled in to the Lake McDonald campground and had a relaxing evening on the shore.

C's light vacation read

On our last day we made it up to the hike I had been so excited about. It's one of the most popular hikes in the park, and ideally done as a through-hike, but our out-and-back was just fine. If we ever go back I'd do this one again as a through-hike starting at the other end. We did: The Loop > past Granite Park Chalet > Highline trail > Grinnell Glacier overlook

Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier

Lake Josephine - Swiftcurrent Lake - Lake Sherburne

We got off the trail and hit the road for Idaho. We made it over Lolo Pass after dark and set up camp in the national forest. In the morning we made one final stop at some hot springs a little over a mile off Highway 12. The sun was shining and the water was perfect.

Lochsa River

hot waterfall

heading home.

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