Saturday, August 28, 2010

Butte, Montana

Well, you will find a lot new posts with pictures. I have caught up today with my blog entries. I had little availability of a wi-fi signal in Waterton NP or in Glacier NP. Have fun reading!

With the middle of my trip having arrived and facing a really long day of driving to Yellowstone after three days of hiking, I decided to give myself a bit of a break from the camping routine. Some ladies that I had met in Glacier had suggested that I overnight in Butte on my travels and suggested that I stay in the historic Hotel Finlen ( I have done so. I also got a great steak dinner here in Butte where it is not far from the cattle to the plate!

Tomorrow I will be finishing up a few details here and get resupplied with food for my trip to Yellowstone. It looks as though I am facing a big change in weather. Perhaps some rain, but low temperatures in the next few nights will be in the 30's. Time to switch out of the summer apparel!

By the way, the drive here was very scenic, following the western edge of the Continental Divide.

Bonus Post... Poem

This image and a dry thunderstorm last night inspired this poem:

The Tall Cedar

In the midst of cedars fed by melting snow and glaciers
Stands a remnant
A hollowed out corpse of a once great tree

As like a fossil, it charred remains
Signal that it was a target
It had grown and developed higher than others

Some men stand taller
In the expression of themselves and their gift
And in the practice of their love

The masculine speaks his truth,
faces problems, leads and
Gives protection to those around him

Perhaps this tree was the victim
A victim of a dry thunderstorm
With nature's tears withheld

Men who stand tall and strong
Risk the strike of criticism
Yet know thunderstorms
Are ususally another's misplaced fear

Going To The Sun Highway... and the Cedars

Thursday was the day that I was moving from the east side of Glacier NP to the west side and driving over the "Going To The Sun Highway". At one of the narrowest points of the Rockies, this roadway takes you in 50 miles from the east side of the Continental Divide to the other. The pass over the divide is over 6,000 feet high! I know that the pictures don't give it justice.

The good news was that it was sunny and record warmth! The only problem was that the views were obscured a bit by smoke from western wildfires, taking the "wow" factor down a bit. Much of the roadway is under construction, so the trip over was a bit slower than normal. The best way to describe the trip is the Kancamangus Highway on steroids! The roadway is extremely narrow and in places, the ledge is over your car!

My plan was to hike along the "Garden Wall" just above part of the highway, but since the smoke was considerable and the view would be similar to that of the roadway, I laid another plan.

But before I leave this subject, I want to tell you how much respect I have for the determination of Beth climbing this roadway as part of her cross-country bicycle ride some 20 years or so ago. It is a gruelling 12 mile stretch of 6% grade! I'd be lucky to get a few miles in granny gear!

I created an alternative plan of hiking the Trail of the Cedars and up to Avalanche Lake before settling into my campsite just inside the east gate of the park. The hike was beautiful. Cedars don't usually grow in Montana, but because of a cascading waterfall leaving Avalanche Lake, there is enough moisture to allow a small forest to grow. The cascade had several "pots" much like the "Great Basin" in the White Mountains, but much smaller in size. Once I arrived at the lake, I went to the distant shore and had an amazing time watching 6" brook trout actually leaping completely out of the water trying to catch moths that were flying over the lake. Now I know why they say the "fish are jumping!"

I ended up in Apgar Campground and spent some time at the shore of Lake McDonald speaking with a few of you, benefitting from my restored cell phone reception!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Iceberg Lake

Following up the climb to Grinnell on Tuesday, I decided on Wednesday to climb up to Iceberg Lake, up one of the other canyons that empty into Many Glacier. It was another sunny and warm day!. The trail started steeply for about a 1/2 mile, then shallowed out nicely. This hike went up onto the same mountainside that I had seen the bears through the telescope two days earlier. However, we were further west and had no encounters. On the trail up, I encountered a funny looking bird - a ptarmagin, sitting in the middle of the trail with its young. It kind of looks a bit like a quail. Check out the picture. Apparently, the bird has white feathers during the winter. A chamelion of sorts, providing good camouflage in varying seasons.

On the way up, I met a nice group of people from Wisconsin. The guy in the group was a saleman of .... you guessed it... cheeese! It was good to have some company on the climb up.

Once we arrived, I found a mother and baby moose swimming through the lake to some bushes on which they fed. I got some great pictures and share them here. The lake was less spectacular than Grinnell, but beautiful just the same. The hike was 10 miles roundtrip and gained about 1600 feet in elevation.

On the way down I was feeling hot, tired, grumpy and a bit lonely. I think because I was beginning to look forward to the next part of the trip (Yellowstone and the Tetons) for which I had planned to share with someone else, but will be by myself. I decided to pull over to the side of the trail on a grassy slope and take a bit of a nap (why not?). After a brief nap interrupted by people coming along now and then, I composed this poem. The picture is of the spot on which I laid. A perfect pillow and grassy mounds on either side of my body.

Cradled By Nature

Lying in the shade
Amongst the tufts of mountain grass
Filtered sun by firs
Provides ample warmth
With gentle breezees blowing
Rushing through the branches
Stone guardians loom
On the mountain
Keeping watch over the canyon
I feel cradled by nature

I felt refreshed. When I reached the bottom, I got some huckleberry ice cream. Very similar to my favorite at home - black raspberry. Enjoy the pics!

Bonus Post... Poem

The Ripple Effect
A gust of wind rushes
Down the steep graveled slope
Unable to fall further
Blocked by the surface of the lake

A spreading arc of ripples
Build swiftly into propogating waves
Breaking on the distant shoreline
Releasing onto the beach pebbles

Envery energetic result in life
Begins with a breath - perhaps a thought or an emotion
That before long ripples through us
Moving us and moving the world

Grinnell Glacier

One of the reasons that I wanted to camp at Many Glacier is that it is immediately adjacent to the trailhead to Grinnell Glacier. Because I couldn't get the boat ticket for the ranger-led hike up to the glacier, I decided to hike alongside the two lakes that the boar traverses. The weather was warm and sunny once again! As it turned out, I got there quicker than the boats with all the loading and unloading! The boat saves you about 2 mile hike each way.

On the lakeside trail adjacent to the second lake (Josephine Lake), I found some fresh grizzly bear scat! Fortunate for me, no encounter!

The Ranger who led the hike was a geologist. He was very informative about how Glacier is one of the best examples of upward thrusting sedimentary and metamorphic rock. What is now the Rocky Mountains is an old ocean sea bed that was lifted due to the collision of plates. And the rock is SO old that there are hardly any fossils, just some fossilized algae pools!

On the way up to the summit, we had a gorgeous overlook of Grinnell Lake and I composed a poem largely on the spot while I was waiting for the rest of the group. The group moved rather slowly as there were a number of older, unfit people trying to make the climb.

The terminus for the hike was a viewpoint of the glacier. So I decided to separate from the group, fjord a stream and make my way onto the glacier surface (the sign said that it wasn't recommended so you know what that means... you can do it!). The glacier surface had lots of cracks (crevasses) and the surface that was not covered with snow had rock on its surface. Did yoiu know that the turquoise color of these glacial lacks is from the dust created by the glacier pushing rocks agains other rocks and creating a dust known as glacial flour? Sadly there are only 25 glaciers left in Glacier NP. There once was 150. Due to global warming, experts do not believe that there will be any alpine glaciers left here by 2030.

I headed down mid-afternoon and was quite tired at the end of the Day. I climbed only 1700 feet but covered about 14 miles roundtrip.

Final Day at Waterton, Driving to Glacier NP

Sunday was my final day at Waterton. Similarly to the day prior, the weather was strange, but it showered three times and the sun came out in between three times! I decided that it would be a good down day after two successive intense hiking days. I did find some time to watch a moose ducking his head under water in a creek in order to reach the vegetation on the bottom of the streambed. I also had a chance to sit in my folding chair in the sunshine next to this same creek a bit downstream. I also checked out the village, the magnificent hotel set upon the lake, get on the internet for a bit to complete a couple posts, and listen to a guitarist in a coffee shop!

Monday was an awesome drive to Glacier National park, down Chief Mountain Highway and through Customs. The roadway followed the east side of the Continental Divide. I've included a picture of Chief Mountain. It was a gorgeous day and very strange that cattle are allowed unrestricted crossing of the roadway so you have to be on constant alert! I rolled into the Many Glacier campground, which was awesome because I would hike in this area in the next two days. When I arrived at the parking lot of the campground, there was a group of people huddled around high-powered binoculars and telescopes all trained on the slope of the mountain behind. I was fortunate to have them share the view with me for I saw a mother and three cubs playing on a mountain meadow! I checked out the trails and sure enough a few of the more popular trails in close proximity to this meadow were closed due to the presence of grizzlies!
I tried to purchase a boat ticket for the climb to Grinnell Glacier, but it was sold out. Behind the hotel where the concession was located, I grabbed this photo of a mountain goat.

Bonus Post... Poem

Based on my encounters with others along my trail and the brilliant stars above at night...

Twinkle of the Soul

Stories shared excitedly around campfire
Adventures and passions a glow
Youthful companions on the trail
Moved in awe of nature's majesty

These souls shine brightly
Their twinkle is infectious
Living in abundance, joy and love
Shining and reflective of one's own brilliance

Some shine dimly
Radiating a false self
Absent of passion or presence
Seeking others to shine on them

Others are black holes
Attempting to snuff out the light of any proximate star
Absorbing what they can from others
Stuck in fear, desperation and bitterness

I want to commune with the souls that twinkle brightly

Sadly there are also black holes

The Amazing Crypt Lake... And Trail

On Saturday morning I was a bit unsure about what to do. There had been off and on showers in the early morning. I had planned on hiking Crypt Lake, but was uncertain because you can only access the trail by a 10:00 boat and a 5:30 return ride. If it started pouring, I would be stuck in the rain for hours with no shelter. With the weather being so fickle, I decided to go for it and wow am I glad that I did.

After taking boat across the lake, I set out. Not after long, I met these two couples from Calgary in their late 20's/early 30's. They provided good company up the trail. The trail had a lot of switchbacks, both at the beginning and at the end.

There were four different waterfalls, including one that was at least 300 feet high!! As we hiked, the skies cleared allowing for some great vistas and picures.

Once breaking the treeline, another set of switchbacks appeared, ending with a creek crossing setting us up for some pretty dramatic climbing! Beyond the creek was a cliff walk (2-3 feet wide) that led to a steel ladder up 10 feet or so. Then you had to pass through a natural tunnel that was 60 feet long, began at 7 feet high and ended at 4 feet so you had to get on all fours! After exiting the tunnel, there was another 100 foot long cliff walk where the edge was only a foot or two wide. In this case, there was a steel cable to hold onto. Beyond that, a piece of cake to the lake.

It is seemingly called Crypt Lake because surrounding mountains loom over you in about 300 degrees of enclosure. The walls of these mountains are almost cliffs, so you do feel enclosed. When I yelled "Yes" upon reaching the lake's shore, my echo could be heard for 6 or 7 seconds! Very eerie..

This lake was extremely cold (about 40 degrees). I waded in to cool off, but one guy on the opposite shore jumped in off a cliff! On the way down, we took a detour to see Hell Roaring Falls, a cascade within a gorge. That trail was extremely steep but had some of the most delicous wild raspberries (thimbleberries?) that I have ever tasted.

Once I returned, I found everyone waiting for the return boat, looking quite exhausted and spent. Dropping the feet in the lake was great for the feet! On return, I grabbed an awesome burger (Kootenai Burger from the Bay Shore) and had a local brew - a Big Rock Grasshopper to finish off a wonderful day! My new friends from Calgary - Michael and Bari invited me over for a campfire at the campground.

The total hike was 11 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet reaching 6,300 feet.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fun With Bear Spray and My Pet Whitetail

After a very restful night Thursday night, I headed out on a gorgeous day to hke to Mt. Carthew at Waterton National Park. The trail began at Cameron Lake in the shadow of Mt. Custer. It had snow melting off its slopes. The beginning of the trail was a group of steep switchbacks. After the close encounter with the grizzly the night prior, my first stop in the morning had been to get a can of bear spray. When they sell it to you they tell you to try it out in the woods so you are familiar with its use.

Well, I got in about 100 yards on the trail, made sure that I was upwind of the spray and gave it a short squirt. Well, the side of my middle finger got covered with the pepper spray. No harm, no foul, it worked great and I just poured a bit of water out of my water bottle onto my finger, trying to rinse it off. Well about ten minutes later, I took a drink from my water bottle. Apparently some of the residue rubbed off onto the bottle lip because about 30 seconds later, my lips are burning a bit. Nothing serious, just a bit annoying. I use some more water to rinse off the outlet.

Well about 45 minutes later, nature calls. Not even giving it any thought (who does?), I use my right hand to relieve myself. Let's just say that the skin down there is quite a bit more sensitive and it gave a whole new meaning to throbbing! In desperation, I sucked some water out of my Camelback into my mouth and used the waterfall method to try and bring some relief! After about 30 minutes or so, the burning sensation was gone! At this point, I'm thinking this bear spray is more of a danger to myself than to the bears!

Halfway up the trail, I got to Summit Lake for a short break, then continued up the slope of Mt. Carthew towards the summit. It was a sustained moderate grade through the evergreens until it broke into alpine meadow with lots of flowers. But what was most beautiful was beargrass. It is a baseball sized bunch of white flowers on a long stem that blooms only every 7 years!

Following the meadow, the trail crossed a 45 degree scree slope. You had to be careful as the trail was only a foot or two wide and if you fell, you would go a great distance on sharp gravelly scree. Approaching the ridge, the wind picked up to about 40 mph. At this point you got a view of the twin Crandell Lakes, one with a small glacier on its edge!

The ridge reminded me a bit of the Knife Edge on Katahdin, but more like a butter knife with steep scree on either side with 60 degree slopes on either sides of a 4-5 foot wide trail. The top was very craggy. On the way down, I did a short detour to make a snowball with some September or October snow from last year.

Descending the same route that I came, I was quite hot when I reached Summit Lake. I thought about taking a dip even though I knew it would be bracing. But in these situations, I frequently ask myself "What would Maury do?". Yes, since I had seen only one family on the hike, I decided to strip down and take a plunge. It was no warmer than 50 degrees, possibly as cold as 45. It was extremely refreshing.

On the trail down from Summit Lake, when I reached the switchbacks, I encountered a rather large doe whitetail deer. Since the side of the mountain was very steep, neither I nor her could get off the trail and since she was in front of me feeding as she went down the mountain, I would only be able to go at her pace at a distance of about 30 feet. It was a memorable moment. We shared the trail together for about 3/4 of a mile or about a half hour.

When I reached the bottom near 5:00 PM, I noticed that kayaks were rented at the lake. I decided to take one out for a paddle and circumnavigated the lake beneath huge mountain cliffs and a bridal veil waterfall at the far end of the lake, which interestingly enough was back in the U.S.

Brilliant starry skies and warm temperatures blessed me in the evening. Quite simply it was my best outdoor day in my life!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bonus Post... Poem

Inspired by an encounter with a young boy at Mt. Rushmore...

Straining to See Presidents

Gazing at Presidents
Carved in granite stone
On tippee-toe straining
to reach the eyepiece of the telescope

The little boy tries
and tries again
but cannot see
for his height is far too short

Such effort is rewarded
This stranger with his binoculars
Ask him if he'd like to look
"Wow, I can see everything"

Is that not what we wish for?
To see the unseeable
To know the unknowable
To receive the gift of clear vision

My First Grizzly Encounter... In the Campground!

I awoke Thursday morning in Harden, MT with the plan to drive up to Calgary to put me within a reasonable drive to Jasper NP. I had a great burger (native cattle!) before getting over the border into Alberta early afternoon. I turned on the radio to the CBC and found that massive wildfires in British Columbia had caused a smoke-out in Calgary, Lake Louise and Jasper NP. It was so bad that the Minister of Health hade recommended against outdoor exercise. It didn't take long for me to decide I needed a Plan B.

I decided to alter course and head to Waterton National Park which is adjacent to Glacier, just over the Canadian border. It turned out to be a great choice as my future posts indicate. I am just glad that long days of driving are largely now behind me for a while as I settle in.

Thursday evening, after setting up camp at Crandell Campground, I took a walk around the campground near dusk and as I turned a corner. There was a mother grizzly bear and her cub at a range of about 100 feet. Of course, I didn't have the bear spray yet, but I followed the instructions that I had been given. Speak in low tones, avoid eye contact and back away slowly and leave the area. Thank goodness it worked... But you know, the first order of business in the morning is to buy bear spray.