Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Glacier Many Glacier. I love Montana, but it is time to go.

I know that being an explorer sometimes requires a certain commitment to “roughing it”. So, when I left Kalispell for Glacier on Sunday afternoon, I accepted a forecast for cool, wet weather for several days along with a reservation back in Kalispell for Thursday night as a reasonable risk of incurring some discomfort and a commitment to stick it out for four days. It started with rain before I reached the park.

Someone at church had told me I should be sure and see the inside of some of the lodges while I was at the park, so I had made a note to self about visiting on a rainy day. So, after setting up the tent in the rain, I headed for the Many Glacier Hotel, just a quarter mile away. What I found was a warm, welcoming lobby with a massive fireplace, reading areas overlooking the lake and a Hootnanny in progress. There were a couple of cabaret/comedy acts along with a professional piano player and fiddler. Great show, and warm, comfortable surroundings…hey, at Glacier even explorers don’t have to put up with hardship all the time!

Monday arrived partly cloudy, so I decided to take my first hike, to Cracker Lake. The Ranger had suggested it when I couldn’t get the Highline Trail, but at the time I couldn’t remember anything about it. After looking at my guide I decided to give it a go. It is about 11 miles with 1200’ elevation.

Here is a sampling of the view along the trail. I’ve given up trying to identify all the mountains.

I did see 3 moose…a bull, cow and calf. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out I could catch only one.

Here is a picture of Cracker Lake, with Mount Siyeh behind. The vertical face you see is the tallest vertical cliff in the lower 48, according to Backpacker magazine, at 4200’. For reference that is about 420 stories tall. I’m not sure how much of it we missed, because the clouds were moving in, covering the top. Moments later, the rain started and the hike home was long, cold and wet.

Here is a picture back along the trail toward my campsite, through the valley and around behind the mountain to the left.

After changing to some dry clothes, I remembered mental note to myself #2… the hotel probably has a restaurant. Indeed, they do. The Rocky Mountain Trout, slightly crisped in garlic butter on a bed of rice/walnut pelaf was excellent, and again the warm fire in the lobby was quite a luxury.

Again, Tuesday broke with a mix of sun and clouds, so I decided to hike to Grinnell Glacier, a hike of a bit over 11 miles with about 1600’ elevation. Again, a couple of views from the trail, of Josephine Lake with Gem Glacier and Salamander Glacier and back along the trail of Josephine Lake, Grinnell Lake and Swiftcurrent Lake strung out from near to far. My campsite was just at the other end of the far lake, Swiftcurrent.

On this trail, I saw 3 Bighorn Sheep grazing along the mountainside. I managed to capture two in this picture. Maybe you can pick them out.

Here is a closer picture of Gem Glacier. If you look closely you can see there is a man standing near the lower left side, on the Glacier.
The destination is a group of Glaciers. Gem, the small, round Glacier at the upper left is the deepest in the park. The long, narrow, horizontal glacier is Salamander. The large Glacier touching the lake (Upper Grinnell) is Grinnell Glacier. It is the largest in the park, covering about 300 acres. (Gem and Salamander are above Grinnell, and are covered by the clouds. Just a few years ago, all three glaciers were a single, large Grinnell Glacier. The milky color of Upper Grinnell lake is due to the dust particles which the glaciers grind from the mountain. You may notice the clouds gathering as I snapped the closeup of Grinnell. Yep, just as I reached the top, the clouds moved in. But, this time, it is sleet, turning to rain as I descend. And, it was accompanied by thunder and lighting.

After changing to dry clothes, I remembered mental note to self #3. Several people, backpackers, people at the lodge, people at the KOA had mentioned that I should really eat at the Park Café, a local establishment just outside the park, and to be sure and have a piece of pie. I arrived to discover this was their last night… they were closing for the season within hours. They were out of almost everything, but the Nachos Grande were great, and I got their last piece of pecan pie. That “roughing it” stuff is overdone.

Meanwhile, back at camp in the rain, I began thinking about mental note to self #4. They probably have rooms at Glacier Hotel, seeing as this is their last week of the season….Whoa, the $130-250 per night price tag put that one to death. Besides, my trusty Kelty 20 degree bag has kept me toasty warm so far.

The precip continued all night, and indeed I was toasty. But, in the early hours of the morning I realized my tent was getting smaller. Investigation revealed that 2-3” of wet snow had collapsed it. Once I brushed the snow off, the tent immediately popped back up and I continued my sleep, occasionally waking to pop the snow off. But, when the snow continued at 10:00am, and the forecast called for more of the same, I called it quits. I packed up and headed for Kalispell a day early. Some roads were closed, but I eventually managed to make it to Kalispell and change my reservations. So, all is well. I love Montana, but,as you can plainly see below, it is time to head for Washington.


Jon said...

Wow, they are already getting that much snow? That hotel does seem like a great way to "rough it."

nemattox said...

Phew - just looking at the pictures made me feel cold!