Thursday, July 31, 2014

Highline Trail Hike, Glacier National Park, Montana…

Hidden Lake and Highline Trails 187What I felt would be the mother of all hikes in Glacier National Parks was our next endeavor… I figured we had been hiking in the high country enough to not have altitude issues and I also figured we had done enough hiking in the high country not to have to have issues with distance. So after reading a lot of hiking reviews I decided we really needed to do the Highline Trail.

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The Highline Trail is a hike in the highest country in Glacier NP and a seriously long hike of around 11.6 miles. We normally don’t hike more than 6-7 miles and occasionally 8 miles but this hike was calling me. I mentioned it to Sharon and after I told her that from what I read it was mostly downhill she acquiesced and said let’s do it…

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We had to bear in mind that some of this hike is along the sides of cliffs on fairly narrow trails and Sharon is not real keen on heights. Nevertheless we made the commitment and drove from the Kalispell to Apgar Village in Glacier NP. Our plan was to catch the free Glacier NP shuttle from Apgar up to Logan Pass where the Highline Trail trailhead is located.

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The bus up took about 45 minutes and the hike down apparently takes 5.5 hours… We had a later start than we had hoped but hit the trail by 1:00 p.m. and within minutes we were on the edge of a cliff on the trail and Sharon seemed content though a bit nervous. The steepest cliff had a handrail which she appreciated and made use of. I had read the trail was mostly downhill which was blatantly incorrect as the trial climbed up and down for most of the hike before dropping straight down for the last three and half miles.

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Despite the challenges of the hike this trail to us was by far the most scenic of all trails we had hiked to date in Glacier. We found ourselves pausing a lot to admire the views of all the surrounding mountains and valleys which were absolutely amazing. The wildflowers along the trail and the occasional spotting of a Mountain Goat or Marmot were additional treats!  We snacked alongside a waterfall spending more time in awe of the panoramic views from our perch on the rocky slope. We would have liked spending more time on the trail but the last shuttle going back down the mountain was at 7:00 pm so I knew our time was limited. Thus we hiked a bit faster than we would have preferred and after we reached the Swiss Chalet at the 7.2 mile mark we realized we would need to pick up the pace even more to make it to the bus in time.

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We both feel this hike is a must do for those that can hike the distance despite the fact that the last 3.5 miles or so were pretty much straight downhill and our toes became very familiar with the tips of our boots!. There were a lot of switchbacks and just when we thought we were near the parking lot at the end of the trail, there was one more cruel switchback to conquer before making our way to the benches provided to wait for the bus.

It was definitely a wonderful hike but very tiring and we were pretty sore the next day after using muscles that haven't seen that amount of exercise in many years…

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Couple of Great Hikes in Montana…

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I failed to mention that we only stayed one week at Columbia Falls and are now about 15 miles further from Glacier National Park here in Kalispell, Montana. We have been here a little over a week and have been enjoying this vibrant town and all there is to do around the Flathead Lake area.

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Another great place for hiking nearby is the Jewel Basin Hiking Area. We decided to head east over to do a little hiking in the basin. As we approached a few miles west of the town of Big Fork we noticed the brown signs pointing to Jewel Basin. We drove quite a ways on a dirt road before we found a small 1/4 mile loop interpretive trail in Krause Basin. It was a beautiful hike through a mature Western Hemlock forest

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We drove further on the road and came to a hiking trail called Strawberry Lake. We hadn’t read about this one but since it went to a lake we gave it a go… Three miles each way this trail took us literally up the side of a mountain, a steep hike loaded with switchbacks. Huckleberries were all along the trail and we foraged our way up to the top. This was a nice hike with great views of Flathead Lake and the basin below.

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Another day we drove back into Glacier NP and did a hike we didn’t do earlier due to lots of snowpack. Well there was still some snow pack but we decided to hike the Hidden Lake Trail at the top of Logan’s Pass on the Going to the Sun Highway. What started out on a nice stairstepping boardwalk suddenly gave way to snowpack. As we slogged our way over to the Hidden Lake Overlook we couldn’t help but be in awe at all the stunning vistas provided along the trail.

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Wildflowers were in bloom as it is still early spring in the high country and this trail also was loaded with Mountain Goats. Several groups of them and their newborn kids were all along the trail and would cross it in front of us at closer than comfort distances if we weren’t paying attention. It was really cool to sit and watch these magnificent beasts in their own habitat.

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The trail was closed at the overlook about 1.5 miles into the hike due to bear activity at the lake. It would have been nicer to be able to go all the way to the lake but his was a great hike nonetheless. On the way back it was a bit trickier managing the several snow packs going downhill so we “slipped and slid” our way back down. Nearing the boardwalk I noticed a marmot and since Sharon hadn’t seen one yet we stopped and watched this little fellow. He seemed to enjoy our attention and seemingly posed for us… Yes a very nice hike this is and the only downside is that it s very popular and so it was quite crowded. Still we feel it is a must hike for those visiting Glacier National Park…

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Polebridge at Glacier National Park, MT…

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Making sure we visited all of the sections of Glacier National Park meant we still had one section we had yet to see, Polebridge. As we left our  RV park and headed into the National Park we drove northwest on paved road which eventually turned into a gravel road. We could see that this side of the park suffered from past wildfires but it is on the road to recovery since it is greening up. nicely However, there are still the telltale dead timbers scattered throughout this young forest. Of course it is easier to see wildlife in burned areas and we spotted a few mule deer foraging in a meadow.

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After a short way up the road we came to the little town of Polebridge. It is in the northwestern edge of the park and it is to this day electricity free which is surprising as there is a small community there. Our first stop was at the Polebridge Mercantile Store where we stopped in to buy some goodies from the bakery there. I had read they make some killer huckleberry macaroons and as it is huckleberry season so I had to get some. They were exquisite and Sharon’s huckleberry bar was pretty dang good as well.

After enjoying our treats we continued  our quest to Bowman Lake where we intended to hike around part of the lake. A long and very narrow at times rough pot holed dirt road led to the Lake’s trailhead and after 30 minutes of driving, bouncing and pulling over to allow other motorists traveling in the other direction to go by we made it  there. Spotting more deer as we parked and walked through the campground.

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Bowman lake is yet another Glacier NP beauty surrounded by majestic mountains. The trail we took was mostly flat with little elevational change. Lush in vegetation the biggest disappointment in hiking this trail  was lack of turnouts to take us to the water’s edge. Nonetheless we enjoyed hiking around Bowman Lake and only saw a few other hikers out on the trail which was quite the contrast to the Trail of the Cedars which was very crowded.

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After finishing our hike we drove back to the Mercantile Store. Next door to the store is the Northern Lights Saloon and Restaurant where they not only serve some frosty beverages but they also serve some homemade huckleberry pie. Not being hungry we decided to forgo the pie and I had a very tasty, and appropriately named, Going to the Sun IPA… Yep, life is pretty good for us here in Montana…

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hiking Avalanche Trail in Glacier National Park…

Glacier National Park 018We have really enjoyed hiking many of the trails in Glacier National Park. One of the more popular trails that we would be remiss in not mentioning was a great hike on the Avalanche Trail. Of course, we always remember to carry plenty of water and bear spray while hiking anywhere in the park!

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After a morning hike on John’s Lake Trail we headed over to the Avalanche Trail. John’s Lake Trail was a short trail in the dense woods to a lake but not one of our favorite trails. However, one of our favorites, Avalanche Trail, starts at Avalanche Creek and it is important to be there early or later in the day to avoid the masses. There was still a crowd the day we hiked but not as bad as mid-day. The trail begins on the Trail of the Cedars which is an ADA approved loop on a boardwalk. Trail of the Cedars is a trail in the middle of an ancient forest of Hemlock and Cedar. We also saw the largest Black Cottonwoods we have ever seen on this part of the trail and we marveled at the deep furrows in the bark of this tree.. Midway on the Trail of the Cedars the spur to Avalanche Lake takes off.

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The initial part of the hike follows Avalanche Creek where it has cut deeply into the stone and created a magnificent deeply incised canyon full of rushing blue and very cold water. We stopped at several places to admire the work that the water had done in creating some beautiful slick rock “art pieces”.

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The trail is steep but not too bad as itl is wide due to its popularity. As we climbed and climbed until we finally arrived at the edge of Avalanche Lake. It was cloudy and starting to mist but when we saw the panorama before us we knew a little rain wasn’t going to chase us away. We found a place to sit under a hemlock tree while we watched the rain drops hit the lake and create the perfectly concentric circles that emanated from each drop initially touching the lake.

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We were also treated to majestic mountains adorned in numerous tailing waterfalls and we could have easily stayed seated for many hours simply staring out across the lake at the mountain backdrop. However  it was getting late and we wanted to make sure we were back before the rain got any worse. We hiked back briskly as the clouds were seemingly building. As we made it to the car and began our return drive back to the RV park the skies opened up and it began to rain hard, The temperature also dropped 12 degrees…. we were sure glad we didn’t linger any longer than we did at the top of the trail. This 5 mile round trip  hike is worth putting up with the crowds of people on the Trial of Cedars and we are considering doing once again to see it in the sunshine…

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two Medicine, East Glacier, MT…

Glacier National Park 035I have mentioned before that Glacier National Park is Huge and have also said it is difficult to see much of the park as there is little road access. In order for us to visit the Two Medicine area of Glacier we had to drive a very long loop of nearly 185 miles. Not to be deterred and certainly not to miss any of Glacier we made the trek south of Columbia Falls and took Montana Highway 2 around the southern perimeter of the park.

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Once we made it to East Glacier we were now on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and near East Glacier there is a turnout that has some nice informational plaques about some of the history of the area as well as some geologic info about this unique area. From East Glacier we took Looking Glass Road to Two Medicine Road which took us past Lower Two Medicine Lake.

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Lower Two Medicine Lake is yet another of the many beautiful Glacier lakes with drop dead gorgeous scenery as its backdrop. Wildflowers were more abundant on the east side of the National Park and as we would find out later so were the bugs… mostly those annoying biting flies. We drove into the entrance of the park and parked at Two Medicine Lake where we took the Upper Two Medicine Lake trail around the lake.

We walked a mile or a bit more and enjoyed the hike but anytime we stopped for a while you would be attacked by biting flies. Not enjoying this aspect of the hike we turned back and didn’t complete the whole loop trail. We decided to check out of the shorter trails on the way out of Two Medicine to see Running Eagle Falls. Only a little over a half mile we figured we could see the falls and not be hassled by the flies too much.

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The trail was easy and well maintained and took us to one of the most unique falls we will ever see. Running Eagle Falls has the nickname of  "Trick Falls” since it is actually two separate waterfalls in the same location. There are two falls during the spring and summer runoff season as the lower falls comes out of a sink hole while the upper falls only flows during high water runoff. While we were there both falls were flowing so much it was difficult to discern the lower falls from the upper one until we got closer to them. Super cool waterfall…

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Afterward we drove north out of the park on Looking Glass Road which as we drove north we better understood the roads name as the wide open panoramas we were treated too were simply breathtaking… The drive along Looking Glass Road was certainly worth driving despite its being so far away from where we were. We took the road to 89 then north to Saint Marys. In Saint Marys we then drove back across the park on the Going to the Sun road. Since it was getting late we decided to drive this way in the hope of seeing more wildlife. We didn’t see any wildlife but totally enjoyed our slow drive across this most magnificent National park…