Monday, October 15, 2012

Six Weeks in the Mountains: Part I (Glacier National Park, Two Medicine Area)

(To enlarge a photo, just click on it; click "back" to get back.  To watch a video again, click on the counterclockwise arrow in the lower-left corner.)

We had visited the Rockies briefly in 1980 and again in 2005 for a bike tour, but we had never been able to thoroughly explore this amazing region.  So, after months of planning and arranging, we set out on a six-week odyssey in late August of 2012.  We had a very tentative itinerary; we didn't make any reservations, hoping to keep our options wide open.  It worked out better than we had imagined -- we never had any trouble finding good campsites, and we were free to change our plans from moment to moment, depending on the weather and our wishes.  (Admittedly, this probably would not have been possible during the height of the summer tourist season; but after Labor Day, everything changed for the better.)

The first four long days out of Southern California were unremarkable: chugging at 60 mph, towing the trailer straight up Interstate 15 northbound, through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana.  (Felice kept busy by poring over our guidebooks, which would pay off nicely later on.)  The only surprise was the constant strong tailwind from the south, boosting our mileage to an average of over 13 mpg.  That doesn't sound like much, except that we usually get about 11 mpg while towing.  As we rolled into Montana, we noticed quite a bit of smoke in the sky from the wildfires throughout the Northwest.  

We stopped on the fourth night in Prewett Creek, Montana, on the Missouri River on the east side of the Continental Divide, just before the river enters the prairies.  That evening, we took a pleasant bike ride along the river; you can see the smoke in the western sky behind Felice:

After dinner, we took another ride along the river road in the moonlight, startling a small herd of deer grazing along the roadside.

August 29: As we drove north along the east side of the Rockies, the smoke slowly diminished.  By the time we got to Two Medicine Campground in the early afternoon, the smoke had fully cleared.  We got lucky and found a campsite on the river, just north of Two Medicine Lake.  Almost the first order of business was setting up our snack and cocktail area:

Several of these waterfront campsites at Two Medicine were "pull-throughs;" in other words,  we didn't have to back in to our campsite, which is more convenient:

That night, the sky was clear and bright; we took a walk along the lakeshore, and the mountains stood out against the western sky across the lake -- the tall peak in the middle is Sinopah:

August 30:  We forced ourselves out of bed earlier than usual so that we could catch the 9 AM boat across Two Medicine Lake for a hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake. This was our first hike in grizzly bear country, and we immediately saw evidence of bears on the trail.  This bear was evidently on a high-fiber diet:

Throughout our trip, we wore special pepper spray canisters on our belts and carried bear bells.  Although we were never directly threatened, the presence of bears heightened our sense of alertness on the trail.  This was not really a bad thing; I think it made us more aware of our surroundings.  As we would hike, we would both scan the trail from side to side, looking for bears lurking in the shadows.  When the bushes got very dense or high, we would sometimes sing, usually a blues number: "Oh, Grizzly, don’t you eat me . . . .”

The hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake was not very difficult -- a good "starter" hike for the beginning of a long trip.  As far as we could tell, we were the only ones at the lake:

Late that afternoon, we took another short hike from the lower lake to Aster Falls:

August 31:  We managed to catch the sunrise lighting up the mountains across the lake:

This is the same shot, edited a year later in Lightroom -- this is more accurate than the one above:

Later that morning, the sky seemed a little bit smoky; so instead of taking a "view hike," we hiked to Rockwell Falls along the south shore of Two Medicine Lake.  Along the way, we saw a moose on the edge of a pond near the trail:

The falls were lovely, swirling over carved rock layers:

Here's a brief video of the falls:

At the base of the falls, there were still some wildflowers swarming with butterflies:

That afternoon, we saw a young bull moose in the bushes near a pond.  He trotted slowly down the trail ahead of us; we gave him plenty of room.

September 1:  Feeling ambitious, we again caught the 9 AM boat across the lake and then hiked to Dawson Pass, a fairly long hike (almost 10 miles round-trip) with about 2500 feet of elevation gain.  While crossing a stream, we noticed a fossilized ripple pattern from a muddy shallow seabed; the Rockies are sedimentary, rather than granite, like the Sierra:

When we got to the pass, the cold wind sweeping over the Continental Divide from the West had been funneled into a narrow channel by the mountains and was was blasting us at about 60 mph – it was difficult to stand.  Felice immediately decided that this was a good time to practice her "flying squirrel" routine:

Here she is in action:

I arranged the tripod, weighted with rocks, to take a shot of the two of us on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the Nyack Valley – note that our clothes are blurry because they were flapping furiously in the wind:

We were still feeling adventurous, so we hiked carefully up the flank of Mount Helen to about the 8000 foot level, just to the south of Dawson Pass.  The views were even more spectacular, stretching along the Nyack Valley into the interior of the park:

On our way back down, we found a group of pasqueflowers, sometimes called "mouse on a stick."  Supposedly, they were the inspiration for Dr. Seuss's Lorax:

Once we had gotten to a lower elevation (around 6000 feet), we found a nice patch of huckleberries – they were about knee-high, with reddish leaves. The dark blue huckleberries were hidden underneath the leaves. They weren't as sweet as ordinary blueberries, but they had an intense flavor:

Back at the trailhead, there was a general store selling soft-serve ice cream, which went very nicely with the huckleberries:

That evening, just before sunset, we noticed several other people in the campground with spotting scopes who were gazing intently at the hillside above the campground. We turned around, and there was a large grizzly bear prowling slowly among the huckleberry bushes a few hundred yards from us.  (On another evening, a black bear and her cub were on a different part of the same hillside, not too far from the grizzly.)

Later that evening, the moon illuminated the mountains across the lake: 

The Big Dipper peeked out above Rising Wolf, the mountain next to the campground:

September 2:   Early in the morning,  Randy (a gentleman in the RV next to us) was out for an early morning walk with his dog, Nikka, a special bear-hunting dog from Finland.  Randy and Nikka often work with the park service and the forest service to relocate or track problem bears. As Randy and the dog were walking along the creek near our trailer, the dog started barking furiously, and there was a grizzly bear, just on the other side of the creek -- Randy took this picture with a telephoto setting:

After that excitement, we then spent the rest of the morning running a few errands (laundry, propane, and groceries) in the nearby town of East Glacier.  That afternoon, we took a short hike to Running Eagle Falls:

That evening, we decided that after several days at Two Medicine, we would migrate northward to the Many Glacier area, described in Part II of this saga. 


Jack and Sarah said...

Felice, I absolutely love your "flying squirrel" routine at Dawson Pass!

Andy said...

You guys are awesome! Thank you for being so inspirational. LOVE your blog!!