Glacier National Park

On Saturday, August 26th we flew to Kalispell Montana. Because we didn’t attempt to book lodging until four or five months before the trip our reservations were scattered around the park. Our first night we stayed in one of the tiny cabins in rising sun motor inn. We killed two black spiders before turning off the lights. Bites on my back the next day suggested we didn’t catch them all.

The next morning we hiked to Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls.

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Saint Mary Falls.
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Sammysit Falls
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Virginia Falls much longer than Mary

On the way there we saw a moose. Or part of one anyway. Off the trail, antlers jostled, the rest of the sleeping animal covered by bushes.

We spent the second night at Lake McDonald Lodge, which turned out to be an even smaller cabin than the one at Rising Sun. But no spiders in attendance. Noisy neighbors sharing the wall made up for it. 

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So did the dramatic sunset views on Lake MacDonald.

On Monday we drove to Logan Pass for the eclipse. However, the parking lot was full so we had to park a half-mile down Going-to-the-Sun-Road.

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Forest Fires + Solar Eclipses + giant mountains make for some eerie atmosphere.

We tried both at home and in Montana to find eclipse glasses, but there were never any in stock. Without the glasses, the effect of the eclipse was little more than a very slight darkening of the sun.  After the eclipse exodus, we waited for a parking spot at Logan Pass and hiked to the hidden lake overlook. Unfortunately, with all the forest fires the lake and pyramidal mountain behind it were obscured by smoke.

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Somewhere in the background on that mountain, we spotted bighorn sheep. This is Sammy trying to lure them in with a BigHorn Mating Dance!

After hiking back down to the vista by the parking lot we were happy to see a traveling group (herd?) of rams. 

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See? It worked!

Monday night we checked into west glacier inn.

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Trail of Cedars in the morning. There have to be leprechauns or fauns something hiding just over that ridge, right?

On Tuesday after passing by the gorge and the trail of cedars we walked on through the woods to Avalanche Lake which, looks little like the photos we had seen.

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More like Mordor than the Rivendell we were expecting. The Great Eye flaming behind the peaks, even.

The fire’s smoke obscured the Röthbachfall-like backdrop waterfalls didn’t help. However, just to our left we saw a trio of black bears romping about before climbing a high pine for a nap. We took a break on the calm shore of Lake McDonald before heading back out of the park.

We drove all the way to the other side of the park and up into the Many Glacier area on Wednesday morning. We intended to hike together to Ptarmigan Falls, but the elevation and exposure didn’t sit well with Sam. She turned back with the next group coming down and I took the bear spray the next four miles to iceberg lake. Once there I couldn’t help walking in until my feet went numb.

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Oh, you thought my feet went numb from exhaustion? Try walking barefoot into an ice-cold glacier lake…

I completed the 9.6 mile hike in just four hours including an hour at the lake to relax and stopping many times for photographs along the way.

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So this is Ptarmigan Falls. I did something really stupid, here. The lens cap fell off my camera and bounced down onto an outcropping of a cliff next to a sheet drop many hundreds of feet down beside the waterfall/stream. Instead of just saying “meh” and getting a new cap back in town, I climbed down the face fo the cliff and used my extended tripod to hook the cap (I had the cap on a string that normally connects it to the lens barrel and keeps it from falling off) ever so delicately and bring back in, then climb back up the cliff next to the waterfall. Very stupid. Nobody was around. Sam wouldn’t expect me back for several hours. The area below this isn’t normally photographed or highly visible. I could have decayed there for days if I fell. Apparently, my brain learns by doing something stupid and then promising myself never to do it again.
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I know, I know, you’re saying “Andrew, I don’t give a crap about your stupid lens cap, tell me why it’s called Ptarmigan Falls. What’s a Ptarmigan? Is that a place? A person? What?”
That thing in the photo above. That odd-looking chicken vehicle for feathers and clucks, that’s a Ptarmigan.

I rewarded myself with a pint of Gold Miner’s Hefeweizen, a tasty locally (to Montana anyway) brewed beer at the restaurant next to the trail-head. Sam and I shared a huckleberry beer from the adjacent gift shop. 

On our way out of the park we spotted a black bear frolicking in the stones above the roadway. We checked into Thronsons Motel in Babb, a place unchanged for decades. They had no internet, but a (satellite, I’m sure) television that only played HBO. 

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Not our hotel, but right next door. Given that my first thoughts on seeing something like this have to do with homicidal inbred cannibal clans, I have to conclude I’ve paid way too much attention to Rob Zombie movies in my life and not enough to, well, reality.

The forecast for Thursday spoke of rain so we decided to take it easy and hike the mile-long wooded trail to Apikuni Falls.

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Photography here is difficult as there’s nowhere for that 100+ feet of water to go after falling but up into the air and onto your lens.

Afterwards we walked under storm clouds around the Many Glacier Hotel and down to the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake.

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The Great Eye searched for the boatsman, hiding beyond the jagged peak of Mt. Grinnel. The electric oars beat swiftly to match the current, thus providing the titular name to the body of water after the boatsman’s passengers arrived unscathed on the eastern shore of Lake Swiftcurrent.

After another meal (complete with Gold Miner’s Hefeweizen, of course) I hiked the adjacent trail out to red rocks falls (3.8 miles round trip).

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I told Sam, who declined this hike, that the rocks were stained red with the blood of hasty hikers that did not come back. And… for a time, she worried when I didn’t come back! (but I’ll explain why in a moment…)

While at the falls a passing hiker said they saw a moose ten feet from the trail just a bit past the falls. I cautiously hiked out and just when I was about to give up I heard something chomping on leaves. For the next half an hour I stood in silence and observed a moose cow and her calf dine on the leaves just a few feet off the trail. They were aware of my presence and despite the calf crossing the trail and putting me between itself and its mother, I never felt the animus the park staffed warned about (“moose cows will trample and kill you if you get near a calf). Eventually it was me that moved on and headed back as I didn’t want to worry Sam, the moose presumably stayed there next to the trail for hours.

On Friday we took the 11am boat over Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lake from Many Glacier to the Grinnel Glacier Trail-head. Sam wasn’t for the hike so she stayed on the boat. Ninety minutes later I’d scaled the 1500+ feet and 4 miles of trail to the most famous glacier in the park. At the “lunch stop” before the final climb I spotted a lone ram posing on the bare rock face overlooking the trail.

At the top I put my feet in the water but found it even colder and much slipperier than iceberg lake as there seemed to be far more algae and far less icebergs. I ran back down the trail, eager to get one of the earlier boats back across the dual lakes and not leave Sam waiting. A ranger told me at one point that I’d blown by a family of Grizzlies higher up on the trail without even noticing. On the final mile hikers coming up told me a moose was drinking from the lake by the boat dock. Soon enough the trail bent around and I could see this for myself, as well as the next boat approaching. However, after running around the swamp to the dock to find no moose a man waiting for the boat told me  kids threw rocks and scared the animal away.

After eating at the lodge we drove back to the east glacier section of the park and took pictures at Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls before checking into rising sun motel.

On our last day we headed to Logan Pass again. Because of the rain on Thursday we hoped the view of Hidden Lake would be clearer. And it was! But we also had an up close encounter with a young mountain goat that wandered across the hiking path. When I hiked up alone a little beyond the lookout I encountered a large marmot grousing literally at my feet.

After leaving the park we stopped in Hungry Horse for some purple (mom loves purple) huckleberry themed souvenirs. With a few hours left before we’d need to be at the airport we decided to check out one of the state parks. Lone Pine requires a parking fee, though, and we only had 30-45 minutes to spend (or so we thought) so we decided to skip it. Instead we parked across the street and took some pictures at Foys Lake.

At the airport everything went smooth until boarding time came and went. And went. And went. Apparently there was an unspecified problem with the plane that required a mechanic. A mechanic that needed to be called in because there aren’t any on site on a Saturday at the tiny regional airport.

We finally boarded the plane about an hour late. And waited. And waited. Eventually we were told that everything was fine but we were waiting on “paperwork” to be completed. Then “paperwork” turned into “we can’t find the ‘logbook’.” Another two hours later we finally taxiied back from the gate and were told we were only moving to make way for an arriving plane.

Then they surprised us and said they could take off anyway.

We arrived back at home in Los Angeles after 1am instead of the much more comfortable 8pm as originally planned. I would not recommend flying Allegiant airlines. However, this appears to be the only airline with a direct flight into Kalispell from Los Angeles, so they know they’ve got a captive (literally in our case, we were told we could not get back on the plane if we stepped off during the long delay) audience.

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