On The Trail


(Guest blog from Brother Dear.)

It is summertime.  I know that statement is true because in the afternoons I can hear my attic fan cut on, pushing hot air out towards West Shore Road, where it dries out the dirt tracks to ageless dust; the dust is picked up and blown into my neighbors open windows and against their homes by every passing car, truck, fourwheeler, boat trailer, propane-laden semi, backhoe, tricycle, and cattle carrier and is thence carried out over Duck Lake, past Browning, and is propelled at incredible speeds through the streets of Cut Bank, where it is either swallowed by Floridian tourists fueling up their RVs or finds a thermal and hits the atmosphere, eventually cascading back to earth to be deposited in the wastelands of North Dakota.  I love the dust.  I’ve missed it.  The folks living on the east side of the road generally offer a contradicting opinion, but that is their business.

Of course, there are other ways to determine the arrival of true-summer around Babb besides attic fans and dry, dusty, gritty, wonderful breezes.  Some people go by dandelions, or the arrival of the valley’s dry herd, or when Hook’s Hideways has its first ropin’, or the opening of the Sun Road.  This year, I know it is summer because I’ve gone hiking without my -40 degree boots.

The first real hike of the season, with Natalee to Iceberg Lake, saw me not only leaving my winter boots at home, but also my hiking boots!  Trudging through miles of snow in sandals is really not that great, but you’ve got to make the most of warm sunny days!

We saw a little moose pretending to be an anteater.

And baby fox kits gnawing on each others necks.

And cloudy, stormy, sunny skies.

Later, I went hiking with Dad up toward Grinnel Glacier.

We saw SEVEN loons at one time.  Wild stuff.  Interweb Loon Experts (ILEs):  Please explain this behavior to us.

Wondered, with the sheep, why these stupid tourists refused to get out of the way.

Hung out with this fella for a little while, before booting him off the trail.  I will not suffer a surly or insouciant ungulate.

Then the next day, I traveled up to Gunsight Lake.

Ran across (and nearly int0) this carefree fellow jay-walking around the Sun Point area.  More on his day later.

Saw this little clown hanging around near Reynolds Creek, begging for scraps.

I followed the trail up to Gunsight Lake, and got within a few hundred yards when I blundered into this avalanche chute.  I came around a corner to discover a 15 ft tall wall of snow and rocks and pulverized trees blocking the path.  The trail crew gang has their work cut out for them.

There’s a trail under here somewhere…

There were bear and moose tracks everywhere.  Never did see the bear, but I did eventually find the moose.

I saw a single person on my hike out, and it just happened to be my friend Eddie, the fella in charge of trails on the east side of the park.  He’d suffered through meetings with “suits” the previous day and was taking the opportunity on his day off to hike out and check out the avalanche that everybody was talking about.  On his day off!  How great is that.

As I headed back down the sun road, windows down and Guy Clark blaring on the radio, my left arm getting a good sunsoaking and my mind in exactly the right place for such a perfect summer day, I noticed that the pullout for Lost Lake was empty of tourist vehicles.  Lost Lake is a lost love for many longtime park employees and locals.  It is one of the few bodies of water in the park that isn’t fed by a glacial stream.  It is more of a pothole, albeit a lovely one, that I assume has a spring and is also fed by early season snow melt.  When I was younger, everybody on the east side “in the know” would spend lazy afternoons fishing and swimming and gallivanting about the pebbled shore and in the (relatively, this is still NW Montana) warm waters of Lost Lake.

Then, tragedy struck the little pond like a sudden swift gust to an old windmill (hate it when that happens).  The news came crashing down in a hail of bitter confusion that some jerk scientist discovered some stupid rare jerk snail.  Swimming was prohibited.  Touching the water, actually, was now against the rules.

I bet that stupid snail is probably dead by now.  I sort of hope it is.  Lacking human contact with hippies, fishermen, drunks, and other assorted local types, I doubt the environment still enjoys suitable conditions for the survival of that miserable, lazy-day wrecking shell-covered grub.  Anyways, as you may have figured out from my general and specific vitriol in the matter of said stupid snail, I haven’t gotten over being denied my god-given right to swim in a pristine pond in a national park populated by an endangered, oft-threatened, and defenseless animal.

Luckily, bears don’t play by the rules.  Good for you, bear.  You made my day.


(No jerk snails were harmed in the making of this long and drawn out blog post.)

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Friday marked my 40th week of pregnancy, with no end in sight.

So I drug It’ll and my Dad off on an adventure to Avalanche Lake, a blue-green little gem of a spot just a few miles east and south of Lake McDonald.

Dad surveying avalanche damage blocking the trail.

I don’t think Dad thought it was the greatest idea I’d ever had, but it must have been clear to him that I was going with or without him, so he put my water bottle and coconut-oatmeal-chocolate-chip-bar in his pack and off we went.  Though I eventually decided, two days after returning from Avalanche Lake, that he was right and I Way Overdid It, in Friday morning’s bright sunshine, a walk to Avalanche felt just right.

In part, this is because I’d generally put Avalanche in the “easiest hikes in the park” category – also, “one I won’t do in July or August,” as it is absolutely overrun with people.  Why?  The trail to Avalanche Lake is (1) only 4 miles in total length and 500 feet in total elevation gain and (2) a stunningly beautiful jaunt, even if you don’t make it to the lake.  The first part of the trail hugs mossy, dusky red Avalanche Gorge, through which Avalanche Creek thunders cerulean and foam.

Gorgeous, no?

The walls of the canyon are as smooth as the logs Brother Dear hews for his wood furniture, and gazing upon them can glaze me with that same Grand Canyon effect of timelessness.

Staring down into the canyon’s thunderous depths, I always think of the final passage from A River Runs Through It:

The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.  -Norman Maclean

In high school, and later in college, I wrote paper after paper about what I think Mr. Maclean meant.  I’ll spare y’all that this morning.

But I won’t spare you from another whale-esque shot of me, wearing the last four items of clothing that “fit” me.

See why I wanted to go to Avalanche Lake?  Ahhh.

As Dad and I sat there in the sunshine, listening to the distant thunder of an avalanche deep in the mountains, my thoughts turned to all the other trips to Avalanche Lake – the first one I made, at 9 years old, with my family during our first trip to Glacier in 1989.  My Reeboks and colorblocked shirt.

My first and last experience trail running on a July 2000 day with new friends I’d made working at St. Mary, Kate and Andy.

An exhausting, glitteringly white trip made on snowshoes sometime in 2002-2003, the year I graduated from Georgia, moved to Whitefish, and learned to ski.

And in more recent years, the turquoise glimpses of Avalanche revealed when dropping into Floral Park and crossing the streams of water deluging from Sperry Glacier, all destined for Avalanche Lake.

I can hardly wait to show It’ll all these wonders.  But for now, I think I’ll fill my OB’s prescription for “patience,” and rest.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Brother Dear grabs the reins and tries to keep the wagon out of the ditch…this is a climbing log, so if you’re looking for babies or honey or dogs you should probably just check back in tomorrow:

Spring arrived in Glacier County this weekend!  Maybe we didn’t have daffodils or sweet clover emerging from the frosted-mud of the prairie (or even our usual crop of dandelions) but there was a delightful sensation of life and change and (relative) warmth around the east side of Glacier Park for the first time since…I don’t even know.  It got really, really wintry in October, but when was it warm?  Not last summer.  The summer before?  Doesn’t matter.  It’s really nice right now.

So nice in fact, that I decided to be marginally ambitious, a notion I have not experienced since the last time it was warm…  I tossed a couple ideas around the old noggin’ and was repeatedly self-encouraged to shelve my grande schemes.  I try to keep these grande schemes from public knowledge, blogs, and most pertinently, maternal cognizance.  Mom isn’t fond of her children wandering off on snowbound solo adventures, and she has made some very keen points over the years in regards to the intelligence behind such missions.  Unfortunately for her innate sense of “don’t let the child put his hand on the stove’s coils, his head behind the bull’s hooves, or his entire being in a crevasse,” I could not contain myself and set out on the most beautiful day in the history of Glacier County, circa 2011.

Destination: Divide Mountain

That’s Divde in the background.  I think the base is two or three miles away but I couldn’t say exactly.  Seemed like a long way in deep snow.

I’ve climbed Divide probably dozens of times, mostly in the summer.  When there isn’t 6 or 8 feet of solidish snow on the ground, you can pretty much drive a vehicle to the base of the mountain (and I’ve seen some remarkably ON-road vehicles up there).  I took Mom and Dad up to the summit a couple years ago.  I always think of it as “easy” because it is so oft climbed that there is basically a trail up it.  In reality, it isn’t a cake walk.  It’s steep and exhausting.  One of my heroes, J. Gordan Edwards, died on the approach during the summer of 2004 at an advanced age.  JGE was the “patron saint” of mountaineering in Glacier Park, and it is pretty incredible that his lifetime of adventuring ended due to a massive heart attack, surrounded by friends and family, while approaching a summit in the place that he loved.

I skipped the “road” approach and did my best to beeline it, cross-country, to the start of the primary ascent.  The going wasn’t too bad, almost all uphill and with the occasional plunge deep into a soft spot in the snow.  No crevasses though.

I eventually made it to what I’ve always called “the shoulder” by which one accesses “the ridge.”  Basically from where I’m standing, one heads up and left and then up and right at that treeline shoulder.  Winter complicates this, as the treeline is really just the very top of the trees sticking out.  It’s pretty steep so you either need an ice ax or could possibly (worked for me 5 years ago) pull yourself up by tree branches.  The latter is not recommended, because when you get close to the trees you encounter a miserably wet and chilly situation.  The tree trunks and limbs absorb the warmth of the sun and melt out the snow around them, but leave the snow on top.  So you think you are grabbing onto a branch and pulling yourself forward…and then fall down through three or four feet of snow.  It isn’t fun getting back up.  Believe me.

The way up was very challenging.  Five or six or seven steps at a time was a cause for self-congratulation.  Two or three steps was not reason for ridicule.  The snow was deep and very soft.  In years past, I’ve simply removed my snowshoes and chipped in steps up to the top.  This time around I sunk up to my gut with each labored lurch forward, so I had to climb with the snowshoes on, which can be very awkward on steep terrain.  I made it, managed to avoid a couple of nasty looking overhanging cornices, and never felt in any danger significant enough to lie to my Mom about.

Upon reaching the ridge, usually there is smooth sailing all the way to the summit.  This time around the ridge was miserable.  Snow, ice, rocks, drifts, wind, water.  I couldn’t tell what was an inch of snow on top of rock and what was several feet.  The ax was almost useless as a means to steady myself without a little snow depth.  But…I could see the Lookout and wasn’t about to miss out on a chance to recarve my usual graffiti.

I kinda messed up the R…whoops. The lookout itself was in terrible shape.  (Divide Lookout is an old fire lookout, by the way.  A fixture of Parks and Forests, they served as a method of spotting fires and warning the necessary responders.  Divide, even its heyday, must have been one of the least comfortable.   There are still a few functioning lookouts in Glacier, and throughout the west.)  Every year the building is in slightly worse shape, and I’m always a little amazed that it still stands on its stone foundation, bolted to the surrounding crumbling rock by frayed and broken wires. I’m saddened to report that the old lookout lost some more floorboards this winter, and some of a wall, and had a corner blown in by the wind.  Actually I’m not that saddened.  I love the lookout, and the many stories I know about it that are various shades of true (some of which are mine), but it isn’t a bad thing to see it tumble down back to it’s origins.  Only the rocks live forever, right Dad?

  

I snapped a cheesy self portrait and almost talked myself into going to the top. The guy in the photo looks like he could handle it.  Unlike the persona captured on digital film, Sanford had promised his mother that he’d be careful…and to be honest I’d been scared enough getting up to the ridge and then slipping my way to the lookout and then considering just how far it was back to the truck that I decided that it might make sense to honor my promise at that point.  So I turned around, wearing every article of clothing I’d brought, and was happy to do so.

Here are a few snapshots of the retreat:

Tracks of some sort. I suspect wolverine, because I want everything to be a wolverine.  Also, it has some serious claws and the track lead directly across the 80 degree east face of the mountain.

A ptarmigan in full winter plumage…poor guy doesn’t believe it is really spring either.

Looking back up at where I snuck around a nasty overhanging cornice.

You can now see what I was talking about before in regards to the route.  I like that my tracks are the only tracks around.  Except the wolverine, of course.

And here’s the final trek omitting most of the actual approach from the road.  The circle is the lookout and final destination, so you can see that I was still a fair ways from the top.  If you’ve done the hike before, you know it is pretty clear sailing from the lookout to the summit.  That’s the idea but usually that route isn’t covered with ice.  Winter/spring/summer/fall the section in red is what is really hard about the hike.

I hiked back to the truck and checked the map.  The highway is at exactly 6000 feet and the lookout is right around 7800 ft.  The summit is up at 8665 ft.  Don’t worry Divide, I’ll be back, and maybe I’ll bring some blog readers with me.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All rights reserved to Sanford Stone.

This is normally the time of year I book the next plane outta Mudtucky – sometimes we need a break from what we love the most, to love it most fully.  But what with the continuing incubation of It’ll (36 weeks tomorrow!), I ain’t going nowheres.  I figure the eventual 150 mile trip to my “local” labor and delivery room will be trip enough for Spring 2011.

But I digress.  Spring Fever for this near-Babb gal can only be cured in three ways: hiking in Glacier, planning a hike in Glacier, and talking about planning a hike in Glacier.  At this point in my 22 year love affair with Glacier National Park, I’ve hiked most of the “on trail” hikes that I’ve had a hankering to do.  And some of those trails, like the dusty, well-worn path to Iceberg Lake, I’ve hiked dozens of times.  But no trip is alike, and there is no trail I’ve tired of yet – oh, certain portions of certain trails, to be fair – does anyone really harbor deep affection for that very last mile down from the Loop/Highline Trail/Granite Park Chalet, when it’s buggy and thronged with tourons and the sun beating down on your head intensifies the ache in your twelve-miles-in-shins?  Not me.

One of my very favorite trails is the Dawson-Pitamakin Loop, out of the southern Two Medicine area of Glacier.   It’s about 3,000 feet in elevation gain over 18.8 total miles, but don’t let that intimidate you.  Much of that 18 is a walk-in-the-Park ridge walk, and nearly every moment of the hike is breathtaking, as you circumnavigate Rising Wolf, Flinsch, and Morgan peaks, walking a narrow scree trail between Dawson and Pitamakin passes.  If 18 miles makes you nervous – and I’m not trying to suggest that you should go from your couch to doing an 18miler! know your limits – you can shave about two miles off the trip by catching the early boat across Two Medicine Lake, and tackling Dawson Pass first, or by doing Pitamakin first and keeping a close eye on your watch to make the last boat back across Two Med.  To me, the elevation gain to Dawson is more challenging than that of Pitamakin’s, but it is certainly doable.

Also, if peak bagging is your thing, Dawson-Pitamakin allows for fairly easy summits of Flinsch and Helen – at least, those are two that I’ve tackled from this loop.  Adds a little extra mileage to an already challenging day, but the views of Mt. St. Nicholas, to the south, are completely worth it.

Anyway, I’ve done Dawson-Pitamakin a number of times, but am posting a few pictures from the Hot Buns‘ 2006 trip – this trip being especially memorable because in our rush to get to the dock and catch that last boat across the lake, saving ourselves the last couple miles, we picked up the pace a little too much, as we hiked quickly through the deep forest ringing the lake, and had ourselves a little Incident.

In the thousands of miles of trails I’ve covered in Glacier, I can count on one hand the issues I’ve had with bears, and they’ve all started out the same way: hiking through deep forest or brush too quickly to carry on conversation or in any other way make enough noise to alert the natives that you’re comin’ through.  This particular trip to Dawson-Pit proved much the same – in our rush to make that last boat, the Hot Buns focused on breathing deeply and stretching our legs, saying very little to one another.  And soon enough, we heard deep breathing that was not our own.  And it got closer.  And louder.  And then it began to snort and it felt like it was close enough to spit on us. And we were flat out terrified.

Layla Jane was bringing up the rear, and ever sensible, she sternly commanded the rest of us to stop, pull our bear sprays, and turn to face the bear.

And I wish I could say that is exactly what we did, because that is exactly what we should have done, as we assessed the approaching Bear Issue.

But hiking in Glacier has taught me a lot about myself, and hiking with random groups of people has taught me more about the human condition than perhaps any other experience I’ve had outside of tending bar.  And I’ve learned that sometimes the human condition, properly conditioned about Proper Bear Behavior though it may be, reacts in the most basic and instinctual of ways, and there is nothing to be done.  In this instance, the Fight or Flight Instinct flooded several Hot Buns’ bodies and some of us, who shall not be named, took off running hell-for-leather down the trail, bear spray in hand, leaving Layla Jane in our dust.  Not that you’re slow, honey.

And as the Incident came around the corner, snorting mightily and stomping its feet, we collapsed in near tears and collective relief that the Incident was an Equine.  And we tried mightily to wink back at the solo Cowboy clearly having a fun afternoon at our expense.  I laughed until I cried nervous tears of relief, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that from that day forward, whenever I hike with Layla, I make sure she’s in the back.

Because I now know that I can outrun her.

Hot Buns at the Pitamakin trailhead

Flinsch to the left

Flinsch and Old Man Lake

Pitamakin Overlook

lunch break – time to figure out which peak is which

glamour shots are de rigeur when hiking with the Hot Buns

Rising Wolf

Dawson Pass, overlooking Two Medicine Lake

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Previously, we discussed our-new-best-friend-Suzi’s camping essentials: a full size Donna Karan Cashmere Mist deodorant.  Very amusing indeed.

Today is a much different look at what another dear, dear friend considers camping essentials .  We talk about Layla Jane pretty frequently on this blog, which makes sense, as she is one of our oldest friends.  To be clear, we are discussing longevity of friendship here – LJ is not long in the tooth, though we do believe that she will be a delightful old lady, one day, probably wearing a floppy hat and little else and sitting on a porch somewhere, telling it like it is in her musical, perfectly cadenced Alabama/Tennessee drawl.  Brother Dear once said LJ has the most beautiful accent in the world, and I do not disagree.  Sometimes just listening to her speak brings me home.

But I digress.  Layla Jane is lovely and all, but we are here to discuss her camping essentials.

Glacier County Honey, peanut butter, and tortillas. Sugar, protein, and a tasty, easy way to get it down?  I think she’s off to a pretty good start.

Backpacking stove, Glacier County Honey, and Counter Assault bear spray? Hmmm.  I think this girl’s a Hot Bun, y’all.  Very professional indeed!

What do you think of LJ’s camping essentials? What are yours?

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Photo credits to Layla Jane.  All Rights Reserved.

The backs of my calves are still thrumming from Friday’s adventure to Scalplock Lookout, a not-quite-nine-miles-but-over-three-thousand-feet-of-elevation day hike on Glacier National Park’s southern boundary.  But I enjoy the thrumming – reminds me that I’m alive and well, and that I could be more well if only there were a gym near Babb, Montana.  Such thrumming does not come from sharing a blood supply with the couch, or even from trolling the mall – such thrumming only comes from hikes with serious elevation gains, like Scalplock.

I met Mom and Dad at the trailhead, at the Walton Ranger Station/Essex, about 10am on an overcast Friday morning, though the colors of the golden Larch were still spectacular.

As to be expected, it was c-o-l-d down in the canyon – when I left Babb at 8:30am, the temps were a balmy 51 and rising.  At Essex, they were 32 and holding.  Gloves would have been a welcome addition to my hiking ensemble, except that Roy recently found them to his liking.  Mmmmm, polarfleece!  Does a Lab puppy good.

The hike starts out with a bouncy, Indiana Jones style suspension bridge over Park Creek.

Youth hunting season was in full swing on Friday, and rifle shots echoed off the canyon walls – although we were in Glacier, where no hunting is allowed, just across Glacier’s boundary, the Middle Fork of the fabulous Flathead River, there is plenty of open hunting.  Just in case, Mom and Dad sported their hunter’s orange.

As we switchbacked all over Scalplock Mountain, gaining over 3,000 feet in elevation, we saw many of things of beauty and wonder, as ever when in Glacier:

Water running over rocks from Mr. Maclean’s basement of time.

Mushrooms that I cannot identify without help from Layla Jane.

And lots of snow berries that I never got a clear shot of.  Thanks, Layla and Kestergill, for pointing those out to me several years ago on our snowy Labor Day trip into the Belly River.  I remembered their name!  Improvement!

Scalplock Lookout itself is perched right on top of the mountain, and is staffed by the park service during fire season with a lucky guy or gal who spends the summer living at the Lookout, and looking for fires.  My friend Alfred landed this position several years ago – what a job!

Mom and I had good time posing in our Georgia hats:

And soaking in the fabulous view:

If you find yourself with a day to spend on Glacier’s south side, I recommend Scalplock.  Enjoy the thrumming.

2010.  Some photo credits to Charlie Stone.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Honeydew got his elk for the season, and promised to share the pictures.

Gorgeous bull, yes?  Taken with a bow.  I’m very proud of Honeydew.  And very happy that our freezer is full.

Winter won’t be long now.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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