Thursday August 7, 2008
Day 13 - Apgar to Many Glacier
Friday August 8,
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On Thursday I noticed the signs at the boat tour ticket offering an 8:30am guided tour with a ranger up Grinnell Glacier. The ticket sellers indicated this was an all day hike, coming back on the 4pm boat from Lake Josephine. I realized this was quite a slow hike, and I had no interest in a) hiking with dozens of others or b) hiking at half my normal pace. I was concerned about hiking alone in grizzly country. When I asked the at the Information desk in the Many Glacier Hotel, they said to simply wait at the trailhead for another party to start then join them.
I arrived at the boat tour ticket
Friday morning at 8:20. The ranger was using his binocs to look for a
bear on the canyon wall. I headed out alone on the trail and quickly
caught up with Jeff from Connecticut. Jeff had forgotten his sunglasses
and was hiking fast to catch up to the rest of his party. His extended
family had flown in from all over the country to stay in Glacier. I had
hiked this trail before up to the other end of the lake, so I had some
idea where I was going and lead the way.
We beat the 8:30am ranger guided boat tour to the other end of Swiftcurrent Lake.
At the Lake Josephine boat launch we caught up to his family - all 15 of them. This was as far as I'd hiked 2 years ago - at the time this trail was closed due to bears. I hiked with them for a while, leading the way - Jeff's 8 year old son seemed to think the new stranger hiking with his family was interesting. Once we hit the place where the trail splits to head up to the Glacier, Jeff's family said their goodbyes - this was the last time they would all be together since some of them were headed home later today. The women and younger children took the trail down to Lake Josephine, and the rest of us continued up. As we took a break we watched the boat cross Lake Josephine and dock at the far shore, then we watched dozens of people stream out of it and slowly walk back around to our side of the lake.
After we took our second break they indicated their slowest 6 yr old should lead. I slowed down, but there was no way I was going to hike at their pace all day, and I was definitely not going to risk having the mass of 30 hikers catch me. Eventually I rounded a corner as they took another break and I sped up, leaving them far behind. I saw another couple ahead and quickly caught up to them, but in minutes I had passed them as well. Alone at last, I started calling out every few seconds to avoid surprising a bear. The sky was mostly cloudy. I was hoping it would clear up so I'd get better light for pictures, so I only took a few pictures on the way up. The views were amazing - the waterfall from the glacier dominates the view up canyon, while Piegan Pass opens up across the canyon. Grinnell Lake is bright turquoise blue from all the minerals in the water.
After a while I saw some very black fresh scat on the trail, providing a reminder that I really should continue to call out for bears. Soon the trail ahead almost disappeared in the side of the cliff. At one point the trail ran along the top of a steep cliff with perhaps a hundred feet of exposure. From this point on the trail wound along the cliff for a while.
As I came around a corner and once again called out, I saw a decent sized animal that was perhaps 20 feet off the trail jump down the cliff away from me and out of sight. It had very thick fur that was black on the bottom, and brown fur on top. It was around 3 feet long, with powerful legs around one feet long, and it bounded away like a mountain lion or a large dog. Unfortunately I only saw it for about 2 seconds, but I knew it had to be a wolverine since there are no other animals remotely similar to that. At that same time, part of me said it couldn't be a wolverine since they are so rare.
A waterfall drenched one section of the trail. Instead of getting drenched I chose to downclimb around the waterfall.
Coming around another corner I saw a part of the trail that almost made my heart stop - the trail ahead appeared to get very narrow, slanted, and muddy, with a cliff wall on one side and a steep drop of several hundred feet below. As I approached the narrow muddy spot I realized the trail was still a couple of feet wide, but I didn't linger over that dropoff.
I reached the break area, featuring an outhouse and a sign telling you you have another 0.4 miles to get Grinnell Glacier. The trail lead up across the corner of a snow field - on Google Earth that snowfield doesn't appear at all.
Finally I approached the box canyon with Grinnell Glacier. Perhaps 8 or 10 bighorn sheep were around the end of the trail, and other 15 or 20 were on the edge of the cliff. I got out my camera and approached quietly. As I reached the end of the trail I saw about half a dozen other hikers who indicated that sheep had no fear of us and had been slowly approaching them for a while. I took plenty of pictures as the sheep got to within 20' of us, and I had another hiker get a picture of me with the sheep.
More Bighorn Sheep
After the novelty of the sheep wore off a little, I wandered down to the edge of what I would later learn is Upper Grinnell Lake, then wandered back to the end of the trail, then wandered off following a group of folks trying to get to the glacier itself. There was plenty of snow on the ground, but I couldn't tell what was Glacier and what was snow, and after a while I decided that risking a broken ankle tripping over half a mile of talus on a wild good chase to touch the 'glacier' wasn't worth it.
Upper Grinelll Lake and Grinell Glacier
The vastness of the box canyon as well as the poor light from the cloud cover made picture taking a challenge. I would have gladly endured the hike up in higher temperatures to get better lighting provided by a nice sunny day.
Click here for a 3 meg 360 degree panorama of Grinell Glacier
I had a snack, then packed up and headed back down the trail. Within two minutes I came around a corner and startled about 20 bighorn sheep who were just off the trail. I quickly took more pictures - these sheep were nicely in front of the glacier, and were also clear of the bush, making for excellent pictures.
Bighorn Sheep and Grinell Glacier
Jeff's family came up the trail at that point, followed by the couple I'd passed earlier, followed by the ranger led group. 'Ranger led' was now a misnomer, as the ranger was back at the restroom area making sure he didn't leave anyone behind. I gave him a description of the animal I'd seen and he agreed it was a wolverine, and also said he was jealous because while he'd seen a cougar (another very rare animal), he'd never seen a wolverine. There was a steady stream of hikers behind the ranger lead group, making me feel less likely to encounter a grizzly.
The hikers thinned out. At the beginning of the cliff section I saw a man leading a woman slowly along the trail. Her shirt and face were soaking wet, and she was crying her eyes out - she was terrified of heights, and she asked if this was the end of the scary part. I tried to give a reassuring yet truthful answer, and told her not to look down. That seemed to help.
I'd never seen a beehive hanging from a tree like you see in cartoons before
Eventually I got back to the lakes. I didn't really feel like I could stop calling out for bears until I reached Swiftcurrent Lake. When I was almost back to the MGH I ran into Bob - I didn't expect to see him wandering down the trail alone! Everyone had hiked around Swiftcurrent Lake earlier, but he wanted to go on another hike, so he was headed out on the same trail again. I had decided to hike up the 1.5 miles to Redrock Lake a few folks had said they'd seen a moose on that trail, and I talked him into coming back to the MGH and hiking with me later.
At around 3:30 Bob, Kathy, CJ and I drove over to the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge trailhead and hiked up to Redrock Lake. This trail had a notice for mountain lions, which I found unusual if not entertaining - mountain lions typically make it a point to not be seen, and would seldom if ever attack a human... unless the human were small, which would certainly be fair game...or if the human were running, which would undoubtedly provoke an immediate instinctive attack.
The trail was relatively flat, and was a nice hike. I talked to a guy at the Redrock falls for a while and took pictures as the rest of the family started back. On the way back I was again calling out for bears and heard a large animal crashing through the brush perhaps 50 feet off the trail. I continued to call out, and the animal continued to stomp through the brush without concern. I decided from the size of the noises and the animal's lack of concern for human voices it was most likely a moose or a bear, but I never saw the animal since the brush was so thick. Nonetheless I alerted hikers headed up the trail that they should be aware 'there's something in the brush'. As I got back to the trailhead I heard that I'd missed seeing a grizzly bear at the trailhead by about 15 minutes.
We got in the minivan and headed back to the MGH only to see a couple of moose in the woods. We pulled over to take pictures in the first available turnout only to hear that there was a grizzly bear in the valley bellow. CJ went back to see moose while the rest of us staked out the grizzly. Soon the moose came into view, as a mother and two calves walked along the horse path. Finally the grizzly appeared from the brush on the island in the creek below. Kathy and Bob drove back to the MGH to pick up Robby and Karin - by the time they returned the bear was swimming in the creek. This was the only time we got to see a full size grizzly from a reasonable distance.
When we parked in the pullout to see the bears the rangers were telling everyone they needed to park with their vehicles pulled completely off the road. After about 15 minutes the rangers changed their story, telling people they could only park in the pullouts and everyone off the road would need to move their cars. After another 15 minutes the rangers told us the areas was closed to parking, and we could not park in the pullouts. A while later the rangers told us we could not even stand in this area to take pictures. This whole episode was absurd in a very revisionist 1984 manner. Soon the rangers would be telling us there were no bears in the park, and there had never been any bears in the park.
We had dinner that night at the Italian restaurant at the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge. The food selection and quality were both much better than the Swiss and Interlaken Lounges at the MGH. Later we had fondue at the MGH. We never did eat at the real (read: pricey) restaurant at the MGH.
Friday August 8,
Saturday August 9, 2008
Day 15 - Many Glacier to Apgar