Sunday, August 25, 2019

MM #42: Moose, Marmots and Bears, Oh My!

We did it! We did it!  Our first 2-night backcountry camping trip is complete.  Unlike our last attempt, we did not get blown off the mountain.  But the journey was equally memorable.  Come along and see!

We left the house at 7.30 a.m., Spousal Unit driving his truck and Dear Neighbor Friend in her rig with me at shotgun.  Five hours later, we departed the Red Eagle trailhead.  Yes, it took 5 hours to drive to Glacier National Park, obtain our backcountry permit, traverse the Going to the Sun Road (GTSR), negotiate some road construction on the east side of the Park, leave the truck at our exit point and then go to the trailhead.  As time ticked by, I was itching to get on the trail.  Sometimes the getting there is the hardest part!  But it was a lovely opportunity to chat with my friend, and the views along GTSR never cease to amaze.
Singleshot Mountain reflected in an unusually calm St. Mary Lake
Goldenrod - hope you're not allergic!
It was a hot day by Montana standards, and owing to the Red Eagle burn of 2006, the dead trees offered little in the way of shade.  Nevertheless, I was entertained by the clack-clack-clack of the grasshoppers flying ahead of us on the trail, and the orange sulfur butterfly pairs in pirouettes above the sweeping prairie.  When we reached the first crossing of Red Eagle Creek, the cool waters beckoned, and it took only moments to shuck our boots and plunge our tootsies in the current.  I admired the workmanship of the suspension bridge, especially considering it is seasonal.  In other words, it is installed in the spring and rolled up in the fall.  That afternoon, we would encounter two more of these.  How much I appreciate the trail crews that make these fords a breeze for all of us.
Recommended load?  Sign says one hiker at a time!
A short while later, I paused to take the picture below.  The distant mountains were alluring, particularly given the heat and dryness of the open fields.
At that moment, Spousal Unit said "Moose!"  Sure enough, in the creek bed to our right, stood a young bull moose.  I adore moose, and I could have gone home then!  We stared at each other for several minutes, and he must have decided it was safe to dip his head for a drink.  He never moved from the spot, and we reluctantly left him to enjoy his bath.
Six miles into the hike, a hulking rock sill seemed to block the trail.  As it turns out, this natural feature, in damming Red Eagle Creek, creates Red Eagle Lake.  Upon traversing the sill and reaching its summit, the lake comes into view.  We took a short break at the foot of the lake.  Nearby, a lady ensconced in a camp chair under a tree alternated between gazing at the lake and writing in a journal.  At one point, she got up and turned over some socks, which were drying on a rock.  She asked about our plans, and when she learned we would be camping at the head of the lake, she advised that getting water at the head can be challenging due to the silt build-up there.  How kind of her to offer this advice.  This is one of the aspects of hiking and camping that I enjoy - a temporary community develops when you are on a hike.  Your interaction may only last 15 minutes or it may stretch to 36 hours, but there is a camaraderie that is born of shared experiences and the sense of being together in the vast wilderness.
It was a short mile to the head of the lake, and we quickly selected one of the two remaining campsites and pitched the tent.  We met our fellow campers, an elderly fellow traveling alone, and a dad and daughter enjoying some one-on-one time.  We had already met three young ladies along the trail, who would take the last of the four sites.  We splashed a bit in the lake to cool off, but this was dramatically limited by the deep silt at this end of the lake.  It also meant no fishing for Spousal Unit.  No one was in the mood for a fire, given the lingering heat, so after our dinner and a look at the twilight color on the lake, we retired to our tent for a few hands of Gin Rummy.  The last thing I remembered before I drifted off was the echo of a hooting owl.
Oatmeal fortifies us for Day Two
From the description above, it may seem that Day One was pretty special.  As I look back on it, Day One and Day Three are necessary for Day Two, the true highlight of the trip.  With 2,680 feet of elevation gain, we would ascend to Triple Divide Pass, and then descend 2,000 feet to Atlantic Creek campground, all while covering 10.7 miles.  As you will see in the following pictures, we traveled through widely varying terrain, and the scenery was jaw-dropping at every turn.
Still in the burn area
Red Eagle Gorge.  Blue-green rocks were stunning.  Little Chief Mountain soars behind me
We caught up with the three young ladies, and took turns posing with our destination as the backdrop.
Triple Divide Pass is the lowest point to the left of the snow fields
Panorama at the same location
Top: fields of Pearly Everlasting
Bottom left: Twisted Stalk in fruit stage  Bottom right: Baneberry fruit
The trail remained fairly level and finally gives way to lush fields.  High on Split Mountain, I spotted a group of mountain goats - three adults and two young ones.  The white coats stood out against the red rocks.  A bit further on, an impressive waterfall emerges from a cleft on the same mountain.  Fortunately, Spousal Unit is not easily distracted, and he was the one to see the young black bear on the hillside to our right, only 75 yards away.  We stopped in our tracks and continued making soft noise.  After a couple of minutes, he turned and headed up the hillside.  We did not see him again.

We passed several more waterfalls of varying sizes as we progressed up the valley of Hudson Bay Creek.  Below is a video of my favorite.

With all this moisture, wildflowers were abundant.  I was in heaven.

At the head of the valley, the trail begins its assault of Triple Divide Pass in earnest, switching back across parklands and scree slopes to the Pass.  Even on the scree slopes, Nature finds a way.
Upper left: Wild Chives          Upper right: Western Pasqueflower in seed
Lower left: flowers in a stream bed        Lower right: Yellow Columbine
Nearly at the top, we can see several "lakes" formed by melting snow.
The bright blue color is from the glacial "flour" in the water, which refracts light and creates the color
At the Pass, we met a party of five from Holland.  While swapping stories from the day, they told us about a mama grizzly and cub they had passed in a huckleberry patch.  "She was huge," they said.  We thanked them for the tip as we would be passing through that area in a couple of hours.  And then they left us to enjoy the solitude of Triple Divide Peak.  The Peak is so named because water in this area will enter one of three watersheds and ultimately end up in the Arctic, Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

As we began our descent, Medicine Grizzly Lake dominated the landscape to the right of the trail (the left is a sheer mountain).  I stopped frequently to look and take pictures - doing otherwise was to risk a tumble off the steep cliffs.

Yes, that is Man with Hat, dwarfed by the red cliffs.  The narrow trail hugged the cliff almost all the way down
Can you see the ribbon of a waterfall at the head of Medicine Grizzly Lake?
Rocky nature of this south-facing slope permits abundant flowers, but it's tough on trees.  We saw
marmots (lower right), golden-mantled ground squirrels and Columbian ground squirrels
Two-thirds of the way into our descent, Spousal Unit suddenly said "There's the grizzly."  My heart was in my throat, and he quickly added "She's way down there."  Looking through the binoculars, we could see her bulk moving easily among the bushes in the valley that ascends very gradually to Medicine Grizzly Lake.  And occasionally, the cub would appear, and run to catch up with Mom.  We turned this into a snack break, and for the next 30 minutes, observed the pair, giggling out loud at the antics of the cub.  But the best was yet to come.  When they reached the shore of the lake, they both waded in and proceeded to splash about, at times appearing to play with each other.  It was a joy to watch, and all the better for being at the end of a pair of binoculars.  As described by the folks from Holland, the sow loomed large; I can only imagine her size if you met her close up!

The trail finally flattens and enters the trees near the campground.  It was raining ever so slightly as we arrived, so we rushed to set up the tent before it could get worse.  Of course, by the time it was erected, the rain eased!  We soon got to know our campmates for the evening, and enjoyed the banter around the food preparation area.  From my perspective, Atlantic Creek campground is prettier than Red Eagle Head: it is nestled in trees, which offers more shelter and a little more privacy than the meadow nature of Red Eagle.  The creek runs just past the food prep area, down a short hill, and this makes it easier to access fresh water.  Our campsite, while treed, was in a larger opening than the night before, and we had room to play cards outside the tent following our dinner and coffee/Honey Jack.  Altogether a satisfying ending to a 7.5 hour hike.
In the afterglow of the whiskey, I reflected that I enjoyed the pace of the day.  More casual than our
normal rate, I felt I had the opportunity to truly absorb the environment
Day Three dawned cool and misty.  Originally we planned to break camp and take a day pack to Medicine Grizzly Lake in order to see it and for Spousal Unit to fish.  Given we had seen the lake from above, and more importantly, it seems inhabited by a grizzly sow and her cub, we abandoned the idea.
Upper left: Blanket flower     Upper right: Bad Marriage Mountain
Lower left: Cut Bank Creek      Lower right: White angelica
The four miles to the trailhead/our truck resembled a stroll compared to Days One and Two, and visions of a cheeseburger and a hot shower danced in our heads.  Since we shortened our day, we would have time for an adult beverage and a meal at Glacier Park Lodge.  Yum.
But part of us was already missing the backcountry, and anticipating the next adventure.  Will you join us?

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  1. That looks like it was a fabulous trip and even better without that wicked wind blowing you around!

  2. Wow - what can I say? Gorgeous photos of a wonderful trip.

  3. Incredible!! I love seeing pics of my beloved Montana. I remember seeing a Grizzly on the Highline Trail to Granite Park chalet. Feels a bit Glad you had a wonderful time! :) Kit

  4. Oh my what wonderful photos! I especially like the pics of the "glorious" waterfalls! Wow! Thank you and have a grand week.

  5. ...all I can say is, what gorgeous rugged beauty! As side note few people are allergic to goldenrod, ragweed is the enemy and flowers at the same time. Goldenrod is showy and folks recognize it, ragweed doesn't call attention to itself.

  6. Hi! It looks a glass of adult beverage very delicious. I like the photo of Medicine Grizzly Lake very much. Your mosaic photos are very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Incredible....I love the photo with the lake in view. My other half loves climbing mountains but I don't have very good balance so I am not as keen.

  8. Wow! You two are amazing. When you put in the effort you really are afforded some beautiful views and adventures. Glad you made it in and out again without any close bear encounters. Love the lakes and the wildflowers.

  9. What an amazing hike! Not only length, but the elevation gain, and a grizzly bear! Now that's an adventure.

  10. I'm living vicariously through you, Angie. I totally enjoyed your backpacking trip. Interestingly, your scenery is similar to most of what I've painted and drawn so far. I backpacked a lot in the Sierra Nevadas in my 30s and 40s. I loved the friendliness of most people we met on our travels through the wilderness. And, like you, I looked forward to a burger as we trekked homeward. Thanks for taking me to an awesome sight, Angie. :-)

  11. Loved seeing/reading your 3 day hike - the waterfall/wildflowers was my favourite today. Thank you Angie for sharing such a wonderful three days. Thank you too for hosting today.

  12. Hello, what an amazing backpack trip! The scenery is gorgeous. I love animal sightings, the bears, moose and goats. The waterfalls and wildflowers are beautiful too. It is nice to meet friendly people while hiking and camping. I enjoyed your photos and mosaics! Thanks for hosting! Enjoy your day, wishing you a great new week ahead!

  13. Wonderful photos. Happy Monday everyone. I will not be linking today due to computer/internet woes.


  14. How wonderful to get back in the wilderness and we all appreciate that you took photos to share! What a rugged wild landscape! I enlarged your even have on pretty earrings! You are my hero! Happy Monday!

  15. Wow! That is some wonderful hike, Angie. I'd dearly would have loved to tag along and enjoy the scenic wonders with you. Great shots!

  16. I always find it so much more interesting visiting mountains and forests rather than the beach... So much more to see and discover!

  17. You go on some amazing multi-day hikes. The mountain lakes look much like ones we have in the backcountry here in Powell River. The Medicine Grizzly Lake looks very much like our Alpha Lake. - Margy

  18. MAJESTIC photographs.
    What a FABULOUS post.

    … and although I enjoyed my little walk out earlier today, it looks very tame, when I compare it to this hike.

    Enjoy your week.

    All the best Jan

  19. Oh I certainly will join you for your next adventure!! Such beautiful photos and scenery, love all the mountain names and seeing the plants and flowers and the occassional animal. Such fun to watch the bears. And great to see a moose!!

  20. Oh my gosh Ange I loved this wilderness hike! You are the greatest tour guide...I could imagine being right there. The scenery is incomparable and wonderful to watch the wildlife (at the appropriate and safe distances). Loved it all and look forward to whatever you do next!

  21. What a wonderful hiking experience you had Angie! The views are out of this world and the suspension bridges are really great craftmanship. Moose are pretty tall animals, I have encountered one a few days ago :) In Finland they cause a lot of car accidents. A friend of mine is living in the UK nd she goes evey summer hiking to the Lake District. But she prefers to spend her nights sleeping in a good bed, not in a tent :) Thank you for this great report!

  22. Wonderful description and photos! You were wise to avoid the grizzlies.

  23. What an amazing trek, and tail! I'm happy to enjoy it from my chair. I couldn't walk that far.

  24. Great nature shots ~ ^_^

    Happy Day to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  25. Beautiful shots, and majestic landscapes!

  26. I'm just blown away by your enthusiasm, expertise and all round knowledge in your wilderness Angie. And there's me fretting about a 50 mile journey in the car that might take in a motorway.

    And, after those spartan meals I can see why a cheeseburger suddenly seems like heaven on earth.

  27. Wow - what an amazing hike! Lucky you to see all that beauty and wildlife!

  28. That is a serious burn area. Next time you are in such a landscape keep a keen eye peeled for Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers who favour burn sites and are often quite easy to find there. Great adventure you had.

  29. What a grand adventure surrounded by all that beauty. Awesome photos!

  30. Wow what an adventure you had!! Black and Grizzly bears!! Spectacular scenery. What a post. I love it. And then an adult malted beverage at the end.

  31. So sorry I missed this last week--we were off on a railroad adventure with our grandsons. I loved every word and photo of this post! What a glorious hike and camp trip! On my post today about Denali I have a link to a video that Denali Rangers made about dealing with wildlife, especially grizzly bears. I learned a lot watching it and I think you'd also enjoy it, too, Angie. There are no grizzly bears in Colorado, only black bears, but they have been very active in my community this summer looking for food and water, so learning tips on how to haze them away were interesting to me.


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