Did we make the right decision? Outside, it's 62 degrees and partly sunny. A bit breezy, but in all other respects, a fine late summer day. And yet, we cancelled our camping trip scheduled for the next two nights/three days. Did we make the right decision? I suppose I should tell you that the forecast calls for persistent rain on Sunday/Monday, with overnight lows in the mid 30s. Heck, that rain might be snow at the elevation of our hike! We were so conflicted about this choice, which meant giving up a hard-won reservation in Glacier National Park. In the end, practicality won over the stubborn determination not to abandon a plan. Do you suffer from these dilemmas? Since we can't go camping, I decided to use this post to re-live a backcountry trip from September 2020, a vivid reminder of how changeable September can be in the mountains of Montana.
Our journey began in the North Fork area, the first time we had driven past storied Polebridge - now that's north! We departed the trailhead at 10 am, and reached Whale Lake a short three hours later. Without much in the way of views, we made quick work of the gradual, shaded trail. This was my first hike with new boots, and the initial sensation of stiffness quickly eased. Given the date of September 3, it was not surprising to observe blooming aster and goldenrod, as well as plants at the berry stage.
I collected wood, and then found a comfy spot next to the water to read. I didn't get far since a multitude of birds caught my eye - flycatchers, a Gray Jay and a hawk. Fish were swimming right in front of me - I tried to capture them with my camera, but the "eye" of the phone camera is not as clever as the human eye to be able to discern the shapes in the water.
We had the place entirely to ourselves as we prepared our gourmet meal. A fire pushed back the edge of chill that began to creep ever closer with the falling of the sun. (This is another factor we took into consideration in cancelling our current reservation - neither campground allowed fires due to scarcity of wood in those locales. If we were wet and cold, we wouldn't even have the promise of a fire to help us out!) In keeping with our camping tradition, we played a few hands of gin - Man with Hat walloped me 5 to 1.
From that point, the trail meanders for a mile along the crest with expansive views toward Glacier National Park to the east. The trail begins to descend through 2 pleasant miles of switchbacks, meadows and forest, leading to the fork with the Huntsberger Trail. What goes down must go up (I know, gravity would say otherwise, but this is HIKING), and we had a moderate climb to another crest, rewarded by an arresting vista of Huntsberger Mountain.
He caught plenty of small fish, and it was warm enough when he returned that he went swimming. I was captivated by the wispy clouds, dancing across the blue sky in a seemingly choreographed waltz.
Once again, no-one else arrived to camp for the night. Our "Chicken with Risotto" dinner was more akin to soup, but quite tasty. The sun moved across the mountain as we hung the food and other "smellies" in Spousal Unit's pack for the night. The only available branch did not appear strong enough to hold two bags, so we opted for the "fishy" bag in the tree, and my pack wrapped in a plastic bag by the firepit. Either we got lucky or it was a good plan; no bears interrupted our sleep that night! (And Spousal Unit continued his gin winning streak.)
The next morning, we emerged from the tent at 7 am. Cupping our hands around the coffee cups and looking east for the sun, it became clear it would take some time for it to clear the mountain. What does that mean? More time for fishing! It didn't last long -- the wind rose quickly and strongly.