Sunday, August 13, 2006

Glacier's fire and three old favorite trails

Cousins Mary McCartney and Martin Suarez at Avalanche Lake

The Red Eagle fire plume on Going to Sun Highway

My cousins on Grinnell Glacier
This is the time to savor what’s left of summer.
I can’t think of any better place than Glacier National Park.
I had more of an excuse this year than most because of Glacier’s large (32,000 acres) Red Eagle fire that has been burning the past two weeks. And, I had two cousins from Minnesota along with whom I could share this extraordinary event.
We camped at the Rising Sun Campground where we had a ringside seat for the fire burning just across St. Mary Lake.
The fire burned up from the lake to Divide Mountain and then spotted on the other side. It also burned to the flanks of Red Eagle Mountain and behind Curley Bear Mountain and up the Red Eagle valley to Red Eagle Lake.
It burned down to Highway 89, jumping this main artery and burned the ridge on the Blackfeet Reservation on the other side of the road.
I found it amazing that the village of St. Mary, resort, park buildings and all, weren’t destroyed by the fire.
That is to the credit of some 750 firefighters who battled and contained the blaze, many camping on the banks of lower St. Mary Lake in the Chewing Blackbones camp in their colorful mountain tents.
Folks driving to the park from Great Falls will be astounded by how much of the land above the entrance was burned.
It will no doubt open new vistas and lands to wildlife, shrubs and open parks.
The scorched scenery is going to take some getting used to.
Despite the fire we managed to get in three classic hikes: Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Glacier, and Otokomi Lake.
One of my favs.....Otokomi Lake
It is always a pleasure to take guests on the Going to the Sun Highway. We drove over to the Avalanche Trail and watched as the Red Eagle fire erupted into an ashen plume high into the sky.
We stopped at Logan Pass and were treated to lots of wildlife, particularly mountain goats. A pair of young goats put on quite a show playing, “king of the hill,” for more than a half hour, climbing to a perch, and knocking each other from it.
Our camp that night was very smoky from the fire.
We escaped the next morning to the Many Glacier area and enjoyed the walk to the Grinnell Glacier, where were marveled at the other-worldly aqua color of Grinnell Lake, and the moonscape-like scenery around the glacier itself.
The trail was packed with people, many who had been turned back by Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel trails that had been closed by bear activity.
The following morning I did the 10-mile Otokomi Lake hike solo. It had been nearly 15 years since I had walked into this lovely basin behind the Rising Sun campground. The brilliant reds of the high walls above the lake were striking.
The hikes reminded me that there isn’t a bad trail hike in this magnificent park.
A fire fighting camp at Chewing Blackbones campground on Lower St. Mary Lake

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