Thursday, August 02, 2007

I found some clear air --- temporarily

Above Gunsight Lake, approaching the pass

Lake Ellen Wilson

There always seem to be goats when Gunsight Pass is reached

Above Gunsight Lake
Looking for a place to hike that’s not overcome with smoke from the fires?
Check the direction of the wind, and head for Glacier National Park from the St. Mary valley north.
I did just that on Tuesday and had a clear day (well, at least until 3 p.m.) hiking from Jackson Glacier Overlook to Lake McDonald Lodge via Gunsight Pass, a distance of roughly 20 miles.
This is a spectacular stretch that takes you through the heart of the park, passing along the way Gunsight Lake, Lake Ellen Wilson, Sperry chalets, and numerous waterfalls as you gain more than 3,200 feet and lose more than 4,000 feet.
It took this old hiker slightly less than 9 hours, which included long breakfast and lunch breaks.
I started at the crack of dawn, 6 a.m., to avoid the heat, traveling most of the day with a couple from the Seattle area who had the same thing in mind.
Along the way we encountered moose in the willows of Reynolds Creek and goats at the Gunsight Pass cabin and just above the Lake Ellen Wilson campground. On the drive up I found a couple of elk on the road just east of Rising Sun campground.
Mount Jackson, that flanks Gunsight Lake, looked clear of snow and easily climbable.
We passed about 10 parties of backpackers either coming or going through the area.
The sky began to cloud up only in late afternoon.
When we hit Lake McDonald Lodge to pick up the shuttle bus to where our cars were parked at Jackson Glacier Overlook, the McDonald Creek valley to the north was completely filled with smoke from fires that are burning elsewhere in the west.
I had previously been on both ends of this hike, climbing to Sperry chalets many times enroute somewhere else such as Comeau Pass and Mount Edwards or simply to Lincoln Pass, or from the other end to Gunsight Lake when I climbed Mount Jackson about 15 years ago.
This hike allowed me to link it up, go through Gunsight Pass (worth a trip in itself) and see the surprisingly large Lake Ellen Wilson.
This was the first time I had taken the shuttle bus and have several observations:

--- They need more buses. Many were full and had to leave hikers art the stops to wait for the next bus;
--- They need to travel earlier. The earliest bus out of St. Mary’s is 7:15 a.m., which means that early hikers on long treks like the one I did, have to take their own cars to trailheads ---- defeating one of the purposes of the buses;
--- Bus drivers need to announce each stop and say which hikes might be available, doing like they do on metropolitan transit lines like BART or the Metro. “Jackson Overlook stop: with hikes to Gunsight Pass and beyond to Lake McDonald Lodge, or to the north, the cutoff to Preston Park and the Siyeh Pass trail. Next stop: Sunrift Gorge.” Our bus driver said nothing, and when we reached the overlook stop we had to ask him to open the door to let us out.
The trail goes right through a waterfall

My buddy, the mountain goat

Sperry Chalet
--- There needs to be buses that would link hiker traffic to other valleys such as Many Glacier, and ultimately Two Medicine. Right now, the buses are limited to the east-west Going to the Sun Road and the trails from there. Now you can’t take the Highline Trail to Many Glacier from Logan Pass and expect to get a free hiker shuttle back. You’re pretty much stranded unless you pay for a jammer or hitchhike.
--- Otherwise, this is a fantastic idea and I support the effort fully, and would like to ultimately see vehicle traffic other than these buses, banned from the Going to the Sun Road.
This post does not discount the horrible air along the Front from the Ahorn, Fool Creek or Skyland Fire (which was blowing up beyond belief as I approach Browning Monday night). The Great Plains are awash in bad air.

1 comment:

Bitterroot said...

I'm still following you on your adventures, Tom, though am appalled at the fire situation. Our cabin in the Swan Valley is literally surrounded.