Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall colors break out: three days in Glacier, Great Bear

The Huckleberry Lookout Trail with huckleberry bushes in scarlet, fall color

Along the Apgar crest to the high point

Although officially "off trail," animals have maintained an old fire trail across the top of the Apgar crest
After a season-changing, yet summer snowfalls, the weather broke and warm temperatures returned, prompting a quick-hit trip to Glacier.
Originally, I had planned a Scapegoat trip to Flint Peak, but scrapped that when Wayne Phillips suggested accompanying him on a high point climb in Glacier Apgar Mountains on the park's southwest corner (above Lake McDonald).
I hadn't expected so abrupt a change to fall colors that I encountered.  The huckleberry bushes, still laden with what seems like a record berry crop, were a brilliant red.  The honeysuckle, mountain maples, aspen and birch were a psychedelic yellow and green.  The mountain ash were orange from berry to leaf.
It seems as though we hit the height of the fall color dead on, at least on the west side.
I started out earlier than Wayne and did a solo climb of Elk Peak on the park's southeast side ---- gaining over 3,300 feet over 7.3 miles on trail, which rises abruptly from the Fielding Cabin.
Unfortunately, smoke from California fires obscured the views not only on this climb, but my other two hikes on this trip.
This was my fourth time up Elk Mountain, a very enjoyable climb because of the remarkable views gotten from the summit of this former lookout site, particularly Mount St. Nicholas' giant shard.

For details of the hike, click on this link:

Elk Mountain climb

Wayne Phillips achieves another high point --- Apgar, 6,651 feet
That evening, after a wonderful meal at the Belton Chalet, we made camp at the Apgar Campground, and I was astounded to see that most of the 194 camping spots at this, the largest campground in Glacier, were mostly filled.  My goodness, this is mid-to-late September!  The smoke over Lake McDonald made for wonderful sunsets.
Wayne, who is trying to high point all of Montana mountain ranges, was making a second attempt at the unnamed Apgar high point at 6,651 feet.  He was blocked by deadfalls on an earlier more direct and shorter approach a couple of weeks ago.  His redesigned and successful route on Wednesday took us four miles up the Huckleberry Lookout trail to its ridgeline, where we got off trail and walked the Apgar crest the remaining three miles on what appeared to be a former fire trail, now maintained by animals, particularly grizzlies.
We saw so many signs of grizzlies ---- poop, diggings and even a den ---- that we were surprised we didn't see any bears.
The walk along the crest was glorious.  It was free of trees, offering great views in all directions.
We earned our peak, though, walking 15.6 miles and gaining over 5,000 feet of elevation along the way.

For details of the hike, click on this link:

Apgar Mountains high point

Fielding Cabin in Glacier Park's southeast corner

The view up Elk Peak

Mount St. Nicholas from Elk Peak summit
On Thursday, the smoke was so thick and rain threatened, so I drove to Polebridge to buy coffee and a bearclaw pastry from the Polebridge Mercantile, offering me a chance to ogle the amazing yellow aspens and cottonwoods that covered the hillsides and bottom-lands.
I was uncertain about a hike, so I headed by east along Highway 2.  I had considered going back by way of Going to the Sun Highway, but went south because I prefer the Middle Fork road for its wild, scenic nature and plethora of things to do.
Last winter I had rented Zip's Cabin from the Forest, .2 miles from the Great Bear Wilderness Area boundary, and when skiing up the Geifer Creek trail, had noticed the "Snake Loop Trail" sign about a mile up from the wilderness boundary.
I decided to give that 5 mile loop, which gains and loses about 1,500 feet, a try.
What a great decision!
This pleasant loop goes through deep forest, with openings that reveal the area's highpoint --- Baldhead Mountain to the south ---- and the peaks of Glacier Park, particularly Elk Mountain, to the north, in a traverse of this small mountain.
The trail is in desperate need of a maintenance crew.  The first mile of the loop had more than 20 deadfalls I had to step over, and the last mile, at the bottom of the a series of switchbacks, was so littered with blow downs, that I had difficulty reaching the trail.
Snake Loop trail marker in Great Bear Wilderness

For details of this hike click this link:

Snake Loop in Great Bear Wilderness

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