Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Summer's last hurrah ---- 5 days in Glacier

Glacier's Garden Wall above the Highline Trail in alpine glow
Our original plan was a quick stay at Glacier Park's Granite Park Chalet in advance of the Labor Day weekend.
However, my brother Dan and his wife, Kristin, from Chicago decided he would like to visit and hike in Glacier during the same time, so a 2-day trip turned into 5-days.
Much of the time the weather was quite unsettled.
Yet, we hiked to Firebrand Pass, went to Granite Park Chalet via the Highline Trail and then onto Swiftcurrent at Many Glacier, then did day trips with my brother, Dan, and his wife, Kristin in the St. Mary's and Two Medicine valleys.  I figure we were somewhere in the 45-50 mile range when it was all done.
Granite Park Chalet was a pleasant surprise.  I hadn't expected too much.
What we found was a warm and welcoming staff that knows how to get their guests to interact.
I was delighted to find that colleague Dave Byerly, a retired Lewistown newsman, was running the front desk, assisted by a crew of Calgarians and a Montana University System accountant.
Guests were from all over, although most had a Montana connection.
We had room that slept six in three bunkbeds on the top floor that faced out toward spectacular Heaven's Peak.  There was no electricity, nor heat ---- so we used headlamps and piled on three woolen blankets to keep warm when the temperature plunged into the 30s.
We had to bring our own food that prepared on rotation in a kitchen where hot water was provided.
At the Grinnell Glacier Overlook

Granite Park Chalet

Leaving the chalet

Readying the lookout for the winter, Buck, the ranger, is ready to leave for the season

Katie on top Swiftcurrent Peak with the Swiftcurrent Valley below her
The chalet, a remnant of the park's chalet-to-chalet travel system for the well-heeled, is one of two of these left, the other being Sperry near Lake McDonald.
Interesting day hikes fan out from this spot ---- Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout, Grinnell Overlook, and Ahern Pass the most notable.
We did the Grinnell Overlook on the way in.  It had been at least 10 years since I had last stopped there on my way to a climb of Grinnell Peak.  On the way out we climbed Swiftcurrent Peak just in time to see Buck, the lookout ranger, battening down the wooden hatches over the lookout's windows.  He had his backpack ready and he was heading out for the season when he was finished.
I've done this lookout hike every year for the past 10 years.
The weather during the entire five day trip was very unsettled and a skiff of snow even fell at the very top of the peaks one of the nights.
A large bull moose near Red Rocks Falls in the Swiftcurrent Valley
We had exceptional luck seeing wildlife on this trip.  Perhaps, most significant was a large bull moose grazing near the the trail in the Red Rocks Falls area.  We saw three grizzlies and two black bears, various bands of bighorn sheep, eight mountain goats in a group, and a bull elk with his small harem of five cows.  One of the grizzlies, a sub-adult, gave us a start when we went to fetch water.  We forgot our bear spray, and of course this was the time a bear would choose to walk in our direction from out of nowhere.  He wasn't interested in us, though and went about his business away from us.
The two days of hiking with my brother and his wife included a walk in the clouds on the side of Mount Oberlin near Logan Pass, a glorious waterfalls hike (Bering, St. Mary, Virginia Falls) with a side trip to Sun Point, and a climb of Scenic Point in the Two Med.
My brother was particularly delighted with the Scenic Point hike, taking him up the Apistoki Valley to a small peak that offers exceptional views of Rising Wolf, Apistoki, Sinopah, and other peaks in the Two Med Valley.
Dan and Kristin Kotynski of Chicago atop Scenic Point

The descent in the Apistoki Valley

The "ghost" trees of a long ago fire added to the scenic beauty

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