Sunday, August 23, 2015

This and that from summer hikes: fire, fire, fire forces us to hike creatively

Near Sunrift Gorge, shot from the car.  No stopping allowed on Going to Sun Highway on east side
The Reynolds Fire aftermath
No, there's nothing wrong with the camera, it's smoke obscuring Glacier's Mount Sinopah at Two Med Lake

Fire and smoke-filled skies now dominate Montana's outdoors scene.
My brother's long-awaited motorcycle trip from Chicago to Glacier was ruined by the fires.
I've sucked it up and sucked in my share of smoke this summer, trying not to let the fires ruin my good time.
However, even a trip out of state --- to California and its Lassen Volcanic National Park --- was affected by smoke.  I did climb the volcano.  Not much of a big deal with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gained, but views were spoiled by the many fires going in the Golden Bear state.
Katie and I on top Mount Lassen volcano in northern California
I would recommend a trip to this park, north and east of Sacramento, for its unspoiled beauty, and hot sulphur springs, reminiscent of Yellowstone.  Not only is it in a gorgeous part of California with tall, dense trees and sparse population, but the park itself is virtually empty.  No Glacier-like lines here.
I've been struggling with a pulled calf muscle for the past six weeks and have returned to a several easy hikes to  keep in shape and stretch it out.
One of the hikes was to Headquarters Pass, one of the Front's treasures, which offers a great variety of high mountain views, looks to the Chinese Wall from its high point, and access to Rocky Mountain Peak, the tallest mountain in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
I was thrilled to see the Bob Marshall boundary sign had been moved within a half-mile of trailhead, a product of the passage of the Heritage Act, that added acreage to the Bob.
Wayne Phillips at new Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary sign, a half-mile from HQ Pass trailhead

Where the boundary sign used to be, at HQ Pass
It was disappointing that the iconic boundary sign at HQ Pass had been removed, though.  I would have left it as a reminder of the arbitrariness of wilderness boundaries and because it was so scenic.
My wife and I spent three days in Glacier Park this past week to get a look at what the fires have done there.
It was my first look at Going to the Sun Road after the Reynolds Fire, which burned on both sides of the road from Rising Sun Campground (the campground was incredibly saved) to just beyond the St. Mary/Virginia Falls trailhead.  The walk to St. Mary Falls has been forever changed, although I noticed that Virginia Falls foliage is unburned.  The fire will open some views and freak out lots of tourists who don't understand the need for fire.
After a quick shot to Logan Pass, we stayed put at Two Medicine and East Glacier Park, enjoying the culture of that quaint part of the park.
Most of the time, we could only see outlines of the mountains because the valley was so smoke-filled, mainly from the Thompson Fire in the Nyack area.  That fire will probably mean that I'll never fulfill one of my bucket list objectives --- the 36-mile Nyack-Coal Creek wilderness loop in the park.  I had planned it for this August, but the fire there, nearly 15,000 acres at this writing, won't lie down until hit by hard snow.
While there, the Bear Creek fire in the Great Bear Wilderness, across Highway 2 from the park's southern boundary, blew up and threatened to jump into the park and burn down the Izaak Walton Inn area.  Residents there are on moment's notice for evacuation.
Highway 2 from East to West Glacier was temporarily shut down, then opened Saturday with a lead car.  BN was protecting its railroad trestles in the area.
Meanwhile, smoke poured into central Montana and Great Falls from the Sucker Creek fire near Lincoln and smaller fires burning along the Front.  Large fires in Washington, Oregon and of course, California, added to this mess.
At Two Med we limited ourselves to short day hikes at the lake, going to Aster Park Overlook and Paradise Point one day, and then exploring the Two Medicine River above Running Eagle Falls (formerly Trick Falls).   At this time of the year, the river dives into the limestone for more than a mile, emerging in a gusher at the falls, and leaving a dry riverbed above it.  We hiked the rocky and colorful riverbed until it reappeared at another waterfalls upstream, where it descends into a sink hole.  This is an off-trail hike and most interesting.  The upstream waterfalls is gorgeous.
Where this smoke and fires leaves us is anyone's guess.
After a rainfall on Friday night, we're anticipating the return of hot weather and heavy-duty smoke for the full upcoming week.
I'm climbing the dry Two Med river bed

Where the Two Med River dives into a sink hole and disappears, showing up at Running Eagle Falls
Where the Two Med River emerges from the limestone as Running Eagle Falls

Katie walking the dry Two Med River bed

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