Friday, August 11, 2017

Into Glacier's Belly again, a trip that almost wasn't

The full moon rises over Mount Pollock as seen from our Flattop camp

At Cosley Lake in the Belly

One of the numerous waterfalls 
Glacier is bursting at the seams and I guess I should have seen it coming.
Annually I apply for the ultra-popular Highline Traverse hike online in March.  I've been on this trip once before on a friend's permit.
I always get a rejection notice or a drastic change of route, even when applying early when registration opens in mid-March.
It is a trip I'll apply for again because my brother, Dan, would love to take it.
What I got this year was a pale imitation of what I asked.  Instead of Granite, Fifty Mountain, Stoney Indian, Mokawanis, Cosley Lake campgrounds, I got West Flattop, Kootenai Lakes, and the dreaded Goat Haunt and Mokawanis Junction sites.
My brother passed, and I almost did.
Fourteen at our Kootenai Lakes camp one night

The Porcupine spire above Kootenai Lake

Gordon Whirry relaxes at Fifty Mountain
However, I took a last ditch chance and asked friend Gordon Whirry, a retired Great Falls architect who had never been in the Belly River area of the park if he'd like to give it a go.  He did, and, gladly, we went Aug. 5-9, a five-day 56-mile trip that covered the north end of the park up its gut from the Loop and Packers Roost to Waterton Lake, up and over Stoney Indian Pass, and out the Belly.
I was worried that the hot weather and the smoke from the many nearby wildfires might ruin the scenery.  It altered it, but the scenery was great, and even enhanced by the smoke at times.
We were extremely fortunate to be able to change our campsites.
We swapped the concrete and busy shelter at Waterton Lake's Goat Haunt for a second night at Kootenai Lakes and got Glenns Lake Head instead of Mokowanis Junction.
I had visited, but never camped at any of these sites in my four visits to the Stoney-Waterton-Belly country.  I had day-tripped to Kootenai Lakes, but never stayed.
Gordon Whirry calls it a trip
While I had been reluctant to spend a second night at Kootenai, it turned out fortuitous that we got that because the hike there from West Flattop was nearly 15 miles with 2,220 feet up and 3,600 feet down in blistering 88 degree heat and smoke.  We needed a down day.
I loved the burned over West Flattop, and we camped with a nice father and daughter team from Wisconsin, climbing the ridge line above the camp for a look to the Highline Trail and peaks to the east.
The burn enhanced the views as we enjoyed a nearly full moon that rose over the Logan Pass area to the south as we readied for sleep. Loop/Flattop hike was about 8 miles, with a 2,600 feet rise.  We added a couple hundred extra feet with the bushwhack to the ridge line.
On the next day's monster hike to Kootenai Lakes, we were surprised by the lack of water in the Fifty Mountain campsite, and had to go upstream to find some.
Our 5-day route through the park in fuschia color
The smoke obscured the lovely views of the glacier filled mountains in the Livingston Range to the west.  The wildflowers, though, particularly the lavender cut leaf daisies filled the grassy tundra beneath Cathedral Peak.
We were shocked to see so many dry streambeds in this otherwise wet, west-side landscape.
The dry and open mountain side gave way to the thick and brushy vegetation and we were glad to get into the trees at our shady and cool Kootenai camp.
The camp sits below the pointed spires of the Porcupine Ridge and the lakes are really advanced beaver ponds where we found feeding moose, ducks and Trumpeter Swans.
With four sites that allowed four campers per site, the camp was full.  The second night there were 14 campers vying for space in the food prep area.  The folks were friendly, cooperative and quiet at night, and it turned out to be a pleasant, social time.
On our down day we walked to Goat Haunt and did side hikes across the long suspension bridge over the Waterton River and Rainbow Falls, some 8.5 miles roundtrip with another 500 feet or so of elevation gained and lost.
I gave up my pipe dream of climbing the Porcupine Ridge lookout and enjoyed the rest day, looking ahead to a 3,000 feet climb to Stoney Indian Pass in the morning.
The hot weather broke some the second night with a cloudburst that left our tents wet, the humidity high and the dense vegetation along the trail soaked.
We suited in our rain gear for the slog through the brush up Stoney.
At the lake it was warmer, drier, and breezy, a perfect place for us to unload our packs and dry out our gear, before climbing the pass.
A Glacier Guide doing 70 pounds plus sherpa work for personality Jack Hanna and his wife

Glenns and Cosley Lake as seen from above Mokowanis 
Gordon Whirry near Cosley Cabin with Bear Mountain in background

At the pass, the best part of the trip began, the walk down to the Belly's lakes, passing numerous waterfalls along the way.  Waterfalls of all sorts hung from cliffs, fed by glaciers and snowfields beneath Cathedral, Wahcheechee, Kip and Stoney peaks.
When we arrived at our Glenns Lake Camp we were thrilled to find a shaded site right on the lake, a site even surpassing the beauty of the Kootenai camp.  We had walked nearly 12 miles this day.
In the morning we were awakened by the other-worldly screams of loons that got us going.
Our final day was spent walking the length of Glenns and then Cosley lakes, viewing the Gros Ventre Falls, being treated to the open views of this eastside exit that included massive Mount Cleveland, the highest point in the park and the country we had walked through from Stoney Indian Pass on down.
Then, we completed our trip with the 1,000 feet, 1.5 mile walk up to the Chief Mountain park entrance car lot, having walked another 13 miles on our final day.
It was a great trip, a surprise in the heat and smoke.
Impressive suspension bridge over Waterton River

We ran into lots of dry streams in this drought-stricken area

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