Thursday, October 18, 2018

Glacier's west side in a blaze of color

Middle Fork Flathead from Garry Lookout site

Alpine glow in Glacier Park from Polebridge Mercantile

Bowman Lake on a frosty pre-hike morning

Upper Quartz Lake Campground in Glacier

Bowman Lake with view of Rainbow Pek

The cottonwoods on Swan Lake
The larch are at the height of their gold/yellow splendor and not to be missed.
We took last weekend to enjoy the show, venturing to the west side for a stay in Polebridge at the Mercantile's cabins.
On the way there we stopped along the Middle Fork Flathead at mile marker 167 and did the short hike (3 miles round-trip) to the top of the former Garry Lookout site that offers great views into Glacier's south end and the Middle Fork, which is spangled in larch colors.  The elevation gain and loss is just under 1,000 feet.
The following day we did the 13-mile round trip Bowman-Quartz lakes loop that gains and loses about 2,700 feet.  This day-long hike begins along the south shore of Bowman Lake beneath Rainbow Peak, crosses the Cerulean Ridge and then drops down at mile 6 to Upper Quartz Lake.  It then heads south, passing Middle and Lower Quartz lakes before regaining the Cerulean Ridge and then dropping steeply on switchbacks to Bowman Lake.
Most of the hike is in deep larch forest with tons of blow down that has been laboriously cleared from the trail by Park Service crews.
On the way in it broke out of the forest canopy at the ridgeline, offering views of the three Quartz lakes and snow-covered Vulture Peak.
The view at the west end of Upper Quartz Lake at the backcountry campground is especially thrilling, looking toward Vulture and the forest lit up by the larch.
The cabins at Polebridge Merc are comfortable and clean, but the wood stove didn't have a damper and I roasted inside despite outside temperatures than fell to 15 degrees.
The Merc bakery and its huckleberry bearclaw pastry are legendary.
We had a meal a couple of miles south of there at a small resort that is readying to close for the season.
Along the road we got to see the dark, black grizzly that has been hanging out in a wild oats field for the past couple of weeks gorging on the grain.  He has been on a feeding frenzy in anticipation of the nearing winter.
Our weather was chilly and cold in the morning, but clear.  It warmed to about 50 degrees while we hiked.  It was very pleasant and at night the skies revealed a myriad of stars and the Milky Way.
It was a thrilling way to spend three days.
It was interesting to see that the east side of the Continental Divide had gotten considerably more early snow than the west side.  Usually it's the other way around.  The east side has really gotten hammered.  Hope it sticks around for a good ski base.
We decided to stay with the larch-color on the way home and came down by way of the North Fork Flathead to Columbia Falls and down through the Swan and Seeley Lake, enjoying stops in Swan Lake, Salmon Lake and finally the Sculpture Garden in Lincoln.

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