Sunday, November 19, 2023

A (snowy) walk in the park


Laurie Lintner and Katie beneath Rising Wolf Mountain

Katie and me at Two Med Lake

On the road from where were parked at Trick Falls.

We're enjoying what are probably the last days of passable Fall.However, the mountains have snow, just not enough to avoid rocks and hunters if you're skiing.

We were lucky enough to have a fairly mild, but windy day to enjoy the Two Medicine Valley of Glacier National Park, walking up the icy road on spikes.

We got to Middle Two Med Lake for fabulous views of Sinopah, Lone Walker, Never Laughs, Apistoki and Rising Wolf Mountains under a clear, deep blue sky.

We enjoyed time at Two Medicine Lake and Pray Lake and then ventured to the North Shore Trail on the advice of Laurie Lintner, our East Glacier Park resident friend, who said we might see a bull moose.

Sure enough, we were treated to a brief close-up view of a one in the willow-wash just off Two Med Lake.  Unfortunately, the encounter was so brief, we couldn't get a photo. 

We spent considerable time examining the numerous animal tracks in the snow before completing our 6-mile roundtrip hike.

What made this day exceptional was that we saw only one other couple in the Trick Falls parking lot, and no one else after the entire day.  This, in a valley that has been overcrowded as the Park Service has pushed tourists away from Going to the Sun Highway, flooding Two Med.

Undoubtedly, the next visits will be on skis.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Abrupt end to Fall warmth; some first turns

Gordon Whirry works his way up Porphyry Peak with the dormant ski lifts below him.

Clear, blue skies made the ski all the more enjoyable

The Porphyry Lookout is framed by snow-laden trees

Yogo Peak has plenty of snow

 After temperatures reaching into the 80s in mid-October, snow and cold descended on us, plunging temperatures as low as zero.

We got about a foot of snow in Great Falls and the mountains got more.

I waited for the snow to settle to have a look, and found some of the best early season snow in the Little Belts I've seen in years.

We went to Kings Hill on Sunday and did the 2-mile climb to the top of Porphyry Peak and enjoyed some wonderful turns back to the pass under crystal clear, blue skies, frigid temperatures and gusty winds.

I resisted the urge to try a tour, like the 747 loop, so it was strictly up and back.

Showdown had done its first grooming on runs.

Here's hoping that will stick around and be built upon with future snowstorms.  Opening day of the ski hill is still 6 weeks off.

We saw only two other people on the hill with AT gear.

There was only a smattering of hunters in the area.  Thank goodness.


Friday, October 20, 2023

Glacier's Harrison Lake with larch at peak

A frosty crossing of the Middle Fork Flathead River awakened us at the start of the hike

A steep, fairly treacherous trail from the river to the South Boundary Trail

A piece of equipment left at the Doody bootleg cabin

One of the dozens of varieties of mush

Katie and me in our "selfie" at the lake

Mounts Thompson and Blackfoot reflected in Harrison Lake

Laurie Lintner marveling at the Harrison Lake and larch beauty

 We couldn't have timed a larch color tour more perfectly.

We hiked to Glacier Park's Harrison Lake at its peak Oct. 19 as the golden larch were at their peak.

This is an interesting and not-frequented nearly 14-mile out and back hike in the park's remote southwest corner above 10 miles east of West Glacier.

It's a gorgeous destination, but largely ignored by park-goers because it usually requires a sometimes treacherous crossing of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, although it can be reached by the South Border Trail from West Glacier, but that way is too much for a day-hike.

Conditions for a trip at the height of the larch color need to be perfect to enjoy this hike.

The Middle Fork flow needs to be manageable.  It was about knee deep on Katie.

The larch should be at their color-peak, usually reached after Oct. 15.

In some years the Fall freeze about that time makes this trip not as worthwhile, as happened with the early freeze last year.

In 2021, as this year, we nailed it.

The aspen had shed their leaves, but there were some cottonwoods in color.

What adds to this hike is the color of the lake, the trademark translucent  turquoise off a glacier that is suspended in the water.  In this case, from Harrison Glacier that clings to Mount Jackson's southeast face.

The hillsides above the lake were laden with the golden larch, and we were fortunate that there was little wind and the glass-like like mirrored the trees and surrounding mountains in the water.

We could see the towering mounts Thompson and Blackfoot in those waters.

Along the way, we gained and lost nearly 1,900 feet of elevation through thick forest, carpeted by fallen leaves.  There were numerous varieties of mushrooms, which I wish I could have identified.  To the east, Loneman Mountain towered over the forest, its distant lookout cabin visible.

Much of this area had been burned in past wildfires, but the lodgepole, hemlock, Doug Fir, and cedar have grown back.  In many spots, particularly near the park backcountry campground, the groundcover was in full fall color.

A fun sidetrip was to the historic Doody cabin site, where nearly 100 years ago at the junction of the Harrison Lake-South Boundary trails, was a bootleg liquor site run by a widow on the run from the law for murder.  Nearby the train would pick up her product, signaling with its horn blasts, how much it wanted. The cabin's roof has collapsed, but the property is oddly strewn with heavy farm equipment.  It's worth a stop along the way.

Oh, and we had a cloudless sky with temperatures in the 60s and low 70s.

It couldn't have been more perfect.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

East Glacier to Two Medicine: a Fall favorite

Twisted mudstone was strewn beneath the Head Mountain

A waterfall coming off remnants of a permanent snow field

The Two Medicine valley below us

We're always captivated by the dead trees on this hike

What's left of color on the east side of Glacier

The high valley separating the Bison Head Henry ridge from Scenic Point

 The hike from East Glacier Park to Two Medicine Lake on the Continental Divide Trail has become a Fall favorite.

This 10.5 miles hike, that includes the walk up Scenic Point Mountain (7,522 feet) and more than 3,000 feet in elevation gain, offers the hiker views of many Glacier Park ecological zones.  You'll need to have a car on the other end of the hike.

To begin from the bottom, drive west down First Avenue in East Glacier to a gate, which is easy to get around,  and about a third of a mile the small Glacier Park trail sign presents itself.

The trail goes through three miles of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, so a $20 conservation license is required, and we're told enforcement is rigorous.

It follows Midvale Creek along a horse trail on the Reservation.

At the park boundary it narrows to a footpath and climbs steadily beneath the (Bison) Head Mountain through fields of twisted mudstone and limestone before ascending the ridge that leads to Scenic Point Mountain.  Look for the waterfall spilling off the north side of Head.

It is 6.5 miles from East Glacier to the top of Scenic Point and another 4 miles down to Two Med Lake.

Most folks hike to Scenic Point from Two Med, a much shorter, but steeper approach along limestone switchbacks.  It can be crowded

Few people, except the CDTers, take our walk to Scenic Point.  No one did it that way Monday.

No matter which way you go, the views from Scenic Point are remarkable ---- Rising Wolf, Sinopah, Mount Henry, the Bison are breathtaking

Fall winds had already blown the aspens bare, but there was no snow on Rising Wolf, the biggest mountain in the Two Med Valley.  Some snow speckled the north face of Mount Henry.

Rising Wolf's red peak shown beautifully with the Fall angle of the sun.

We met one young woman, who joined us at the top, and two late day hikers had just gotten started from Two Med. I don't expect they got too far.

It was refreshing to be in Glacier after all the tourists were gone.

There wasn't another car in the Two Med parking lot. 

Quite a contrast from a week earlier on Firebrand where we saw 30, mostly Flathead hikers.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Enjoying the height of the East Side fall colors


Katie in the color-spangled ground cover on the Firebrand Pass hike

The aspen were really going in Glacier

The aspen in full color in Glacier in the Lake Creek country below Spot Mountaiin

Even in the 2007 burn area on the North Fork Teton the aspen were going
Wayne Phillips on the North Fork

We've had trips to Glacier and the Rocky Mountain Front over the pas week to enjoy the height of the East Side colors.

In the meantime, we've noticed the West Side larch are starting to turn.

We've done our annual Firebrand Pass hike, and gone up the Teton County Road twice to get the golden aspen and cottonwoods in full color.

There's hardly anything like the East Side ground cover, particularly the reds, yellows and oranges from the osier, huckleberry and chokecherry.

I was delighted that Wayne Phillips, who has been struggling with his knee replacement agreed to join me for a tour of the Teton, which included hikes up the North and Middle forks.

Katie and I made a two day trip out of our Firebrand hike, stopping in Dupuyer for our first stay at the Buffalo Wallow Motel, part of the Buffalo Joe restaurant complex.  We had a great room for $99 and delicious meals at the restaurant.  We awakened to crystal clear skies over the Front as we drove down to the Teton.

The East Side ground cover, aspen and cottonwood color show is not to be missed as one of the great spectacles of Montana.

I was interested that when we climbed Firebrand Pass that all but one other party consisted of women.

We spoke with the 30 or so women in about seven groups and with the exception of  Browning group, the rest were from the Flathead.

The East Siders consisted of our party and a group from Browning.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

American Prairie: a closer look

The Antelope campground where we stayed in the cabin

The abandoned one-room Prairie Union School

A magnificent bull elk we saw at Slippery Ann

There's nothing like a prairie sunset

Fourchette Bay on Fort Peck Lake adjacent to the UL Bend Wilderness

We didn't see many bison, but enjoyed this one

 We traveled to the center of Montana for a three-day tour of the American Prairie project, a massive non-government effort to consolidate, preserve and restore one of four temperate grassland environments in the world.

It has patched together purchased ranches and attached grazing leases of about 500,000 acres with the goal of a 3.2 million acres that would include portions of the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the Wild and Scenic Missouri River, the U.L. Bend Wilderness Area and adjacent other public and private lands.

There are 800 bison grazing the land now, with a goal of 5,000.

The size and remoteness and sparsity of the land stretches the mind and senses.

The tour was put together by Nora Gray with the help of Camille Consolvo and enhanced by Nora's husband, Randy.

We stayed at one of the project's cabins on Antelope Creek, adjacent to a BLM Wilderness Study Area.  One evening we traveled south to the Slippery Ann area along the Missouri near James Kipp State Park, and watched rutting bull elk gather up their harems of cow elk, driving off younger challengers.

You do a trip like this and expect lots of driving ---- we figured about 500 miles --- much of it on one-track dirt roads that turn to gumbo when it rains.

That took us to various units developed by American Prairie, including an education center, the Fouchette Bay Overlook on Fort Peck Reservoir, and a buffalo jump.  Outside the prairie we also visited the nearby Little Rockies mountain range and the mining town of Zortman with its historical cemetery and legacy of environmental degradation.   It is in the so-called "Grinnell Notch" in the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.  The tribal government is also raising bison and has many of the same aspirations as American Prairie, with which it has formed a partnership.

There is considerable push back from local ranchers who don't like American Prairie buying up ranches and introducing bison.  We saw numerous, "Save the Cowboy, Stop American Prairie," signs on our travels around the American Prairie.

We also visited American Prairie's headquarters on Lewistown's Main Street, a museum of all things prairie, a worthwhile stop for anyone.

The American Prairie landscape is an empty one, while full of animal and vegetative life.  It is difficult to describe because it is so vast, but it is incredibly beautiful and empty.

We'll be traveling there every year from now on, and I hope staying in other spots.

The American Prairie website is worth a visit:


Fall colors in Glacier, a visit with Bill Borah

High School classmate Bill Borah visited Browning in the past week, giving me an excuse to see him and take in Glacier Park's Fall colors.

I had climbed Mount Borah in Idaho with him in 1998, a mountain named for his famous uncle, Sen. William Borah.

Bill was visiting a friend, Brother Dale, who runs the Christian Brothers DeLaSalle School in Browning. They went to college together in Memphis at Christian Brothers College.

Bill is a Human Rights Judge in Chicago.

Three old goats at Glacier Park Lodge.  Judge Bill is on the right.

Katie amidst Glacier's colorful ground cover




Thursday, September 21, 2023

Poland: a trip of a lifetime

 We had spent several days in Poland seven years ago on an extended tour of Central Europe.

Katie on our hike in the Tatra Mountains that border Slovakia

The visits to Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz whetted my appetite for a more extensive look at the homeland of my paternal grandparents.

We realized that the first two weeks of September with 15 days on a trip that extended from the the Tatra Mountains in the south on the Slovakian border to the Baltic Sea on the north near the Gdansk suburb of Sopot.

We also visited Wroclaw, Torun, Poznan, Auschwitz, Zakopane, Gniezno, and Malbork, as well as revisiting Auschwitz, Warsaw and Krakow.

It was an exhausting trip that revealed to us an historically significant country that is central to Europe's war torn and cultural history.

My big takeaway was how Poland has overcome adversity and its powerful neighbors like Russia,  Austria, Germany and Sweden to become a vibrant, modern country.  The future, not withstanding an invasion by Russia, looks bright.

The biggest battle it has won is re-emerging as a nation in 1918 after 125 years after Russia, Austria and Prussia consumed it.  Then, just 11 years later,  Germany and the Soviet Union, invaded and conquered it, and then after WWII the Allies agreed to adjust its borders, taking the eastern part of the country and giving it to Ukraine, and expanding the western border into Germany.  It wasn't until 1989 that Poland finally shook off domination when the Soviet Union collapsed.

On this trip we saw ample evidence of the effects of war on this country in places like Poznan and Warsaw. 

Given Communist hostility toward religion I was surprised how well Poland's Catholic churches held up.  We toured many of them and even those that had been damaged by the various wars were reconstructed beautifully.  While the Catholic Church flourished while uniting the country against Communism, it, like in other western European countries, is in decline.

Poland has been flooded by Ukraine war refugees, but the country has absorbed them seamlessly into its thriving economy.

We didn't see much indication of fear of the war in Poland.  But when the topic of the war came up, there was an optimism that Ukraine would prevail.

Poland is an exceedingly safe place to be given its lack of crime.  One of our tour guides told us that her daughter had hoped to go to college to become a forensic investigator but was dissuaded because the country has such a low crime rate.

Other guides indicated that Polish emigres are coming back to the country and that students who at one time would have chosen the United States for a student exchange are now shunning America because of gun violence and fear of our crime.

So, highlights of this trip were the modern Warsaw, the beauty of Gdansk, the safety of the country, the High Tatra Mountains, the recovery from World War II and communism, and Poland as a tourist destination.

I was very surprised to see the high number of tourists in places like Krakow and Zakopane.

It is also an extremely inexpensive place to tour.  A fancy meal for two with alcohol, dessert and the tip would come to no more than $25-$30. Our bus trip from Krakow to Zakopane 60 miles away was $4 per ticket.  Entrance to the Tatra National Park was $4.  Our bed and breakfast in Zakopane was $66 per night.

Generally, I found Poland to be overcrowded everywhere.  Perhaps it's my Montana sense of space.  Poland is only 80 percent as large as Montana, but has 40 million people, while Montana has 1 million.  There were lines everywhere, and market squares were overrun.  It was bumper to bumper on the highways.   I didn't like this part of the trip.

The country's landscape is quite varied.  I felt like I was in America's Midwest on the country's western side.  The Tatra Mountains, though lower than the Rockies, are real mountains. The forests in the mountains of the southwest in Silesia are impressive.  There's the Baltic Sea.  We didn't have time to go to the extreme northwest near Belarus or Lithuania, but I'm told this Masurian area is as lake-filled as Minnesota.

While Poland is predominately white, we did see black people, and veiled Muslims and Hispanics.  I was impressed by the height of the people, particularly the beautiful and fashionable women.  The men, as a rule, are stout and barrel-chested. 

We had pleasant encounters with the locals, particularly our Air B n B  hostess, Magda, in Zakopane, who kindly baked us the Polish szarlotka apple cake specialty, and relatives of  Great Falls friends in a suburb of Krakow, who had us over for a visit.

I got to test my limited Polish language skills , and it went well.  I could read many signs, and menus, and ask simple questions and understand the answers.

The moving sculpture in Wroclaw commemorating the Katyn Massacre
We quickly got our fill of the Polish dumpling, the pierogi, opting for more international food from other countries.  I guess you could say we experienced the so-called European "Tomato-Potato Divide," and found ourselves in the camp of southern Europe that favors the tomato-fresh fruits and Mediterranean diet as opposed to the heavier northern European fare that likes the root vegetables, meats and heavy creams.

I would love to return to Poland to see some of the sights we missed on this trip ---- the last remaining European bison herd in the Bialowieza National Park near Belarus, the Masurian Lake Country, and Galicia in the southeast.

I'm not holding my breath I'll ever be able to see those parts of Ukraine that were once part of Poland where my grandfather was born, given the Russian invasion.

The monument in Gdansk to the Solidary Movement founded in that port city

Katie and I in Sopot on the Baltic Sea

Katie enjoying a sunset in Gdansk

The Warsaw skyline at night

The Birkenau concentration camp receiving gate at Auschwitz

The twin church towers at night in Wroclaw

General Kosciusko in the Battle of Reclawicka diorama in Wroclaw

Malbork Castle of the Teutonic Knights, largest brick castle in the world

The grand palace in Warsaw often compared to Versailles

At the Josef Pilsukski statue at the Belvedere Palance in Warsaw's Lazienki Park

It is more likely we'd go back through the lovely country of Slovakia to recross the Tatra Mountains.



Monday, August 28, 2023

Ice Caves in Snowies via Niel Creek

Looking back toward Windy Point mountain

A buffalo herd on the Upper Niel Creek Road near the trailhead

This is how the ice caves get their name

The spectacular Volf Creek ranch as seen from the Snowies crest

 Although I've been to the ice caves in the Snowies a number of times I had only done it one time from the south, up Niel Creek outside the ghost town of Garneill.   That was seven years ago.

We retraced our steps to major cave and proceeded to the top of the Big Snowy Mountains ridge despite heat and haze.

The hike to the big cave is 3.8 miles from the trailhead, up some 2,300 feet.

We chose this hike because we knew that it would be in Ponderosa and Doug Fir shade most of the way.

Plus, it is a very quick way, another half mile to the Snowies crest where we walked another mile or so enjoying smoke-shrouded views to the north and south on this flat ridge.  We climbed to an 8,200 feet high point where we enjoyed a scenic break where we could make out the Little Belts, Castles, Big Belts and Crazies mountain ranges.  On a clear day it is possible to see to the Wyoming border and the Absaroka-Beartooth.  To the north, a piece of Crystal Lake, the Mocassins, and Judith mountain ranges.

What is especially pleasing about this hike is that it is a federal Wilderness Study Area.

For all but a few minutes we had this gem all to ourselves because the popular Crystal Lake access from the campground has been closed so it can be rebuilt.   No one else had chosen our Niel Creek route.

The quiet and peace was temporarily destroyed by three dirt bikes, in violation of the law that prohibits motorized vehicles in wilderness study areas, motored across.  I took photos of these guys, none of whom had license plates and turned them in to the district ranger. The most access is from Crystal Lake to the south. 

One of the miscreant dirt bikers in the Snowies WSA in violation of federal law

We figured that the dirt bikers had been emboldened because they figured no one would come into the WSA the way we did.

The Niel Creek route is the easiest way to the top of the ridge.  The Crystal Lake route and Grandview Traverse from that side is more scenic.

The Niel Creek trailhead is well off the beaten path, but has received better trail signs than it had when we did it seven years ago.  

The ice caves proved to be a great destination on a hot, hazy summer day.