Travels with Dick and Karen

Glacier Fall 2012

Part 1: North Cascades to Glacier and Waterton National Parks


It had been a couple of months since we returned from our California Annular Eclipse trip ... so the travel bug was beginning to nibble on our toes again...

We still weren't ready to make the planning/logistics effort of another overseas excursion, so we thought we'd visit a few easier places that had been on our minds for years: Glacier National Park in Montana, its Canadian extension Waterton National Park, then onward to Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park (where they dig them up) and the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller (where they're placed on display). An available window in other responsibilities meant we'd end up at Glacier across Labor Day weekend.

We started off by taking Washington's highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, through North Cascades National Park. The road is closed during the winter, and spectacular when it's open.

Despite the name, a ranger proudly informed us that North Cascades National Park in Washington State has more glaciers than Glacier National Park.

Our first night was in a forest campground near Newhalem

The road follows the Skagit River up into the mountains. The Skagit has a number of dams (Diablo and Ross) providing power to Seattle. The captured lakes become part of the beautiful scenery

Washington Pass (5477 feet) is the high point of the highway.. but there's a side road up to an overlook. Those are the Early Winters Spires in the distance.
(our Sprinter hit 40,000 miles here in the pass)

Liberty Bell Mountain is the commanding peak at the pass. 
There were faint hints of other computer folks having been here before us
The steep faces of the ridges below Silver Star Mountain.
Over the Cascade Mountains and across the top of Washington... we ambled along (usually Rt 20) to the town of Republic... where we saw a sign saying that a bridge we were planning to take was going to be closed the next day for road work. Our amble became a bit more directed in order to reach the town of Kettle Falls just over that bridge.

We succeeded, and after a bit of misdirection and confusion caused by the road construction, we camped that night on the shores of the Columbia River.

Upriver view from campground, including said Kettle Falls bridge. A raft of logs was moored near a wood processing plant, and the Columbia was dutifully rolling along.

Only when assembling this travelogue did we realize that we hadn't taken any photos after Kettle Falls, in Idaho or in the west edge of Montana. Oh, well... parts were quite pretty. We'd had a pretty tiring day... we discovered that our main credit card had been hacked when it was "declined" when we bought lunch in Idaho. That started an hour or two of telephoning to untangle things and re-target various automatic payments. Then, as the cherry on the sundae, the Sprinter developed "an issue" in Libby Montana that required nursing it along to Kalispell. When it saw the epoxy, baling wire, hose clamps and duct tape we bought to "fix" it, it woke up and ran well for most of the rest of the trip.

Once beyond Kettle Falls, Rt 20 zigged north, then turned south to follow the Pend Oreille River until it met with US Rt 2 and crossed into Idaho. We blinked and were then in Montana. We spent the night in Hungry Horse Montana, and were in Glacier Park 15 minutes later.

So, suddenly we're in Glacier Park, climbing up the Going-to-the-Sun road, which crosses the park west-to-east. The road follows Lake McDonald, then McDonald Creek (shown here) for about 20 miles.

Then the road turns right to slant up an amazing wall of stone. They're working on restoring the road, which was started in 1917 and completed in 1932. We had a few 20 minute waits at various road construction points along the way.

The graceful Triple Arches supports the main road through the park in a tight spot.
(built by a Tacoma Washington firm, using local rock in the late 1920's)

The current workers are in the midst of a 5 year project, if the funding continues, restoring all the stonework that was first built before and during the depression (think about it).

And looking back along the road towards the source of McDonald Creek near the base of Trapper Peak. The construction waits gave us time to appreciate the scenery without having to pull off (too frequently, we still did stop on our own at times)
On and on, up and up ... yes, that's the road again.

We even had the luck to be stopped in the construction next to this waterfall.

We were kind'a pressing on, since we didn't have any campsite reserved and this was the Thursday prior to Labor Day weekend. Our press was successful: we snagged the next-to-last spot in the Rising Sun campground near the east edge of the park. We booked it for four nights

The next day we left the Sprinter in the campground and used the free bus shuttle service to go back westward over the Going-to-Sun road, stopping at various scenic spots to go for hikes.

The first stop we took was Sunrift Gorge, a complex of narrow steep-sided cuts into the rock and the roaring stream that was doing the work.

From there we followed the stream down towards the St. Mary Lake. The trail crossed that stream and encountered many other streams, cascades and falls. One was Baring Falls.
We reached the lake shore and saw some other hikers seated out on this dock. We didn't want to disturb them, so we continued on the trail. The trail began to climb up away from the shore among low shrubbery. A minute or two later we heard a lot of shouting from behind us. Evidently a bear had dropped on to the trail just behind us and had gone down towards the lake. The folks on the dock were trying to warn us by shouting "Bear!!", but we were just too far away to understand the word.
We met the folks at a later waterfall and there we heard the tale.
On the trail between Baring Falls and St. Mary Falls (note apparent lack of bear).
There are dozens of colorful waterfalls along many of the trails.
and wild streams between...
...leading to more falls... 
...and more falls... 
St. Mary Falls, two-tiered  
Believe it or not, we are not showing you all of the falls we saw that morning on about a four mile walk. Eventually we turned back up the trail to return to the Going-to-Sun road, at a further shuttle bus stop. 
The walk was pleasant, the views were fine and the weather was "just right". Once we reached the bus stop, we settled in and read for the 40-odd minutes that the east-side hourly bus interval inflicted upon us.

However, once on the bus we could both watch the scenery as we rode to the top of Logan Pass. There we changed buses from the east-side's full-length bus to the shorter, more nimble (and far more frequent) Sprinter shuttles.

Thence down the west side to the Avalanche Creek area.

Note the haze in the distance... smoke from a forest fire at Avalanche Lake on the west side of the pass.

We had hoped to hike up to Avalanche Lake, but the trail was closed due to that lightning-caused fire. The Park Service was letting the fire burn itself out. So we hiked the Trail of the Cedars nature trail loop that forms the Lake Trail's beginning. The adjacent water wasn't quite so rushed. 
After the hike we caught the Sprinter bus up to Logan pass, changed steeds and big-bussed back towards our campground. Our campground was in the area called Two Dog Flats on the north shore of St Mary Lake. In the hazy distance beyond the southeast shore was the silver of an old burn scar.

Our camp here on the east side of the park was much drier than what we had been bussing through.

The next day we boarded our own faithful Sprinter to explore other areas of the park. The morning light showed that the fire was still contributing a light haze.

After a tour of the Park's visitor center and then a tour of the coffee and grocery options in the town of St Mary, we headed south to the Two Medicine area of the park.

Running Eagle Falls pours out of a cave at the end of an easy trail.

And of course glaciers lurking in the haze
After an in-car sandwich lunch, we drove back to St Mary, and took ourselves up to the Logan Pass visitor center and hiking trails. 
There is a boardwalk at the Logan pass that shouldn't be missed.

The boards eventually end as you climb higher. We watched the smoke pall and the wind sand-blast the people ahead. We decided that we wouldn't continue up and over the ridge.

Dropping back down definitely had its advanages... 
..such as meeting the local Bighorn Sheep feeding alongside the trail.
Vegetation was also being photogenic.

The next morning started with a pause at a roadside sign a bit east of our campsite.

Water falling on Glacier National Park can end up in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico or in Hudson's Bay.

So sayeth the sign, so vieweth the view:

Triple divide peak is just peaking around the shoulder of the mountains on the left.

From there we went to visit a more northern section of the park: Many Glacier.

The Glaciers aren't what they have been. Old photos showed this as much snowier.

In 1850, there had been about 150 glaciers in the park. Now there are 25. If the current warming trend continues, they're predicting that they'll all be gone soon after 2020.

Entering the Many Glacier area, we pass Lake Sherburne with Boulder Ridge to its south, and Allen Mountain beyond it. Note the layers in the rock. (Karen did)
More rock layers. The area is almost all uplifted sediments that then differentially weather down to give castles made of ledges, cliffs and slopes.


Well, yes, this castle, or rather lodge, in the forground is made of wood not stone.

Swiftcurrent Lodge at Swiftcurrent Lake, Mt Grinnell beyond it, Mt Gould in the distance.

Continuing past the lodge to the end of the road at the Many Glacier ranger station, we set off on (yet) another scenic hike to waterfalls
We were heading for Redrock Falls, located past Redrock Lake. 
Rock layers with random hiker for scale. 
A couple of Docents (helpful volunteers) had a large spotting scope to help hikers see Bighorn sheep grazing on a slope high above the far side of the valley.
Can you see the sheep to the right of the middle patch of snow?
Down at our feet we could watch sediments washing down to create colorful red and green streambeds.
After the Redrock trail, we returned to the Swiftcurrent Lodge area to hike up to Lake Josephine. Unfortunately, bear activity near Josephine limited our hiking to circumnavigating Swiftcurrent Lake (shown), with just a short excursion to the foot of Josephine (constantly watching for bears). 99% of the trail was not a gravel beach. 
For those who wanted a "Western Experience" or simply didn't want to walk, there were horses for hire (and for traffic jams).
The next morning we finally quit our Rising Sun campsite at Two Dog Flats, filled the Sprinter with diesel in St Mary, and turned north for Canada. Glacier National Park continues at the border with Canada's Waterton National Park. Although only 30 miles from our old campsite by crow, it was 60 miles by occasionally squiggly, but scenic, road. Note how the surrounding hills are featuring red layers instead of Glacier's gray. 
Near the town of Waterton, a side road that follows an impressive gorge leads to the aptly-named "Red Rock Canyon" with a variety of trails. One circles the canyon itself as a short hike.
Another, woodsier, trail led off to Blakiston Falls 
...which was surrounded by glacier and water-smoothed rock with verdant mosses. 
We edged the Sprinter back along the gorge and eventually ended up alongside Waterton Lakes in the town of Waterton Park, under the watchful gaze of The Prince of Wales Lodge.
One end of town is a nice munincipal campground...
... within two blocks' walk of another scenic waterfall.
We thought we'd hike around the lake's bay and up to the lodge.
Following the road and sidewalk, we had unknowingly walked past this bear (head down in the berry-filled bushes, eating). We had then crossed the street to the Park's Information Center and the staff pointed him out to us. This is just along the main street into Waterton. The bear soon caused a traffic jam. When the RCMP showed up and whooped his siren to get the traffic moving, the bear didn't care. But then a pair of Harlyies started their engines. That got the bear's attention.
Upper Waterton Lake (and a bit of the town), as seen from the lodge.
Magpies playing in the campground
And lovely sunset.

The next morning we started up a trail leading out of town, and quickly met a pair of hikers coming back down. "Bear! There!" ... and, indeed there was one munching its way down through the bushes. We watched for a few minutes until it reached the alley which defined the edge of town. So we started up the trail again, and again encountered a bear within 100 yards, this time just above us in the bushes.

OK, OK... we can take a hint... it was too beary in the berries for our comfort. Time for Plan B.

We drove out along the Park's Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake. A very Lake Louise-like vista greeted us.

We took a little side trail through mushroom-laden woods to a small side puddle, which had a moose grazing.

And then we came back to town for lunch and to see the other tourists feeding.

After lunch we left Waterton Park, and headed northeast towards south-central Alberta.

A last look at the mountains behind us as we head into the Alberta prairie.

Next Stop: Dinos

(North Cascades to Waterton)
(Waterton To Edmonton)
More Mountains
(Jasper to Baker)


all text and images copyright Karen and Dick Seymour 2012,
and may not be reproduced without written permission

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