Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Bear With a Belly Full of Huckleberries

As often happens on the hiking trail these days, we were stopped so that Andrew could take some photos. I was looking around, searching for some more of the ripe and delicious huckleberries we'd been snacking on along the way.

I heard a "huffing" sound (like heavy breathing) and crackling of tree branches from something that seemed much larger than the many ground squirrels we'd seen.

"What's that noise?" I asked.

Concentrating on the photo composition of a flower, oblivious to any huffing or crackling noises, and not picking up on the hint of stress in my voice, Andrew said, "Oh, it's probably just a raven."

(Visualize Shelley rolling her eyes.)

"Ummmmm, noooooo, I think it's a bear," I said in a louder voice.

This finally got his attention. He stood up and shouted, "Hey bear!" And managed to catch a glimpse of the hind end of a small black bear crashing off into the bushes. Heading more or less in the same direction we were.

It's strange, the inane (and loud) conversations one has with a bear after meeting one. Even as mild an encounter as ours was.

"The huckleberries are waaaay better lower down the trail. You wouldn't like these ones here at all."

"Not that we're talking from experience! Oh no! We don't have any huckleberries in our bellies! Really truly! Heck, we don't even have any food in our packs! Truly, really!"

"Shelley has toothpaste in her pack though," said Andrew.

"But I'm sure your teeth are perfectly healthy from eating all those huckleberries so you don't need my toothpaste, Mr. Bear." I replied.

This ridiculousness went on until we suddenly came upon a family of Ptarmigan in the middle of the trail. "Shhhhh . . . don't scare them away!" Because Andrew has to take some photos of course.

We saw lots of these little guys. This one liked charcoal. 
We'd started our hike in Glacier National Park, Montana, five days earlier. The Park has a limited number of backcountry campsites and a registration system that ensures backpackers are spread out throughout the park. We went in with no expectations of what might or might not be available and ended up with a route that was a good mix of longer and shorter days. It was also nice to have a route that ended back at East Glacier Village so we didn't have to worry about catching another shuttle. We couldn't have asked for better weather and were quite thankful for shade-providing trees on smokin' hot days.

Keeping food away from hungry and curious animals.
Each backcountry campground had a meal prep area, a food hanging station, a pit toilet and 2-3 campsites.

Highlights of the Trip

  • Hiking along the ridge up to Two Medicine Pass. Beautiful views down into the valleys on either side and, even though it's not much more than a bump in the ridge, going over the summit of Chief Lodgepole Peak.
From the ridge up to Two Medicine Pass.
Cobalt Lake and (in the distance) Two Medicine Lake.
  • Relaxing and soaking in the views from Firebrand Pass after a steep scree slog to the top. 
Airing the feet at Firebrand Pass.
  • Fording a 20-foot wide, knee-deep, very fast flowing and icy cold creek. Happy to have hiking poles to help keep us on our feet!
Hmmm, where's the best place to cross!
  • Colourful alpine flowers.

  • Picking huckleberries for breakfast.

  • Clear mountain streams, creeks and lakes.
Slippery rocks!
  • Andrew telling me my hair looked beautiful even though I'm pretty sure it was plastered to my head in a really bad morning bed-head sort of way. 

Trip Logistics

  • Drive to Minot.
  • Train to East Glacier Village (Why? Because we love train rides!)
Built in 1905, the Minot train station has recently been restored after being badly damaged in the 2011 floods. 
  • Day 1 - Shuttle bus to Two Medicine Lake Ranger Station. Spend most of the morning at Range Station trying to figure out hiking logistics. Hike up to Scenic Point (10 km round trip). Overnight at Two Medicine Campground. 
About half way up the hike to Scenic Point, looking back at Two Medicine Lake.
  • Day 2 - Take boat ride to the far end of Two Medicine Lake. It only cut off a couple easy km of hiking but was a fun ride on a boat built in 1924 and the captain told some interesting historical stories along the way. Hike 18 km mostly uphill to Cobalt Lake, over Two Medicine Pass, down to Upper Park Campground. 
Two Medicine Lake
Cobalt Lake
  • Day 3 - Hike 4 km uphill to Isabel Lake. If not for still recovering from a big fire in 2003, this area would have been a lovely way to spend a relaxing day beside a beautiful alpine lake. But with the extreme heat and not much for trees, we were chasing shade most of the day! 
Campsite at Isabel Lake
Seeking shade at Isabel Lake
  • Day 4 - Hike 16 km very gradual downhill to Park Campground. 
Where in the world is Andrew?!?
The trail was very overgrown at times, especially in the 2003 forest fire area. 
  • Day 5 - Hike 8 km mostly uphill to Ole Creek Campground. Meet Mr. Bear just before the high pass. 
  • Day 6 - Hike 18 km, gradual uphill, to Ole Lake Campground. Ford stream about 5 km in. 
Ole Lake
  • Day 7 - Hike 20 km, steep uphill to Firebrand Pass (try to get it done before the hot sun comes over the ridge), then down and up another smaller ridge before long gradual downhill back to East Glacier.   
Enroute to Firebrand Pass
More photo opportunities
  • Spend a couple nights at Glacier Park Lodge, eat lots of delicious food to pack the calories back on!
  • Train back to Minot, drive home. 

Inside Glacier Park Lodge. Built in 1913.
Sixty 40-ft Douglas Fir trees, brought in by rail from Washington State, were used in the construction.
One of several veranda areas around the Lodge. This one was quiet and out of the way.
Long flower garden leading up to the Lodge.
Train station built in 1911.

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