This is probably coming in 2 parts, though we’ll see how the rest of the writing goes. I hope it’s complete enough to get a flavor of, and once I get pictures up I’ll link them in as well.
Day 1 (Tues)
Never went to sleep. Driver picked us up at 2 am so we could be at Newark Airport for our 6 am flight to Kalispell, MT. We of course get to the airport before the Northwest counter had opened. Due to our brainy new TSA rules about no juice on planes, they confiscate all beverage caps when they sell you anything in the Newark airport. TSA… why are you so retarded… sigh.
4 hours after landing, in a daze of driving and noticing signs every quarter mile for some new concoction with huckleberries in them (yes, Montanans love their huckleberries!) we got to our hotel at Many Glacier. Susan and I went for a quick walk around the lake to stretch our legs. When we returned, we noticed that many folks were out on the deck looking at something on the mountain side.
A Grizzly! Wait, 2 Grizzlies!
The trusty binoculars found us the 2 Grizzlies roaming around and eating berries on the mountainside. After about 30 minutes, we wandered in for dinner, feeling pretty satisfied with seeing grizzlies on our first night there.
Day 2 (Wed)
Yummy breakfast buffet at the hotel…. 🙂
After a brief raiding of the snack shop (and Susan purchasing a 2nd nalgene bottle), we were ready and loaded for our first big hike to Grinnell Glacier. 5.2 miles each way, 2600 verticle feet. Given this was the first long hike we did it was good we brought plenty of mole skin, as our feet weren’t really used to this yet. We got to the Glacier right before 2pm, and ate our lunch on the hill before the glacial lake. Due to actually wanting to make it back in time for the boat (which would cut out the last 2 miles of our hike), we didn’t go over to the glacier proper, but instead hung out at the lake and stuck our feet in it. It turns out we probably didn’t need to rush, as the boat was running uber late that night, but our feet liked us a bit better for not adding another 2 miles to the trek. We saw bighorn sheep close up during the hike, and mountain goats in crazy precarious spots on the mountain once we got to the boat launch.
We got good advice from both the hikers we kept leap frogging with, and the park ranger we met at the boat launch, to do the Ptarmigan Tunnel hike, and specifically to make sure to go an extra 150 ft past the tunnel opening, as you had a better view.
A giant bull moose in the lake, and bears on the mountain again when we got back. Everyone thought they were grizzlies at first, but the ranger talk the next day made us realize they were probably black bears instead.
Dinner consisted of Huckleberry Margaritas, Fondue, and a Cheese and Fruit plate at the Hotel (which is a Swiss Chalet)…. pure awesome.
Day 3 (Thurs)
Feet need a break, maybe today is a good day to try to find kayaks? We drove around the park to the south to get to Lake McDonald a bit faster than the Going to the Sun Road. This provided an opportunity to see the Marias pass (the only reason the Great Northern Railroad could be built), and the very recent aftermath of a forest fire from August (that was still burning in some places). Unfortunately, even though we were seeing 80 degree sunny days every day we were in Montana, it often snows that time of year, so all the kayaking people shut up shop on Labor Day. Good to know for next time.
This gave us the perfect excuse to do a whole series of small hikes along the Going to the Sun Road, including the Hidden Lake Overlook. Very nice hikes, and more sheep to be seen on them. Hiking up to Hidden Lake was sort of unreal, as there were truly ridiculous vistas to be seen the entire way up until you crossed the continental divide. The way the terrain went for ever in very prehistoric ways reminded me of scenes from the book Ringworld. Wrapping your head around that kind of scale is something that I think has been bread out of us since we left the plains tens of thousands of years ago. It is an experience everyone should have at some point.
That afternoon brought one of our only times of precipitation. The clouds rolling in brought thunder, lighting, and hail. Fortunately we were back in the car by then, so the storm was quite fun. We found a troll bridge, and a waterfall that we hiked to once the hail was done and it was just regular old rain.
We went to a ranger talk that night showing off and explaining all the major animals in glacier. A bunch of interesting facts, like the Red Fox is the most widespread animal in north america (and it may be a non native species), and how to tell a grizzly from a black bear. Revising the bear count in the black bear favor.
Day 4 (Fri)
As this is our last full day in the park, Ptarmigan Tunnel is our destination. Of course, this means going through very serious bear country. The trail had been posted due to so much bear activity (the same bears we’ve seen on the hill every night). So the night before I broke down and bought bear spray, which is an 8 oz can of pepper spray that shoots 30 feet. A last resort, but something that all the rangers are carrying, so seemed like a good idea. I also bought a walking stick with a bear bell on it.
The hike is 5.3 miles each way, 2400 vertical feet. The last half mile is a switch back cut into the side of a mountain face that goes up 700 feet until you go through a steel reinforced tunnel in the side of the mountain that dumps out onto a stone ledge trail that runs down on the other side. That entire stretch is out of Indian Jones, and we were clearly searching for the lost ark.
While we didn’t see any bears on the way up, we did see a few near the bottom on the way back down. 3 black bears scampering in the woods about 150 yards off.
Feet good and sore, a burger and a beer make everything great.
Day 5 (Sat)
On the way out of glacier park we pulled over to see a couple more black bears running along the mountain side. Eventually rangers showed up and asked us to leave, as they don’t want the bears getting used to people, otherwise they are less likely to run away when they see you in the woods. Good call rangers!
Leaving glacier was sad, but we clearly will be coming back again at some time in the future.
Guaranteed Unique Bear count so far: 2 Grizzlies, 5 Black Bears (though it may have been as many as 10)
Butte was our midway destination, as it took 6 hours of driving from Glacier, and Yellowstone would have been another 4 or 5. Also, the first time I looked at the map I hadn’t considered that we’d come straight east out of glacier, which actually saved us a lot of time. We stopped in Great Falls for diner food, and got to our hotel by 5pm. Enough time to do laundry, start to sync up pictures taken so far to the home system, make a quick blog post, and roam out to find food.
Butte was nothing special, especially after being in Glacier, but we did find a pretty nice local place to eat that specialized in kababs. Steak on a stick, and a glass of beer, yummy!
Well, getting late enough now to call it a night. I’ll post some more later this week with the Yellowstone portion of the trip.