Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TRIP REPORT - Part II: Evening of the Grizzlies…

We arrived at Glacier National Park late Thursday morning. Specifically, we had arrived at the Two Medicine Lake area of the park. Unlike Yellowstone, or Grand Teton, many of Glacier’s major entries aren’t connected by some internal highway system, instead they require a “drive in” and a “drive out”. Two Medicine Lake was simply gorgeous, but before wasting too much time staring around, we found a car camp spot, with view a view of the lake and mountains, then proceeded into the Ranger station to talk business. Like the loop I wanted to do at Grand Teton, many of the trails at Glacier were still covered in snow. Also, like Grand Teton, the camp site I had my eye on was free of snow and available to reserve, which we promptly did for the next evening. After ironing out logistics, we wandered over to the camp store, which had a little bit of everything inside…including some delicious elk sausage. I hungrily downed one of these sausages and polished it off with a raspberry soda pop. With nothing really planned for the rest of the day, we spent the afternoon canoeing around Two Medicine Lake and taking in the awesome sights.

Then we sauntered back to our campsite and brewed up some dinner. I sauntered through some of the other unused campsites and scavenged up some discarded firewood then proceeded to build the only fire of the trip. After sucking down more than my fair share of Good Medicine Imperial Red Ale (which, by the way, was ice cold), I promptly fell asleep.

We did our best to sleep in on Friday morning, because we only had 6.5 miles to hike to our campsite. I decided we should leave at 10:00am, after I’d secured another elk sausage from the store to eat for lunch somewhere along the hike. The hike to the campsite was pretty darn easy, but it was also pretty darn warm out. About 2 miles in, I noticed a flutter to my right. I quickly determined it was a grouse (more specifically, a ptarmigan), but before I could say anything the bird was up off the ground and in the air next to my chest. I stumbled backward then fell to the ground. I began to laugh, but the ptarmigan wasn’t through with me yet. I quickly got back on my feet and began to stumble backwards again on the trail, all while the small game bird hissed and cooed. I know that ptarmigans, partridge and grouse will look wounded in an attempt to draw the attention of predators away from their young, but I never knew they would go on the offensive! Dusting myself off, I watched as the mad hen disappeared into the woods. We never did see her chicks. I felt a bit foolish getting pushed around by a ptarmigan, but better a bird than a bear.

The next 4 miles of the hike was absolutely breathtaking, though it looked like prime grizzly country; my eyes were constantly scanning from left to right in search of bruins.

The last mile of the hike climbs a steep hill. We planned to push through and eat at our campsite, but the heat and the hills had become taxing, so we plopped down on the trail and devoured our bagged lunches. Almost immediately, bees and flies descended on us, but I think we were too hungry and hot to care. I was mad at myself for only bring one elk sausage…they were so good. Eventually, we heaved our packs back on and continued our ascent into the wilderness above. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Oldman Lake, our campground for the night. We were the first to arrive (at 1pm) so we had our pick of the 4 different campsites. We picked what we thought was the best one, then hiked a short distance to the lake to fill up on water. Interestingly, there was a common food preparation/eating area; eating at campsites was forbidden due to heavy bear activity. There was also a pit toilet. The lake was extremely cold, but I was determined to go in. Though, I ended up wussing out. While we were cooling our heals and filling up our water bottles, a trio of friends sauntered over. They said they were doing the full loop, though they didn’t look very prepared to take it on. That said, one of the young men had an “Ironman” hat on, so I didn’t want to make any unnecessary assumptions. The girl in the group cracked open a can of beer and looked across the lake. “Hey, what’s that,” she said. Immediately, I knew it must be a bear. Turning quickly to confirm for myself, I spotted a large grizzly ambling down the side of the mountain and heading towards the lake. Behind her, in tow, were two adorable cubs. It was a pretty awesome sight, to say the least. We watched from a safe distance as they swam through the cold lake water. After about 10 minutes, the trio emerged from the water and began to make their way back up the side of the mountain, though they didn’t appear to be in any rush. The cubs, which were born earlier this year, were quite small, but very active. They wrestled and played with each other in snow all while mom flipped over giant rocks looking for food - ants and stuff, I imagine. We watched the bears for about 3 hours all while bees and flies buzzed around our bodies. What was their deal! New hikers would come and go and I’d proudly point the bears out to them as if I had been the first to discover them. “If you look CLOSELY enough,” I would boast, “you can see 3 bears over there…” By now, Katie had had enough of me and my obsession with the bears and we hiked back up to our campsite and began to make dinner. Two other groups of campers had reached the campground, so I walked over to them, smiled, and told them about the bears, too. After dinner, we went back to the lake to watch the bears again. Hey, why not. One of the guys who had recently arrived at the campground had made a cooler out of rocks in the lake. Inside, were no fewer than 6 cans of beer. I licked my lips. Soon, the beer baron returned to his cache and offered me and the other couple camping at our sites some suds. Of course, I couldn’t refuse. As we watched the bears, and drank cold beer, my eyes caught something else roaming down the hill. Another bear! Actually, two more bears. It was presumably a sow with a year old bear in tow, because the “cub” was nearly as large as the adult. “That bear is enormous,” one of the onlookers said. By now, Katie was terrified. I, too, was a little nervous to be in the company of 5 grizzly bears, but thought we were safe since they were about 300-400 yards away. After documenting their interactions, I chugged the rest of my pale ale and then decided it was time to head to bed.

The next morning, Saturday, we woke up early and hit the trail. Luckily we weren’t harassed by any bears (or ptarmigans) along the way back. Once we arrived at the start of the trailhead, I devoured another elk sausage before we exited the Two Medicine area. Glacier, like most national parks, is enormous, but we did our best to see as much of it as we could. While traversing the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, we stopped at Logan Pass and hiked along a touristy trail complete with mountain goats and shin-deep snow. We had a late lunch – beer and a big, thick burger for me - in one of the park’s chalets. We spent the evening in Kalispell before flying out the next morning at dawn.

What an amazing trip; 3 national parks and 8 bears in 8 days. The sights we saw on the trails we hiked rivaled anything I had ever seen before.

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