Glacier National Park, Montana
There is a bear - on the trail - between you and me!!! - Unknown
This is an account of our trip to Glacier National Park. Brian Ray was the leader of our group that consisted of: Brian Ray, Yung Nguyen, Ray Aldridge, Padma Challagundla, Christine Bain, Sanjib Ghosh. Luke Langley also accompanied us on the last few days. Christine, Luke, and Padma helped out with portions of the report.
Saturday - June 26, 1999
I met everyone in Dallas at the DFW airport and we flew to Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA) via Salt Lake. When we arrived at Kalispell the weather was cold and rainy. The views of the mountains and evergreen trees were great from the air. The GPIA was really small for an international airport, I believe Luke said it had three gates, but it was a nice, clean airport. Upon our arrival, Mike and Brian headed to the Budget counter to secure our three minivans. The rest of us went to retrieve our luggage. We were to soon find out that Doug's luggage had been left in Dallas; he would receive his gear early on Sunday. After pizza, the group traveled to Hungry Horse, MT to stay at the Timber Wolf Resort for the night. In the evening, each of the three groups sorted out gear for the upcoming trip and we all went to the Canyon Deli for a late night snack. As the sun was going down, 11:00PM, we all retired to our cabins.
Sunday - June 27, 1999
The three groups from the Outdoor Club split up today and each traveled to their respective destinations. After stopping at Apgar visitor center to see the mandatory "bear film" and to secure our permits, our group traveled to the eastern side of the park on the famous Going-to-the-sun road. This road, an engineering marvel, had it all: magnificent vistas, the greenest trees, rushing waterfalls and cascades, beautiful lakes, snowbanks higher than the car, thick fog. On the eastern side of the park we stopped at St. Mary's for burgers and then continued on to the Cracker Lake trailhead in the Many Glacier area. The cold Montana wind forced us into our layers at the start of our hike, but after a few minutes of hiking, the layers came off. For the first hour or so, we hiked in the much-coveted HOT-DRY-CALM section of the Cracker Lake trail; At one point, I even got out the sunscreen and insect repellent. The trail in this section consisted of lots of mud mixed in with horse poop, a reminder that the Park Service was using horses to rebuild the path we were walking on. About 2 miles in, a couple of Park Rangers on horseback overtook us on the trail and warned us that there was a bear with cubs in the area. With as many bear bells that the girls were wearing, I doubted that we would get within 100 yards of a bruin, but we took precaution just the same. Aside: I got sick of the clanging bells; I hope I don't take it out on the Salvation Army man this Christmas. At the halfway point of this 6.1-mile hike, the trail started ascending and the skies started to cry. It was aggravating us at first because we would put our raingear on and, about 10 minutes later, the rain would stop and the sun would bake, forcing us out of our raingear. This continued for about an hour. As we were skirting Canyon Creek we could see that we would soon have to live inside the raingear for the remainder of our hike. The few drops falling as the sun shined turned into a cold, wind-driven rainstorm. Rain was coming in at all directions except from below. My shorts were to the point of being soaked when we encountered the first of several steep, snowfield crossings. I should have had my rain bottoms on, but, as some people can attest, I just don't like wearing them. I finally compromised and wrapped a 33-gallon trash bag around my waist. As we approached the lake we met a couple returning from the lake. The man was agitated and told us in sailor's language that he and the missus would not be staying at the lake tonight as they had planned. I couldn't help but laugh. After a couple of more snowfield crossing and a short ascent, Cracker Lake was finally in view. I had always seen turquoise water in photographs, but the color of the water in this lake would make an Indian jeweler jealous. Later on in the trip we found out that the color was due to particles - glacial flour - being held in suspension in the water. One more snowfield had to be crossed before setting camp. This one would be perilous as it emptied into the lake. Padma described this section of the trail like this:
"The going was pretty good until we came to the point of crossing the steep, snowy mountain and it started pouring. I was scared to death for crossing this and Brain helped me a lot, with patience. He helped me with all of these for the rest of our hiking trip. I owe U one Brain."
We slowly went across the snowfield and continued on until we stopped at the base of a bluff. The campsites, we were told, were on the other side of this bluff. The cold, windy downpour was continuing. I was finally getting real cold and was having second thoughts. I could tell that the others in the group were also tired and getting chilly. Brian and I debated for a few minutes about turning back around and hiking back out; I have to admit it really looked like an attractive option at the time. We finally agreed that hiking back at night, on steep snow-covered slopes, in bear country wouldn't be the smart man's choice. Brian and I climbed up over the snow-covered bluff to survey the campsites. The Park Service had really designed these sites: groomed tent plots separated from a well-defined cooking/eating area. There was a tall metal pole for hanging our food from the bears/critters and an accessory pole to help get the rope to the top of the other pole! Brian and I descended the bluff and persuaded the others to make camp for the night. As we were setting up camp, the weather effects on my health were starting to show; at times I could not talk without my teeth chattering. All of us needed dry clothes and a sleeping bag. Here is Padma's explanation:
"We finally reached the FAMOUS CRACKER Lake. It was beautiful covered with steep snowy, mountains on all the sides. It was 1st of its kind I ever saw in my life. By the time we reached there I was fully wet on my face & legs & shivering with cold. We started putting the tents. The 1st tent to go was Ray's. As soon as it was up, I entered it & declared that I am not getting out of it! Ray and Sanjib were supposed to share the tent and I was supposed to put my own tent, but I ended sharing the tent with Ray. Thanks a lot, Ray for letting me share your tent. If anyone had asked me before the trip if I would share a tent with a guy, with whom I hardly had spoken 2 lines, I would have said 'no way'..."
The weather did break, briefly, after we setup camp. Due to the wind, all of us ate no-cook meals and then got back into our sleeping bags. The wind also forced us to secure our tents to the rocks; stakes in the ground would not be enough. As we were going to sleep the rain started again and lasted throughout the night.
Monday - June 28, 1999
We were tent-bound for most of the day due to rain and cold temperatures. A couple of park rangers came to check up on us in the morning. After checking our permit, they again warned us about the bears; the Cracker Lake trail, we found out, had the highest "bear mauling" incidence rate. When the skies cleared briefly, Brian and I set off to climb up to the Mt. Siyeh glacier. The path through the snow to this glacier was really dirty due to the regular patterns of gravel in the snow. In the steeper part of the trail our footing was getting bad. At one point Brian and I decided to climb up a scree slope for easier hiking along the ridge. The precipitous drop on the other side of fouled these plans so we once again descended down to the snow. We trudged up the snow for another 100 yards and then stopped and took pictures of Cracker Lake. It had been an exhausting trip up the snowbank, but, the view of Cracker Lake as a whole was a trip highlight for me. At the top we also saw the rain descending down on the lake. The descent from the glacier was yet another one hour test for my raingear. In late afternoon, Christine and Sanjib persuaded us to attempt cooking in the cold, wind-driven, rain. The hot food was good for a change. After eating and hanging our food, we once again retreated to our sleeping bags. Padma and I sat around and talked and listened to Christine read Sanjib a bedtime story. Around 9 or 10 o'clock, the winds really started to pick up and switch directions. A couple of my tent stakes had already loosened. I could hear Sanjib outside securing their tent so I asked him about our tent. With no persuasion at all, Sanjib took care of re-staking our tent also; thanks Sanjib. The winds persisted and strengthened, after this, hitting our tents broadside. The tent poles were taking a beating. Our legs were also taking a beating from the tent poles. At first we tried to brace our tent poles by bracing them with our hands. The winds swirling around the head of the canyon sounded like an approaching/departing freight train. We quickly learned the pattern of the gusts and knew the optimal point of time to raise our arms to grab the poles. This madness persisted for a while until I finally told myself "Just let it go, if the tent breaks it breaks; I'll deal with the pieces if that occurs." Padma described the ordeal this way:
"The next night in the tent was the most scary night I ever had. I don't think any of us could sleep that night. The wind was blowing with such a speed and it kept raining. The tent would bend and touch our face and then again go back; we could hear the whirl wind coming. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Twice in the night I got up with a shock and asked Ray "Are we going to survive this?" He would say, "Sure... don't U worry and try get some sleep." I was so relieved to see the 1st light of the day, as we would be packing our stuff and will be heading out of Cracker Lake. And as Christine puts it, I too can say, "I survived Cracker Lake!" I can never ever forget this experience. I think we should have a T-shirt with a picture of Cracker Lake and the saying "I survived Cracker Lake!"
As Padma mentioned, none of us were getting any sleep due to the cold gale. At 1 o'clock in the morning Brian came over to our tent to cap off our experience. The wind had snapped one of his tent poles and part of the pole had jabbed through the rain fly. He and I went up to the bear pole to get a tent splint that I was carrying. Back at Brian's tent, we found that the splint was too big for his pole due to the shock cord. We discussed what to do next. It was kind of funny in that we had to pause our discussions every time the wind gust came in - we just couldn't hear each other. We finally decided to use baling wire to wrap the poles together. I returned to my own personal battle in the tent up the hill.
Tuesday - June 29, 1999
Early in the morning the weather broke and we fixed breakfast. Marmots and other rodents were all around ready to pick up any scraps that we might leave. As we were breaking camp, I noticed that the large pole on my tent had a pretty bad bend in it due to the night before. I had just gotten this pole back from repairs a couple of weeks before the trip and now, I would once again have to have it repaired. Fortunately, we were able to use the tent "as is" for the remainder of the trip. I was not so fortunate with my water filter. As we were obtaining water for the return trip, my filter lost it's suction and would not draw water. This was the same mishap that I had had two years ago in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our return trip to the Many Glacier parking lot was full of on and off rain. This again made dressing/undressing a chore. The mud in the last part of the trail was worse that when we had came; we had to "learn to love it!" Back at the van we loaded up and drove to St. Mary for pizza. While we were eating, Mike and his group joined us. We told them of our adventure and they just couldn't believe us. They told us that our next backcountry destination, Red Eagle Lake, would be closed due to a bear encounter. After eating, we went to camp at the Rising Sun campground. The nice, hot shower and campfire discussions were great. Mike's method of starting a campfire will remain with me for a long time - got to get rid of the white gas somehow!
Wednesday - June 30, 1999
Everyone ate a big breakfast at the Two Moon restaurant. Our group traveled to the Many Glacier area to take the Swiftcurrent/Josephene Lake boat tour and ranger lead hike and to dayhike in the area. After purchasing our tickets at the Many Glacier hotel, we hiked to Red Rock falls. Along the way, we saw a big moose hobbling close to the shore of Red Rock Lake. I really felt sorry for "Gimpy" moose; he looked a lot like me when I have a bad case of gout. Red Rock falls was a very pretty waterfall set against a backdrop of red rocks. In the afternoon we took the Swiftcurrent/Josephene Lake boat tour and naturalist lead hike to Grinnel Glacier. The ranger gave a very good explanation about the lakes and the history of the area. We got to see several sheep on the mountainside as we crossed Josephene Lake. About halfway into our hike to the glacier, the rain once again started to pour on us. The naturalist turned the group around for fear of hiking in a thunderstorm. We continued on for a bit since we all wanted to get a glimpse of Grinnel Lake. Further down the trail we started seeing lots of torn up ground - a sign, to me a least, of bear action. I told the others and we all put on our best "bear behavior." We finally made it to a viewpoint of Grinnel Lake and took many pictures. Further along the trail, an exposed snow bank turned us around. The trip back to the Many Glacier hotel was pretty uneventful. The weather finally broke and allowed us to hike in comfort. At St. Mary's we ate at the pizza place again before returning to the Rising Sun campground.
Thursday - July 1, 1999
We ate breakfast again at the Two Moon restaurant. Today our group hiked to Iceberg Lake. The weather today started out well enough and, after a stiff climb to start, the trail also leveled out. Ptarmigan Falls, a fairly tall and powerful falls, was our first stop on the trail. We stopped for snacks and a photo opportunity. A cold, 40 deg, rain caught up with us once again at the falls and welcomed us to the area. I gladly wore my fleece and complete rain gear. As Padma will attest, the trail to Iceberg Lake was treacherous due to snowfield crossings. The last part of the trail to the lake was completely covered by snow. Snowball fights were a given. My boots were soaked by the time the lake was in view. Iceberg Lake was beautiful and, with the exception of one partially thawed spot, was completely frozen over. Mountains on three sides surrounded the lake and feeder waterfalls flowed into the lake at many points. After eating lunch and taking lots of pictures, cold temperatures forced us back on the trail. At the junction of Iceberg Lake trail and Ptarmigan Lake trail, the women chose to return back to St. Mary's to lounge around the warm cozy fireplace in the hotel lobby. Sanjib, Brian and I chose to continue on to Ptarmigan Lake and complete our "22" for the day. We told the women that we would be back at the trailhead at a certain time so we gave ourselves an hour and a half to reach the lake. The first part of the trail to Ptarmigan Lake was all uphill. This was further complicated by snow covering a large portion of the trail. At one point - breathing heavily - I was ready to turn back, but I promised Brian that we would continue on for the allotted time. If we had not reached the lake at the 1.5-hour mark, we would retreat. We reached the lake with time to spare. One very cold duck and one squirrel were the only signs of life at the lake. The lake was back dropped by an impressive set of switchbacks located on the Ptarmigan tunnel trail. These switchbacks, closed by the Park Service due to snow hazards, snaked up the side of the ridge behind the lake and disappeared. The winds started to whip us pretty severely so we decided to return the way we came. After a couple of snowfield crossings, we got a glimpse of a golden eagle soaring above the ridgeline. Closer to the trailhead, we also got a glimpse of a colorful double-rainbow - one more photo opportunity and future office art. Our group ate at pizza place in St. Mary's and returned to Rising Sun campground.
Friday - July 2, 1999
We ate breakfast at the Two Moon restaurant. After breakfast, I remembered that I had left my raingear in the campground restroom, so we drove back to camp. After frantically searching the restroom and querying the ranger and caretaker, there was no raingear to be found. The ranger suggested that I file a lost and found report at the St. Mary Visitor Center. This worked; I'm happy to report that some good soul returned my gear and, after sending $3.20 for shipping and handling, the Park Service returned my gear. Today we decided to explore several of the waterfalls encircling St. Mary Lake. Baring Falls was the first waterfall that we hiked to. We continued on to St. Mary Falls, a massive water flow with a wooden bridge crossing it. Sanjib and Christine stopped at some cascades a little further uptrail while the rest of us hiked a short distance to the third waterfall, Virginia Falls. At Virginia Falls, we saw the trail closure for the Red Eagle Lake trail. Yung and Brian persuaded us to hike a little further up to get a better view of this falls so we did. I didn't stay very long at this next stop because the spray was pretty relentless. We picked up Sanjib and Christine and returned to the van the way that we came. On the return trip, we were stopped abruptly at Baring Falls due to a crowd gathering. Amidst the foreign dialects, we discovered that a bear was on the trail a few feet ahead. Believing in "safety in numbers", Christine and others got close enough to shoot a few pictures of this brown-colored black bear. Continuing on down the trail, we assured those hikers that we passed that there was indeed "a bear on the trail just ahead". "Yeah, right" was the typical response. A few minutes passed and we discovered that we were on the wrong trail - yes, the bear had blocked our trail back to the van. We retreated back to the junction where the bear had been seen. Along the way, we were hollering "Hey, Bear!" around every corner because we knew that the bear was near. We spotted a group of hikers ahead. "There is a bear - on the trail - between you and me!" a man in the group yelled. I looked around to the right of the trail and, sure enough, there was the bear. It was about 25 feet away from us. Quickly but calmly, we skirted the bear and continued along the trail. We passed a ranger with a rifle along the way to the van; It appeared that she was going bear-hunting! We traveled the "Going to the sun" road, stopping briefly at the Logan Pass visitor center. An ice-pellet storm pelted us as we left the visitor's center on our way to Timber Wolf Resort. At night, we went to eat at a local restaurant.
Saturday - July 3, 1999
After eating breakfast at the Canyon deli, Luke joined us today for a white-water rafting trip on the Flathead River. Christine arranged the 12.5 mile trip with a local outfitter and it was a great trip. Andrew was our river guide on our trip and he made sure that we knew all of the commands: left back, right forward, all forward. We were a "well-oiled machine." The river in places was pretty tough; Luke and I were in the front of the raft and a couple of times we took a wall of water in the face. It was really fun. After rafting, we went to Wal-Mart in Kalispell to do some souvenir hunting. At night, all of us went to a local honky tonk for entertainment and lots of laughs. Luke described it best:
"A great night at the Blue Moose country bar; great band, cold beer, and a drive-in movie theater right out the back door. We'll get the pool table next time Sanjib."
Sunday - July 4, 1999
We drove to Polebridge, MT, a historic town located in the far reaches of West Glacier today. Polebridge had just completed their 4th of July parade when we arrived, but there was still plenty of activity in town. The locals were cooking out burgers and chicken for the masses. After we got our portion of the food, Christine and Luke joined in on a game of sand volleyball while the rest of us rambled around town. We left Polebridge and drove back to the Apgar visitor center on an extremely bumpy gravel road. In places I thought we could do better walking back. Along the way we stopped and hiked the Hidden Meadow trail to a secluded lake. The forest on this side of the park had been recently burned by a forest fire and was in the process of self-restoration. Two deer surprised us along the way. We returned to the Timber Wolf Resort and went with the other groups to see the fireworks display at Whitefish Lake, MT.
Monday - July 5, 1999
We flew back from Kalispell, MT to Dallas, TX. I continued on to Nashville after saying goodbye to my friends. Yet another great vacation. I never knew that I could possibly get tired of cold, rainy weather. Christine and Padma summarized the trip like this:
"Glacier was a place I will never forget. With its turquoise lakes, breathtaking waterfalls, meadows of wildflowers, snow peaked mountains, and abundance of wildlife... who could. It challenged us with its ruggedness and whirlwind changes in weather, it amazed us with its depths of color and beauty, and left us speechless with its power to touch our souls with panoramic views of a world we should do everything in our power to preserve. What a truly magical place!
I watched a group of 6 people from all different parts of the world and different walks of life come together and form a team that was truly there for each other. We compromised, encouraged, praised, and became friends along the way! Thank you Brian's team... Ray, Brian, Padma, Yung, and Sanjib. A special thanks to Mike for all of your hard work organizing this trip, and for sharing this place you had visited once before with all of us." - Christine
"During the whole trip I was amazed, overwhelmed, enchanted by the greenery, crystal clear lakes, huge snow peeked mountains and the big big... sky. It kind of gave me an inner peace, which I never felt it in concrete jungle of Dallas.
I did so many things for the 1st time in my life during this trip that I have a lot to cherish about this trip. The group was great and we did everything together. And by the end we all became friends. Thanks a bunch to all." - Padma
by Ray Aldridge