Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Rise & Shine: 6:30am
Chilly morning. Wore my mid-layer, hiking pants, and boots. The day warmed up considerably, though, by the end of the day. 88 proved to be record highs in the area. Both Wes and I happened to be wearing Panavision shirts. This elicited a few questioning glances, but only one friendly/brave enough to ask. :)
Day packs were not too heavy—didn't pack jet boils, chairs, or a lunch. Cliff Bars had to do! Wes brought along his new GoPro camera, as well as his Canon 5D this first day.
We hiked Avalanche Trail at the advice of an insightful Alabaman sharing our resort. Beautiful hike. Not too taxing at only 5 miles, round trip. The trail was almost empty at 8am. Only two other couples with bear bells attached to their packs were seen. We decided that these bear bells (jokingly called "dinner bells" by the locals) just didn't seem like much of a defense. We opted for a few loud claps and hollers around each bend. Plus we had the bear spray at the ready. It is Grizzly country, after all...
We were told to visit the bridge just off the main path at the trail head (part of the Cedar Trail). Looking and feeling more like a boardwalk, the bridge was sturdy with a high railing. The view from the bridge was shockingly beautiful. We stayed awhile, resting against the rail, to watch the site before us: a rapid, raging glacial river, tumbling through the rocky walls on either side. The soft morning light was pristine. Ice blue tipped in white, the narrow river carved through dark rocks blanketed in green moss. Vibrant green against coffee black. A small waterfall, of sorts, the tumbling rapids ended in a shallow stream/river on the other side of the small wooden bridge. Many logs had fallen, begging hikers to brave their way out over the water, which Wes successfully attempted later in the day. It was a perfect start.
The 2.5 miles up to Avalanche Lake was surprisingly diverse. From streams and rivers, to fern-covered pockets glazed in forest light, the trail was narrow and muddy in parts, steep and rocky in others. Not terribly difficult, but still a challenge. Evidence of an actual avalanche earlier in the year was everywhere in the woods and along the trail. Trees lay strewn about. Workers hiked along the path with hard hats and large shovels clearing debris, mending muddy paths, moving wayward rocks.We crossed streams, logs, and mud off all kind, glad our boots were Goretex lined. I was repeatedly shocked to see young hikers (children with their parents) in flip flops! One family even attempted a stroller with their tiny baby. Moms with toddlers in backpacks and others with infants strapped on front, continued to amaze me. We were eventually met with hikers of all ages, some whole families with grouchy teens, others including happy grandparents. Some with bear bells and whistles, others whistling and clapping.
We did see fresh bear scat along the trail, which produced immediate loud clapping and singing on our part. Part of me thought that even though this was recommended to frighten a bear away, it was also alerting the bears to our location. Quite an unnerving, ever-present reality not to be taken lightly.The trail was quite narrow—a fall-off into dense trees on the left, a high ridge leading to deeper forest on the right. We did not relish meeting a Grizzly on a 3 foot wide path. Instead, we were met by two hikers heading back we'd come, claiming the bear was "that way," as they pointed behind them (the direction we were headed). They said a couple had seen him cross the tip of Avalanche Lake, a short ways off, not too long ago. He then disappeared into a wilder wood. I couldn't help being thankful that we waited an extra half hour to set off. Otherwise we could have started our trip off on the wrong side of that Grizzly! Yikes.
Once at Avalanche Lake, stepping from the pine shrouded trail, the view was incredible. Surrounded by deep charcoal-blue mountains peaked in white, the lake is fed by glacial waterfalls. Clear green water shallows out to rock and driftwood. We hiked back along the waterline when we were ready to head back down again. SO many people by that point! We ate Cliff Bars for a small, yet oddly satisfying lunch. We were happy to blaze back down the trail, and out of the growing mass of hikers.
Once at the base of the trail again, we took another look at those arresting ice-blue falls just off the bridge, only to realize the afternoon light was harsh and offered a distinctly flat view of the water. We were glad to be gifted the site in morning light. We then hiked the easy boardwalk-like Cedar Trail on our way back to the car. It wound through cedars on a lovely rock and moss covered hike.
Once back in town, and out of the park, we headed straight to an adventure I thought I would never agree to. A helicopter tour! The 30 minute breathtaking view over the park was a trip highlight. We shared the chopper with two other couples to keep the cost down. It was quite warm in the helicopter, but once over the glaciers, it cooled down a bit. Melting glacial ice and lakes were spectacular. Staggering views of forest and lakes met us graciously. Wes sat up front with the pilot so that he could capture amazing shots of the white-on-black peaks, as well as the trepidatious "Little Matterhorn," used by only the most crazed of rock climbers!
Back on the ground, we headed into town to make the obligatory gift shop stops to pick up a hiking stick, select books for the kiddos, and grab a snack—huckleberry ice cream (the novelty flavor of Montana, it seems, and rightly so). Wes negotiated $13 for us to take a small row boat out on Lake MacDonald—the last boat of the day. This lake has the most fascinating color to the water. From the air—clear deep green. From the road—a milky or smoky teal-blue (as if mineral-infused). From the water—the most perfect shade of teal known to man. Clear and clean. The water is cold and hauntingly inviting. The drag and pull of the oars deeply satisfying. The air sweetly light and chill. The lake houses along the shore intriguing, charming, nostalgic.
The sun hung low in the sky. Pleased and worn out, we headed back for a well-deserved dinner and the best night's sleep in ages.