Glacier National Park Recap: DAY 2

Start the journey HERE.
Read Day 1 Recap HERE.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rise & Shine: 7:30am
Another chilly morning. Couldn't decide what to do first. So we headed around the east side of the park. We were BLOWN AWAY by the unexpected beauty and grandeur of the drive:

We stopped by a charming waterfall (or really I yelled, "DID YOU SEE THAT WATERFALL?! FLIP A U-EY ON THE HIGHWAY RIGHT NOW!). Stair-stepping up to a high ridge, the waterfall stood in soft morning light, shrouded by trees. A sister fall hid off to the left. Wes stood IN the waterfall as he photographed. I stood in the mist as I photographed. Both efforts turned out quite well, I would say:

In the town of Walton we stopped for breakfast at the small, yet surprising, Whistlestop Café. This place was tiny. I ducked entering the door. Wes had their world famous huckleberry waffles—stuffed and deep fried! I had the most amazing omelette: smoked salmon and spinach with a dreamy mystery cream sauce inside. I would have licked the plate if a friendly hiker hadn't been chatting us up about her bear encounter on the trail the day before with her dog. Good thing I was distracted by the omelette...

We made our way up past Lower Two Medicine Lake to Two Medicine Lake, which has interesting Native American history behind the name. Pulling into the parking lot at the lake, Wes came alive. He said this was the only landscape in America that he'd seen rival Iceland in size, scope, feel, and general beauty and presence. And if you know anything about Wes, that's really saying something! Snow-laced and deep blue on the horizon, these beauties encircled the long, narrow, glacially carved Two Medicine Lake. They beckoned a hike!

File:Blackfoot teepees.jpg

At 1pm, we boarded an all-wood boat across with twenty or so others. Captain Joe was our tour guide along the lake. We learned some interesting facts about the Blackfeet Tribe, geology, and the nature of glaciers. (If the packed ice is heavy enough to move—however slowly that may be—it is considered a glacier. Once it stops moving, it is just a snow field.) The boat docked, and with backpacks on and hiking stick in hand, we set off on a wet, muddy, snowy trail, thick with trees. Large patches of snow made hiking difficult, and the trail was easy to lose. But once through the lower woods, we gained some glorious elevation. Snowy, closely-pined back country opened to a high, narrow ridge hike through green brambles and bushes. All of this was interspersed with rugged outcroppings of boulders, with sheer black snow-capped cliffs high above. Flowers bloomed all around. Bees buzzed. Blue skies blazed. Creeks babbled. It was idyllic. Add those familiar, magnificent summits acting as sentinels to the valley below, and it may very well have been Heaven on Earth. Unless you are me, and you can't stop thinking about the prospect of a mighty Grizzly loping over the nearest hill. And we were entirely, and utterly, alone out there. To our left, there was a drop down to Upper Two Medicine Lake. To our right, there was the most prime location in which a Grizzly Bear could ever choose to live, in my opinion. The ready water source, berries in season, shady bushes, cliffs pierced with cub-friendly caves. You get the idea. I could imagine the color of their coat, the way they would smell pungent, menacing, and fearsome. I thought I saw their claw marks here and there, even if it was just Wes's boots scraping in the sheer snowbanks. Even the low grasses seemed to take on the quality of a Grizzly's coat. 

Now you may say I am being paranoid. But Grizzlies are all over the park this time of year! We heard multiple daily reports on their whereabouts. And even once our trip was finished, we heard the tragic news of a man who was killed over in Yellowstone when he was out hiking alone with his wife and happened upon a sow and her cubs. We heard accounts of daily bear sightings on the grounds of the very Inn at which we were staying. They were on all trails—highly frequented or not. This was nothing to take lightly. Even though we never did see a Grizzy the entire trip (even from a safe distance), I couldn't shake the haunting feeling that one waited unsuspectingly just out of sight, ready to be startled into a heated state. A few well-timed heavenly pleadings (and by well-timed, I mean pretty much all the time), lots of "HUP-HUP" shouting going on, the occasional clapping episode, and singing annoying self-composed hiking songs, got me through the day mostly just fine. I think Wes thought I was a bit overcautious (ok I know he thought that), and was worried I wasn't enjoying myself. Rest assured that I DID enjoy the beauty. But when you have two cubs of your own waiting at home to see you in three days, and a head full of bear encounter stories, there's no use risking it, right? Right? Right.

Not the best thing to say to your bear-scared wife in the middle of Upper Two Medicine Trail:
"Hmmmm. I'm not really sure how the Bear Spray works. Maybe I should test it out?"

So we hiked on, snapping photos each more beautiful than the last. Stopping to rest on a particularly large, flat boulder, we ate our typical lunch: a Cliff Bar and water from our Camelbaks. :) With a view of the half-frozen Upper Two Medicine Lake below, we had a long and peaceful moment, with nature alone as company. Skies were blue, clouds white and roving. With a camera full of photos, and a determination to make it back without any wild animal encounters, we set off back towards civilization. Only the weather thought otherwise.

Once back into the close walls of the forest, a blanket of gray moved steadily over the sky. Rain began to fall lightly, every so often. We still had an hour before the boat returned. Detouring at a popular waterfall, we finally found a small group of hikers in various states of muddiness. 

All of us started back for the boat, peering at the sky. First a drizzle. Then more steady rainfall. Soon it was a downpour. We all stopped for rain gear, grateful again for waterproof boots. Others were not so lucky. We trudged along, trying not to lose the trail, offering words of encouragement. The lot of us huddled in a damp shelter near the rickety boat dock and waited for the long overdue boat to appear in the gray sheet of rain veiling the lake. Younger hikers rung out soaking socks. Others exchanged stories of where they gained their accents. Wes tried not to fall in the lake in attempts to get the perfect GoPro footage. When the boat finally arrived, we filed on, tired and damp. 

With a healthy sense of accomplishment (and admittedly a little relief), we headed back "home" for the night. The bright green hills were now shrouded in mist and fog, the clouds low over the trees. As we passed the waterfall from that morning, I waved a goodbye.

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Melanie M. McKinnon said...

I love every single picture. How convenient to have a professional photographer who goes on trips with you. :)

Christy said...

Oh my goodness Lyndsay. What an adventure. I'm the EXACT same way when we hike in bear country on the east coast. And I've been lucky/unlucky enough to see them TWICE. UGH!

LOVE the photos, the commentary, the whole shebang. What an amazing experience you had!

Senja said...

so, so awesome! :) what a perfect adventure! i have to write you about my bear adventure! and heck yes, i was scared :)