August 9, 2009

Glacier in the rain


We recently returned from our annual summer trip to Glacier National Park, where we managed to get in a few hikes while dodging thunderstorms. It's been a wet summer here in western Montana, but it hasn't discouraged us from getting out much.

The year, we camped at the St. Mary Campground, which gave us a chance to try our new ultralight tent. We went with a three-person model this time thinking it would be a bit more spacious for backpacking trips with the dogs while about the same weight as our old two-person tent. It stayed dry in the rain, and because all of the walls are mesh, it had the best ventilation of any tent I've slept in.

Our first day in the park, we did a quick scramble up Lunch Creek to a wildflower-filled basin below Pollock Mountain before the rain rolled in.

The next morning was wet and gray, so we decided to take a drive up to Waterton Lakes National Park, just over the border in Canada. There, we poked around the town and took a short walk through the woods to a waterfall. That afternoon, we came back to the States and did another short waterfall walk in the Many Glacier area.

Day 3 was the best weatherwise, with mostly clear skies after a morning shower, so we headed to the Two Medicine Valley for our long hike of the trip: 16 miles on the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop.

The next morning was wet again, so already having gotten in our big hike, we hit the road home.

Despite the nightly storm, the trip was worth it - Glacier always is.

Day 1: Lunch Creek


After arriving at the park and getting settled at St. Mary Campground, we headed back up Going-to-the-Sun Road for a short hike. The scramble up the east side of Lunch Creek is fairly simple, but steep in places. Above, you'll find a couple of waterfalls and a flower-filled basin with views of the peaks and Sperry, Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers to the south. This hike is the beginning of the route up Pollock Mountain in "A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park."

See the pictures here and here.

Distance: About 1 mile round trip.

Trailhead: About three-quarters of a mile east of Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Day 2: Lower Bertha Falls and Apikuni Falls


Our second day started out quite stormy, so we spent the morning in the car, driving across the Canadian border to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. After a stop at Prince of Wales Hotel, the rain abated and we took a short walk to Lower Bertha Falls. The trail runs along the mountainside next to Upper Waterton Lake, then turns up a draw that leads to Bertha Lake. Below the lake, this waterfall cascades down and around a corner.

Distance: 3.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: Access is from the Waterton Lakeshore trailhead, all the way through Waterton townsite on the north side of the lake. (Bring your passport; you'll need it to cross the U.S. Canada border.)


With the weather clearing some in the afternoon, we returned to the U.S. side of the border and the Many Glacier area, where we took another short walk, to Apikuni Falls. The steep trail leads to a nice cascade down a cliff wall. As the clouds moved in again, we headed back to the car and our campsite.

See all of the pictures from Day 2 here and here.

Distance: 1.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The Apikuni Falls trailhead is a little more than 2 3/4 miles inside the park from the Many Glacier entrance.

Day 3: Dawson-Pitamakan Loop


Our final full day in Glacier was marked by much better weather, allowing us to get out on the trail we had set our sights on before the trip: the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop in the park's Two Medicine area. Originally, we wanted to backpack it and spend a night at either Oldman Lake or No Name Lake. We missed out on a permit, though, so decided to try it as a dayhike. It made for a long day, but worth every step.

The route starts out through the trees around the base of Rising Wolf Mountain, then travels up the Dry Fork Valley to Oldman Lake. From the lake, it quickly switchbacks up the valley wall and out of the trees to Pitamakan Pass, just below Mount Morgan, where the real views begin. You can see back down Dry Fork Creek, across Oldman to Flinsch Peak, and just over the pass to Pitamakan, Katoya and Morning Star lakes in the Cut Bank Creek drainage. The trail rounds Mount Morgan topping out above Cut Bank Pass on the Continental Divide, where you can see peaks of the Lewis Range and Pumpelly and Harrison glaciers deep in the park. From here, the path follows the Divide around the back of Mount Morgan and Flinsch Peak and above Nyack Creek to Dawson Pass. At this point the views are of the Two Medicine Valley and Lupfer Glacier. The trail quickly drops into the forested Bighorn Basin, passing No Name Lake then connecting with the Two Medicine Lake Loop. At this point, you can either walk a short distance to the top of the lake and take a boat back to the trailhead area, which we did, or return along the north shore of the lake.

See the pictures here and here.

Distance: 16- or 18-mile loop, depending on whether you take the boat back across Two Medicine Lake.

Trailhead: The trailhead is at the far end of the Two Medicine Campground near the outlet of Two Medicine Lake, 4 3/4 miles in from the entrance station.