December 25, 2010

Jen's picks for Glacier National Park

We received a new issue of Backpacker magazine recently and opened it to find Jen's smiling face inside.

The January issue contains the annual Readers' Choice Awards, and while we knew Jen was to be featured as an expert on Glacier National Park we weren't expecting its arrival before Thanksgiving.

Turn to the "Our Backyard" feature on Page 56 to see her picks for the park:
  • Go to Two Medicine for solitude. Jen suggests the Dawson-Pitamakan loop, which at 16 miles (with an additional boat ride) was one of her most challenging dayhikes.
  • Big bloom at Cobalt Lake. Also in the Two Medicine area, the fields of red monkeyflower near Cobalt Lake can be spectacular. It's about 11 1/2 miles round trip.
  • Sneak a peek from Mount Oberlin. Check with the rangers at Logan Pass to make sure the easy 1 1/2-mile scramble is open - there are sensitive plants along it. From the 8,180-foot summit, look down on Bird Woman Falls.
  • Don't forget winter. The park is still open, even though Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to vehicles. Park at Lake McDonald Lodge and ski or snowshoe instead.
Also, in the masthead on Page 7, Jen's "Where I'd Take an Editor Hiking" pick is Piegan Pass. With an allotment of just five words, the suggestion omitted the stop at the Many Glacier Hotel's Swiss Lounge after the 12 3/4-mile trek from Siyeh Bend.

Update: Backpacker recently put Jen's "Our Backyard" feature online here. Click "The Experts" to see her bio.

December 6, 2010

Cross-country season is here


We recently brought our cross-country skis up from the basement and over the weekend went on our first real outing of the season. With partly cloudy skies in town we made the short drive up the Blackfoot Valley to the Lubrecht Experimental Forest.

We arrived to only two other cars in the lot and set out on firm, groomed snow. We chose the 6.4-mile "D" loop, one of five marked trails that can be combined for a distance of your liking.


The counterclockwise loop begins in rolling forestland - a nice mix of up, down and around. At a couple of spots along the way, logs were still piled up from a recent tree-thinning operation in the battle against pine bark beetles.

On the north side of the loop, after the grooming ends but before the trail briefly crosses onto Paws Up Ranch property, the trees open. Here, the forest offered a beautiful sunny view of the surrounding Garnet Range.


Down through the forest again and off of Paws up Property - be sure to close any gates you open - the trail climbs up through a narrow gully called the Luge. Due to the shade of the forest, heavy frost was clinging to moss hanging from branches. This season, there are also a few downed trees to duck under and navigate around.

Out of the gully, the grooming begins again where the loop reconnects with shorter trails. We glided down past Jones Pond and a shelter before returning to a full parking lot. The entire circuit, we saw only one other party until nearing the cars.


See photos from Lubrecht here.

Distance: 6.4-mile loop. (Variety of loops available, from 1 mile to 8.3 miles.)

Trailhead: From Missoula, drive 5 miles east on Interstate 90 to Bonner, then 26 miles east on Highway 200 to the University of Montana's Lubrecht Experimental Forest facilities.

December 5, 2010

Fall wasn't forgotten


Been a while since I've posted anything, but we did get out and about in western Montana this fall before the snow fell, albeit close to home.

With Mom visiting in October, we took a stroll up to the lookout atop Blue Mountain. Saw a lot of yellow larch and aspen, some red huckleberry leaves and some drying thistles. See photos here.


We've also gone on plenty of morning walks at Missoula's Tower Street Conservation Area. Since first visiting a little more than a year ago, this has become our go-to spot to take the dogs in the morning; it's not far down the road from the house, but is away from the hustle and bustle of the riverfront downtown. Photos are here - they were a test of sorts from my fairly new cell phone.

October 8, 2010

Big rocks of Boulder


While in Denver last week, we also took a quick trip up to Boulder, Colo., for a dayhike among the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park.

The park has a network of trails around Chautauqua Meadow and among some of the Flatiron rock formations that stand above the city.

We started southwest from the park's ranger cottage, through the meadow on the Chautauqua Trail and past trees changing yellow for fall. A connecting trail at the top routed us under the Second and Third Flatirons to the Royal Arch Trail. From there, it was up steeply to the natural stone feature and views of the city below.

After a break, we followed the Royal Arch Trail to it's lowest point, then around the Bluebell Mesa Trail and back down the Chautauqua Trail to the cottage.

View more photos of Chautauqua and Royal Arch here.

Distance: 3 2/3 miles roundtrip.

Trailhead: The Chautauqua ranger cottage is located at Baseline Road and Grant Place, about 1 1/3 miles west of Highway 36 in Boulder.

October 6, 2010

Colorado's great sandbox


For our fall vacation this year, we headed south to Colorado to visit family and check out one of the country's newest national parks: Great Sand Dunes.

While the park designation became official in 2004, the dunes have been building at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for thousands, possibly millions, of years, according to the park brochure. Sand from mountains to the west piles up at the foot of the range, carried by strong winds and creeks, creating the tallest dunes in North America.

We've wanted to return ever since passing nearby on the way to New Mexico in 2001. Last week, after 17 hours of driving from Missoula with an overnight in Denver, we spent three days in the dunes.

Day 1: High Dune


The afternoon we arrived we spent asking park rangers about spending a night in the dunefield then getting acclimated.

The Great Sand Dunes visitor center sits at about 8,200 feet elevation - almost 5,000 feet above home - so we started with a short hike up High Dune, at 650 feet the second tallest in the park.

Within sight of the visitor center and day-use parking lot, the High Dune route is one of the most popular in the park. And while there were plenty of people in the dry bed of Medano Creek and sledding or boarding down lower dunes, we were on our own when we reached the top.

There are no real trails in the dunes, but the well-trod path was easy to follow. Also, loose sand meant plenty of backsliding, but there were also firmer areas - which offered confidence for the next day, when we would be carrying full backpacks.

See photos from High Dune here.

Distance: About 3.3 miles round trip.

Trailhead: Visitor center or nearby day-use parking area, 1 mile north of Mosca, Colo., on Highway 17, 16 miles east on Lane 6 and 6 miles northeast on Highway 150.

Days 2 and 3: Backcountry camping in the dunefield


After spending the night in nearby Alamosa, we arrived at the Great Sand Dunes visitor center the next morning and picked up a free backcountry permit to camp in the dunefield.

Up Medano Creek Primitive Road, we parked our car at the Point of No Return trailhead and set out.

The first three-quarters of a mile down to the Sand Pit picnic area on the edge of the dunes is on a trail, but after crossing Medano Creek it's pretty much your choice. The only caveat for backpackers is that you have to get over the first ridge and out of sight of the visitor center. That and you're limited by how much water you can carry, as there is no source once in the dunefield.


Beyond the creek, we wandered up to a low spot on the first ridge and surveyed our options. My GPS having conked out at the trailhead, we also made a few visual references as to the location of Sand Pit and Point of No Return: a large sign between a couple of trees just up from the creek, and a low summit covered in golden aspens in the Sangre de Cristos.

From the first ridge, we connected several meandering crestlines, climbing higher and higher.

After a few hours of wandering in the sand, we selected a high saddle between two dunes for our campsite. From the saddle, views extended out two valleys, and one of the nearby ridgelines would be a great vantage point at sunset.


After we set up our tent, Jen assembled a cheap children's kite and let it fly. She brought it figuring there would be a good breeze, and was more than right. As afternoon turned to evening, the wind picked up and streams of sand shot across the dunes, spilling over the crests. For dinner, we took shelter in the tent, but even that didn't keep the grit out of our food.

Eventually, the sun dropped, casting long shadows across the sand. Late at night, the wind died and the stars - away from any city lights - were spectacular.


When we woke the next morning, all footprints from the day before were gone - a blank slate for a new day. At some point after the wind settled and we fell asleep, however, we had a visitor of the canine variety, as evidenced by the tracks leading away from the vicinity of our tent.

We packed up and set out after a light breakfast, again following several crestlines, back and forth, up and down. The aspen-covered summit above where we parked was easy enough to see the entire time, so we never felt in danger of getting lost.

Eventually, we made our way to the low spot on the first ridge, back across the creek and up to our car, never seeing another person up close for the entire circuit.

See photos from the dunefield here.

Distance: As far as you want; we probably trekked a couple of miles in.

Trailhead: Point of No Return, about 2 miles north of the visitor center on Highway 150 and Medano Pass Primitive Road.

September 8, 2010

Backpacking with Gigi


Over the past year, we've watched our 16-year old dog Gigi slow down quite a bit, and one goal going into summer was to get her out on one more backpacking trip. Between rain showers and a flurry of work, we accomplished that with a night at Heart and Pearl lakes, near Superior, over Labor Day weekend.

The hike is tried and true - we've done it numerous times in our years here - and it's ideal in any season. And with all the cool wet weather we had through August, fall's colors are already evident.

The trail tracks south through the trees along Trout Creek, climbs to Heart Lake at about 2 1/4 miles, rounds the shore and rises east out of the forest to a grassy basin holding Pearl Lake at about 3 miles.


Gigi was a trooper the whole way, but was definitely weary by the time we returned to the car. It helped that we had our younger dog, Belle, pack in both pups' food. It was also wise that we brought along fleece blankets for them, as the partly sunny weather Saturday turned into a cloudy chill Sunday morning.

The trip was quick but worth it, as our two tired dogs can attest.

Find more photos from our trip to Pearl Lake here.

Distance: About 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Superior, follow Diamond Match Road southeast and Trout Creek Road southwest - one turns into the other - for 19 miles.

August 9, 2010

Gunsight Pass, the video

Finally found time to edit the hour of video I recorded on our recent three-day backpacking trip over Glacier National Park's Gunsight Pass. Below is the result, in 2 minutes, 16 seconds. Watch for the babbling brook, the bleating sheep, the flying fish and the buzzing bug.

Update: I've replaced the original YouTube video on this post with a Vimeo version, which looks a bit cleaner. They are otherwise identical.

August 2, 2010

Goats of Gunsight Pass


We made our annual anniversary foray into Glacier National Park recently and, as usual, were rewarded with plenty of beautiful views of wildlands and wildlife.

Every year, we look for new places to stay and new trails to hike - we've lodged in lodges and camped out of our car, walked paths popular in Many Glacier and quiet in Two Medicine - and this time was no different.

In the past, we haven't spent much time in the St. Mary Lake or Lake McDonald areas, and we've never slept under the stars of the park's backcountry. This year, we secured a short-notice permit to pitch our tent along the Gunsight Pass trail bridging the regions and crossing the Continental Divide.

While the 20-mile route can be through hiked in a long day, we took our time - and plenty of pictures, as usual.


We reserved a car camping site in the St. Mary campground on the east side of the park months ago and arrived under cloudy and rainy skies at dinnertime the first night of our trip. After a meal and a few photos on St. Mary Lake, we headed for bed, opting to roll out our sleeping bags in the back of our Subaru rather than start the trip with a wet tent.

The next morning, we rose early and had our permit in hand by 7:30 a.m., then went about positioning our car at the end of our trip. This required driving west back over the Divide on the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road and parking at Lake McDonald Lodge, then catching the park shuttle back over to the trailhead on the east side. Unfortunately, this meant going through two construction zones twice, and we didn't set foot on the trail until 1 p.m.


While the route begins and ends in fairly dense forest with little to see but trees, the middle section is what Glacier is all about: sharp peaks, lingering snowfields, the rush of waterfalls, blue lakes, wildflowers and wildlife. In fact, aside from the Logan Pass area, I don't think I've ever seen so many mountain goats. They were lying in the trail, checking out our camp and even circling at dinner one night.

After three days of hiking west over the Continental Divide and two nights of camping, at Gunsight Lake and Lake Ellen Wilson, our delayed start paid off with a quick escape from the park and back home.

Day 1: Jackson Glacier Overlook to Gunsight Lake


Our route began at Jackson Glacier Overlook, dropping through the forest to Deadwood Falls on Reynolds Creek at 1 1/2 miles, crossing on a suspension bridge, then continuing southwest roughly along the St. Mary River.


At about four miles, we arrived at a junction for Florence Falls. We decided to check it out, but afterward concluded it would have been better to stick to the main trail - while the falls are big and beautiful this time of year, the trail was almost too overgrown for backpacks.

From the junction, the trail begins to climb steadily along the base of Fusillade Mountain, rising out of the trees and providing views of Mount Jackson, Blackfoot Mountain, their respective glaciers and Mount Logan.

At about 6 1/4 miles, the trail arrives at the camp on the eastern end of Gunsight Lake. A notch above the west end of the lake marks Gunsight Pass, and waterfalls cascade down the rocky red and brushy green slopes all around. Here, we camped under cloudy skies in the company of a handful of other backpackers, a couple of nosy deer and at least one snowshoe hare.

See photos from the hike to Gunsight Lake here and here.

Distance: About 6 1/4 miles one way with optional 1 1/2-mile round-trip extension to Florence Falls.

Trailhead: Jackson Glacier Overlook is about 13 1/4 miles west of Glacier's St. Mary entrance on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Day 2: Gunsight Lake to Lake Ellen Wilson


The next morning, we awoke to nearly clear skies, and after some breakfast chat with other campers we packed up and hit the trail. This would be our shortest day of hiking, but also the most scenic.

After crossing the suspension bridge at Gunsight Lake's outlet, we followed the path as it climbed the side of Mount Jackson. In the rocky traverse between two sets of switchbacks, we encountered our first mountain goats of the day lying there in the middle of the trail. They arose and approached us, an inquisitive younger one cocking its head at us under the watchful eye of what was likely its mother.


We continued onward and upward to the southwest, taking in the view across the blue lake and back down the valley, and eventually reaching the first of several lingering snowfields and runoff creeks that we would cross. This high stretch of trail before Gunsight Pass runs nearly level and only the final, high-angle snowfield forced most hikers to detour around it.

At the top of the 6,946-foot pass at three miles, we stopped for a break and to take in the view down to Lake Ellen Wilson, our destination. After a snack and the entertainment of a few marmots that thought they were sneaky, we started down the rockier, drier switchbacks two miles to the campground.


In camp, we pitched our tent at a nice, open site just off the shore of the lake and settled in for some relaxation. Soon, a trio of goats wandered into the area, grazing around us. As afternoon became dinnertime, more arrived and circled our cooking area within spork's reach. We never felt in danger, but at least one of the mother goats was uncomfortable with the close quarters, repeatedly chasing off others that came too close to her kid. At dusk, they followed as I explored the lakeshore, leaving only as the last sunlight rose up the canyon wall.

That evening was clear, so we slept without the rain fly, allowing us to take in the bright sky one night short of the full moon.

See photos from the hike over Gunsight Pass here and here.

Distance: 5 miles one way.

Day 3: Lake Ellen Wilson to Lake McDonald Lodge


The morning of our final day in the park, we rose as the sun arrived on the valley floor, packed and got under way, trailed out of camp by more goats.

We made our way west through the rocky terrain, up and around the end of the valley. There, one final goat perched on a picturesque boulder with the ridge on the opposite side of the drainage in the background. Toward Lincoln Pass, we caught our first glimpse of the Lake McDonald area.


By about three miles, we came over the pass and down to Sperry Chalet, where we rested for lunch. After that, it was a little more than six miles down, down, down and back into more dense forest, arriving on the Sun Road at Lake McDonald Lodge.

After cooling our heels in the lake, we got in the car and headed for home - with me already imagining the next trip to the park.

See photos from the hike back to Lake McDonald Lodge here and here.

Distance: 9.1 miles one way.

Trailhead: Lake McDonald Lodge is 10 1/4 miles east of the park entrance at West Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

July 21, 2010

Geography lesson

illinois peak_20100720_060

Where can you see Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Illinois - Illinois? - on the same dayhike? On the Stateline Trail, southwest of Superior.

In the five miles southeast of Cascade Pass, Montana and Idaho make up the ridge that the trail tracks, then there are the Oregon Lakes and Oregon Peak, and Illinois Peak.

There are a variety of access points to the Stateline Trail, Cascade Pass being a relatively easy, but long approach. It's about 25 bumpy, dusty miles by car from Superior. On Tuesday, my dog Belle and I had the trail to ourselves - only one other vehicle was in the parking area, but we never saw anyone else.

From the pass, I've been northwest to Bonanza Lakes before, but this was the first time I've headed southeast to Illinois Peak.

The route is mostly open, grassy forest with gentle ups and downs. In fact, the terrain bears a resemblance to hiking in Scotland or the Australian Alps, especially with the abundant pink mountain heather, top. I was also quite surprised by the variety of wildflowers in bloom - bluebells, a few varieties of penstemon, bracted lousewort, purple shooting stars, heather, yellow pasqueflower, mountain gentian, phlox and more.

At about 1 3/4 miles, the path passes above the uppermost of the three Oregon Lakes, with its deep blue water. The trail steepens at four miles and climbs through some interesting rocks - look for the ripples of old seabed. At about 4 1/2 miles, take the east fork through two junctions, then it's up the final push to the grassy summit of the 7,690-foot mountain.

illinois peak_20100720_187

A great start to a week of vacation!

Here are some photos.

Distance: 10 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Superior, follow Diamond Match Road on the west side of Interstate 90 about 1 1/4 miles southeast, then Cedar Creek Road (Forest Road 320) 25 miles southwest to Cascade Pass.

July 19, 2010

Bluebells, a bighorn and bison

We took a drive up to the National Bison Range over the weekend, where the wildflowers are still blooming and the wildlife was out for viewing.

We arrived early enough to beat the afternoon heat and for me to make it back to Missoula in time for work. Bluebells and wild bergamot were in abundance going up the 19-mile Red Sleep Mountain Drive, and the way back down and around to the start again featured a lone bighorn sheep, plenty of bison and a handful of pronghorn antelope.

The drive also gave me a chance to play with a new Flip UltraHD camcorder. Watch the short video above.

Also, there are pictures here and here.

Distance: 19-mile loop drive. Near the top of the mountain, there are two short trails: the half-mile round-trip Bitterroot Trail and the 1-mile round-trip High Point Trail.

Trailhead: From Missoula, drive 35 miles north on U.S. Highway 93 to Ravalli, then turn west on Highway 200. After about 6 miles, turn north on Highway 212 and drive about 4.5 miles to the entrance at Moiese.

July 13, 2010

The finish

That's me in the white shirt, gray shorts and hat, starting on the right and cutting to the left around two people. Thanks to the Missoula Marathon, KECI-TV and for providing video of the runners.

July 12, 2010

Off my mark

Last weekend's Missoula Marathon didn't go quite as planned.

After months of training with the goal of finishing in 3 hours, 40 minutes, I came in at 4:10:12. Slightly disappointing considering all of the improvement I've made in the last year in training and shorter races - all of my 20- and 22-mile training runs were at a faster pace than last year's 4:01 marathon finish, and last winter and spring I ran my best half-marathon and 5K.

Ultimately, a few things did me in. I choked down a cup of water around mile 17 and promptly coughed it back up. As a result, I fell back from my pace group and never caught up again. This year's race also was considerably warmer than last year's, and I've found in training that heat can quickly drain me. I also have noticed that my body doesn't seem to like energy drinks. I usually hydrate with water, and could feel myself getting sluggish as the cups of energy drink began to add up. Toward the end of the race, I switched back to water and soon felt better. (I suppose some of these could be mental, but I don't feel like I ever hit "the wall.")

All is not bad though - I finished another marathon and feel good today. While I like to see improvement in my running, to me it's more about being outside, being active and clearing my head of everything but the rhythm of my feet. Tomorrow, I'm going for a run.

July 8, 2010

On my mark

The Missoula Marathon is nearly here, and I've got just one more short run before race day.

Training went well, and the taper felt great - the short distances are easy and speedy. Now, it's all down to a little visualization and rest.

If my work pays off, I'll be crossing the finish line downtown on Higgins Avenue at about 9:40 a.m. Sunday. If you're in town, come on out and cheer!

July 5, 2010

Back on the trail, and still going


It's been a while since we've gone on a real hike here at home in Montana. The last time was months ago, when there was still snow on the ground.

It's not that we haven't gotten out; we walk the dogs on trails in and around Missoula almost daily, and we took a spring hiking vacation to Oregon and Washington's Olympic National Park. Mostly, it's because I've been focusing on my training for the Missoula Marathon next weekend. That and one of our dogs is getting older and has understandably been slowing down (more about that later).

Yesterday, we decided to get the dogs out and tired before the Fourth of July fireworks started in hopes that we wouldn't have a bark-fest after sunset.

We've been up the Bass Creek trail a short distance a couple of times - both in the snow - but with a campground at the trailhead, it always seemed like it would be crowded in warmer weather. We decided to give it a try anyway because it's not that far from home. The trail was fairly busy at the start, but about halfway through our hike we found ourselves mostly on our own.


The wide path starts out by steadily climbing west through the forest along the north side of Bass Creek; there are several places to access the water on the way. Just past 1 3/4 miles, it passes an old log dam with a pond behind it where the valley opens up and you can see the surrounding mountains.

From here, the trail travels a fairly level mile through the forest, into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and to a junction. Continuing on the narrower path to the north, you wind up the side of the canyon to an open parklike area with plenty of views down the valley, then above a big cascade at a little more than 3 3/4 miles.


A rough path leads down to the falls, and we took turns snapping pictures from below and keeping our older dog, Gigi, above and out of danger. As previously noted, she's getting up there - we believe she's about 16, but there's no way to know for sure because she was a stray. She remains our very faithful hiking partner and will follow us almost anywhere, albeit with a little help over logs and rocks.

The trail continues about another 3 1/4 miles up to Bass Lake, but this marked our turnaround point for the day.

See some more pictures here.

Distance: 14 miles round trip to Bass Lake. (We hiked about 7 3/4 miles round trip to the cascade.)

Trailhead: From Missoula, travel about 20 miles south on U.S. Highway 93, then turn west on Bass Creek Road and follow it about 2 3/4 miles to the trailhead parking area.

June 14, 2010

Marathon run-up

Training for this year's Missoula Marathon is well under way, and so far, so good.

The goal this year is to finish with the 3-hour, 40-minute group that I started my first marathon with last year, but fell back from. I finished that race at about 4:01.

Pace-wise, 3:40 works out to about 8 minutes, 20 seconds per mile. In training, I've maintained that speed up through my 16-mile workouts, and all of my runs have been under last year's marathon pace of 9:16. I've got a couple of 20-milers under my belt that I ran at about 9 minutes per mile, but with those I also introduced some hills - 1,400-plus feet of elevation gain on the North Loop Trail at Mount Jumbo.

Those hills were part of a run-up to last weekend's Pengelly Double Dip, a fairly grueling half-marathon here from the valley floor up University Mountain and Mount Sentinel, then back down. It's billed as having 2,700 feet of elevation gain, but my GPS reported about that in elevation change from base to summit and nearly 3,300 feet of total gain.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never really run anything like that. I've done the smaller Mount Jumbo a few times and some short segments of the Double Dip, and have hiked almost the entire course in the past, so am familiar with it.

Fresh back from a recent vacation, I ran the lower part of the course - up through the saddle but omitting the two summits for about 1,800 feet of gain - and felt good, so I decided to enter. Based on that training run, I figured I'd finish the Double Dip in about 2:30, which turned out to be fairly accurate as I came in at 2:34:41.

What I forgot about was how steep the upper part of the course is, particularly on University Mountain. In a couple of places, I don't know that anybody ran - all you could see was a line of single-file walkers. The downhill was much faster, but it was clear that many people fell from all the bloody knees and shins at the finish.

Below, you can see the basic details from my GPS; click through to the player and you can watch my run.

While rather difficult, the Double Dip was fun and rewarded with plenty of beautiful scenery, so I could see myself doing it again.

As for the Missoula Marathon, I've got a couple of weeks of long training runs left - including a 22-miler next week - before tapering off to conserve my energy for July 11. There may even be one more race in the lineup: the Mountain-to-Meadow half-marathon, a beautiful run through the forested mountains near Lolo Pass on the Montana-Idaho border.

June 4, 2010

Rain, and more rain


Last week, we spent most of our vacation in Olympic National Park in Washington, one of the wettest places in the continental United States - ideal for a spring vacation.

We went into the trip knowing we would probably see a lot of rain, and we were right. Our tent got soaked twice, and we were forced to bail out on camping and seek shelter in a cabin and with relatives. While camping was a bust, we still got out on foot in the Hoh Rain Forest, Sol Duc Valley and on the Pacific Coast. We did see some sun during our day at the beach, but a trip up Hurricane Ridge was pretty much a bust due to clouds.

See pictures from the entire trip here.

Hoh Rain Forest


This classic Olympic hike tracks through temperate rain forest along the Hoh River. On the way, see dense, mossy forest and wildflowers. We hiked a short section after setting up camp the evening we arrived. We cooked and ate under a tarp rigged to the side of our car, and awoke to a soaked tent.

Distance: 17.5 miles one way to Glacier Meadows. (We hiked about 3 miles round trip.)

Trailhead: The trail begins at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, 13 miles south of Forks, Wash., on U.S. Highway 101, then 16 miles east on Upper Hoh Road.

Sol Duc Valley


Our second and third nights in the park were spent in the Sol Duc Valley, first drying out in a cabin at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, then getting wet again in the campground. In between, we hiked the Lover's Lane Trail from the resort to Sol Duc Falls and back. More lush forest, cascading creeks and waterfalls.

Distance: 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The Lover's Lane Trail begins in the resort parking lot, 28 miles west of Port Angeles, Wash., on Highway 101 and 12 miles southeast on Sol Duc Hot Springs Road.

Rialto Beach


The first stop during our day at the coast was Rialto Beach, where we hiked north to sea stacks, Hole-in-the-Rock and beyond. Saw a lot of interesting polished rocks and driftwood, as well as a couple of small crabs.


Distance: 4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Forks, travel 1 1/2 miles north on Highway 101, then turn west on Highway 110 and follow it about 7 3/4 miles to Mora Road. Take Mora about five miles to the Rialto Beach trailhead.

Third Beach and Taylor Point


With decent weather - hardly a drop of rain - and plenty of time, we opted for a second hike on our day at the coast. The trail begins in the forest before dropping to sandy Third Beach. A short distance down the beach, a second, muddy trail climbs up and over Taylor Point, dropping you at a bay filled with sea stacks.

Distance: 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Forks, travel 1 1/2 miles north on Highway 101, then turn west on Highway 110 and follow it 12 miles to the trailhead, just before La Push.

Marymere Falls


We started the day by driving through heavy rain and fog to Cape Flattery, Wash. - the farthest northwest one can travel in the Lower 48 - and not walking to see the lighthouse there. When we returned to Lake Crescent, it was only sprinkling, so we took a short hike through the forest to Marymere Falls.

Distance: 1.8 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail begins at the Storm King Ranger Station, about 19 miles west of Port Angeles on Highway 101.

June 1, 2010

Gorge green


Last week, we started off our annual spring vacation with a walk through the lush Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area east of Portland, Ore.

On the recommendation of Backpacker magazine, we linked segments of the Herman Creek, Pacific Crest and Dry Creek trails for a hike in the Mount Hood National Forest and Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. There were plenty of green leaves, running creeks, wildflowers and a waterfall.


From the Herman Creek Campground, the trail switchbacks uphill, then down to a bridge over the creek at about 1 1/4 miles. A little more than half a mile farther, join the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the PCT, you'll pass smaller creeks, basalt pinnacles and rocky slopes. At about four miles, cross Dry Creek on a bridge, then its a short two-tenths of a mile up a dirt road to a 50-foot waterfall.


Check out the pictures here.

Distance: 8.7 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Portland, take Interstate 84 about 41 miles east to Cascade Locks. Follow U.S. Highway 30 through Cascade Locks for 1.9 miles, then continue on the frontage road for 1.5 miles to the Herman Creek Campground.

May 2, 2010

Alpine outing


A family gathering last weekend brought us to the Wenatchee, Wash., area, a place I haven't been to in years, and I was reminded there are mountains out there beyond the scablands.

Just northwest of Wenatchee is Leavenworth, which I remember as the Bavarian-style tourist town that it still appears to be. But since I last visited as a child, it has perhaps become better known as an outdoor recreation destination.

West of town are the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness. On a free morning, we took a drive along Icicle Creek and went on a short hike up the Fourth of July Trail to stretch our legs.


From the parking area, the trail switchbacks up the east side of the canyon. The wildflowers are plentiful this time of year, and once above the trees there are views of the still-snowy peaks, beckoning for another visit.

See a few more pictures here.

Distance: The Fourth of July Trail runs 5.3 miles one way before connecting with the Icicle Ridge Trail on the edge of the wilderness. We hiked only a couple of miles up and back.

Trailhead: 9.4 miles south and west of Leavenworth on Icicle Road.

April 29, 2010

Missoula Marathon time

It's that time again - I've got my Missoula Marathon training plan in hand, and 8:20 is the magic number.

Last year, the goal was simply to finish my first marathon. After training all spring and starting the race with the 3-hour, 40-minute group, a sore IT band on the course resulted in a 4:01 finish.

This year, it's about the time - that 3:40, to be specific. A pace of 8 minutes, 20 seconds per mile should bring me in just under.

Last year's training program was about building mileage, steadily increasing my long run each week until I topped out at 20 miles before the race.

This year's plan - put together by the same trainer friend as last year - is similar, with a few changes:
  • The mileage buildup continues, but instead of running just one 20-miler before the marathon, I'll complete two, plus a 22.
  • There's also a focus on pace. Those long runs are about distance, so will be slower. One day a week will be a tempo run focusing on building up miles at the 8:20 pace.
  • The weekly mileage also goes up. Last year, the most I ran was 38 miles in a week, once. This year: 49 miles, three times.
Overall, the plan requires that I slow down from the pace I've been running 13-milers at for the past three months. Surprisingly, it's more difficult than it sounds - but so far, so good.

Check back for more on my progress.

March 15, 2010

Wildflower walkin'


Spring is nearly here - officially, that is - which means the blog I write at work is back in season. Stop by for updates on the bloom and more advice on hiking western Montana. To start things off, take a stroll in search of Rocky Mountain douglasia.

March 6, 2010

On the run again

After a long interruption last fall, I'm finally back to running on a regular basis.

I never really stopped after completing my first marathon last year, but travel set back my routine several times. Since the holidays, however, I've worked up to running 30 to 35 miles a week again.

Last weekend, I ran my first race of the year, the Snow Joke Half Marathon in Seeley Lake. I finished in 1 hour, 41 minutes and 47 seconds - 78th out of 196 in the "bushman" division (men ages 16 to 39) and about four minutes faster than my previous best at that distance. Not too bad for a race with a record 660-plus runners.

I'm looking forward to another season of races leading up to the Missoula Marathon, which was recently named the best overall marathon by Runner's World magazine readers.

See you on the road and trail!

February 7, 2010

Snowy Yellowstone


A recent three-day weekend gave us the opportunity to explore Yellowstone National Park more than ever before.

For some reason, we've never really spent any time in Yellowstone. Previously, we drove through a couple of times and took in the roadside sights, but the park wasn't our destination. And we spent a long winter weekend there several years ago, but without the right gear and the cooperation of the weather we didn't get out very far.

This time, though, we packed both snowshoes and cross-country skis, and even saw some sunshine.

Yellowstone's north entrance at Gardiner is just a four-hour drive from Missoula, and we managed to find a cheap hotel room a few blocks from Roosevelt Arch on short notice. From Gardiner, you can drive up to Mammoth, Wyo., and out the park's north road, the only one open to automobiles in winter.

Marked ski and snowshoe trails can be found around Mammoth and Tower Junction, and in the northeast corner of the park. Maps are available at the ski shop in Mammoth and here.


Our first day in the park, we went on a sunny ski up the Blacktail Plateau, then drove out the north road to watch wildlife in the Lamar Valley as the light faded.

On Day 2, our only full day in the park, we took a snowcoach shuttle from Mammoth south to Indian Creek and returned on skis, the morning snow giving way to another afternoon of sun. After getting back to Mammoth, we took a short walk through the travertine terraces.

The third day, we returned to the Lamar Valley for the morning, where we took in the sights and sounds of the park's wolves before driving home.

Check out photos here, as well as this video (headphones help for hearing the wolves near the end):

Blacktail Plateau

From its west end, the Blacktail Plateau Trail climbs a groomed road for six miles, then drops two miles to its eastern terminus, providing sweeping, snowy views along the way. We set out the afternoon we arrived and skied close to half of it under blue sky and sun. At one point, we found several canine tracks along the trail - they appeared to be too big to be coyotes and pets aren't allowed, so we guessed they were wolves.

Distance: Full trail is 8 miles one way; we skied about 6 1/2 miles round trip.

Trailhead: West-end trailheads are eight and nine miles east of Mammoth; east-end trailhead is just under 1 1/2 miles west of Tower Junction.

Sheepeater-Bunsen Peak


This was the highlight of the trip - for $15 plus tax, we took the snowcoach shuttle from the hotel in Mammoth south to Indian Creek and skied back to town. We were the only passengers in the snowcoach and wouldn't see any other skiers the entire day.

From Indian Creek, we went a short distance along the road and connected with the ungroomed Sheepeater Trail across Swan Lake Flats. Along the way, the snow stopped falling and the sky cleared some, and at one point we paused for a small herd of bison to move off the trail. We then connected with the groomed Bunsen Peak Trail and dropped steeply down a canyon to Mammoth, taking in views of frozen Osprey Falls and the mountains around town. A short walk down the road from the trail's end brought us back to our car at the hotel.

Distance: About 7 3/4 miles one way.

Trailhead: From the hotel in Mammoth, take the snowcoach shuttle about 8 1/2 miles south on the snow vehicle road to Indian Creek.

January 8, 2010

Skiing in the new year


It's been pretty brown in town this winter - the leaves never fully fell, and it seems like there's been more deep freeze than snowfall. Cross-country ski season began last weekend, however, with our annual New Year's outing.

Originally, I wanted to go to the new Como Trails Cross Country Ski Area south of Hamilton, where dogs are allowed. After reading on the Missoula Nordic Ski Club site about having to hike up to snow, though, we settled on a trip up Lolo Pass without the pups.

The day started out with a handful of vehicles in the parking area and the trails shrouded in fog, but after 6 3/4 miles of skiing the sun was out and the lot was packed.

See some photos here.

Distance: Trails from 1.2 to 14 miles are available; some are shared with snowmobiles. We did a 6 3/4-mile loop that incorporated parts of the Glade Creek and Packer Meadows trails.

Trailhead: From Missoula, drive 9 miles south on U.S. Highway 93 to Lolo, then 32 miles west on U.S. Highway 12 to the Lolo Pass Visitor Center, just over the border in Idaho. (Parking costs $5.)