Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day Seventeen: Glacier Smashes Expectations

To my dedicated followers (all handful of you), my apologies for the delay in this post. The lovely St. Mary Lodge where we're staying for 2 days (in St. Mary, Montana, of course), has no cell phone service and no wifi. Actually, it's worse than that. They purport to have wifi, and show you as connecting. There's just no throughput to the internet. Geez. You'd think that they're intentionally trying to get you to focus on the natural wonders surrounding you.

Of which there are plenty. Glacier National Park (of which we probably saw less than 1%) is simply breathtaking. My expectations for Glacier, and traversing it on bicycle through the Going to the Sun Road, were so high that it probably wasn't physically possible to exceed them. But, in truth, I think they were. I hope the pictures accompanying this post succeed in conveying even a small portion of the majesty and wonder of the Park.

And the riding was strenuous, but great. I started off from the Vista Motel, in West Glacier, at 5:15 a.m. in the morning, in the dark (sunrise was at 5:40). Why so early? Well, bicycles are not allowed on the ascent part of the road, from West Glacier to Logan's Pass at 6600 feet, after 11:00 a.m. So to be reasonably confident of covering the 33 miles to the Pass, the last 20 of which were serious climbing, I wanted (needed?) to leave that early. Bob, who is a stronger biker, took one look at my departure time and said "see ya later!"

So I cruised into the empty park, past the unmanned entrance gates, pleased that the way wasn't barred at that early hour (unbelievably, I hadn't researched that in advance), and naively unaware, as a newcomer to the National Parks, of the honor system of paying through an envelope and a lock box (Bob educated me later).

It was misty, quiet and serene. No cars intruded on my solitude until well after six, and then only a few, primarily park ranger and worker vehicles. Words (or at least my words) really can't do justice to Glacier. But I'll try briefly. Tall pines everywhere, covering mountainsides jutting up to the sky. Glacial lakes of cobalt blue. Waterfalls everywhere, running noisily downhill. Birds you've never seen before, making sounds that fill the forest. And then there are the mountains. You climb, the vista changes, and all of a sudden you are looking at snow-capped peaks right on top of you.

And then there's the wildlife. Yes, I actually saw some animals not native to Manhattan -- a whole bunch of mountain goats, as well as a real live Brown or Grizzly Bear (you expect me to know them apart?). With pictures to prove it!

The wildlife sightings were a result of a questionable decision on my part, after reaching Logan Pass, to go on a 3 mile roundtrip hike from there to see Hidden Lake. Unfortunately, the path was still covered with snow and slippery, so the rangers weren't actively encouraging folks to go on what is typically one of Glacier's more popular paths. And it has a fairly significant ascent of 400 feet. Oh, and did I mention that the only footwear I had, other than my bike shoes, was a pair of lightweight Merrell "Barefoot" running shoes? And all I had had to eat, since oatmeal at 4:30, was several Power Bars? And lest you missed it the first time, the hiking was all on snow -- some times packed, some times not so packed.

Suffice it to say, the hike was exhausting, the legs equivalent of one's eyes being bigger than their stomach. But the resulting view was spectacular, and I did come across at least a dozen mountain goats, which, with their horns, actually were kind of scary (see video if I can get it uploaded -- I was shooting this when I thought, darn, I better get out of this guy's way). But the other benefit of the hike was that it delayed my descent long enough so that, entirely serendipitously, I came across the bear at roadside. I can't claim eagle eye spotting abilities. There was a cluster of stopped cars with cameras fully deployed, which signaled some worthy event or scene. Of course, in retrospect, it was kind of questionable to stop and take pictures, being on a bicycle, with nothing protective between me and the bear. But, in my defense, she did seem more interested in the foraging that she was doing. And, obviously, facing down the mountain goats had emboldened me.

Tomorrow is our second rest day. We're going to stay at the Lodge (internetless, sigh) and do some more hiking trails in the Park (hopefully ones without snow, and I'll pay my entrance fee this time!). But we're across the Continental Divide, and have come some 870 miles since we started, so the rest day feels well-earned.

The next detour, starting after the rest day, is North up into Canada, as a long way of getting to Cut Bank, Montana. We'll abut Glacier and actually revisit the Park's Many Glacier area, then wind our way up to Waterton Lake National Park (if we can find lodgings), before heading East again to Cardston, Canada and then back down into the U.S. It's supposed to be a much prettier and scenic route than going directly to Cut Bank, and it will only add 2 days and about 80 miles.

 Today's ride totaled 52 miles and over 4600 feet of ascending. It was hard, but not as hard as Bob and I had feared. We both think that the day of riding the two passes (Dobson and Thompson) out of Idaho into Montana prepared us well. Also, the gradients rarely exceeded 6%, so while the uphill was steady, it was never excruciating in the manner of the Idaho passes (routinely 9 to 11% in parts). 

Here are today's route and metrics:

Img_0769 Img_0690 Img_0693 Img_0699 Img_0709 Img_0716 Img_0713 Img_0748 Img_0735 Img_0746 Img_0750 Img_0756 Img_0760 Img_0763 Img_0766 Img_0648 Img_0649 Img_0650 Img_0654 Img_0659 Img_0660 Img_0661 Img_0666 Img_0675 Img_0677 Img_0680 Img_0686 Img_0678


  1. mark becker9:27 PM


  2. You're a wonderful, vibrant travel writer, Rog. Your words express the excitement and beauty of the place as much as the fabulous photos. And I'm no expert, but it seemed from the shallow depth of field that you were pretty darn close to that bear (a black bear, I think; they come in brown too). You're a more courageous dude than me, bro. Get some pepper spray, at least for the duration of the park stay.

    Maggie and I were in Glacier back in '84, but we have only dim memories of its glories. You've helped bring them back -- and then some.

  3. What amazing photos! And I love your commentary--the good, the bad, and the ugly---but mostly good it seems.