Monday, September 12, 2005

ONE WILD WEEKEND

Last weekend Mandy and I were treated to one of the few remaining truly wild places in this country ... Glacier National Park in the north central portion of Montana.

Glacier is approximately 9 hours due east of our home south of Seattle. By and large it is a pleasant and scenic journey through the Washington cascades, eastern Washington desert, high scrub nearing the border with Idaho, and into the mountainous regions of Idaho and Montana. We departed in the early morning hours of Friday, September 2 and launched for home on Sunday evening, September 4, arriving early Monday morning September 5.

After meeting up with my friend and colleague from World Vision, Michael Javins, at Polson, Montana (on the southern shore of Flathead Lake), we proceeded north along the eastern shore of the Lake and up into the western entrance of the Park itself, along Lake MacDonald.

Glacier rises starkly from the flatness of central Montana like some enormous intruder. It looks as if you could walk right up to its soaring cliffs and touch them where they meet the valley floor.

We camped our first night in the Fish Creek campground on the north side of the southwestern edge of Lake MacDonald. I had brought my cyclocross bike so early the next morning I was able to enjoy a number of excellent biking trails that follow the southwestern edge of the lake. We were warned about the presence of bears and took great precautions at our campsite but no bears were observed.

On Saturday we followed the southern edge of Lake MacDonald, heading across the park toward the northeast on the breathtaking "Going to the Sun" highway, which hugs steep mountainous terrain and cuts across immense saddles carved by ancient glaciers. The route to the eastern edge of the park would take a scant 2 hours if it weren't for the many scenic stopping places, hikes along various rivers and waterfalls, and occasional busy crossings where the road had been narrowed to one lane due to construction.

At the eastern end of the Going to the Sun highway lies St. Mary's Lake, which in many ways seems a counterbalance to the Lake MacDonald on the west. We camped on Saturday evening at a marvelous site on the northern edge of this beautiful lake. Once again we were warned about bears but saw none. (Glacier has the U.S.' largest population of Grizzly bears, and many black bears as well.)

On Sunday we headed north along the eastern boundary of the park then cut in to the west in order to visit the "Many Glacier" area. This was a highlight of the trip. We hiked about 3 miles inland from the furthest point you can drive, in order to find a waterfall at the western edge of a beautiful little lake there. Once we arrived at the lake we could see several large brown creatures cavorting and splashing in its shallows on the western edge, although we couldn't quite make out what they were. Closer inspection revealed a moose cow and her calf, half her size but still about the size of a horse. We could actually draw within about 50 feet of these two as they grazed and played in the water. There was a large crowd of hikers there gawking and taking photos, and the pair seemed to pay no mind.

Some of the hikers with spotting scopes were staring up toward the hillside. About 2 miles up you could make out several large brown specs moving in a steep meadow. Bears! Whether grizzly or black bears, I was unsure. They seemed to be moving away from us and the two moose, which gave me some comfort.

This valley is lined with steep cliffs, thousands of feet high, and further inspection revealed a number of brilliant white specs clinging to the sides of these sheer rocky faces -- mountain goats. How on earth they got where they were (and how they kept from plunging to the valley floor below) is beyond me. I guess they have learned the most effective way to avoid predators is to live where no bear (or mountain lion) dare go.

Well, I mainly wanted to share my photos with you. Michael is a talented photographer and I'm sure his will be far better than what my amateur hand and my Treo 600 cellphone camera can produce, but these may give you a small sense of some of our travels.