Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Logan Pass, Glacier N.P.
a goat, in a meadow at the bottom of the trail
long-horned sheep in the snow
a marmot, so you know what they look like
a river pool, glacially cold even when warmed by the sun
I've been hiking in Glacier about once a week since I got to Whitefish. It's 45 minutes from my door to the gates and it seems a shame to not take advantage. Last week, I headed into West Glacier to raft, which was fantastically fun-- so much so, that i am planning on going again before I return home. But yesterday, I felt like hiking and I wanted to see some good wildflowers. I bought some field guides last week so I could get better at naming flowers and trees. I used to be able to do it when we lived in Colorado, and somewhere along the way, the information just got booted out of my head.
So I headed to Logan Pass, where the views and the wildflowers were renowned. I left early to miss the construction traffic on the Sun Road, and I got to the pass a little after 10am. It was already sweltering, but I was rewarded with prairie dogs and mountain goats in the meadow at the bottom of the trail. I was headed up to Hidden Lake, a trail recommended to me by a few of the rangers the first day I hit Glacier. I was hoping to do a ranger-led nature hike, but they had just switched their activities out of full summer mode and cut back. So I grabbed some water and struck off up the mountain to see Hidden Lake. Along the way, I saw herds of long-horned sheep below me, several other lakes tucked into the navel of mountains, marmots, waterfalls flowing into snow-covered morraines, lots of wildflowers, and more sheep. As I walked, it was stunning to see how closely one had to look to see the wildlife-- even when they were just a few hundred feet away. The sheep blended so seemlessly into the rock, and the goats' white fur was the color of snow. But at the end, there was the lake, its turquoise water shining below me in the sun. Even several hundred yards lower than me, it was possible to see the rocks at the bottom of the lake, the logs that had been felled into it. It's still just amazing to me the clarity of the waters in Montana-- all that same deep turquoise, all clear, and all stunningly cold.
You get lured by the color. When I was rafting, the intense heat was getting to me, and like several others, I jumped intot he river in a calm part, quickly swimming straight back to the raft before my arms were covered in gooseflesh. Yesterday, after hiking and sweating for a couple of hours, I had the idea to drive back down the pass, eat a picnic lunch by the river and then wade in. Even knowing how cold the water would be, this seemed like a good idea. I found a great place and pulled off, my feet dangling off a rock in the fast moving water. There were pools periodically-- what we would call shut-ins in the Midwest-- and I scurried over some rocks towards the shouts and laughter of other people. What I found was a deep pool. People were jumping off the rock croppings, going in the water in their clothes-- anything to get cool. I watched until I couldn't stand it. I went and changed into my suit and I dove in, knowing this was not the kind of water one joked with. It was all or nothing, and before I knew it, I was under water and gliding to the other side.
And then I came right back. The phrase "glacial" to describe extremely cold water is pretty spot on. And considering these were glacial waters, the sun was just a far away cousin-- related, but having no real impact on the character of the other. A little girl asked me if it was cold, and I said yes, but I had the feeling it would warm up when you got used to. I, however, was not waiting to find out. Even swimming the length back, the cold seemed to make my limbs slower and tighten my chest. Imagine swimming in a huge pool filled with ice. When you're hot, it sounds great, but the reality of it is something else. I was satisfied after to bask on the rocks, like a river otter, warming in the sun, looking at the snow on the peaks down the river.
It's amazing the national parks I have seen, and none of them a one-trick pony. Each as different from the next as possible, and each seemingly different from one side of itself to the other. Just the four I have been to on this trip-- Arches, Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier-- each have their distinctive features. Glacier is growing on me. The beauty and its features are certainly unparalelled and not found anywhere else in the USA. I just wish it was slightly easier to navigate. Still, I can't even complain about the construction stops at the top of the Sun Road. It's one thing to be struck still on the interstate in Kansas, the heat pushing down on you; it's quite another to be stopped for 15 minutes at the top of a mountain, looking straight down at rivers, across to waterfalls, glaciers behind the mountains, and snow-crested tops. And then, at the end of it all, there's no shortage of ice cream (or huckleberry shakes for those not allergic-- I still have not risked it).