2nd Jul 2012 - 8th Jul 2012
Glacier National Park
We had an early start to Monday after a very disturbed night. Most unusually we had extremely noisy neighbours who were laughing and speaking loudly until 2.30am and they also had a child that screamed loudly at some point during the night. We got on our way into Polson to do the laundry and a little shopping at Safeway. Just as we were about a mile from Polson, Harvey seemed a tad unwell and did not want to pull. We limped into Polson and pulled into the Safeway car park. We sorted everything out in case we should have a breakdown but it must have been dampness in the engine because we did two laps of the car park when we were ready to leave and he was absolutely fine. It was an incredible drive up the east side of Flathead Lake, passing numerous cherry orchards which are apparently only on the eastern side of the lake – Polson has a cherry festival towards the end of July – what a shame that we are going to miss it. We began to see snow again on the mountains and we wondered how cold it was going to get. We arrived at Apgar Campground in Glacier National Park at around 4pm. As soon as we had set up, off came our bikes and we cycled up to MacDonald Lake and it looked so inviting. We explored further and found the Transit Centre where we could catch the shuttle that took you up and over the mountain on the “Going to the Sun Road” – what a lovely name for a road. So, was it colder here – not a chance. We were very warm and it was quite humid. We spent the evening relaxing and went to bed fairly early as we had not had much sleep the night before.
On Tuesday we awoke at 7.15 to the sound of rain. It had rained quite a bit over night and was forecast to last all day. We were not deterred. We got our wet weather gear on and when there was a slight break in the rainfall we sped off on our bikes to the Transit Centre so that we could ride the shuttle to the top. We boarded our 16 seater minibus and were driver Jim’s only customers which was brilliant because he could answer all of our questions. He took us up to Logan Pass on the “Going to the sun road” – we, however, did not see any sun, only cloud, rain, hail and deep snow! The snow was about 10 feet deep at the top of the pass and it was absolutely freezing cold – just 38 F. On the way up we saw two Bighorn sheep – both rams which was wonderful but the windows were covered in rain and so it was not possible to take a photograph. As we approached the top we had to make a sudden stop as just in front of three vehicles ahead of us a large, and we mean large rock had slid down the mountainside on to the road and it had come to a stop in front of the vehicle – apparently this happens a lot but this was an exceptionally large rock. After shivering and shaking at the top (every picture tells a story - the photograph says it all) for a while we decided that it was not the day to look around and so we boarded a much larger bus and journeyed down to the eastern side of Glacier National Park – St Mary’s - passing a black bear on our way. We ate our lunch there and then went into the Visitor’s centre auditorium to watch a film on the effects of light pollution. When we came out we shared an oatmeal bar which claimed half of one of Linda’s wisdom teeth! On our way back we were treated to another black bear sighting – it was grazing in a meadow. Further along the road there was an incident – a motorcyclist had become separated from his bike. He looked shaken but not badly hurt, thankfully. The weather deteriorated even more as we climbed up the mountain and our hunt for the Bighorn sheep was postponed for a better weather day. The views from the bus on the way down were no less spectacular as when there were breaks in the cloud you could see across the valley to the enormous waterfalls which torrented from the top of the mountains – Birdwoman Falls, for example, is an incredible 492 feet high.
On Wednesday we awoke to a lovely sunny day and high temperatures and so we took the shuttle to Avalanche Creek and walked the Trail of the Cedars which was about a mile loop and most enjoyable. We then walked part of it again and then took another trail which went to Avalanche Lake, a 4-mile round trip. On a patch of grass a squirrel was busy feeding and an Amercan lady said “Oh look, a groundhog”. Well, Seamus just had to correct her, didn’t he. It was quite a steep hike to the lake through the forest and there were lots of people taking the same trail which meant that there was zero chance of seeing anything. The lake was beautiful and all around it were waterfalls – five main ones and many, many offshoots from these. It made a lovely lunch spot and both a chipmunk and a Stella’s Jay had learned that it was a good spot for titbits – some tourists never seem to learn when it comes to feeding the wildlife! As we made our way we saw a family of Pacific wrens which were a new species for us. We also had two large mule deer pass us by within eight feet of us but we were the only ones to see them! The temperature during the day had risen to 97F and was due to last for at least a week.
On Thursday we thought that we would walk to the Hidden Lake which was a 3 mile round trip hike from Logan Pass. We took the shuttle to the top and started out on the hike but it was snow covered and extremely slippery. With Linda’s poor balance on account of her foot problems and Seamus’s dodgy knee we decided that it was a no go and so we turned back. To do the hike safely you really needed two walking poles each (or crampons) and we only had one between us. As we sat on the wall waiting for the shuttle we saw a vehicle that we recognised –it belonged to the Belgian couple that we had met in Georgia last Thanksgiving and had passed in Yellowstone going in the opposite direction. We looked around and then Linda saw Elly and hailed her. We couldn’t believe it and nor could they. So, after a chat we promised to catch up properly the following night when they were going to return to the Apgar Campground. It is such a small world!
We caught the bus back to Avalanche Creek and hiked a trail that ran through the woods and passed St John’s Lake to Lake MacDonald where we could catch the shuttle again to go back to Harvey. Hmmmmmm………we started the hike at 3 o’clock and it was supposed to be 5.6 miles. We had no sooner started than we saw a Varied Thrush which had been on Linda’s wish list. It was the female which, unfortunately is not as colourful as the male but you can’t choose these things. We had walked about 2 miles and had passed some fresh bear scat when we met a family from, would you believe, Belgium. We had a chat and warned them of the bear scat we had seen – an interesting time followed when we tried to explain what bear scat was!!!! The lady looked afraid but we pointed to the bear spray that her husband was carrying and assured her that they would be ok – just make lots of noise. As we continued on we saw more scat and some large bear paw prints. We felt as though we were following the bear! Time marched on and we suddenly realised that we might have a problem getting to Lake MacDonald for the last bus. We upped our pace. We reached 5.6 miles according to our pedometer and the end was not in sight and so we decided to cut through to the road where it was easier to hurry. We made it with ten minutes to spare! We were very tired when we got back to Harvey.
On Friday we were going to have an easy day and try and source a rental car. In our attempt to do this we cycled into Apgar Village 3 times and then had to go into West Glacier to secure the booking. The lady in the office said that their premises were just half a mile from the town. It was a bike ride of three miles into town and then 1 mile, not half a mile, to the office but the last mile was up hill all the way!!! We made it, sweating buckets of course because remember that it was in the mid 90sF, and Linda must have looked all in (I know, readers, you can just imagine it!) because the lady in the office immediately fetched us a bottle of ice cold water – nectar! What a wonderful ride back we had – downhill all the way. When we got back to Harvey we saw that Jos and Elly, our Belgian friends were camped just across the way from us. We went over for a chat and the next thing we knew we were both going to have a very late meal that night because it had gone 8 o’clock when we looked at our watches.
Saturday was spent going up to Logan Pass, changing shuttle and going east to another shuttle stop – Rising Sun boat dock where we had our lunch. Our original plan had been to get on and off the shuttle at the various stops along the route but we soon decided that it was simply too busy a day with visitor’s wanting to use the shuttle to do it and we were concerned that we might have trouble getting back. So, we headed back down to the west side again. We both agreed that we could travel the “Going to the sun” road every day and never tire of the amazing scenery. Although it is only about fifty miles long it takes about two hours on the shuttle from Apgar Transit Centre to Logan Pass, then the waiting time to transfer buses and then another hour down to St Mary’s and then of course there is the return journey. On our bus going from Logan Pass to Apgar we had the ultimate “let’s ask the driver a stupid question” tourist. Some examples include – “do you only get mountain goats on the mountains”?, “Do you get rock avalanches or are they called something else” (rock slides, maybe!) but when it came to “Is that a bear?” and we are looking a white mountain goat, Seamus could not contain himself and called out “Yes, it’s a polar bear” – naughty boy!!
On Sunday morning we said farewell to Jos and Elly who were moving to the eastern side of the park and we exchanged addresses – we feel that one day we will meet again, maybe in the UK, maybe in Belgium, but we are all sure that there will be a time. We went to catch the shuttle again. Every day when we went to the Transit Centre we met Brian, one of the rangers and had a chat with him – we were becoming well known there! We rode the shuttle again to Logan Pass and had our lunch there whilst looking out over the mountains – it is such a special place. It was a very hot day and so after lunch and a short walk to look at the Bighorn Sheep, we thought we would make our way back down the mountain. As we sat in Harvey in the evening we heard a Great Barred Owl, or rather we heard Brian imitating a Great Barred Owl. He was excellent and we went to his evening Ranger Talk on owls which was excellent too – apparently he calls in owls all the time in his home state of Iowa.