I thought I’d take a moment and reflect on my Rocky Mountain hiking experience so far. At least in Glacier (I haven’t hiked in the Tetons or in Yellowstone), it’s especially notable to a transplanted Easterner how quiet the woods are compared to those in the East. I’ve hiked for long stretches without hearing a single bird. Only an occasional chattering squirrel breaks the silence (such as it is, with tinnitis as my constant, vocal companion, a lingering result of concerts in April-May 1971 at the Alexandria Roller Rink with Humble Pie, Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, none of whom I’ve listened to in decades).
That being said, I see these warning signs at every trailhead, and I always carry bear spray, but the Park Service also advises one not to assume a bear has better hearing than humans (myself excluded), and to make noise so as to avoid surprising a bear. I’m always the first one on the trail in the morning, alone, and I take that advice and “make noise.” At first I whistled “Bridge On the River Kwai,” but that got old quickly, within 5 minutes, and I felt a little silly, so now I just wait for a breakfast burp and let ‘r rip, Bean Hollow style (don’t ask). I never see any grizzlies on the trail, ergo, it must work. I usually seem to have a reserve even for the return trip, albeit less powerful. I never see anyone in the morning, so I never need to apologize. (After all, Benjamin Franklin once advised, “Burp proudly!”– Oh, wait, it wasn’t burps he was talking about, but I’m sure he’d agree). Anyway, it obviously works, and in the afternoon it’s less necessary as the trail gets more crowded with noisier hikers. But I digress…
Oct. 2, 2015: A ranger at the St. Mary station advised me yesterday that a cold front tonight might close the Going-to-the-Sun Road to West Glacier, so I decided to cross over a day earlier than planned. After a parting shot of Many Glaciers…
… I arrived in Apgar Campground on the west side of Glacier NP at about 3 PM. What a contrast to the east side: Flush toilets and water and sinks, open grocery store selling Kona coffee ice cream (!), wi-fi at the visitors center, AT&T cell phone signal, large, thickly wooded campground. It was double the price to camp, but at $10 per night with senior discount, well worth it. I might stay a few days and decompress, and eat coffee ice cream every day. There are a few day-hikes around, too, to work it off.
Oct. 3, 2015: I found a shower at Glacier Outdoor Center in West Glacier ($8 for a shower, towels, soap and shampoo included, open through October while all the RV camps like KOA had closed for the winter), did laundry, fixed and tightened a couple of camper items, identified a propane source, and sat in a restaurant in Coram all afternoon, sipping huckleberry lemonade and updating my blog (internet service was down at the Visitors Center due to a power outage). I had a decent rainbow trout dinner at a restaurant in West Glacier, and retired to Apgar camp again to plan my next few days. (Bummer: Apgar Village ran out of coffee ice cream yesterday, and no more for the year, so I had to settle for black cherry). Funny, I just realized that I’ve taken no pictures all day. That’s a first since leaving Boise, taking a break from my job of photography to attend to administrative matters.
Here at the Visitors Center the U.S., Canadian and Montana flags are half-mast in honor of the 10 slain two days ago in Oregon by yet another gunman:
Oct. 4, 2015: The “cold front” apparently sprinkled an inch or two of snow on the peaks, but the road remained open and the campground remained above 50 degrees. This morning I hiked 4 miles on the trail to Howe Lake, saw no mammals and heard only a loon at the lake. I took it easy in my hammock in the afternoon…
… until sunset over Lake McDonald, shot near Apgar Village:
Oct. 5, 2015: Drove along Lake McDonald shore at about 8-8:30 AM, taking pictures along the way:
At 9 AM I hiked the Avalanche Lake trail for 4 miles… … … then read in my hammock in the afternoon. At 5:45 PM I hiked another 2 miles on the trail to Rocky Point to catch the sunset on the mountains again. It was good exercise. Advil works wonders for sore knees:
Oct. 6, 2015: After breakfast I noticed a nearby camper with only a hammock and no vehicle, so I stopped to chat. Libby used to work at Glacier Outdoor Center, where I showered, and now lives near the Columbia River in Washington, where she took the train directly to West Glacier. Just as I do, she places a Thermarest mattress in the hammock, but she has no trouble sleeping in it as long as the temperature drops no further than last night (34 degrees). Her secret to keeping the mattress in place all night: Stretch the hammock out tightly to keep the mattress from migrating and give a more comfortable sleeping platform. The rip-stop tarp stretched over it is hand-made in Oregon and has kept her dry in dewfall and even in monsoon rains. She loves it. Thanks for the tech tip, Libby. I might try it in the desert at lower latitudes.
Some more tech talk: Given the seasonal limitations in this latitude near the Canadian border (as far north as I’ll ever be camping in October), and the modest 150-watt solar panel mounted flat on the roof, I’m pretty satisfied with my Zamp solar power system. At noon on a partly cloudy day in the Visitors Center parking lot (with free wi-fi), I’m able to charge my laptop plugged into a 75-watt, DC-to-AC, Radio Shack inverter and edit my blog and listen to satellite radio and run the fridge without draining the batteries, which climbed slowly from 12.4 volts at 11:45 AM to 12.8 volts by 1:20 PM. The panel was pumping out only 50 watts and 4 amps with the sun at its highest for the day, but it’s sufficient for what I need. Chalk one up to money well spent. Heck, at 2:45 PM, by popping up only the rear of the camper, which gives me more head room in my living space while blogging…
So, tomorrow I take care of more admin stuff (propane refill, gray-water dump, water refill, shower, etc.) and leave Glacier.
Aside from the different forest sounds, the dry, sunny weather here is another contrast to the East. Even the west side of Glacier National Park seems quite different than the east side of the park. I suggested to a park ranger at Apgar that the east side has more mammals running around, since I had seen none on this side. The ranger doubted that the data backs that up, said that it’s simply a matter of being able to see them better on the east side due to the different landscape, and that I should not assume there are no bears around here, because they are better hidden.
Well, maybe so. Maybe photo ops on the West side are just as plentiful as on the East side, but I’ve run out of time to find out. Unfortunately, the West sounds I heard in my hammock in my last Glacier campsite today were road noise, the train, vehicle doors closing and RV dogs barking. Fortunately, with a good book in the hammock I could ignore all that. And for tonight’s last Glacier dinner the only sound inside my camper was Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony while I whipped up penne rigate al diablo with “fresh mushroom” tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, and then the sound of Shiraz pouring into my glass (the camper wine cellar’s out of Chianti).
But the magical mist was gone, and it was too cloudy to catch sunlight on the peaks, so I started to pack up my gear. I turned around and discovered I was face-to-face with a big black bear not 30 feet from me. It was eye-level on the lake shore with me and was staring at me, having stopped in its tracks. I had surprised it by being so quiet while composing my photos, and then suddenly packing my gear. I froze and we stared at each other for about 10 seconds. I’d left the spray in the truck. Should I take its picture? Or should I back off to reach higher ground and clear the way for its continued stroll?
Well, I’d seen a bear run across the road in Many Glaciers and was stunned at how fast they are. No way could I outrun it. I decided to slowly gain higher ground and allow the bear to pass. When I was relatively safe, I pointed my camera to a spot I knew the bear would appear in about 15 seconds, as it lumbered along the shore. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t mounted on the tripod, I was hand-holding it, with adrenaline shaking my hands and the low light working against me. The sharper image of the two, unfortunately, is underexposed. But today I got the bear, it didn’t get me, even though I’d forgotten to burp.