You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams - Dr. Seuss
I’ve returned from my most recent adventure in NW Montana. It was a great time hiking, mountain biking, and paddle boarding. I hiked to summits on 5 mountains, paddled in 5 lakes, and stayed in 5 different campgrounds, not planned, it just worked out that way after being on the road for 17 days. I’ve went back to writing a short story of my adventures, this allows me to write (which I love to do) and short stories will provide great material for a book someday. My current downtime has been filled with rock cutting and polishing, reading, and now writing. Tomorrow I fly to Juneau, AK for my next adventure, Godspeed :)
My first stop was Lake Ennis and the Tobacco Root mountains. I took the paddle board on Lake Ennis and went to explore the dam which was a 90 min paddle on glassy water. There was a neat rock island halfway into the paddle ducks were using this as a home base. On top the rock island was a neatly balanced schist rock with vertical beds. I decided to do a round of paddle board yoga as I wondered how the schist like rocks were formed and overturned during the Laramide Orogeny. I had to paddle under a bridge to get into the river channel leading to the dam, this was a more pristine area that most fishing boats did not explore. There was a road off to one side for access to the dam and curious tourists, however the scenery allowed me to block that out. There were golden eagles, a young bald eagle, and several king fisherman out doing their thing. The bald eagle flew out of some bushes and rounded the river soaring with his big wings before finding a perch directly above the road overlooking the watershed. The eagle stayed here throughout the remainder of my paddling, it always seems to be a blessing to have a bald eagle watching over your adventures..my return paddle from the dam was much faster as we were going to go climb a summit in the Tobacco Root Mountains yet that day.
After breakfast we headed west into the mountains. We drove up to Sureshot Lake before ascending the remaining way on the Blackborow, my fellow adventurers were on ATV. Their slow speed was about twice as fast as my bike and hike-a-bike speed up hill but it was nice to have company. It was super steep in areas, was amazed at what my legs, lungs, and bike could handle. We stopped ¾ up the mountain and enjoyed a lunch perched upon a large rock overlooking the valley. The last ¼ was just as brutal as the previous climbs, but there was a top and felt good to dismount and check out the surroundings. It wasn’t long before we found a few mine adits most likely gold and copper. After exploring the old workings, collecting a few rocks it was nearly time to descend the mountain. The descent was fast on the bike, catching air off rocks when I had some room to make a clean landing, near the end of my descent I used a large rock to catch nearly 4 feet of air, it was exhilarating! Once back to the truck I could feel the days exercise wreaking havoc on my body, so I refueled with antioxidants and electrolytes. A grass fed burger and beer to finish of the night, and I was sleeping just after dark.
The next day I got back out on the paddle board, mainly for a short yoga routine and swim to wake up. I had a long drive ahead of me headed towards glacier national park (GNP). I stopped in Missoula on my way to pick up some camping food, I had no idea how long I would be in GNP or in the nearby mountains. Upon arriving in west glacier, I headed to the fish creek campground on Lake McDonald where friends already had a camp spot reserved. They were out on a hike when I arrived, so took out the GNP map and books and started to get ideas for day hikes. There weren’t many opinions on what to hike, so we slept on it and decided to try out Quartz ridge that next morning. We drove north through Polebridge and further to Bowman lake before taking a trail east towards the Quartz lakes. The ranger and a day hike book both insisted we take the trail clockwise, however we wanted to get to Lower Quartz Lake first to fish, swim, and potentially turn around if we wanted an easier day. So counter clockwise it was..the first few miles were considerable amount of switchbacks through a thick forest, upon reaching the top of the ridge there was not much of a view, only one glacier off in the distance could be seen through the trees, so we continued down the other side of the ridge, this trail was dusty and tough to stay upright on, we finally made it to the crystal blue lake, it was stunning. There were nearby backpackers that were swimming in the lake when we arrived. So we hung out for a while, took a break, rehydrated, ate some snacks then decided to swim a bit and try some fishing. Neither were too productive, the water was cold and fish were a bit small, but all in good fun!! The decision point to push farther and complete the entire loop was not a certain one, but I wanted to continue and hoped my fellow adventurers wanted to see more of the mountains as well. We hiked up the Quartz lake chain, first walking by the Middle Quartz Lake which had an island among the water, a bit further down the trail we got our first glimpse of Upper Quartz Lake which has backcountry campsites. The trail cut between Upper and Middle Quartz lakes and continued up the ridge towards Bowman lake, this ridge was a bit steeper here vs where we had crossed it earlier that day, but didn’t seem too bad of a climb. Once we reached the ridge crest, a nice view of all 3 Quartz lakes was enjoyed. Further along the ridge, huckleberries were everywhere along the trail. At first I couldn’t pick enough to feed myself, then I encouraged the group to pick them and save for huckleberry pancakes in the morning. We grazed and picked berries over the next hour while leisurely walking along the trail. The descent back to Bowman lake was an easy trail, I was feeling exhausted from the day and previous day’s activities, once we got back to the lake it was dusk, and we had logged 13 miles of hiking! We saw a black bear cross the road on our way back to camp, and shortly after were rewarded with great views of the full moon.
Lower Quartz Lake
Middle Quartz Lake
The next morning we wanted to hike up to an actual glacier, however this proved difficult being on the west side of the continental divide. There are glaciers along the highline trail, but due to local fires in the park the going-to-the-sun road is closed at the path, and tourists have taken over the area (thus my wanting to avoid this area). The Sperry glacier is a 9+ mile hike, So we chose to climb a nearby lookout tower and at least get a good view of some glaciers and overlook Lake McDonald. The lookout tower is atop Mount Brown, it was a 5.5 mile hike with 30 switchbacks climbing 4200 feet! The trail was a difficult hike, however plenty of nice views to take in while rehydrating and refueling. There were other hikers going both up and down, the ones coming down said the grueling trek was well worth the views so we continued. Once we crested the summit, the views were spectacular!! A full view of Lake McDonald, Heaven’s peak and the gunflint pass. A diorite sill could be seen cutting through Heaven’s peak and continuing through other peaks in the area. The sill is black (lava) and is surrounded by altered limestone with a columnar look. The package is much more competent that the surrounding argillite rock and thus sticks out further amongst the landscape, creating a cliff edge. We hung out atop the lookout tower and enjoyed the view talked with fellow hikers before plunging back down the mountain. It took half the time to descend than to climb. The trail was so dusty we were covered in it and ready for a swim once we got to the bottom. So we walked to the lake and began washing the dust off in front of all the tourists at the lodge, I always wonder what the people think when a bunch of hikers just splash their way into the frigid water like it’s no big deal, well they definitely stare a lot, however a few tried to wade into the water as well hoping it wasn’t as cold as they had thought. After our water break, we made our way back to the vehicle and prior to waking into a pizza place we gazed up at mount brown, and to our amazement you could see the lookout tower up there 4200 feet above where we were standing! That was crazy, and we were all glad to not have noticed that prior to our ascent up the mountain!! After dinner we made it back to camp and decided it was a great night for a swim in Lake McDonald, indeed it was! Many people and kids from the campground decided to join in on the swimming after overhearing our joys and excitement.
Sunday my fellow adventures went back to Grand Forks, so I made a short trip into West Glacier for ice and a large breakfast, prior to returning to Lake McDonald and taking out the paddle board to do some exploring. The paddle was great, it was crystal clear water and when glassy I could see 100+ feet down to the lake bottom, made my stomach turn a bit like looking down from a cliff. How could the water be this clear?? It was fun to watch the fish and turtles swim around when you could pinpoint their location amongst the large body of water. I paddled out to Rocky Pt, did some yoga then laid down and took a nap, the wind and few boat waves slowly transported me back to the beach I had put in at. Not wanting to be finished, I paddled across the lake (approx. 2 miles) as the wind was coming up and then back 2 miles. By time I got the paddle board loaded back onto the truck and headed towards camp, I could feel the burning in my legs from the hike yesterday, and now my shoulders and arms hurting from the paddle, it was time to rest!
Monday more soreness all over my body, so I slept in and took my time at camp doing yoga, stretching, and reading. Then I headed north towards Polebridge to visit the mercantile store and buy some locally made huckleberry bearclaws. I returned part way to west glacier and stopped at the huckleberry mountain trail head, the parking lot was full, so I waited around getting my gear together until a fellow hiker returned and left the trail head, thus opening up a spot for me. Now I was alone, and usually when I hike alone I like to push both my mental and physical limits. So off I went on a nice jogging pace across the meadow, before long I was starting to ascend the mountain, but this was an easier climb than Mt brown, there was no switchbacks here as the trail was 6 miles long gaining 2000 feet in elevation. There was lots of bear scat along the trail, which made sense with all the berries available for eating. I reached the summit and lookout tower in 90 minutes, took out a huckleberry bearclaw (figured it was fitting) and enjoyed the summit views, however nearby fires in Washington state dimmed the view of many glaciers and peaks off in the distance. This lookout tower was manned to look for fires, John the fire marshal was kind as we discussed life in general. He said there are a few bears which call Huckleberry mountain home as they gorge on the berries daily and hang out on their respective peaks. The descent was spent observing the wildlife and postulating what the night was going to bring. I had no idea where I was camping or what the next few days had in store. The phrase “home is where you lay your head” was stuck in my mind, feels good to have a free spirit. When I got to the bottom I needed a swim, so I headed back to Lake McDonald and jumped in, the cold water is soothing on the muscles after a long hike. I found a camp spot at a local private campground, they offer backpackers the lawn for a reasonable rate, I ended up here for 3 of my 9 nights spent in glacier.
Tuesday I decided it was a well-deserved day off, so I made my way into the town of Whitefish. Visited Hammer Nutrition HQ made an order with one of the friendly staff members, got a bunch of free samples, and advice where to hike, bike and paddle board in the area! Gotta love Hammer Nutrition J Downtown Whitefish was nice to visit very cool town situated below the mountains on a large lake and the people were all very friendly! Had a beer at the local brewery, found a mammoth tooth money clip to purchase, and went to the farmer’s market which had some very tasty produce and tamales. And not expected but also not surprised to find a guy selling dinosaur fossils at the market, now this is my kinda place!
Wednesday I decided to explore the east side of GNP, so I found a campsite at Two Medicine Lake a sacred place for the Black Feet native tribe, and I can see why it was a very beautiful and moving place. I decided to climb up to scenic summit for a better vantage point of the area. It was a good ascent up the mountain with several switchbacks, I hiked 3.5 miles up and gained 2500 feet elevation in 75 minutes. The top was definitely scenic with views of 3 glacial lakes and surrounding peaks with glaciers. I met a local couple near the peak which gave me plenty of hiking tips and encouragement for the east side. The descent took 45 minutes, as I practiced mountain goat tactics running down the mountain, man this is what fun is supposed to be packaged as!! I stayed up really late that night with my head in the stars, it was a great place to stargaze sitting at 6000 feet elevation, the Milky Way was astounding and I spotted many stars and galaxies that I had not noticed before. No one else was awake in the campground which amazed me, however I enjoyed the time alone. I can still name most of the constellations in the sky going all the way back to school in Medora when they taught us using a planetarium. Guess I’ve always had the luxury of having the stars visible in the sky to keep up my understanding of what is out there and the mythological representations of our past. I didn’t want to fall asleep and a Dr. Seuss quote came to mind “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams”
Thursday was the first day it had rained in GNP since I had been in the area (one week), the high temp was 57 for the day and it was windy, felt like a summer day in Alaska. I made it out on Pray lake for some intense paddle boarding against the large wind blown waves, luckily I tried out the small lake first and didn't tackle the much larger Two Medicine Lake. The Pray lake paddle was a perfect high intensity workout, you had to paddle fast and hard to split the waves and continue moving forward, by the time I got to the other side where waves were starting, my arms were like noodles, so I got a quick rest as the wind blew my board back to other side and repeated the process several times, with just enough energy to get back to the campsite shore, the water was at best 50 degrees. The rest of the day was spent drinking hot tea and reading. Found a book in Whitefish the other day called “the sound book” by Trevor Cox. The book described how you hear sounds in nature including the echoes that are found in natural and man-made structures. It was a very good science book that was educating on many levels, I will most likely be yelling various phrases the next time I walk through a tunnel or find myself in a cave. A few lessons from the sound book: Native American paintings are only found in caves with good echoes. Lightning makes a thunder sound from all the angles the light travels, every time there is a turn in the path there is a crack sound associated, so the more jagged the lightning bolt the louder thunder it will put off. Sound travels along curved walls incredibly well, there are several whispering galleries out there where two people can whisper to one another over a 500 foot distance apart. And not directly sound related, but butterflies, hummingbirds, and peacocks get there wonderful display of colors due to photonic crystals instead of color pigments.
Friday I made my way to Many Glacier area on Swiftcurrent Lake. I hunted around for a campsite upon arrival but had no luck so decided to hike up to the Swiftcurrent lookout tower anyway and figure out a camp situation later. It was 8.5 mile hike up to the lookout tower, 4 miles through meadows around glacial lakes followed by a 4.5 mile climb up 3000 feet elevation. I started out running where I could, there were a lot of tourist’s hiker on the trail. I was about a mile in when a moose and calf ran out in front of me about 10 feet away! Wow that was close, they turned immediately and went back into the brush after a few steps on the trail. This really got my heart pumping! So I slowed the pace a bit, keeping my eyes and ears wide open. Another mile along I had passed a neat suspension bridge (with the weight limit of one hiker), I was so interested in the bridge I didn’t look around for any wildlife, however after catching a fellow hiker in front of me he had said there was a sow and cubs near the bridge. I flew up the switchback, something about the steep climbs that gets my mind to push harder. I tip toed across rocks to pass hikers, exclaiming to one younger crowd that I was part mountain goat! The scenery was great, all the glacial lakes and waterfalls were soothing, so small breaks were taken to enjoy it. As I was approaching the Swiftcurrent pass, there was one last climb during that ascent I crossed paths with several mountain goats, some had kids with them others just laid in the mountain side with no cares of hikers walking by. At the pass was the trail up to the lookout tower, it looked daunting, 1.2 miles straight up, well there were lots of switchbacks but it was very steep. Once on top the guy manning the lookout tower said this trail is the highest maintained trail in the park. We discussed geology, wildlife and culture it was a great visit with the fire marshal and fellow hikers making the same hike. You could visually see 26 different glaciers from the lookout, along with several mountain peaks, glacial lakes, and wildlife abound. The 8.5 mile hike up the mountain took 2.5 hours, and the descent took the same time as I was exhausted and keeping a lookout for wildlife. Upon descending the switchbacks a few backpackers had just scared a grizzly sow and cubs up the canyon. I stopped and took in the soothing sounds of redrock lake waterfall on the way down. Upon reaching my truck, I refueled my body filled up my water containers and took off in search of a campsite.
Bullhead, Redrock, and Sherburne Lakes
Climb to the lookout tower (bump on top of mountain)
Redrock lake falls
Saturday I finished off Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” a book about life in the 1860’s out west in Nevada, California, and Hawaii. The stories of this book were written prior to his most famous books, however still grab you as a reader and pull you into the life he was living. The copy I have is a newly printed book and is embellished with several drawings to help visualize even further what life was like back then or to get a short chuckle at one of the stories the author has blown out of proportion. All of the Nevada mining stories were of great interest since I had lived in Nevada for a short while after graduating from college working in an underground gold mine and learning the past by visiting old mining sites and ghost towns. Saturday afternoon I attended Huckleberry days in Whitefish and has some good rock/gem discussions with local artists. Found a used book store and replenished my pile of reading material :)
Sunday I arrived at the Whitefish Bike Retreat, neat place located right on a single track trail system. The retreat is a private campground with 8 campsites and a lodge with bedrooms for bikers not wanting to tent. The facilities were in awesome shape and the privacy from the bustling tourist industry was quietly hidden among the tree filled mountains. My campsite had a bike park right next to it with balance beam, 2 foot jump, log hills, and a teeter totter! Resting this afternoon after a 2hr paddle board outing on Whitefish Lake. There were lots of boats on the sunny and hot Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t the only paddle boarder but turned out to be the most adventurous one. After a warm up yoga session I paddled along the east shore until I hit a major point approx. 1.5 miles away, then I crossed the lake to the west side another mile, and back on the west side shore for a roundtrip of 4 miles. After jumping off the board a few times to swim, I had no fear of falling off into the water, so I started to get aggressive and tried to ride the bigger waves created by boaters. Some of the times I could make the timing right and properly steer the board on top of a wave so that I could ride it out (lake surfing). However you don’t win every time, I fell off quite a bit and during one quick fall off and reboard I fell again right on my ribs (they are still a bit bruised today). The lakeshore was filled with huge cabins and some lengthy stairways to better access the water with. I was impressed with how many cabins were tucked in the mountains overlooking the south end of the lake. I will have to venture farther up the lake next time to see if the trend continues. After reaching the public beach where I had started, I hung out in the beach area for a while re-catching my composure, I was tired after the long haul around the lake. When I crossed from east to west banks, I really had to pay attention to all the boat traffic and react accordingly by paddling harder or turning to avoid skiers, wakeboarders, and jet skis. The day was still perfect to be in the water but a storm was brewing in the distant mountains so I loaded up and headed out.
Monday I ate an awesome camp breakfast of uncured organic bacon, sweet potato hash browns, and bulletproof coffee..once that was digested I as ready for a mountain bike ride! So I headed out north of the Whitefish bike retreat camp on Beaver Lake trail then onto Woodlands lake trail and around the lookout trail to get some decent views of the lake. Took me 2.5 hours round trip to ride 14 miles with several breaks due to the heat and rough terrain (lots of rocks and roots sticking out of the path). I played with the tire pressure until I found a set up that handled the corners well and provide some shock absorbance, but think the Bluto front shock would be very helpful out here! Several climbs were 100-300 feet up followed by nice flow sections half to a mile long. Overall the scenery was nice, filled with trees, outcropping granite, and small lakes.
Tuesday was another hot day, so riding was limited but managed to make it out for a 10 mile ride to Lion Mountain and back to camp. Although a bit sore from yesterday’s riding I was a bit more daring on the corners and flow sections not using my brakes and leaning into turns. I quickly caught up to some other bikers, and passed when allowed, then right back into riding fast through the turns and over the slight inclines. I was getting a bit fatigued so reached for my bladder hose for a big drink of water, a sharp curve was ahead and I did not navigate it well..coming in too fast I tried to turn sharper to compensate and ended up going over the top of my handlebars, since I was clipped into the pedals the bike came with. My head/helmet kissed the ground and the bike came around, felt like a 360 flip all with the grounds assistance! I got a pedal unclipped and dusted some dirt off, no major injuries or blood present, was happy I had a helmet on and mouth guard in. The other riders caught up to me, still inquiring about the fat bike as I was straightening out the handlebars before riding again. I continued to ride up the Skyles lake overlook, I had some phone service here (hard to come by in recent days, actually turned into a great digital detox) so made a call to a local jewelry shop that I was going to visit that afternoon. After the Skyles loop I headed back to camp, showered and made my way over to the rock shop. This place was fantastic and I got the hands on tour, ideas were just streaming through my conscious.
Wednesday I left the Whitefish area and continued to explore more of NW Montana, by driving north on highway 93 towards Eureka, then west to lake Koocanusa, the lake was beautiful with nice sandy beaches in most areas. It was fairly windy that day, but the air was filled with smoke from local fires. I checked out a few campgrounds on the east side and they were filled with people (I was tired of tourists after spending 8 days in GNP) so I crossed the bridge and got onto the less traveled scenic highway that run along the west shoreline of lake Koocanusa, this was a really nice drive with great overlooks of the large river valley (now a lake). Once I got closer to the primitive campsites near Libby there was road construction on the scenic highway re chipping and sealing the road. Unfortunately the road work also had the entrances to the primitive campsites blocked off, so I continued my journey. I took a break by the dam and watched a large double prop helicopter scoop up water off the reservoir and carry it to a nearby fire over the mountains, the roundtrip time was about 10 minutes so the fire was near! I made a 90 degree turn in Libby, Montana and headed east on highway 2. Continuing down the Kootenai valley were several lakes, I decided to camp on one of the lakes at a primitive site. It was right by the highway but provided my own place for the night not to be interrupted by others. Camp was directly on Lower Lake Thompson, so I went out for an evening paddle board ride. The lake had some clear areas near shore so I set out for wildlife viewing, I found deer, turtles, and lots of fish. There were others out fishing but weren’t catching much so I continued down the shore to see what else I could find. After some yoga and some relaxing on the board I headed back to camp for some rest and to start in on another book. I chose Thrive by Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington post). This is a great book reminding us that well being is also needed in a successful life, there is no work-life balance, there should be life and make it a good one since that is all we have. I found this book when I was considering my departure from the office work life, and find it amusing now that I have left and am actually enjoying everyday stress free. It’s a great read and good reminder to not get caught up the race to the top of the corporate ladder.
Thursday I continued my travels east through Kalispell then south toward Missoula, passing by Flathead Lake. The smoke from local fires was now blocking any good views of the nearby mountain ranges. I stopped in Bozeman to shop at the local co-op, it was fabulous with lots of healthy choices! I ended up staying at friend’s house in the mountains near Bozeman. We went downtown to enjoy the last music on main event which they block off main street downtown for live music and a party on the street. Friday my 17 day adventure ended when I arrived at the Yellowstone ranch near Miles City, well it's still kinda an adventure out here just not full of new experiences everyday. I’ve been in the rock shop since..reflecting on my last adventure and speculating a bit for the next.