Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Ranger-Guided Hike to Avalanche Lake – Our Last Day in Glacier National Park

We rose early on Friday, September 25, to make sure that we would be at the Avalanche Trailhead by 9 AM for a hike to Avalanche Lake, to be led by a park ranger.  We generally like to hike by ourselves to set our own pace, but over the years we have found ranger-led hikes, and other ranger-led activities in the national parks, to be extremely informative, and this occasion was no exception.

Our hike started on the Trail of Cedars, a nature walk on a boardwalk though an old-growth section of forest featuring five-hundred year old western red cedar, western hemlock and black cottonwood trees. 

Our guide, “John,” seen here standing in front of an example of a tree’s broad but shallow root system,

spoke about the way in which water – both frozen and unfrozen — shapes and had shaped the environment in Glacier National Park and specifically in this old growth forest.  This part of the forest has been undisturbed since 1517 (the precise date determined from tree rings), but it is highly depended on the continuous moisture provided by the melting of glaciers from the hiugh mountain areas of the park.  At current rates of melting, by 2030 those glaciers will be reduced to mere snowfields which may not continue melting throughout the summer.  It remains to be seen what will come of areas of the forest such as this one once that occurs.

We passed by the Avalanche Gorge, where the swift-rushing Avalanche Creek has carved a narrow valley straight down through the rock

As we passed into a younger section of the forest, only 200 to 300 years old, we paused to look at this nurselog, whose decaying contents allow it to host several new trees

and this glacial erratic, a huge rock that was carried to this spot by an ancient glacier

We stopped here to look at the consequences of an avalanche that occurred only a few years ago.  The opposite slope was at first cleared of vegetation, which is now coming back only in the form of low bushes, except the trees on the left side which mark the edge of the avalanche.  On our side of the hill are several trees that were lopped off some twenty to thirty feet above their roots – they succumbed not to the falling snow and ice a debris, but to the powerful, 200 miles per hour winds that were pushed ahead of the falling avalanche

Finally we reached Avalanche Lake itself.  John explained that the brilliant greenish-blue of the water is produced by the large quantity of rock-flour that is produced by the glaciers grinding down the rocks over which they slowly descend. 

Some of the surrounding mountains are reflected on the surface of the lake

On the far side of the lake were a set of waterfalls descending from Mount Bearhat

John ended our tour with a long reflection on the impact of climate change on this park, and the potential that lessons drawn from our visit to the park might inspire others to think about climate change and our social responsibility to begin to address it in our generation.
As we sat by the side of Avalanche Lake, we watched this water ouzel dipping into the water to catch food, as well as hopping along a nearby log

As we headed back down the trail, we spotted this Stellars jay, first on a log and then in nearby trees

as well as this tiny caterpillar underfoot

here I am inside a hollowed out redcedar tree trunk – with a fallen black cottonwood next to it

and a western redcedar tree with a large goiter

We got back from our Avalanche Lake hike in the midafternoon, and we wanted one more hike, perhaps a more strenuous one, before dinner.  So we headed further toward Logan Pass and stopped at the Loop – the one truly hairpin turn on the Going to the Sun Road – for a walk on the Loop Trail. 

Had we had a longer time to walk, we could have gone the full four miles to reach the Granite Park Chalet, but as it was we had less than two hours because we wanted to have an early dinner so that we could get to sleep at a reasonable hour before hitting the road at 7 AM the following morning to get to a birthday party in Seattle at 6 PM Saturday afternoon.
Our hike took us across this stream

and up a ridge along the valley from which the headwaters of Upper McDonald Creek rose. with waterfalls plunging down from this peak whose name we could not identify

We turned a corner, heading up the side of a ridge toward another mountain

but our time ran out and it was time to head home
We took note of this interesting plant

this view of the mountains heading back toward Lake McDonald

the side of a rock wall

and this fungus on the side of a dead tree

Argh!  Time to get off our last trail!

That night we had dinner once again at the Belton Chalet restaurant.  It was a bit of an anticlimax, as our waiter kept getting our orders wrong – we ordered the Belton Sampler appetizer but were served the middle eastern sampler instead (which was pretty good, just not what we had ordered); I ordered the huckleberry ale and was served a huckleberry soda (being late in the season, the huckleberry beers was out, OK, but then let me know so I can pick another beer!).    I had the grilled salmon main course which was tasty, and Nancy tried the vegetable tart which she found less inspired than her meal from the previous visit.   We were too full for dessert; so we headed home to pack for our long drive to Seattle the next day.  We made excellent time, taking about eleven hours even including a stop for a tasty lunch at the Longhorn BBQ in the Spokane Valley.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hiking Piegan Pass in Glacier National Park

We got a bit of a late start for our first day after having traveled over to the west side of the park, and I was determined to do a more substantial hike given that the first hike of the day was likely to be our only hike that day, and I felt that my leg would be up to a greater test.  Our selection was the hike top Piegan Pass, which I had overheard a park ranger suggesting the day before to another inquirer ahead of me on the line to get advice.  This meant that we would have to drive back past Logan Pass into the eastern half of the Going to the Sun Road, to the Siyeh Bend parking area; it proved to be a good choice for the day.

We began by passing the “confluence of two streams” where we had briefly strolled the previous day; after that the trail began to climb steadily, but not steeply, through a pine forest. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Driving and hiking along Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park

This morning we woke up and drove up to Babb, Montana, to try breakfast at Glacier’s Edge Café; it was a good choice (and was closing for the season in just two more days). I had a filling omelette, not so large as the morning before at Johnson’s but tastier, with good hashed-brown potatoes.  On the way up and back, we grabbed some nice photos of the increasingly yellow-filled hillsides across the road in the National Park.

We headed back to the Red Eagle Motel, packed up and checked out, heading into the park with a quick stop at the Visitors Center for a quick consult on the day’s hiking.  Our first choices for walking that morning were to see the Sunrift Gorge and hike to Virginia Falls, but the entire area on both sides of the road had been closed because of a recent forest fire; the area was considered to be substantially unsafe because of the risk that more trees would fall.  So, a quick change of plans – we decided to hike the Gunsight Pass trail to some falls that would come in the first mile or two, then hike to Hidden Lake from Logan Pass.  As we drive along St. Mary Lake, we saw tiny Wild Goat Island in the middle of the water

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Our visit to Glacier National Park – two days on the east side

Nancy and I decided to seize the occasion of my trip to Portland for the annual September gathering of Reed alumni activists, and my aunt Essie’s 90th birthday party in Seattle the following weekend, for a week’s trip to Glacier National Park in Montana.  Nancy flew out to Portland on Sunday, scheduled to arrive early afternoon.  I figured we could make a good start on the very long drive to Glacier; as it was, her plane was late and we stopped for lunch at the Mekong Bistro, where I am always happy to return; it was 4 PM before we finally hit the road toward Montana.

We chugged along on I-84 through the length of the Columbia Gorge and then central Oregon – across the Columbia in Washington the ridges were lined with with mills.

the walls above us on the Oregon side were also striking

Monday, September 7, 2015

Tour of Soweto

On June 25, 2010, we drove into Johannesburg where Ilan Ossendryver, a local photographer who is the brother of a former client, gave us a tour of Soweto, including the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela's home.

As we approached the city, the layer of pollution hanging over the city was apparent (as well as the fun advertising signs)

The vendors along the roads selling scarves and other national team paraphernalia were as in many other places we went

Here is a view from the highway of downtown Johannesburg

The Apartheid Museum was extremely moving, and we all felt much more powerful that DC's Holocaust Museum in both the harrowing detail and the extent of the story portrayed. 

As at the Holocaust Museum, visitors begin with passes that put them in the position of denizens of an apartheid regime - each visitor gets a laminated car "white"or "non-white", and begin their trip through the museum on separate tracks.  

 There is both a "temporary" exhibition of a detailed account of Mandela's life and times, and a permanent exhibition that describes the initiation of and reasons for the apartheid system and, as the same time, a portrayal of the struggle against apartheid, culminating in the negotiations and conflict leading up to the 1994 elections and their aftermath.  We concluded by walking into the veld garden

From there we proceeded to the tiny house where the Mandela family lived from the late 1940's onward. 

Our host Ilan recounted his visit to the house for the press conference after Mandela was released from prison, of taking photos of Mandela and having the chance to chat with him for 10-15 minutes as a reward for having been so slow to pack up his equipment because the journalists were gone before he was ready to leave.

Ilan was determined to take us to a local shebeen, a well-known place called Wandie's, but his GPS was acting up and we ended up wandering through some back roads (see photos of corrugated metal shanties, blocks of what might be government housing, and a Brazilian chicken place). 

We passed a primary school, one of the first we have seen, but could not visit because the local schools have taken an extended holiday for the World Cup. Sam's comment was the rural poverty of Guatemala, where he works regularly with the Adams-Morgan based Hoops Sagrado program,  is much more dire than the urban version that he was seeing in Soweto.

The reaction of the local populace to our presence seemed largely friendly - friendly waves and comments. Note the local girl who wanted to pose with us for a family photo. 

We have heard that in other times, white folks passing through Soweto often receive a hostile reception. The spirit of national pride and unity around the hosting of the World Cup seems to have made a difference. (Although we have read about angry dissent over the parceling out of world Cup largesse and spending on stadiums and roads for visitors instead of schools and health facilities -- a familiar debate for a DC resident!)

Finally, we reached Wandie's for a late lunch. Wandie's is apparently an obligatory stopping place for well-known foreigners who visit Johannesburg (note the autographs on the wall in the upper for the two photos below).  The menu is much more extensive than the normal shebeen.

Here is a view of two nuclear cooling towers from within Johannesburg, then near them on the highway

Then we raced off, Ilan to prepare shabat dinner for his son's birthday, and the boys hoping to catch the second half of the Brazil / Portugal and Ivory Coast / North Korea games.  More disappointment, as the African team avoided disgrace but still failed to advance.