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. 




In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by how gentle the climb was throughout the hike.  The trail was well delineated and there were two junction points marked with signs (the style of sign was typical throughout the park)

We crossed a few streams, sometimes on wooden bridges but sometimes only by stepping from one flat dry rock to another.


 About three miles into the hike, the trail leveled off and we finally emerged from pine forest to some splendid views.  Glacier - Waterton National Park has some 25 glaciers (all of them in the United States portion), and as we sat on a rock on the open slope we had excellent view of three of them.   Piegan Glacier was to our right – it was not much higher than we were, and by the time we were at Piegan Pass we were level with the glacier



and Blackfoot and Jackson Glaciers back across the road and relatively in the distance.



A few hikers passed by while we were eating, mostly in pairs on their way up to the pass, but one man was coming down and he stopped to talk; he lived in the area and had apparently hiked this trail a number of times.  He identified the glaciers that we were viewing, and mentioned that Blackfoot and Jackson had been a single undifferentiated glacier -- not within his own memory but certainly one hundred years before.  He pointed out just where we would end up, and spoke of beginning to hike from Piegan Pass up to the nearby summit but being turned back by high winds.   We encouraged us by talking about several bighorn sheep he had seen on the other side of the pass, and as well as about a pair of grizzly bears that were sitting a bit above the trail, in the green area seen in the photo below. 



He suggested we keep an eye out for it.

We rose to continue our hike and saw a couple heading back from the direction of the pass.  They said that when THEY got to the green area (a collection of small trees), the grizzlies were sitting right on the path, and showed no sign of moving, so they were heading back without reaching the pass at all.  They also mentioned another pair of hikers whose efforts to get close enough to a bear to take a good photo was met by an aggressive move by the bear.

But another, younger couple was coming along, and we decided to hike along with them figuring that maybe there was greater safety in numbers – and besides, they had bear spray, which we had neglected to bring along.  The path took a broad traverse across a steep scree hillside, with an ever-so-gentle upward grade.  At first glance, it seemed a bit intimidating to one like me who tends to be nervous about balance and about heights, but the path was easily wide enough and we walked steadily across it.  In the course of the traverse, one of the other hikers pointed out a white spot up the hill and insisted that it was the rump of a bighorn sheep.  I confess that I could not make out the sheep up there, but I took couple of shots with a telephoto lens and it was not until I looked at the photos later that I could see the sheep – when I was looking with bare eyes (and no binoculars) the sheep was just too well camouflaged!  It is barely visible in this photo, unless enlarged.

 


As we walked along, we saw a small herd of the bighorn sheep




As we moved toward the green area where we were nervous about encountering the grizzly bears, we were relieved to see that they had moved at least a couple hundred yards downslope.

We could see them moving about in the distance, but again my telephoto lens could only capture rough images of them. 





At least, however, we would be able to continue up to the pass; I spotted this lovely flower at our feet as we passed through the area where the bears had been


At several spots along the trail, we could see holes where the bears had been digging looking for grubs to eat.  We had heard that grizzlies live mostly on grubs and berries, and it was amazing to us that such huge animals could get to and stay at that size on such a diet

Finally we reached the pass; there was a small patch of snow beside the trail.  Not enough to impede passage but enough to make a snowball.


We could see into the valley on the other side of the pass


The trail began to descend into that valley – in fact, in another ten miles it would have reached the Many Glacier Hotel that we had visited during our first full day in that park.  During the full season, such through hikes were not only possible but highly practicable, because, to hold down auto traffic (which can be abysmal at the height of the summer), the park service runs a free shuttle that hikers can ride to the trailhead, then ride back to their campgrounds.  But the shuttles were done for the year, and we had gone far enough for the day.

Here are views back to the trail we just hiked, and by which we would return to our car (the first was taken just on the far side of the pass).



 As we headed back, the heard of sheep was heading down the scree hillside, right across the trail; the hikers ahead of us paused to allow the herd to continue unmolested.



But some of the herd were still above us as we reached the same spot


Finally, just before we headed back into the pine forest, I had a last view of the large mountain next to the trail (at the time I assumed it was Mt. Siyeh but looking at a topo map afterward I thought that perhaps it was Matahpi Peak)



We noticed this very interesting plant







We headed back to our log chalets, but decided to have dinner in the dining room at the Lake McDonald Lodge. 



As we parked, we spotted this nice Stellar’s Jay (we also saw a few Stellar’s while out hiking, but this individual was much more cooperative for my camera). 





The hotel’s lobby was gorgeous, filled with comfortable furniture and with stuffed animals and animal heads all along the balconies


 These are shots of Lake McDonald from the lodge’s pier


Dinner was fine, and the menu stressed that the ingredients were “regionally or sustainably sourced,” but not up to the standard of Belton’s Chalet the night before.  This was a much more institutional place, with no nightly specials.  I opted for a “lentil tomato” soup which was very nice, as was the lamb shank braised with Moose Drool.  But Nancy found her “crab and cornbread stuffed pollock” boring; both dishes came with nice prepared broccolini.  I enjoyed the Cold Smoke Scotch Ale that I drank with the meal (it was a reasonable beer list).  The “house backed huckleberry pie” was only adequate.

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