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.

No comments:

Post a Comment