Archive for August, 2010

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day Three

Monday, August 30th, 2010

A warm night!!! I don’t know if it was because the temperature never got as low as the night before or if it was due to the blanket, but I stayed much warmer. I was up early for a busy day. My plan was to pack up my gear and head over to Running Eagle Falls before the light got too intense and then catch the boat tour to the head of Two Medicine Lake and begin my hike to Dawson Pass. Since I wanted to head back to Whitefish that afternoon, I thought using the boat was a great way to shorten the approach to the “real” hike up to the pass.


I didn’t get up early enough!!! The light at Running Eagle Falls, although much, much better than two years ago, was still intense. I think I’ll need to be there before dawn and catch more twilight. And, to top it off, I lost my polarized sunglasses somewhere on the hike out from the falls.

The camp store to the rescue again!!! I quickly grabbed some sunglasses, a couple more sodas, and headed to the boat for a very uneventful, but beautiful trip to the head of the lake.

The hike is quite gentle as you leave the shore and follow the creek. It turns to the right from the spur that leads to Upper Two Medicine Lake. After the trail meets the north shore trail, it starts to climb and the grade seemed to steadily increase albeit broken by several short downhill sections at creek crossings.

After the trail passes the spur to No Name Lake, it really starts to climb and soon I was nearing timberline and large snowfields. Without crampons and a snowaxe I was feeling pretty nervous on a couple of the fields. If I slipped, my trekking poles were no substitute for an axe to try to self-arrest a fall. I was quite cautious and let a party pass me before I even tried to cross the first field.

All was well after the third field. A more southerly exposure had melted any other patches and the trail was well used and stable. The thought did cross my mind that I was going to have to cross those fields again on my way down.

I ran across a hoary marmot (I think), but my camera wasn’t setup properly to try to catch wildlife (still setup up for waterfalls). Nothing but blurry pictures.

Upon reaching the summit of Dawson Pass, my heart stopped. What an incredible view back towards Two Medicine Lake! But, what a more incredible view to the west and down into the valley.

The party that I had let pass me before were just finishing their lunch break and offered to take my picture at the summit:

They encouraged me to continue the loop trail to Pitamakin overlook and back down the other valley past Oldman Lake to the Two Medicine campground. The distance seemed much too far to me. Again, I estimated 20 miles for the whole trip. In hindsight, it might have been closer to 16 miles since I had taken the boat.

They were headed for the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain. Just an extreme hike to them. But it looked much more difficult than I would ever try without climbing gear!!!

After taking a lot of pictures at the pass, I knew I better get moving if I was going to catch the boat back to the parking lot. Especially since I still had to cross those snowfields again. Without an axe I didn’t try glissading down the fields, but it sure looked like it would be fun to have tried.

When I arrived at the boat landing I was dehydrated and hot. A cool dip in the lake helped, but still I was out of filtered water and the boat was late. I groggily waited for the boat and misplaced my ticket. I thought I threw it in the garbage. Couldn’t find it. Fortunately, the captain remembered me from the morning ride and let me board. I found it later in my pocket!!! Dehydration is an amazing thing.

Once I was better hydrated I left the park for Whitefish and thinking I’ll have to come back for a backcountry adventure in Two Medicine.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day Two

Monday, August 30th, 2010

My second day at Two Medicine started out miserably just because of my horrible night sleep. How was I going to stay warm tonight? After a couple of strong cups of coffee and oatmeal, I headed off to the camp store at the foot of Two Medicine Lake. There I got a bag of ice for my cooler, a couple of bottles of huckleberry soda, AND a BLANKET!!! Now, I felt better, and started off on my hike to Cobalt Lake.

The trail travels along the south side of the lake, but you really can’t see the lake through the thick forest and marsh areas. Great moose habitat, but I didn’t see any. The trail crosses a couple of creeks before heading up the valley between Painted Tepee and Rockwell Mountain on its way to Two Medicine Pass.


The first part was a fairly gentle climb through several meadows that looked like they were created by massive avalanches. Downed trees, tall grasses, weeds, and wildflowers dampened by the morning dew made the trail inconvenient and wet, but not much of a problem. Then, I heard the roar of water and realized that I was approaching Rockwell Falls and the beginning of the more steeper grade to Cobalt Lake and Two Medicine Pass.

After passing the lower falls, the climb begins with several switchbacks and glimpses of several other falls the form a very long series of plunges. Unfortunately, many of the falls and cascades seemed too difficult to reach. I decided to save any exploration until my return trip.

The climb continued up the cirque valley until it reach a ridge line that interrupts the cirque that extends south and west from Painted Tepee. There under the cirque rim were several large snowfields due to the northern exposure. And, on the closest field about 300 meters away were animal tracks. The animal was large and had been traveling east over the field. The tracks were fresh and I assumed it was a bear. Fortunately, (or unfortunately) there were no animals in sight. It did make me sing louder as I hiked and I was definitely more alert. Why were there no other hikers on the trail?

After crossing the creek that I assumed eventually made its way down to form Rockwell falls, I climb through meadow after meadow of Buttercup blossoms. It was incredible.

I arrived at Cobalt Lake just in time for lunch and a well deserved rest. The backcountry campsites were still covered in snow and the lake still had ice floes floating in it. It looked cold even though the air temperature was well over 65 degrees F.

I spent my lunch break drinking and eating my Clif bar and dried fruit and trying to take pictures.


It was getting frustrating dealing with the midday sun and the harsh light. I was beginning to understand why so many photographs of Glacier’s backcountry are usually taken in harsh lighting conditions: unless you get up very, very early or stay up late (both dangerous propositions in bear country) you are going to have midday lighting conditions. The only solution, I see, is to camp in the backcountry and that will have to wait till another visit.

After lunch I considered (very briefly) continuing my climb up to Two Medicine Pass, but the distance was about 3.1 miles from Cobalt Lake. That would have made my roundtrip almost 20 miles. Too far for me at my current physical conditioning. So, I started back down the trail. I took more time to take pictures visiting more off trail spots.

I started meeting other hikers who were heading up towards the pass. I thought it was pretty late in the day, but then again I’m not accustomed to the late evenings at this high latitude.

I tried a few more shots around the falls, then made a bee line back to the parking lot at the foot of Two Medicine Lake and the campground. An early test dinner of dehydrated foods and a relaxing cigar smoke while strolling around the lake. I hoped my new blanket would keep me warm overnight.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine, July 2010 — Day One

Monday, August 30th, 2010

During a visit to Whitefish, Montana, I was able to break away from my work on my car that I store there to visit the Two Medicine are of the park.  I had visited it very briefly during the RMSP photography workshop in July 2008.

This visit would allow me to camp for a couple of nights and three days of hiking and photography.  I used it as an opportunity to test some of my new and old equipment prior to my Lake Plateau trip.

Needless to say, Two Medicine is a magical part of the park.  I just wish it wasn’t quite so accessible.  There’s a paved road from East Glacier all the way to Two Medicine Lake and the campground.

Staying at the large campground there (100+ campsites) is more like being at a KOA campground.  The car and RV traffic is annoying and the noise is disturbing for those who are trying to get away.

That accessibility does make it easy to get to trailheads for some great hikes in that portion of the park.  There was a trailhead a hundred or so yards from my campsite and the trailheads to Scenic Point or Two Medicine Pass were probably less than a half a mile away.

After I arrive there in the late morning, I found a camp site close to the far end of the campground and set up my tent and had a quick snack before preparing and then setting off for my hike to Scenic Point.
This was an ambitious, if not, stupid choice.  It was a the shortest of the three hikes I was planning, but it also has a very steep gradient.  And, to top it off, I forgot my trekking poles at the campsite.  At first it was no problem, but as the grade steepened and the exposure increased I really wanted those poles.

Reaching the first shoulder of the face of the ridge felt like quite an accomplishment until I realized I still had quite a while more to go.  And, across a couple of patches of snow!!!

Once I reached the sign on the trail for Scenic Point I still had to hike up a short hill to the point.  What a spectacular view of Two Medicine Lake and Lower Two Medicine Lake and all the peaks surrounding the Lakes:  Rising Wolf Mt, Sinopah, Mt. Helen..  It was awesome and a great place to have lunch.  The lighting was very bright and harsh, so most of my pictures are less than appealing.  I did stitch together a panorama from the point:


I stopped a few times on the way back down to shoot some wildflowers and deadwood along the trail.

I made it back to the camp site just in time to lounge around the site and have a snack and a short nap.  Dinner was a test of the dehydrated food I was planning on taking with me on the backpacking trip.
Man, the sun stays up late in early July.  I still had time to take a short walk around the lake and river and walk the fish rise for a very impressive hatch of mayflies.

I was cold during the night.  I don’t know what the temperature dropped to, but my REI Kilo +40 degree sleeping bag did not do it for me.  I wore long underwear and several layers of shirts and still was freezing.  The Kilo bag was not going to go on my backpacking trip for sure.

Glacier National Park — 100th Anniversary

Friday, August 27th, 2010

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the park four times so far this year. I’ve already blogged about my short foray this past winter after my photo workshop in Yellowstone park.  The second was just a trip through the southeastern part of the park as we drove to the Missouri River to fish.

This past July I was able to do a quick trip to NW Montana to work on the car I store in Columbia Falls and do some training for my Lake Plateau backpack trip.

Liz, Rose, and I just got back from a family trip to visit Mike, Marie, and Ella in Whitefish, Montana and were able to spend five days and four nights in the Bowman Lake area of the park.

Glacier National Park is definitely the “Crown of the Continent” and I feel privileged to be a frequent visitor to the park.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Lessons Learned

Friday, August 27th, 2010

After a couple of weeks of reflection on my trip, I thought I’d list as many things as I can remember that I learned. The first few lessons didn’t require much reflection!!!

  1. Never, and I mean never, fly in from low elevation the night before and expect to be able to perform at 5000+ more feet elevation the next morning!!! Next time I’ll plan better and spend at least a day or two acclimatizing. Gingko biloba just ain’t enough.
  2. Train harder, i.e., climb more. It’s no substitute for being there, but I just didn’t push myself hard enough during training.
  3. hyrdate, Hydrate, HYDRATE!!! A liter and a half just isn’t enough for a 12 mile hike!!! I’ve got to take the time to stop at streams and reload my hydration bladder.
  4. Maybe a bigger lunch (more calories), or a mid morning snack.
  5. Don’t rush at the trailhead and use a checklist. I forgot: a canteen, duct tape, to synchronize camera clock with GPS clock (for geotagging), and to load my hydration bladder with water before getting to the trailhead.
  6. I don’t need very many filters for my lenses.
  7. A smaller camera like Doug’s Canon G11 would work as a backup, but also as a great camera during the hikes. I wouldn’t have to carry an “all-round lens for my D700.”
  8. A strap to carry my “torso camera pack” when it’s not hooked to my backpack. And, design a better carry my lenses when they are not in the backpack.
  9. Redesign how the “torso pack” to the backpack, i.e., make it more like the Kata bag rigging.
  10. Protect my fly rod!!!
  11. Better gloves for those cold mornings and hailstorms!!!

This is probably just a partial list. I’m sure I’ll think of a lot more things. I can’t wait to put my new knowledge to the test!

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 6 — Horseshoe Lake to Trailhead

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Our last day on trail greeted us with rain. There’s nothing like striking your tents and packing up wet, but by the time we were on trail the clouds started to break and soon we were shedding our rain gear. Chris was on a mission to get to the trailhead and to civilization, but Doug and I were plodding along. There really wasn’t any time for serious photography, but we did stop quite often to take shots of the wildflowers along the Upsidedown Creek Trail.

Richardson's Geranium

Wildflowers -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

The trail was generally downhill (duh!!! We were going from 9800+ ft to 6000+ft elevation), but there were a few uphill grades that got my heart thumping. There were a lot of switchbacks. I don’t think I’d want to start a trip from this trailhead. It’s very steep in sections.

Fields of Wildflowers -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

View across the Boulder River Valley -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

Leaving the Wilderness -- Upsidedown Creek Trail

Doug and I arrived at the trailhead quite some time after Chris and Tyler, a quick record shot of us all together, then off to drop Doug and I at Doug’s truck at our starting point.

Chris, Tyler, me, and Doug

Then, back to Big Timber and civilization and real food and cold beverages!!!

All and all a great trip (except my first day)!!! I hope to join the Roanes again for more adventures.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 5 — Owl Lake to Horseshoe Lake

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Doug and I got up early again hoping for some good morning light and even a few clouds in the sky. We were rewarded with just that wrapped in a very cool morning.

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Reflecting Pond near Pipit Lake

Drainage above Owl Lake

After our photo shoot, we quickly struck our tents and packed up for our hike to Horseshoe Lake. It was a gorgeous hike along the Rainbow Lakes chain and up to Diamond Lake and eventually down to Horseshoe Lake.

Diamond Lake

We found a great site at the head of the lake and settled in for a relaxing afternoon and evening of fishing and photography. The starry sky got us excited about some more night photography.

Sunset -- Horseshoe Lake

Starry Night Camp -- Horseshoe Lake

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day 4 — Owl Lake

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Today was a rest day. We decided that we would hike to Horseshoe Lake tomorrow and just have a good time exploring the environs around Owl Lake.

Doug and I got up early for the morning light, but we were disappointed that the sky was cloudless. We still tried a few shots.

After breakfast we took a short day hike back down to Wounded Man Lake for a fishing expedition. I had broken one section of my fly rod either on the airplane or on the first two days, so I had to improvise. I eventually sacrificed my comb to use as a splint and it became a workable, if not, pretty solution.

We caught several fish. Tyler caught the most. I had a nice rainbow trout take a parachute Adams dry file. I landed it, but lost it as I took the hook out. I’ve always released my fish after I’ve caught them. I didn’t have a stringer with me and I didn’t know how to handle the fish once it was off the hook.

We hiked back up to our camp and had rainbow trout for lunch. After lunch, I tried fishing Owl Lake. I fished all around the lake trying several different flies, but without success. I’m pretty sure the lake is fishless.

We had another afternoon storm with some dramatic clouds and another rainbow:

The evening didn’t provide much for stars or northern lights, so we went off to bed fairly early in anticipation of an early start to Horseshoe Lake.

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day Three — Lake Pinchot to Owl Lake

Sunday, August 15th, 2010


As you can see from our GPS track, Day Three was a short hike. We had been considering a hike and overnight stay at Asteroid Lake in the Flood Creek drainage. However, the trail conditions and the uncertainty of whether there actually was a trail from Lake Pinchot to Asteroid Lake made us reconsider that plan. Thankfully (IMO), we decided not to go east, but instead headed back toward the Rainbow Lakes area of the Lake Plateau.

We covered the same soggy ground between Pinchot and Wounded Man Lakes, but with much less weary eyes. Doug and I stopped a couple of times for some photo ops:

Wounded Man Lake looked just as beautiful and full of grandeur as the previous day.

We headed up the trail toward the Rainbow Lakes passing the trail to Fish Lake. There were beautiful meadows of wildflowers and a couple of cascades in the stream exiting Owl Lake.

Owl Lake is a beautiful setting, but unfortunately (we think) a fishless lake.

After we set up camp, I went exploring with my camera and took a few shots in the bright sunlight.


We had our lunch and then decided to take a short day hike to the west to check out the upper Rainbow Lakes. You can see my GPS track to the west of Owl Lake past Pipit Lake. I went a-wandering off trail to scramble up some of the rock ridges and escarpments overlooking the small lakes in that area. I stupidly didn’t bring my camera!!!

Tyler, Chris, and Doug stopped at a few spots to fish, but didn’t keep any of them.

After we returned from our hike, I lounged and browsed my iPod touch Audobon Guide app attempting to identify wildflowers that I had seen over the last three days:

Pink (aka Lewis) Monkeyflower
Pussytoes
Wild Lupine
Mountain Bluebells
Heartleaf Arnica
Mountain Arnica

An afternoon thunderstorm raced through with some very cool lighting on the eastern slopes, even a double rainbow.

Owl Lake Rainbow

The evening cleared and we had a great time identifying planets, stars, and constellations with Pocket Universe, another iPod touch app.

I even tried a few star shots:

Lake Plateau Backpack Trip: Day Two — Lake Columbine to Lake Pinchot

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Friday started early again, at least for Doug.  He was up by 5:30 am to shoot in the early morning light.  I was so sore and tired, I just rolled over and went back to sleep!!!

Fortunately, I woke about an hour or so later and had breakfast and check my lungs and legs by heading down to the stream to collect water to filter.  I felt pretty good.  We spent quite a bit of time trying to dry out our gear and finally hit the trail to Columbine Pass by 10 am.

The climb up to Columbine Pass is beautiful!!!

The trail down to Favonius and Pentad Lakes is equally impressive!!!


The creek exiting Pentad Lake had multiple cascades and was very inviting.  Wish we could have stayed there at least a night, but we’ve got to get to Lake Pinchot, the “crown jewel” of the Lake Plateau.

I had some problems with my hydration system cinking the tube. I could still get water, but it wasn’t flowing very fast. When we stopped for lunch, Doug told me about the clips in backpacks that will hold the hydration bladder in place and keep it from slipping. Voila!!! Unfortunately, I think I was already too far behind in hydration to catch up.

To compound matters, when we crossed the stream flowing out of Jordan Lake, I forgot to stop and filter more water. The climb up to Jordan Pass was steep and slow (for me) and when we reached the top, it started to rain and then hail. Doug and I stopped to change into rain gear not thinking that we were standing in the middle of a meadow. Fortunately, no lightning strikes!!!

The descent into the Wounded Man Creek drainage was mostly like being in the Pacific Northwest. It was rainy and the trail was swamped with standing water. The trees were tall and obstructed our view of the valley floor. When we were able to see it sure looked like a long way down…It was!!!

The rest of the hike is pretty much a blur. Another climb up to Wounded Man Lake and then on to Lake Pinchot. My hydration status was terrible. I had drained my hydration bladder by the time we got to the bottom of the trail down from Jordan Pass. I never thought to fill it up at Wounded Man Creek or Lake!!!

By the time we slogged through the swampy low lying ground around to the northwest corner of Lake Pinchot, I was exhausted. We had hiked about 20 kilometers and I was really dehydrated. I just plopped my back down on the driest piece of land around our campsite and just stumbled around until we were able to get some water filtered. I did help Doug set up our tent, but I still don’t really remember much.

I finally got enough fluids down that I was able to participate in a search for a bear bag handing tree and get dinner started. Of course, just as we started to eat another lightning storm came roar over the ridge and drenched us. I was unwilling to go into the tent until dinner was finished. The only shelter near our site was a small stand of trees that I was also unwilling to go near with all the lightning and thunder.