Peregrination’s Penultimate Pinnacle: Apgar, MT, Glacier NP

Thursday July 23, 2009, 53 miles (85 km) – Total so far: 3,651 miles (5,876 km)

Started sort of late from Bigfork — continental breakfast at the motel started at 7:00.  Flathead Lake was pretty early in the morning, but hazy from the fires, so it’s not a great picture.  We had an easy ride into Creston.  Traffic dropped off there, but started picking up as we neared the plywood plant southeast of Columbia Falls.  I was glad AC picked a back road so we didn’t have to ride another 10 miles with the logging trucks!  Nice view across a wheat field to the Swan Mountains to the east.

Swan Mountains to the east

We had a snack in the Falls (which apparently doesn’t have a falls near, but the south fork of the Flathead does split off near town), then headed up another back road with about zero traffic.  Great riding into Blankenship Township, home of a volunteer fire department, and then the road turned to dirt.  Rough, washboard dirt, that shook us up for four long miles.  It was exciting when we crossed the railroad tracks, because they’d paved 200 yards of road, but then back to more dirt.

I should note this railroad was the main line of the Great Northern Railway, now Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which developed hotels around what’s now Glacier to increase tourism.

Finally, back on U.S. 2 heading east, we caught sight of the mountains of Glacier National Park.

Looking over West Glacier to the mountains

We had lunch in West Glacier, then popped up to Apgar, where there were three hiker/biker sites for $5/person/night.  Wandered down to the “town” (consisting of a number of small cabins, lodge, three stores, restaurant, visitor center, and ice cream stand) and found the south end of Lake McDonald.

Glacier NP from foot of Lake McDonald

What a thrill! 6,000 foot mountains coming right up from the 3,000 foot lake base, with snow pack or maybe even glaciers up on top.  Up at the far (north) end of the lake you can see the low spot; that’s Garden Wall, the shear face of rock almost to the top of Logan Pass, 30 miles away.  It’s a little longer by road…

(Extra non-biking content follows.  We spent a day off bikes seeing what we could of Glacier NP, but it was phenomenal.  In my humble opinion, of course!)

The next day I woke early and went down to the lake.  There was a thunderstorm going, and I watched one bolt hit the ridge just west of the lake.  Something like a tree glowed for a few seconds, then winked out.  Walking out of the campground, we saw a deer, then a coyote who decided to take a run at the deer.  The doe ran about 20 yards, and that was enough to shake the pursuit.  Virginia sure did walk fast for a while, though!  We took the free shuttle up to the top of Logan Pass.  Views everywhere, but rain spotted the windows.  When we turned up the switchback at the Loop, I was jolted by just how steep the rock face was into which this road was carved.  There were spots where there were probably 2,000 feet of nothing just off the road.  The road was rough and narrow, and I don’t regret wimping out and riding up and down in a heated bus!

Looking north across Lake McDonald

Up at the top we waited a bit for the visitor center to open, then hiked a mile and a half to Hidden Lake. I wasn’t too thrilled about crossing a couple of snow packs in off-bike sandals.  About the time we crested the ridge, the rain stopped.  There was a constant roar from all the melting streams, probably 3-10 within earshot at all times.  Glacier lilies were blooming, as well as a couple of other flowers; almost blanketing the ground in places.

Top of the world, or at least Glacier

Glacier lilies

This may be a good point to mention, the drainage from the east side of Logan doesn’t go to the Missouri and Mississippi.  Instead, it flows north to the Saskatchewan River, which empties into Hudson Bay.  I don’t know if Hudson Bay is technically part of the Arctic or the Atlantic Ocean; there’s a three-way divide south of Logan somewhere, which may drain into three different oceans if Hudson is part of the Arctic!

Down a bit from the crest, and we came upon the Hidden Lake overlook.  This is the sort of thing you want to make a 3-D panorama of. I can show pictures, but the beauty of this scene has to be experienced to be believed.

Hidden Lake

Looking south from Hidden Lake overlook

Then it was time for me to head back down.  You look at the road, and it’s hard to believe how far it drops, and how fast.  Note that first ridge the road goes around it probably 3-4 miles down.

Going to the Sun Road, going down

I tried to take some pictures from the bus on the way down.  It’s not easy, but here’s two of four cascades dropping from Logan Pass.  It looks almost like a dam from below, but it’s just a ridge, being fed from glaciers and melting snow up above.

Looking from Garden Wall back toward Logan Pass

I stopped at Avalanche Creek, which is partly fed from Hidden Lake.  There’s a cedar-hemlock forest here.  This is a climax forest, which studies say hasn’t been burned for 500 years.  Apgar burned back in 1922, and it’s almost all lodgepole pine.  The scientists say most of the lodgepole pine forests around Lake McDonald have burned within the last 250 years.  Kind of makes me wonder, how much of available forest should be logged every year, if the cedar-hemlock that loggers love so much take more than 250 years to regenerate?

I had to get back to town to see if a package had been forwarded.  No luck. I’d have thought a package could be forwarded from Lolo to West Glacier in three days, but apparently not.  Virginia went all the way to St. Mary on the east side, and had a great time.  She got to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep just below the Pass parking lot.  Drat!
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