Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 7 - June 13, 2012

Avalanche Lake sits some 500 feet above the main road at the end of a trail that is a bit more than 2 miles long. It felt like we climbed more than that but I suppose that could be in part due to the rainy conditions. It was a lovely lake and I can imagine people hanging out on the wide beach for a while.

Today was our first full day in Kalispel, MT which is a fairly sizeable though rather spread out town that lies several dozen miles outside of Glacier National Park. This means we will have some lengthy driving to do to get to our planned hikes. To get here we had a lengthy but uneventful travelling day. The travel took us through some fine national forests including much time spent driving along the Galetin River. We also lucked out in finding such pleasing little places like the Coffee Pot coffe/bakery/pottery crafts shop in Four Corners and the pleasant little bar Trixie some hours later where we had lunch.

Today when we got up we learned that the weather report we had read was accurate. It was cooler and raining on and off. The rain showers were never very hard but the rain was incessant and that definitely had an effect on the hiking. We decided that we would do a couple shorter hikes to get a sense of the area around Lake McDonald. We will be staying at the lodge by Lake McDonald for two nights which will shorten some of our travel time considerably. Our first hike was going to be a basic loop around Johns Lake. This is a gentle hike of a bit more than 3 miles.

The forest around Johns Lake is a lush one of hemlocks and cedars. Near the edges more ground over appears with patches of bear grass like this. Within the forest depths it is a different story. Not much light, and rain, gets down to ground level.

The forest here is lush. Hemlocks grow tall in the forest here and I think we walked by firs and cedars too. I'm sure we strolled by many other types of trees too but I don't think any of them were diciduous trees like maple, oak, or beech to name just three. The forest canopy was dense enough that we did not find much growing at ground level. Bear grass popped up now and then and you would think ferns would abound but we saw very few.The walking was easy and the rain barely reached us through the forest canopy. You could see the numerous raindrops rippling the green surface of the very small Johns Lake. The licheons that shroud much of the forest must love this amount of water.

Perhaps the highlight for this loop hike is the views you get of McDonald (?) Creek as it rushes headlong down into Lake McDonald. From the bridge you can see a waterfall upstream and torrents of water roiling below. A few whispy clouds cling to the side of the mountains in the dstance rising towards the completely overcast spitting sky. At this point we started to follow a somewhat more muddy horse trail. We missed our turning and ended up walking perhaps a half mile more down the horse trail before realizing our error. I think the horse trail popped out not that far west of where the proper loop trail pops out. Walking the proper trail just above the roaring creek was a very nice change from the horse trail. The last bit of the hike along the main road was a bit soggy and uninteresting but overall we enjoyed the loop and our first glimpse of this forest that reminded Mom and Dad somewhat of forests in the Pacific Northwest.

McDonald Creek is a fast flowing stream. Later on when crossing the second bridge we could see where the creek flowed into Lake McDonald looking rather like an ocean. But here what caught our attention were the wispy clouds rising against the mountains.

We did not want to eat our purchased sandwhiches standing in the rain. We went to the Lake McDonald Lodge and had lunch there and I must say the lodge seems like a wholly congenial place. Standing by the fireplace just before leaving was a real joy. It felt nice to soak up the heat and let it dry my pants. We intended to hike to Avalanche Lake which is a trail that starts just before the road is currently closed to through traffic. We parked by the start of the Trail of the Cedars and put on our rainwear.

The drizzle continued on and off as we walked the boardwalk and paved trail that leads to the start of the trail to Avalanche Lake. That trail is mostly a dirt trail though at the start you walk above the roaring, how else, Avalanche Creek atop red rocks. For anyone with good vision and normal balance this is not going to be a problem. I found the rocks a bit slippery and annoying to tread. But the rocky section did not last long and soon we were walking along a gently rising dirt trail.

The guidebook says the trail ascends 500 feet but I think this is actually a bit low. I In dry conditions I am sure it is an easy trail for anyone of decent fittness to walk. In the rain it is a bit more daunting though still hardly a strenuous workout (we did see some people on the trail that seemed woefully unprepared).

The forest again was rich and dense with tall trees. It really is a very nice forest trail. It just seemed to take us longer than I think we expected it would. The rain slowly wetted out my pants. I am pretty sure the clammy feeling I felt along my torso was sweat. Of all of us I think Mom was dealing with the rain the best in her Glacier Blue poncho and purple rain pants. But as I have already noted the rain really wasn't that bad and while under the cover of the trees not that many drops actually struck us.

We passed by what we had first thought was the lake but turned out to be simply an open space along Avalanche Creek. We still had perhaps a half mile of gentle ascent before we reached the goal: Avalanche Lake. This lake sits in a cirque that has several tall thin waterfalls pouring down into it. The snowfields of some of the mountains reflected wonderfully in the waters of Avalanche Lake. I suspect the water is both clear and quite cold. It's probably a wonderful emerald green when the skies aren't quite so overcast but I'm not sure of that. It is though, without doubt, a very pretty spot and well worth the 2.7 mile hike even though it is a popular hike. We were actually rahter surprised at how many people we passed heading in both directions on this wet afternoon. Many people were dressed in what seeemd to us as woefully inadequate clothing.

One last view of Avalanche Lake.

We made the descent back to the cars more quickly than I think we did the ascent. Some of that was my usual slowdown where descents are concerned but I also did not need to stop for a nature break. I think my particular problem, no reason to go into detail here, may be a bit worse of late. Maybe I will be able to do something about that in time but that has not proven to be the case so far.

We were all glad we had done this hike. The rain had subsided during our time at Avalanche Lake but that was really the only respite. We began the drive out of the park passing the large deep green Lake McDonald as we dropped elevation and left the park under the still overcast skies that were now showing a bit of brilliant sun peering through. By the time we reached Kalispel a lot of the clouds had dispersed and the sun was shining through a partly cloudy sky: figures - the hiking was done and the weather finally got really nice.

All in all we probably hiked somewher around 9.0 to9.5 miles today. It was a very good day even though the weather wasn't what most would consider ideal. Sure we got a bit wet but that was alright.
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