Westward Wanderlust Day 8
Vista Motel, Montana
July 17, 2012
This is the first morning we have woken up in a bed since we left Wisconsin. I’m pretty sure we fell asleep the moment our heads hit our pillows. We woke surrounded by our now dry camping gear, which we had strategically draped over fans and open windows the night before. While D reorganized our mobile living space, I took on the task of cooler assessment and food prep. Living on the road (and out of your car) really teaches you a lot about what you need and don’t need, as well as what lasts in a cooler and what does not. Any form of produce is always a gamble. However, I was determined to not let the on the road lifestyle lead to a lack of fresh food. I took advantage of our small kitchenette and began testing some food preservation tactics I had researched before our trip; Mason Jar salads! I look forwarded to testing the fruits this epicuric venture.
We said goodbye to our cozy cabin, and headed back to Glacier National Park. Two double espresso mochas from Eddie’s Espresso in Apgar later, we were headed toward Logan’s Pass.
Logan’s Pass is located on the Continental Divide, at an elevation of 6,646 feet. The hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook gains 460 feet in the 1.5 miles of snow and ice covered trail. We were super excited to hike in the snow. We packed up the camera and some water and began the trek to the top. The trail started with a plank boardwalk over the slick snow, then morphed into stone and wood steps that were as much a miniature waterfall they were stairs.
After a while, the trail became nothing more than a slippery rut flanked by sunken grey boot prints, and clumpy piles of ice amassed at the end of paths sliced by those who had lost their footing. We negotiated the slick swaths of packed snow, catching our weight before inertia was able. Some people hiked the trail with plans to ski or sled back down. Others utilized walking sticks or ski poles to steady their steps.
We opted for tennis shoes, shorts, flannels, and our lifetime of winter walking and frolicking experience to get us to the top; we’re from Wisconsin!
It began to mist a bit as we hiked the slippery terrain. The broad shoulders of the mountains stood like stone sentries, growing larger as we moved closer. The clouds shrugged and rolled swiftly between the summits, the sky a tumbling palette of grey and white swells. The higher we hiked, the more amazing, and somewhat ominous, the clouds became.
Then, thunder rumbled from behind the mountains. D and I looked at each other. It would not be the first time we had hiked in the rain, and we were too close to the overlook to turn back now. We continued on our path.
As the trail reached over the crest, we began to see bits of blue between the clouds. The sky began to open up beneath the puffs of grey. We soon realized we were not alone.
The wood plank boardwalk appeared once again, and we followed it to a misty view of Avalanche Lake.
Though we could see blue sky in the distance, the clouds were in command. A light rain began as we continued up the trail.
The clouds were getting darker, and the guttural rumble of the thunder was louder and more frequent. The boardwalk ended and we walk quickly across the rocky, goat littered trail.
The rain was intermittent, but it was obvious that there was no way we were going to be dry by the time our hike was over. The trail wove between the wind-raked trees, then suddenly opened to a pocket of lush green grass. The sun was no longer kept at bay by the shadows of the mountains and it beamed from beneath the cloud line, brightening our foggy surroundings. We had arrived at the Hidden Lake.
The trees on the high walls of the gorges were brown and bent, many snapped mid-trunk; unfortunate victims of mountain weather systems.
The rain had started up again, and this time it seemed a bit more determined. It was time to head back. As we rounded the last corner before the snow trail began, we meet with some more locals.
We were on the mountain goats’ turf now.
We continued back down Logan’s Pass. The rain had become fairly steady and we knew that our future had the potential to be very, very wet.
The hike down consisted of much more intentional slipping and sliding than ginger tip-toeing at a measured pace. Recalling childhood lessons learned during Wisconsin winters, we road our soles down the mountainside. Thunder echoed off of the peaks and we threw out our arms to balance our decent. The fog filled in around and we realized we were going to walk straight through the weather.
The experience of descending a mountain right into a thunder storm was incredible. We felt the need to take a short video just to show how “in” the weather we truly were. Fair warning: it’s hard to keep yourself, or your camera, steady when you are skittering down a snow covered mountain.
The moisture from mist, rain, fog, and now clouds that we were about to walk through, had soaked through to our skin. Even if we did get to the car before it began to rain, we were already pretty wet. Or so I thought. We could see the Visitor’s Center at the end of the boardwalk when it began to pour. We yelled and laughed as we ran toward the fogged windows of the gift shop. The entrance was crowded with hikers and tourists in various states of dampness who did not seem to understand the ridiculous smiles that accompanied our sodden appearance. We elbowed through the crowd to the stairs that led to the lower deck and stairway to the parking lot. We stood under the awning for a moment before running full speed to the car. Literally seconds after we shut our car doors behind us it began to hail. The pea-sized ice pellets ticked off the windshield as we grinned at one another. We were completely drenched.
We always bring a dry bag for the camera on hikes, so there was nothing to worry about there. But what the pile of wet clothes presented a bit of a packing challenge. We tried to lay each soggy item out as best we could and rotated hats, socks, and shoes beneath the heat vents.
Once the rain and hail stopped, I took advantage of the break in the weather to document a few of the beautiful wildflowers that decorated the mountain side.
We continued driving through Glacier as we worked our way through the Led Zeppelin catalogue. We were listening to Physical Graffiti when got an idea of just how much rain had fallen in the last few hours. The rain itself had stopped, but the effects of this mountain weather system had just begun.
We got one last look of the East end of Going-to-the-Sun Road, then turned around to head back through the park. Our next destination is Cascades National Park in Washington, north and west of Glacier. This next leg of the drive is one of the longest stretches of road between two parks uninterrupted by other destinations. As we headed back toward Logan’s Pass, we were stopped by an orange roadblock and a park ranger. Due to at least 4 confirmed mud and/or rock slides, the section of the road through Logan’s Pass was closed and would not open until tomorrow. It was 5:30pm and 53 degrees when we realized we were going to have to exit the East entrance to the park, the drive all the way around Glacier National Park before we could point our nose north to Washington. We turned around, once again, and hunkered down for the drive.
Once we were out of the park, I jumped in the driver’s seat while D got some sleep. My mission was to make it to Washington. Led Zeppelin eventually changed into The Doors as Jim Morrison led me through the mountainous curves. “The West is the best,” he sang as I gripped the wheel, rapt in the unfolding landscape. Wide spanning stands of pine skeletons loomed along the highway. Before me tumbled endless rocky monsters. The was road a tongue, curling me into the mouth of the mountains.
The roadscape was diverse; 30 mph squiggles, followed by 15mph one ways and narrow bridges. Triangular yellow signs warning me of further hazards: “Beware – Range Cattle,” “Caution – Game on Road”. The country between West Glacier and Idaho is almost as beautiful as the interior of Glacier N.P. The Doors morphed into Pink Floyd as the sun disappeared. I drove Hwy 2 all the way from Glacier Park, through Idaho, to Spokane Washington before we switched again. It was my turn to sleep while D continued the drive through Washington. D woke me around 2:00 am to show me the bright green and yellow lights of Grand Coullee Dam, after which I slipped back to sleep to the lullaby of Pretty Lights. D made it to Alta Lake State Park, parked at a boat landing, closed his eyes, and joined me in the arms of Morpheus.
Westward Wanderlust Soundtrack, Day 8:
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti, Mudslide song – “In My Time of Dying”
The Doors – The Doors, “The End”
Pink Floyd – The Wall
The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts
Pretty Lights – Making Up a Changing Mind “Total Facination”