April 21, 2019

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Shoulder Season Biking on Going-To-The-Sun Road

One of the perks of visiting Glacier National Park in the Spring or Fall is car-free hiking and biking on Going-To-The-Sun Road while higher sections are closed due to snow.
Today, for example, Going-To-The-Sun Road is closed to motor vehicle traffic at Lake McDonald Lodge, but the road is plowed and free of snow up to the Loop, some 14 miles up road.  The Park Service allows hiking and biking on the cleared sections up to where the plows are working.  With no cars to fret about and only a few dozen other bikers, you can cruise up Going-To-The-Sun Road without a worry in the world and some of the best scenery in the world to boot.

Below left:  Chris at the Sacred Dancing Cascades
Below right:  Lake McDonald's clear waters and the mountains in reflection

March 30, 2019

The Coyote Who Threw Us a Bone and the Midden Bears

Forest Service Road 10936 near Moss Mountain Inn, is a great place to go for a hike, but it often seems enchanted, like the creatures there are hiding behind trees, constantly watching us, as in some Disney animation. Today's adventure started with us seeing coyote tracks as we ascended up the ridge of the road. We were a bit surprised, as we more commonly see wolf tracks there.
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The tracks were fresh, about 2.5 inches wide, registering perfectly and sets were about 19 inches apart.

After getting to the end of 10936 (about a mile from North Fork Road), we turned around and headed back downhill. About 2/3 of the way down, our golden retriever Riley, found a deer carcass 20 yards off the trail, grabbed a leg, and continued down the road with us. A short distance later, there were now more coyote tracks and another leg from the deer carcass lying in the middle of the trail that had not been there 20 minutes earlier on our way up. Was he watching us the whole time, and why did he throw us a bone?

Below left:  Riley with one deer leg
Below right:  The other deer leg that the coyote left for us

The Midden Bears

Yesterday, we were hiking in the woods behind the Inn and ran into these large piles of pine cone scales (called middens by park rangers and logophiles) created by squirrels harvesting pine nuts. Our neighbor John subsequently appeared (we were on his property, after all) and told us a story about that very pile. One night last summer, John heard his dogs barking quite excitedly and he followed their barks to this area of middens. The dogs had treed a black bear and John thought that was the end of the story. A second later however, a second black bear appeared out of the brush and charged John. He took off running back to his family's tipi nearby and made it without being caught by the bear. Watch out for those midden bears!
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March 23, 2019

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Who was stalking Who?

I was out snowshoeing on some ridges west of Moss Mountain Inn recently, and I was kind of lost, really tired, and finally after trying to head northeast, I ran into the end of Forest Service Road 10936.

On the road, there were fresh wolf tracks in the snow, and as usual, I had no bear spray and even had forgotten my cell phone. I needed to take 10936 back downhill to North Fork Road but the wolf was headed in the same direction, downhill on the road. Had he just been out wondering around there, or was he trying to get away from me? I decided to follow the fresh tracks down the road, but go a bit slow, to give him more time to move away.

The wolf traveled at a pretty steady pace, occasional stopping or meandering a bit to check out snowshoe hare tracks. The snow was quite deep, 3 ft maybe, and I felt sorry for the poor thing trying to move around without snowshoes or skis. As you can see, its body drug a lot between tracks, owing to the depth of the snow. Finally, after about a quarter of a mile, it left the road and I continued on down toward the highway.

On right:  my snowshoe tracks on the left, wolf tracks on the right

I skied back out the next day with my cell phone to take some photos and got a bit of a surprise. Since I had been on the road yesterday, there were more wolf tracks on the lower portion of the road, sometimes on top of my snowshoe tracks. It looked like the wolf turned off the road while in front of me, politely waited in the woods for me to pass, then got back on the road.
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The tracks were 3.5 - 4 inches in both dimensions. Since claw marks weren't always visible, at first I thought I was dealing with a mountain lion. However, mountain lion tracks are wider than long, and these tracks were more symmetric, side to side and front to back. If you can draw an "X" through the middle of the track and not hit any pads as you can with this track, it is a canine track. The size led me to conclude it was a wolf, not a coyote. The size is really impressive; we have Golden Retrievers that weight over 70 lbs and these tracks were twice as big those of our dogs. We had seen these same tracks in the same area last fall also; is it a wide-ranging member of the Camas pack, or a true lone wolf?

March 11, 2019

Flathead Avalanche Training

A great educational service available through Flathead Valley Continuing Education and the Flathead Avalanche Center is avalanche training for both beginners and experienced backcountry explorers, whether you are on skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles. I took the Introduction to Avalanches class recently, which consists of three hours of classroom training and a day of field training at the top of Whitefish Ski Resort.
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Left:  Digging out a (practice) victim

Our instructors, Jenny and Zach are genuine avalanche experts and great teachers to boot. At Whitefish Mountain, we first practiced beacon-directed rescue in the beacon park, which is free for anyone to train on. After that, we practiced locating mannequins, both with and without beacons.

Finally, we dug pits on both the North and South sides of the mountain and evaluated the layers of snow for avalanche risk. I was grateful that my fellow class members managed to hold back their laughter when watching me ski around at the top of the mountain.

Right:  Zach demonstrating an Extended Column Test, which can help predict both avalanche fracture initiation and fracture propagation risk.

If you spend any time in the backcountry in winter, please, please take one of these excellent avalanche courses. Also, check out the Flathead Avalanche Center Website (flatheadavalanche.org) and follow them on Twitter for timely snow condition and avalanche risk updates.
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January 22, 2019

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Peanut Butter Fudge Rolls

In my opinion, there's no better way to start your day than with peanut butter fudge and guests here seem to agree, making this one of the most popular pastries at Moss Mountain Inn
A single batch will make twelve rolls that 
fit nicely in a 9 x 13 inch pan, but you can bake them in well greased 
jumbo muffin tins also. I use a buttermilk whole wheat pastry dough that seems to go well with all the peanut butter. After all, with whole wheat they must be healthy, right? This is a high moisture dough and will form gluten well whether you knead it or not, its up to you. Yum!

The Dough (makes 12 rolls)

2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 Tbsp yeast (1 pkg)
3/4 Tbsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup buttermilk powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten

Place the flours, yeast, salt, buttermilk powder and sugar in a large bowl and stir together. Form a cup in the middle and add the eggs, butter and water and stir until smooth or knead 4-6 minutes. The dough should give the appearance of a moist shaggy mass. Leave covered at room temperature for 2 hrs then refrigerate until ready to use.
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The Peanut Butter Filling

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk
4 cups powdered sugar
Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator and fold a few times. Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a rectangle about 12 x 18 inches with the long side facing you.

Place the butter and peanut butter in a microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for about 90 seconds, stopping to stir halfway through. After 90 seconds, stir until smooth then stir in the vanilla and milk. Stir in the powdered sugar then microwave on high another 90 seconds, stirring halfway through.

Save half of the peanut butter filling back to use as topping. Using the other half of filling, spread the peanut butter fudge evenly over the pastry rectangle, coming to 1⁄2" of the edge. Allow the filling to sit on the rectangle a few minutes to firm up then roll the rectangle up from the long side to form an 18" long log. Cut the log crosswise into twelve 1 1⁄2" wide pieces and place in a 9 x 13" baking pan or jumbo muffin tins sprayed with nonstick spray. Cover and allow to rise at room temperature for 30-45 minutes or place in the refrigerator overnight.

The Bake

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the rolls in the oven and turn down to 375 degrees. Bake 28-30 minutes until the tops are browned, rotating halfway through baking if possible. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Spread the tops with the remaining peanut butter fudge and serve when just slightly warm.
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January 15, 2019

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Skiumah and dr penrose

Take in a bit of the Great Bear Wilderness in summer or winter on this moderate hike and read on to see how history intersects with this mountain trail.

Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 1030 ft
Trailhead: Highway 2 eleven miles east of West Glacier

Left: Passing along huge cedars on the initial climb
The Skiumah trail (# 204 on Forest Service maps) is a half day year-round hike departing from Highway 2 that ascends to a small lake in a cozy glacial cirque and is a great introduction to the Great Bear Wilderness. In the summer, one can avoid the crowds on a mostly shaded route. The trail can be hiked in the winter also given its year round access from a plowed highway. The trailhead is located eleven miles east of West Glacier (there is some disagreement about the distance in manuals and online) and is marked on the Highway. Parking is on the North Side of Highway 2 across the road from the trailhead. There is no toilet. The Forest Service rates it as a moderate trail 3.2 miles roundtrip with a 1030 elevation gain. Our pedometer read the roundtrip distance as four miles with a 1300 ft elevation gain. The ascent is steady but our elderly golden retrievers Riley and Stella were able to complete the climb with only a little coaxing.

We hiked the trail on an early December day when the trail was covered in several inches of packed snow, calling for boot cleats. Later in the winter when more snow accumulates, it is a nice trail for snowshoes. Skiing is possible in winter also, but the trail is narrow and would give the climbing skins quite a workout, leaving it appropriate for hardcore backcountry skiers only.  

It was a crisp 8 F outside and a bit cloudy and hazy initially. After a quarter mile or so on an old Forest Service road, the trail takes a left (unmarked from the east, there is an old sign just to the west of the junction). Beginning up the north side of Mount Penrose (the trail is in the Penrose drainage, not the Penrose drain, more on that later) the trail quickly ascends to Skiumah Creek. The forest consists of Englemann Spruce, Douglass Fir, larch and cedar, with some hemlock farther up the trail.  

Before turning left, the Great Bear trail branches off to the next drainage to the west, but we were unable to see this other trail in the snow. After following above the creek a ways, the trail actually crosses it on a log bridge at mile 1.2, after 900 ft of elevation gain. A few hundred yards later a small sign marks the entrance to the Great Bear Wilderness. The trail evens out and crosses through a swampy area before ascending a glacial moraine just before the lake. According to a local elder the lake was quite low when we visited. Across the lake the back wall of the cirque is popular with backcountry skiers and ice climbers but is avalanche prone and has caught unlucky adventurers in the past.

Below left: looking north into Glacier National Park on the initial climb
Below right: End of the trail at the Lake, Mt. Penrose on the left side
Image may be subject to copyright
Image may be subject to copyright
Regarding Mount Penrose, the mountain was indeed named after the inventor of the Penrose surgical drain, Charles Bingham Penrose. Dr. Penrose was sort of a turn of the century Forest Gump, involving himself in one infamous event after another. After graduating from medical school in Philadelphia, Dr. Penrose became a prominent gynecologic surgeon and inventor of the surgical drain. Later, contracting tuberculosis, Dr. Penrose moved to Wyoming for the fresh air but in the 1890's found himself fighting on the side of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in their series of battles against a group of smaller ranchers know as the Johnson County War. The fighting pitted the Johnson County sheriff on the side of the smaller ranchers and the Governor and the US Calvary taking the side of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. At one point Dr. Penrose was arrested and nearly lynched, and his letters about the whole affair helped author Owen Wister write "The Virginian" which was later developed into the notorious box office flop, "Heaven's Gate." (Ironic, as Heaven's Gate was filmed largely in the Glacier National Park area).

After escaping Wyoming, Dr. Penrose headed back east and wrote a textbook on Gynecology and founded the world's first zoologic research lab based at a zoo in Philadelphia. The lure of the West could not hold Dr. Penrose back east long, however, and 1907 found him bear hunting on the other side of Mt Penrose from Skiumah. He was elated to shoot a rare white yearling grizzly with his Mauser. Unfortunately, his glee was short lived as the dead bear's mother promptly mauled him in revenge, giving the doctor thigh, chest and throat wounds, as well as an open fracture of the left wrist. Members of his party managed to transport him cross country to the Great Northern tracks and Dr. Penrose spent the next few months in one of the Mayo Clinic's hospitals. This brings up the question, during surgeries for his wounds, did Dr. Penrose have Penrose drains placed? Probably.

Charles Bingham Penrose never returned to Montana.

References

Fraley, John, "Grizzly attack on Mount Penrose, C.B. Penrose's grizzly hunt and the naming of the Great Bear Wilderness" in "Wild River Pioneers". 2008