October 30, 2019

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Sunday we hiked the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.  We didn't make it to the Pacific Ocean where the trail ends, but got to enjoy a dog friendly stroll in a remote portion of the North Fork Area in Flathead National Forest.  The trail begins in the Olympic Peninsula, traverses the North Cascades, and terminates in the Belly River area of Glacier National Park.  For more information, head to the Pacific Northwest Trail Association website, www.pnt.org

On the way to the trailhead, along Hay Creek Road, west of Polebridge, we saw this great gray owl, the largest owl in North America.

October 29, 2019


Ousel Peak

Sure, a couple million of people a year drive by the Ousel Peak trailhead on Highway 2, but only a handful bother to do the hike.  It's not a hike for just anyone.  The trail is probably only second to Mt. Brown Lookout for elevation gain and steepness in the Glacier area.  Sources disagree on the exact distance and elevation gain, but the trail gains somewhere between 3800 and 3900 feet over 3.3 to 3.6 miles.

The trailhead is easy to miss and starts near mile marker 159 on Highway 2, 6.5 miles east of West Glacier on Highway 2.  There are signs for the trailhead on highway 2, but the trailhead is hidden when driving from the west.  An informal parking spot along a driveway is located on the north side of the road.

The trail ascends the north side of Ousel Peak, and dense forest provides shade most of the way up.  Early on, the trail climbs through a mature lodgepole pine forest with some cedar and hemlock.  After a mile, a sign indicates entry into the Great Bear Wilderness.


Further up, Douglass Fir dominates, then near the top subalpine fir and even some whitebark pine grow.  When views to the north finally start to open up, seldom seen but huge, Harrison Lake comes into view.  Mt. St. Nicholas dominates to the northeast.

Views to the south include Pyramid Peak (left side in this photo).  There was about a foot of snow at the top last week and our crampons came in handy.

At the top, a few old wires remain from a fire lookout that stood here from 1931 to 1957.

Oh and what's an ousel? An ousel (also known as the American Dipper) is a songbird that frequents streams in the Glacier area.  Known for its ability to walk along the bottom of fast moving streams, the bird has a beautiful flute-like song.

September 2, 2019

The Dragon's Tail:  A tale of two trails

It was the best of trails, it was the worst of trails; it was a trail with top of the world views and a trail with 450 ft of cliffs. This week we hiked the Dragon's Tail, a narrow ridge of rock ground away on each side by a different glacier, resulting in a ridge on top of sheer cliffs resembling a dragon's tail (or at least what we think a dragon's tail would look like). When you get to the end of the hike, the trail splits in two: one trail is an easy hike up a ridge, the other is a challenging narrow clifftop trail followed by a 450 ft cliff climb. Being trail reviewers, we just had to do both.

To the true summit, its a round trip of 6.4 miles and gain of 1934 ft from Logan Pass.   But just hiking to the false summit will save you a couple of miles and several hundred feet of elevation gain.

The common trail starts at the Logan Pass Visitor's Center and follows the Hidden Lake Trail for about a mile. About a quarter of a mile beyond the boardwalk, two ponds are encountered on the left and and in between the ponds, a trail heads off to the left/south. This marks the start of the Reynolds Mountain climbing trail which also takes one to the Dragon's Tail. Follow the trail south along the east side of the small ridge and then onto the saddle between the ridge and the northwest corner of Reynolds Mountain. Continue on the trail across the scree field skirting the west side of Reynolds Mountain to a second saddle, this one being between Reynolds Mountain and the Dragon's Tail.

Looking south from the saddle, you'll see Jackson Glacier on the left and Sperry Glacier on the right. The afternoon we visited, three grizzlies were grazing in the cirque floor just to the southeast.
Above left:  After a left turn off the Hidden Lake trail, the route heads south toward Reynolds Mountain.
Above right:  Crossing the scree field on the west side of Reynolds Mountain.  The Dragon's Tail is visible to the right.

At the second saddle, the trail splits. The first option is the easy one, a hike to the false summit: Head right up the ridge on your right, and you have a pleasant 10 minute walk to the false summit. From here, views to the north are impressive, but the rest of the Dragon's Tail blocks views of the Sperry Glacier basin

Below left:  Trail up the ridge to the false summit
Below right:  View of Hidden Lake and Clements Mountain from the false summit
The second option is a hike and climb to the true summit. You follow a narrow goat trail along the southeast side of the Dragon's Tail, threaded between two sets of cliffs. Watch every step here as along much of the route there's nothing to stop you from tumbling several hundred feet if you lose your balance. After half a mile or so, you stop just short of the first big couloir, then scramble up 450 ft of cliff. Once at the top of the ridge its another 1/4 mile hike to the true summit, 8580 ft, marked by a large cairn with a register on the west side of the cairn. Views to the north, south, and east are amazing, but views of the Sperry Glacier are better if you hike another 1/4 mile south to the end of the ridge top. This second option is not for the casual hiker and should only be attempted by someone with rock climbing experience. A helmet would be a good idea also. This is a trail with two very different hikes at the end!

Below left:  View to the east from the true summit, Going-To-The-Sun Mountain on the left and the St. Mary valley.
Below Right:  View to the south from the Cairn, with Sperry Glacier in the distance
Below left:  Looking down the 450 ft cliff on the route to the true summit.
Below right:  A goat with a radio collar guards Reynolds Mountain

July 17, 2019


Climbing Mt. Oberlin

Sunday we climbed Mt. Oberlin, one of the easiest climbs in the park.  The mountain looks pretty intimidating from the North (its the peak in the top right of the photo at left), but its really a breeze from Logan Pass, we were up and down in less than 4 hours.
To start, take the wheelchair ramp to the right of the steps to the visitor center and cross over the fence once you see the unmarked trail (in photo, below left) heading north.  It always feels kind of creepy to step over the fence, but don't worry, its okay with park staff.  The trail gently climbs through some alpine meadows, past a water cistern, then follows the rushing waters of Logan Creek for a short distance.  After a bit more ascending, the trail takes a sharp left and starts to climb toward the saddle between Mt Oberlin and Mt Clements.  You want to skirt left and below the snowfields and stay off the scree field above you on the southeast side of Mt. Oberlin.  It took us about an hour to get to the saddle.

Below left:  Start of the trail just north of the Logan Pass Visitor's Center. Below right:  Logan Creek along the trail.  The trail eventually crosses below the snowfield and ascends to the saddle between Clements Mountain and Mount Oberlin just left of the snowfield.
Once you get to the saddle, take in the views and proceed up the trail toward some low cliffs.  Once you are at the cliffs, pay close attention to the cairns.  They will take you to the left side of the cliffs initially, then the trail winds around to the right on the southeast side of the mountain, where it climbs to near the top.  Our guidebook showed lots of landmarks to help guide you through the cliffs, but its a lot easier to just follow the cairns.  If you are careful in your route finding, you shouldn't need to climb over any rocks or cliffs more than 3 or 4 feet high.

Below left:  Once you get to the saddle, just follow the trail toward the low lying cliffs.  Below right:  One of the notches, marked by a cairn, that will take you over the small cliffs.
The trail becomes easier to follow again after the cliffs as you gradually ascend toward the summit via the southeast side of the mountain.  Near the top, the trail peters out, but from here it is an easy scramble to the summit via multiple routes.  From the summit, the views are astounding in every direction.  Make sure you bring a jacket as its often very windy at the top.

Below left:  Looking northeast from the summit toward the Garden Wall.  Below right:  Looking south from the summit with Reynolds Mountain midframe and Clements Mountain on the right.
What hike from Logan Pass would be complete without mountain goats and bighorn sheep?  Both crossed the trail on the hike down the mountain.

July 4, 2019

The Facebook Fire?

Blankenship RFD had its first real wildfire call of the season last night, to a fire north of Polebridge.  Oddly enough, the fire was called in via Facebook, so we wondered if it should be called the Facebook Fire.  The Park firefighters ended up going with Akokala Creek Fire, which fit better geographically.  The fire was located in the Park in the Akokala Creek drainage east of Big Meadow and northwest of Numa Ridge.  Conditions are still cool and moist in the North Fork, so the risk from this little guy will likely be minimal.
Right:  The fire is under that puff of smoke just to the right of the dead tree in the center of the photo.

June 19, 2019


Cyclone Lake

We were looking for a short, dog friendly hike with water at the end last weekend and decided to check out Cyclone Lake, a remote lake above Coal Creek in the Glacier View District of Flathead National Forest.  To be more accurate,  the trail to the lake and most of the lake is located within Coal Creek State Forest.

Even though the Cyclone Lake trailhead is less than 20 miles from Moss Mountain Inn, it took an hour to get there.  From North Fork Road, one turns off onto FS road 316, then 317, then 909.  Roads 316 and 317 are in relatively good shape but we were limited to 15 mph or so on 909.  We only saw a few other vehicles on the roads and the area is so remote there weren't even any discarded beer cans laying around.
To find the trailhead, look for a road headed off to the right with the sign 70702.  The gate is locked part of the year but opened up from July 1 - Nov 30.  The 1.5 mile hike to the lake was good for our old dogs with only a few hundred feet of gradual drop to the lake.  Early on, one passes by the area damaged by the 2018 Coal Creek Fire on the west side of the road, then through some forest with old growth Douglas fir, Englemann spruce and even some grand old Western white pine.  The road ends a few hundred feet from the lake, then a narrow trail leads down to the lake.
The west side of the lake is bordered by a boggy area that keeps one from going to the edge of the lake proper.  Our dogs Riley and Stella hopped off the planks (see below) and promptly got stuck in the quicksand-like mud.  Chris managed to pull them out by the collar but by then our Golden Retrievers had turned into mud covered critters that resembled giant rats.  On the happier side of things, the views off to the east into Glacier National Park were nice.
Bottom left:  Trailhead to cyclone lake, FS road 909 on the left, Coal Creek State Forest road 70702 on the right.  Bottom right:  Chris performing a dog rescue

June 11, 2019

Big Cat Update

Although we had seen lynx tracks around Moss Mountain Inn all winter, the lynx managed to avoid our cameras until tonight.  Chris was bicycling about a mile north of Moss Mountain Inn, just short of Glacier Rim when she got a text on her phone.  While pulled over to look at the text, this lynx stepped out of the woods and checked her out.  After a minute of staring at each other, they both decided to move on.  I'm surprised that Chris didn't try to bring it home to be friends with our house cats, Emma and Sylvie. 

Meanwhile, our hiking club hiked to the top of Glacier View Mountain in Flathead National Forest today.  Looking to the east from the top gives a panoramic view of the whole west side of Glacier National Park.  In the foreground is the North Fork of the Flathead River looking up toward Polebridge.

June 5, 2019


Spring wildlife on the West Side

Guests Cameron and Kaity got to watch a grizzly at the foot of Avalanche lake last week and took the photos at left and below

Mt. Brown Goats

Chris and I hiked up to the Mt. Brown lookout last week and were greeted by several mountain goats.  Their wool was about four shades darker than normal, presumably from rubbing against all the charred trees from the 2017 Sprague Creek Fire.  Views from the top were a bit hazy from the northern Alberta wildfires but we still had good views of Mt. Stanton to the west, along with impressive views of Floral Park, Edwards Mountain, and Sperry Glacier to the east.  There was still 6-8 ft of snow at the top!

Left:  Goat at the edge of cliffs just southwest of the lookout.  Mountains in the background are the Livingston Range to the northwest of Mt. Brown.

Below left:  From left, to right,  Stanton Mountain, Mount Vaught, McPartland Mountain and Heaven's Peak

Below right:  Edwards Mountain, across the Snyder Creek Valley from Mt. Brown Lookout

April 21, 2019


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.
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!

March 23, 2019


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.

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.

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.

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