Friday, October 17, 2014

Backpacking through the AT in Maine

Bald Mountain Pond
A little history
My friend Judy and I have been on a roll for the last 9 years, leading backpacks for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Boston Chapter, all of them in Maine, for a total of 9 trips. While many leaders from Boston travel outside MA to hike the bigger, more challenging mountains to our north, many choose to play in the more popular White Mountains National Forest and surrounding areas of New Hampshire. But both Judy and I have been drawn to Maine with it's rugged trails, less popular peaks, and beautiful ponds perfect for backpacking. When I met Judy, she had already section-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) through the state of NH, and she wanted to do the same in Maine. Little did I know I would join this strange little quest.

The first trip we led together was in 2006 on the Grafton Loop Trail East side which does not travel on the AT. This trail had just recently been completed, and it wasn't often one got the chance to travel on a new trail in New England. I had helped build a tiny portion of it's West side three years earlier, so it was exciting for me to see it's other side. We had a wonderful trip and I've gone back a few times to hike all of the loop several times. After that trip I was hooked on Maine, happy to be backpacking again after a short hiatus, and hungry for more.

In 2007, I decided to join Judy in her quest to backpack the entire AT in Maine, starting with the Bigelows. Since then, we've led one Maine AT trip per year, always in autumn, and almost always on Columbus Day weekend. I've hiked some small sections without her, and I missed one trip in 2012 due to a cold, but we've backpacked nearly all of it together. This year we finished our 7th Maine AT backpack, from Flagstaff Lake to Monson, ME. 

The numbers
With 54 miles, 4 days, and several water crossings, it was bound to be epic. There were 4 of us starting together, 1 of us would meet up midway, 3 cars, and some of the loveliest weather I've experienced in Maine! Lucky for us, it hadn't rained in quite a while, so the water was low and crossings would  be easy.

AT Backpack No. 7
The group met at Balsam Woods Campground in Abbot, ME and had dinner at The Lakeshore House in Monson, a classic AT hiker destination, complete with the 100 mile wilderness food bucket for only $25 delivered. The Lake Shore has an open mic night on Thursdays, so we figured we'd enjoy some entertainment as well. Little did we know our fellow hike participant, Tim, was a recent music major graduate. Just after eating, he slipped out of his chair, and before we knew it, he was playing banjo for three songs with the band!
100 Mi Feed bucket

Tim joins the band

Maine bathroom decor
Trail Magic
We awoke around 5:45am for an early, cold start,   spotted a car in Monson and drove 2 hours to the Flagstaff Lake trailhead. The day was sunny, windy and brisk. We had a 16+ mile day ahead of us, generally flat with easy ups and downs. It was lovely walking along the lake and smaller Carry Ponds. When we arrived at the West Carry Pond shelter, we had out first taste of trail magic from Mary Ann, a local who lived along the Carry Ponds somewhere. She left a box homemade goodies (as she does every 2.5 days!). There was also gum, nuts and other treats in another box. We took a little and left some for the next, though thru-hikers are few and far between on the AT in Maine in October.

crossing the 2000 mi Mark near Flagstaff Lake
We carried forth till 5:40pm to our first overnight location, Pierce Pond Shelter. The spot is a gem, right on the pond with lots of spots to camp just above the shelter.  The night was cool and the moon waning just past full. It got dark while we were eating at 6:30pm and we soon we gave into the darkness, serenaded to sleep by the loons, as they did t us every night on the trail.This IS the way life should be.

Pierce Pond Shelter
Canoe Trip
Our second day we awoke to an overcast day, though mild. Our hike today would be the shortest of the trip, but we were up early to reach out to the Kennebec River by 10am and catch a ride on the canoe-ferry. When we arrived at the shore, our ferry-master quickly spotted us. We greeted, filled out the necessary forms and helped paddle our way across the wide, swift-current crossing that is not recommended to ford (crossing via canoe is the officially sanctioned AT way to cross). We were brought across in groups of two, thanked our helpful ferry man, and carried on to Pleasant Pond Shelter. With lots of extra time on our hands, we relaxed by the pond, gathered dead wood and built a lovely fire that lasted beyond dinnertime. Just after dinner, we were surprised by boyfriend Chris' arrival (he/we were not quite sure which day he would join us). Not only did he arrive sooner than we thought, but with fresh-baked treats from the Abbot Bakery - more trail magic! We gratefully ate our dessert, watched the fire die and went to bed by 9pm (hiker's midnight;). Chris had already hiked the previous AT sections (all the way from Georgia over the years) - so he came to Pleasant Pond to join us for the next 2 days north to Monson.
Vinny making use of the handrails

Judy canoeing across the Kennebec

I should really run, I already got the signs
Pleasant Pond Shelter and fire
Fall color
Summit Day
At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of a barred owl... "who hoooooot who hoooooooooooot!" Then the honk of geese, quacking of ducks, the loons... ok, ok, I'm up!

The skies were bluebird perfect with cool temps - another perfect day for hiking. We made our way up Pleasant Mtn, down to Moxie Pond, over a crossing of Baker Stream, and up and over Moxie Bald Mt. Both of the day's summits had beautiful views in all direction - the fall color glowed orange, red and yellow. This was a favorite of the days due to the weather, views and variety of terrain, from mossy corridors to open slab summits. We stuck around on both peaks for a bit before hiking to the shelter on Moxie Bald Lean To - possibly an even nicer shelter location than Pierce Pond! We cooked and ate diner right on the granite slabs that edge into the water - camping in tents only a few feet away.

A Trio of Gossamer Gear Packs (Type 2, Mariposa 2014, Mariposa 2012?)
On Pleasant Mtn
View from Pleasant Mtn
View from Pleasant Mtn
Vinny on the Baker Stream crossing
Moxie Bald Mtn

The gang
On to Monson
It was a chilly 34˚F in the morning... but a river otter swimming by as the fog rolled over the breakfast scene made it sweet. We had a 15 mi day ahead of us, so off we went by 7:30am, passing through Horseshoe Canyon, crossing the E & W Piscataquis a few times without incident and walking through the glowing color of autumn leaves all the way to Monson. The day grew quite warm by the afternoon, and pretty soon everyone was down to shorts and t-shirts. To have summer-like weather with the fall colors all around was a real treat.

Crossing the Piscataquis

Chris in action

Watch out - hungry hikers coming through

Moxie Time!
When we finished in Monson, we jumped into the cars and drove to Pete's Place, a small, general store with some hiking/backpacking gear, sandwiches and ginormous cinnabuns. We celebrated the weekend with food and Moxie, while 2 stuffed river otters watched over us on the wall above. (That's Judy with the Schweppes!)

Next year, we plan to return to Maine to complete the Maine AT, hiking through the 100 Wilderness and Katahdin at it's climax. Thanks to Tim, Vinny and Chris for sharing the miles with us!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Magical Moments on the Maine AT

Connecting the dots in the Bigelows
View of the Bigelow Range from the summit of Little Bigelow

My friend Judy and I have been section hiking the AT in Maine since 2006, slowly, and now deliberately, with a backpack trip every fall. Judy had already done all of NH's AT, and once we started leading AMC trips in ME, she had a new goal and I happily fell into the section-hiking tradition with her.

This particular weekend was not our annual ME AT backpack, but a make-up weekend catching up on the little bits we had missed. The Bigelow Preserve contains the popular Bigelow mountain range including Cranberry Peak, the Horns, West Peak, Avery Peak and Little Bigelow. Flagstaff Lake sits in it's southeast corner, once a winding river with the town of Flagstaff scattered at it's side. This now large lake was created by damming the river, flooding the town, with some bits and pieces possibly still deep underwater. The lake is a now a major outdoor activity resource for swimmers, hikers, canoes, kayakers and whitewater rafters/kayakers downsteam from it's damn, waiting for the big water release days.

Fall foliage on Rt 27
Judy and I have hiked the Bigelows numerous times as a traverse, but that path doesn't begin on the AT, which is how we missed a few parts. Judy and I arrived at the Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis, ME to be surprised with one of the most lovely, viewful sites in the whole campground! We were placed right on the lake with perfect views of the range, sunset, and the glow of sunrise on the mountains - the magical backdrop to eating, trip preparing and just hanging out in the hammock. The sites here are spacious (you actually have elbow room and privacy), have a variety of amenities including a pool, swimming beach and free hot showers, as well as a few well-placed tent site on the lake! We set up our tents and headed to The White Wolf Inn in Stratton, ME, an infamously delicious eatery and motel known to locals, thru-hikers, bikers, and people who are smart enough to stop in on their way by. Everything I've ever had here is big, delicious and made with love!

Sunset at the campsite
After a filling dinner, we checked out an interesting glow near our campsite. What looked like a thousand fireflies was actually a mini digital laser light box one of the RVers nearby had pointed into the canopy of the towering pine trees the campground is named for. The site of it perplexed me, filled me with delight, and pretty much blew my mind. I spoke to the campers briefly to get the info I needed to buy one myself. Only bummer is you need  a plug (fine for car camping, but what about our upcoming backpack!?)

Campsite sunrise
Towering pines in the morning

The next morning the Bigelows glowed orange in the sunrise, the loons called in the distance, and a cacophony of more waterfowl were squawking away. We ate breakfast and soon Judy dropped me off on Caribou Valley Rd so I could hike 7.8 miles up & down the Crockers. I had the trail to myself, all the way up to North Crocker. I checked out the viewpoint, sat down and listened to the wind howling around the summits and was startled by the sound of small twig cracking. I turned to see who it might be and to my surprise, a giant bull moose crashed through the woods behind me, only 30 feet away, heading downhill and opposite of my next path. Absolutely amazing I thought, maybe one of the biggest moose I had ever seen, and all to myself. It was a magical moment as I sat in awe of the animal, too shocked and amused to grab a camera, and watched him disappear into the forest. Magic! In a few hours I met Judy hiking opposite me on the downhill side of South Crocke. We finished our hike together around 12:30pm, ate lunch trailside and I decided to hike the other 6.2 mi section across the street. I first drove Judy back to the campground where she read, showered & relaxed. ON the hike I ran into a whole bunch of thru hikers, some of which we saw the night before eating huge fried food plates at the White Wolf. At my turn around point, I stopped briefly to clamber up onto a large boulder grouping and sat in the sun, eating a second lunch and listening to the sound of thru hikers passing below me.

I returned to the campground with 2 desserts from the White Wolf I picked up on my way by, a Peach Rhubarb Surprise and Chocolate Molten Cake! Judy and I did a little strategic planning for our upcoming backpack before dinner, watched the spectacular sunset once again, and went to bed with our magazines in hand.

Sunrise #2
The next morning the same spectacular sunrise occurred, the birds sang and the humans went hiking. I dropped Judy off at the Safford Brook Trail so she could do an A to B hike of Little Bigelow. Meanwhile I checked out the Round Barn Campsite (lovely lakeside sites) and hiked the AT SB up Little Bigelow towards Judy (6.2mi RT). I ran into the same thru hikers as yesterday, and a few new ones all headed north the Katadin, only ~165 mi away. On the summit, I met a thru-hiker, Rockman, with a Gossamer Gear Pack. He talked excitedly about it and could hardly find a fault, minus some slippage of the orange cords when pulled tight, and a little rubbing on one side. He was having a lovely time hiking the trail and admiring the peak foliage. After the gear talk, he was off with friends to Baxter with a smile and a wave.  I waited about an hour for Judy, chatting with other hikers, basking in the 80˚F sun, snacking and staring into the autumn colors. When Judy arrived, I almost missed her passing by! But she circled back and we admired the color and together hiked down to the car. Before finishing, I noticed a bunch of plants along the trail side with three leaves and little purplish-blue berries. I thought maybe it was a late stage of a trillium, but Judy pointed out they were Cucumber Root and pulled one up to show me. It looked like a mini white radish but tasted like cucumber - how lovely! We finished the day with a quick dip in Flagstaff Lake (refreshing, not too cold) and a Subway sandwich, surprisingly good.

Cucumber Root finding
This was truly a memorable weekend. It wasn't because the trail was new, exciting or epic in length - but for the great company, summer-like weather, peak fall foliage, amazing campground views, electric fireflies, dry air... oh man, it was just perfect!

S'mores Petite!

Sweets for the Home & Campsite

Finger food
A coworker did something nice last week: she brought in homemade S'more cookies for everyone to enjoy. What she didn't know is she would create a at-home S'more addict!

Ok fine, I'll admit I never really liked S'mores round the campfire. Due to numerous rules in the backcountry, fires are often not allowed at sites, so we always bring campstoves. And hiking in New England, you can't depend on dry firewood most of the time. If I'm car camping, which isn't often, I don't think to bring them, I don't even bother with a fire most times. But if someone makes a fire and has the ingredients, I'm happy to engage my sweet tooth with some toast/burnt mallows, throw some undercooked, cheap milk chocolate rectangles on it and leave the graham crackers out... because I don't really like grahams.

BUT, my co-worked changed everything with her thick, homemade marshmallows, sandwiched between 2 mini rectangles of grahams and dipped in luscious dark chocolate, which was key (I added with smear of hazelnut chocolate spread inside and used cinnamon grahams). Homemade everything, including marshmallows, are all the rage, and I would bet these little suckers could sell for $5 a pair at my local artisan food store! So good... and sooo bad.

So I made a batch, brought them into work and watched as they disappeared a few hours...thankfully, because I still have another batch at home!
Makin' the morning sweet

They were quite easy to make actually, especially if you have a stand-up mixer (I used a hand-held type). Add a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon, nuts or whatever you like - the possibilities are endless. Here's how it's done:

S'Mores Petite Recipe

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup ice cold water, divided
  • 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 box of graham crackers
  • 2 cups dark chocolate (chips or bars)
  • 2 tablespoons of vegatable shortening (Crisco)
  • hazelnut-chocolate spread, nuts, cinnamon, cocoa... whatever extras you want!


The night before: Make your marshmallows. I used Alton Brown's recipe and watched the helpful video: Homemade Marshmallows

Day 2:
  1. Break open a package of grahams and cut each one on the dotted lines. Each cracker should cut into 4 pieces, 1.0" x 2.5" each. Stack and set aside.
  2. Cut up your marshmallows into the same size strips and place one on a graham and top it with another graham. (If your mallows are really thick, cut them in half and use the fresh-cut side, the sticky side, to stick in place. Or use a little hazelnut chocolate spread, or better yet, some of the dipping chocolate, see below)
  3. After you've made your little sandwiches, set aside and follow directions for the Ghiradelli Dipping Chocolate. Once ready, take off the heat and begin dipping your sandwiches, about 1/3 or 1/4 in length. (This will help glue the sandwich together too.) You could alternatively drizzle it with chocolate on top, or douse the whole thing! Once your done dipping, place on a plate and into fridge to set, 30 min-1 hour. Devour and share!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Glacier National Park, MT - August 2014

Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Grizzly Bears, Oh My!

View from Swiftcurrent Peak
Here's the thing about Glacier:  pictures cannot, and will not, do it justice. The place is gorgeous, it glows... it's mega-fauna filled, wildflower-abundant, u-shaped valley-loaded... and access to alpine areas is easily available by car - and extra bonus. Words do not do it justice either. Just go, see it for yourself. If you're a hiker/backpacker who loves big, grande places, you're sure to fall in love.

Another summer, another trip out West
Each August I plan a 1-week backpacking excursion int he Western US. Most times I've read an article, or seen a picture that inspires me. But Glacier didn't appear in a glossy photo or enticing backpacking article.  Instead, a hiking buddy really, really wanted to go, and my boyfriend had a interest too when asked. So without much photographic inspiration I grabbed a guidebook (with poor photos) and started looking up backpacks and day hikes. I grabbed another faithful hiking buddy and applied early for backpacking permits. We got what we wanted (shocking!), and before I knew it... it was time to pack up and head to Montana.

We had 4 days to cram as many day hikes as we could before our backpack. We traveled to a variety of locations throughout the park, including the Lake McDonald area, Logan Pass Area, Two Medicine, Many Glacier, at St Marys.

Emily hiking through the beargrass

Siyeh Pass
Our first trip was recommended by the cashier at a trinket shop in West Glacier:) The hike starts at Siyeh Bend along the Going to the Sun Road, one of the more challenging feats of road-building in the early 1900s. Thanks to this road, non-hikers and hikers alike can enjoy expansive views as they wind around hairpin turns and steep cliff faces, as one might on a strenuous, above treeline hike. The high point of the road is Logan Pass, as 6646 ft, where you can find a Visitor Center, Ranger station, and a large parking lot filled with cars by 10am.

Misty morning view from Logan Pass
Starting on the Siyeh Bend Trail, you soon end u on the CDT, and finally onto the Siyeh Pass Trail through Preston Park, over the scree-filled pass, and onto a platform with an wide-open view of a giant, U-shaped valley, iron-stained red mountains, several small lakes below, and a fin of rock that Chris and I had to scramble (having seen a few others hike it before us). The fin of rock started on a scree slope, goat trail, and merged into a 2-6 wide foot platform of rock, with a sheer drop on either side. We walked and crawled our way for 20 minutes or so, until we had to jump over a small gap to continue. A natural fear of heights and sheer-cliffs got the best of me here and I called this my limit. We looked around in amazement and crawled out way back to the 5-6 foot wide portion with relief.

That scramble was a thrill I will not soon forget. It's these little off-trail excursions that make hiking out West such a joy. While most trails out East hike to summits, not all trails do out west, unless you put away those poles and engage in a little hand-over-foot crawling.

Siyeh Pass
The hike continued to the other side of the pass via several switchbacks with views of St. Mary Lake below. Upon our decent, some neighboring hikers alerted us that a bear was running above us on the scree. Sure enough that bear was running across the rocks in a blurr of fur and fury, running away from something, but what? He was about to run into another surprise.... hikers, as he was headed for Siyeh pass. Within a minute or two, the same bear was ran by again, in the other direction, and faster, downhill, and soon out of sight. Another thrill of the Siyeh Pass hike! The day was not yet over, as we gorged on huckleberries along the trail down, collected some for breakfast, and gorged some more. All in all, this was an five star hike for views, optional scrambles, treats on the trail and wildlife viewing. That night we ate our first car camp meal and bedded down at Avalanche Creek Campground.

Siyeh Pass (where the people are) and the "fin" to their left

View from the fin

Hiking back along the fin

HIghline Trail
The following morning was sunny and beautiful again, so we decided to hike the Highline Trail to Granite Park, with stops to the Garden Wall view of Grinnel Glacier and Swiftcurrent Mtn. The Highline starts at Logan Pass, and over the length of the hike, hugs the Continental Divide skirting several mountain including Piegan, Pollack, Bishops Cap and Mount Gould. The trail is loaded with open views and wildflowers of all shapes, sizes and colors. The trail drops off steeply to the west tumbling some 4000ft down, with grande views over to Mt Oberlin, Clements and Cannon across the way. Below the trail you can spot cars silently gleaming as they curve round the hairpin turns of Going To The Sun Road. We stopped for lunch at viewing spot and started seeing some wildlife at a distance, including white, shaggy mountain goats, herds of elk, and much closer, Colombian Ground Squirrels, ubiquitous at popular lunch stops in these parts.

Logan Pass & Mt. Oberlin

When the Garden Wall side trail came into view, we plodding up slowly but intently, curious to see what would be at the top. As we reached the  viewpoint, the clouds parted and whoa, Grinnell Glacier lay below us, as did the Salamander (snowfield?), Upper & Lower Grinnell Lakes, Josephine & Swiftcurrent lakes too.  Chris and I decided to scramble a little further up for even better views, which did not disappoint. I could have stayed here for a long, long time, studying the glacier ice, the patterns, and the people far, far below clustered on a beach at some other trail's end.

But we had more of our hike to do, so after a snack and long look we tumbled down the trail towards Granite Park, a collection spot for weary hikers, plunking themselves down on the porch, at the picnic tables, or inside the lodge to purchase snacks. We wasted no time here and instead marched up to Swiftcurrent Mtn, with a manned firepower, spotting goats along the way and hiking through shock of  white, bare trees burned from a forest fire years ago, Finally, finally, got to the top. No one was on the summit or in the tower, but we peeked inside: it was a sweet little firewatch home complete with a bed, stove, desk, library, etc. We sat on the stone steps in amazement of the view one had from here: looking north over the Divide, east to Swiftcurrent Creek & Many Glacier, south to Mt Oberlin and Glacier Wall and west into the Livingston Range. Absolutely outstanding. The view from the Loo wasn't bad either! We parted this peak with much reluctance and visited Granite Park Chalet briefly. This was once a place visitors would come on horseback, stay overnight and enjoy whatever they had for 1920's luxury. Nowadays you can stay overnight in modest bunkhouses or the campground nearby. We high-tailed it from here to Going To The Sun Road, where we grabbed a free shuttle back to our cars (another great thing about Glacier)... but not without a lovely dip in a waterfall at The Loop just before the finish. It was just the thing we needed after a hot, dry decent through an old burn area. Back at the campground, we saw our first black bear saunter though down the road. A moment later, several cars and camera-bedecked couple followed behind.

Grinnell Glacier, and lakes beyond

Dawson Pass
The third day we left Avalanche Creek and drove southeast  to Two Medicine, with a stop at St. Marys Visitor Center. We quickly nabbed a campsite at Two Medicine and squeezed onto the boat across the lake. While we would have loved to hike both Dawson and Pitamakan Pass in the same day, we were tuckered out from hiking 18+ mi the day before. So instead we hiked to Dawson Pass, taking in the jagged peaks of the Lewis Range, Mt Philips, Tinkham and Flinch Peak. We made our way back via boat in a lightning storm (fun!) and took shelter in the local camp store (the only store in Two Medicine) while the rains whipped off the lake. The storm passed quickly and soon we were enjoying dinner and the sunset, walking around the lake where bears could be seen foraging for food on a nearby hillside.

Two Medicine

Dawson Pass view

Soggy Permits  & Plan B
The next morning we drove to Many Glacier in the north east of the park to pick up our permit and day hike in the area. The ranger looked glum and we re-checked the forecast Wed: Chance of rain 90%, Thursday 100%, Friday: 100% (with snow possible)  Saturday: 70%.... and so on. Hmm, this was not good for a 5 day backpack. And on top of it, the rangers re-routed our trip due to bear activity at the Fifty Mountain campground  (a bear walked into someone's tent). The re-route would have been fine, but the forecast looked wet, cold and miserable. A storm of some sort was on its way for sure. The ranger said weather in Glacier is becoming more and more unpredictable these days. Instead having lovely sunny stretches in their short summer, they complain of seeing more rain, more unseasonably cold weather, and yet their glaciers continue to melt at a rapid pace. There were still spots at the campground, so we grabbed a spot for ourselves while we thought about a Plan B.

At Iceberg Lake

After a little scheming and re-packing, we got our packs ready and day-hiked most of the first day of our cancelled backpack. Starting at Many Glacier, we hiked up to a spur trail to Iceberg Lake, a lovely cirque of high-walled rock, cradling a cold lake with large, blue & white ice chunks floating within. We continued up the main trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel, a  tunnel cut through the wall of rock, popping out the other side looking out to Elizabeth Lake and the Belly River area, where our backpack would have gone. Views from the tunnel in either direction we lovely, more red-iron mountain sides, more lakes, peaks, and hardly anyone was around. Gazing at Elizabeth Lake shoreline, I was sad to see the place that we would have been camping. However the next morning, when I awoke to pouring rain, I wasn't all that sad. Nor was I sad to have a hot diner-made breakfast and my first hot shower in a few days right there in Many Glacier.

Ptarmigan Tunnel

View towards Elizabeth Lake
Plan B consisted of leaving the park and driving south to Missoula, where we hoped things would be drier. It was a pleasure to drive out of the clouds and into the sun. The vast Montana, the skies, ever expansive, full of various-shaped clouds, and the ground was different too, tall and wheat-like, golden in color. During our 3.5 day trip, we visited the Museum of Plain Indians on the Blackfeet Reservation, drove through the National Bison Range, stopped in Big Fork for a little shopping, visited The Garden of 1000 Buddahs, and finally reaching Missoula for dinner, a hotel, shopping, cafes hopping, and a few hours at the art museum. We loved Missoula where the small, funky businesses were thriving. We also camped at a nearby State park and chilled out for a day, reading a relaxing with nothing particular planned. By the time our little diversion was over, the weather had cleared in the park so we drove back, got another campsite at Avalanche, and went for a hike to Avalanche Lake and Trail of the Cedars. These were very popular, fairly easy hikes, but thanks to our late start, it wasn't as crowded as a Saturday afternoon hike might be. Trail of the Cedars was particularly lovely and mellow as it passed along an elevated boardwalk through a grove of cedars and other tree species, wide and towering above you.

Bison in the range

Avalanche Lake

After camp dinner we stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge for a slideshow talk about the power of water (appropriate). The lodge itself looks like a lovely place to stay, its also a great place to visit for ranger talks, last minute purchases at the store, or a longer pause at the HUGE fireplace or lakeside back porch lined with rocking chairs.The interior is a marvel of raw wood, more trees than beams since all the bark is still in tact. Huge animal heads, stuffed and mounted above you are everywhere, it's a little much, but you certainly get that 1920s lodge feel.

Lake McDonald Lodge

The Finale
On our final day, we hiked up the very popular Hidden Lake Trail. This is one of those views you see printed on postcards, fridge magnets, calendars, etc. It's a highly accessible trail out the back of the Logan Pass Visitor's Center, a fairly easy boardwalk-step trail to a viewpoint. But go a little farther, passing where the crowds stop and off the boardwalk, you'll find more trails to higher, farther-flung scrambles, or lower, to the shores of Hidden Lake. We had lunch at the lake and with the help of a visitor's binoculars, spotted 2 more mountain goats perched up high on Bearhat mountain. Just as we were leaving, Chris spotted a mother goat and her baby galloping towards us on the open landscape, what a treat! We hiked out to the cars for the last time, catching a plane home to Boston that afternoon. Even a month later, I still think about the animals we saw, the views I enjoyed in the excellent company of friends, and I smile with a longing to go back, and see more... there is so much more to see!

Glacier is an epic place, truly a gem of the US National Park System. And another whole section of the park went unexplored by us: Waterton Lakes NP in Canada.  Both parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site, where two nations have come together to protect this beauty of a landscape. While I can't speak for the backpacking experience (yet), the day hike experience was one of the best I've ever experienced in the US... and backpacking could only get wilder, more secluded, with views that photos won't do justice.
Bearhat Mountain and Hidden Lake