Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, September 6-9

September 6 continued
After leaving Pincher Creek, we biked through rolling grasslands, steep ups and downs, until we reached Waterton Lakes National Park about 30 miles later.  This took awhile, as our road took us southwest into the strong wind, and we were happy to see the sign for the park.  

Just inside the park, we stopped at a bison viewing area.  There were no bison, but we did see a black bear.  How funny to see one so far out of the forest!
It was a few miles out of the way into the park, maybe 5 miles each way, but we didn't mind.  Biking into the valley where the lakes are was absolutely beautiful: big mountains, prairie grasses, sprawling blue lakes, and raptors everywhere.  We saw a number of red-tailed and swainson's hawks, as well as a kestrel.
Upon arriving at the village (there is an actual town at the end of the road, right on the shore of the biggest lake), we changed into hiking gear and headed up to the Bear's Hump.  It was a short and steep hike that gave a birds-eye view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. We could see clear to Montana!  (About 10 miles away.)
The view from the Bear's Hump.

Then we headed back and set up camp surreptitiously in a day-use area right by one of the lakes.  We're not supposed to camp here, but we set up late and will leave early and are well practiced in Leave No Trace.   The gibbous moon is bright on the water, and the sound of the waves lightly washing ashore will lull us soon to sleep.

September 7 
A big day for our trip! 
1) We cross from Canada into the US.
2) We've been biking for exactly 3 months.
3) We biked off the British Columbia map that we've been on for the last month or so. 

A few things we'll miss in Canada:
1) The French writing on all the packages; makes things much more interesting when there are two languages to read.

2) The distances in km on the road signs. When you convert the km to miles in your head, the number is always smaller!

3) Dempster's! We've eaten so much bread and so many tortillas from this creative Canadian bakery. 

A few advantages we're excited about in the US. 
1) Camping is significantly cheaper.

2) We can use internet and gps on the phone. 

We wake up on our lake shore after a quiet, restful night. The wind is already whipping up waves. We get on our bikes and head towards the US border! We start by climbing long huge hill after long huge hill. The crossing is at Chief Mountain and they sure make you work to get there! 
Even though it's a a challenging morning, I'm glad we are crossing at this place because it has some interesting history. In 1932, Canada and the US teamed up to combine Waterton Lakes and Glacier into the first International Peace Park. This park is not only a symbol of the peace between Canada and the US, but it also showcases the importance of countries working together to promote conservation and sustainable land use. Fish and bears don't recognize park boundaries. 
At the border we have to wait in a line of cars,  but when it's our turn the guy only asks a few questions then lets us through. 
US-Canada border crossing. 

After crossing we bike down the Chief Mountain Parkway into Montana ranch country. We encounter cows and horses in the middle of the road. I guess they don't get much traffic here. 
Horses in the road.

Once we're out of the mountains the wind really picks up. It varies between a headwind and a crosswind. I'm not sure which one is worse. I'm constantly shifting my gears and my balance to stay upright and keep moving forward. This continues for the rest of the day. 
We stop for lunch in a little town called Babb, then continue to the start of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
Just inside the park we stop at the visitors center to figure out our plan for the park. Unfortunately since my backpack is currently in for repairs we'll be limited to day hikes, but we're still really excited! At the center there is also lots of educational information. We learn that predictions show all the glaciers melting by 2030. They're going to have to re-name the park! 
Our headwind.

Biking a windy 6 miles into the park brings us to Rising Sun campsite where we go for a freezing swim in St. Mary lake and watch the mountains turn gold in the setting sun. We also meet Cameron, a touring cyclist who has just come across the US. After chatting for a bit, we decide to bike together for the next few days! This should be fun. 

September 8
We got on the road early to get started up Logan Pass.  Cameron was with us as well.  The road took us first past St Mary Lake.  Fog on the water hid the lake at first, and as we climbed up higher onto the shore, we could see a little island poking through the mist.  The higher mountains beyond gave the whole scene a very picturesque air.  

As the morning continued, we turned away from the lake and began to climb.  It was 6% grade pretty much the whole way, so not very steep or strenuous, and the cars were courteous, giving us a lot of room on the narrow road.  We passed Siyeh Bend, a large switchback in the road, and continued up.  Now we had great views of the whole valley below, and the clouds hanging down there gave us the wonderful feeling that we had come up much higher than we actually had.  The road was cut into the side of a sheer cliff, held up at times with huge retaining walls of hand-cut stone masonry.
  Part of the road was being rebuilt, and the workers on the side of the road were chiseling and hammering the rocks by hand.

At one point we saw three mountain goats way up on the hillside.  They must have been miles away.  A group of three older folks stopped when they saw us looking through our binoculars, and they found a group of six more!  We enjoyed talking with them; they speculated that travel at such a young age is a new thing, that our generation is fortunate to have the opportunity.  We agreed.  They also told us that the top of the pass was just ahead, and we, expecting to climb up all day, were pleasantly surprised.  
At the top was Cameron, cheering us on, and a visitor center with a full parking lot.  We quickly changed into hiking clothes and set off on our hike to Hidden Lake.  It was a boardwalk that went out a few miles to an overlook and a lake, but we quickly decided, due to the large amount of people and the accessibility of the nearby mountains, to hike a nearby peak.  Oberlin Peak had a supposed mountaineer's route up to the top involving a little bit of scrambling, but really it was just a steep trail, easy to follow.  A half mile or so in, we saw a mountain goat a hundred feet ahead and coming down the trail towards us.  We froze, hoping not to scare it off, but soon realized that it didn't care at all that we were there.  It continued to amble down the path, and we moved a few feet off the trail to let it pass.  We then followed it and enjoyed watching it for a few minutes.  It did not care that we, nor other people, were near.  At one point, two hikers almost walked into it and stumbled back in surprise.  The goat continued munching on grass apathetically.
Of the two trails up to the top, we chose the steeper one up.  Some fat marmots greeted us along the way, similarly apathetic to our presence as the goat.  We soon reached the top and looked out over a 360 degree panorama of Glacier National Park: thousand-foot vertical rock faces, striated horizontally with snow, glaciers near and far, the goats and marmots, far below, and our road, descending to the valley over a vertical mile under our feet.

We ate lunch up there then decided to head down when clouds started rolling over the pass.  It was forecasted to snow in a few hours, so we figured we should get down from our 8000 foot perch.  We kept our eyes open for goats on the way down, and right at the bottom was a female goat and a juvenile.  They were as uncaring as the other goat we saw, so we stayed for a few minutes.  It was a pleasure to share an alpine meadow with two wild mountain goats.
The descent down was incredible!  It warmed up noticeably as we went, and the views were no less gorgeous than the other side.  I found myself wanting to pass cars; they were driving slowly and cautiously on the narrow road, and I, on a bike, had the ability to go faster.  Don't worry, I didn't pass any cars and kept a safe following distance.
6% Grade, Next 11 Miles
We stopped at an informational sign at "The Loop," the one switchback in the road.  The sign explained that there were two possible routes over Logan Pass: a series of fifteen steep switchbacks straight up, a challenge of engineering that would demonstrate "man's mastery over nature," and a gradual climb with one switchback that would give sweeping vistas and blend in more with the rock.  Fortunately the later plan was chosen.
At the bottom, an exhilarating ten miles down the road, we began to follow Logan Creek.  The crystal clear water flowing over blood red rocks was a sight to see, and the tailwind made pedaling easy.  We arrived soon at Avalanche Campground, our planned stop for the night.  The campground was technically closed, but a ranger had told us we could primitive camp there for free (no facilities).  We left our things at the site and set off for Avalanche Lake, a popular and highly recommended hike.  The trail was two miles long and followed Avalanche Creek.
 Under the clear water and along the walls were sculpted red rocks, burnished smooth by eons of rushing water, and along the trail were giant boulders.  Though we hadn't climbed in a long time, all three of us enjoyed playing around on the boulders.  The lake was somewhat unimpressive, as we've seen literally hundreds of alpine lakes, but the waterfalls were nice.  The best part was the quiet: at this late hour (7 pm or so), no one but us crowded this popular destination.
Back at the campground, night was falling, the temperature was dropping, and the wind was roaring. Huge cedars and hemlocks were being whipped around like toys, and every few moments a large branch would fall nearby.  We considered moving or looking for a pavilion but figured that even a roof would not stop one of these giants from falling on us, should it decide to.  We heard a large tree fall nearby, the branches crackling as it fell then a deep, earth-shaking boom like thunder as it hit the ground.  Fortunately none fell near us.  
Cameron said this was the best day of his trip, and I don't want to rank ours, but it certainly was incredible!

September 9
We woke up at our campground relieved that the wind had died down from the craziness the night before.  It was still a tailwind, though, and we were happy to bike a beautiful few miles along the shores of Lake McDonald.  We arrived soon at Lake McDonald Lodge, a historic stone building with a roaring fire in the fireplace. 
On this cold day, we enjoyed the warmth for a few minutes before heading across the street to Jammer Joe's pizza, pasta, and salad buffet.  As always hungry cyclists, we seek to eat at all-you-can-eat buffets as often as possible.  Cameron had not yet had one on his trip (this would be our fifth), so he was as excited as we were.  And the food did not disappoint!  We stayed for an hour and a half, polishing off as much pizza, pasta, and salad as we could fit.

With bellies full, we biked out of Glacier National Park and onto some larger roads.  The town of Columbia Falls was a bit tough biking, as there was no shoulder and a lot of traffic, but we made it through.  We made it through the Hungry Horse Valley as well, passing lots of advertisements for huckleberry pie, huckleberry fudge, huckleberry ice cream, everything.  Tam tried some huckleberry fudge but didn't like it.
Our ride to Kalispell was fast because of a strong tailwind (thank you, wind gods!), and we soon arrived at Fred's place.  We had met Fred about 2,000 miles before, in the Yukon, and he invited us to his place when we got to Kalispell.  He and his wife, Martha, greeted us warmly and welcomed us right in.  They were heading out to dinner, but they showed us around and left us to take showers and have some spaghetti.  What a great change from the cold winds!  When they returned, we shared some stories and talked until late in the night.   - Danny

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