Leaving Glacier, heading over to Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Took the Swan Lake route back to Anaconda, about 5 hours, where I would rest and go to cheer Bamboo’s team at horseshoes. Saw 4 elk, 2 deer, a black bear, several hawks, and an eagle. The drive is at times forested, then in a valley between snow tipped dark blue-black mountains a mile or two away, towering 2,000 or more feet. It felt like I could reach out and touch them. Lastly, the drive is largely farmland.

The next day, I left the mountains for Big Sky Montana, and then the Badlands of the borderland of Montana and North Dakota. It really is big sky country. I understand why the god of the Mongols was the big blue sky that arches over all of us. The clouds were ever changing. 20,000 miles since leaving Ohio in October. Saw several more deer, and three antelope grazing on luscious green new farm plants, must think they are in heaven. Also, some buffalo and another eagle rising across the highway.

 

West Glacier, a Close Encounter of the Bear Kind

There was a bear up ahead, but a couple of Montana hikers kept going to a beach, so I tagged along with my bear spray drawn, safety off, ready to fire, until far enough, I announced, “I’m going back.” In the lead now, I walked, looking ahead, left and right, and over my shoulders while yelling, “Hey Bear!” the way Alaskans do. Suddenly, a bear stood up behind me, off to the left, in the brush. I had walked by him, unaware despite looking where he was hiding. He must have cut around us, cutting us off from the herd of people below. I had been approaching him from behind, when he ducked into the brush, waiting for me to pass by, perhaps judging my intention, wondering: was I stalking him? It was a perfect ambush, but he turned away into the brush and I kept walking. No time to react, not even to be afraid, I don’t think I slowed my pace, like two hikers passing each other with a nod. He moved silently through the dense brush, not making another sound. There were mule deer down below. He must have been headed down to get one. Time enough later to think about our meeting, but now I was headed away from him.

It’s always tempting to be a know-it-all, but some Frenchman decided to lecture me on the use of bear spray. I asked him where he had learned so much, he said, “when I bought the bear spray.” I said, “That’s good, I learned in Alaska.” I’ve carried bear spray a few times since then, but never had the opportunity (need) to use. The thing is that if a bear attacks, it will happen fast. When I took a class on firearm safety, they had us engage in a contest. They picked the oldest, fattest man gave him a fake knife, set him up 20 feet away. We all had an fake pistol, that we were to draw and “shoot” him before he “stabbed” us. We were all “killed.” A bear is much faster than a fat old man and if a bear crashes into you, the shock will send you sailing, probably knocking you senseless.

It happened at Avalanche Lake to which I added Cedar Trail, about 6.3 miles and change, couple hundred feet of elevation, easy but crowded, at times a line of people going up. The parking lot was full. The campground had been opened for use as parking. So much was still snowed in, there are few places to go, and people bunch up in the same locations. Although I have enjoyed the National Parks – they are special places, my best hikes have been elsewhere.

 

Glacier National Park – arrival and the East side

The western side of Glacier is shockingly commercial and crowded. Even though the Road to the Sun through the park is open maybe 15 miles on either side, with the middle 20 still blocked by 15 foot snow drifts hiding whatever damage has been done to the road and guardrails, people come in throngs. It is a gorgeous drive along the Flathead Lake and River. Approaching West Glacier there are signs for zip lines, water adventures, tours,…., and tons of people. It was late in the day so dinner and check out the Glacier Distillery. Dinner was so-so, but the Distillery had a wide selection of options. I did a flight of whiskeys, a spruce flavored gin, and the absinthe. I normally don’t like licorice flavors, but it caught my eye for some reason, and oddly enough I liked it best.

The next day it rained all day, and decided to spend the time driving the two hours over to Two Medicine and Saint Mary, maybe to hike there. Visibility was poor, so the mountains were hidden much of the day. At Two Medicine, I was directed to Whitney as the hiking guru. She provided good updates on what not to do. In particular, one of the hikes I had in mind, the last two miles of the five 5 mile, 3000 foot, Huckleberry Mountain was through snow, deep snow, and sometimes up and down snow banks or walls.  She recommended the short walk to the falls, I thought if I’m going to get wet, I want something more.

Off to Saint Mary’s for the 3,6 mile RT 260 feet, Victoria Falls. The flowers were gorgeous along the way, I identified perhaps 30 different species, some of which I had never seen before, such as the Bear Grass not shown below. I hiked with Natalie, a ranger from Indiana. She was a good hiking companion, very pleasant and good natured. There are several falls along the way, Saint Mary’s, then three unnamed falls, followed by the 50+ foot Victoria Falls. The trail was very muddy, and we went off the main trail to get down by the river. On the way back down, I slipped on the mud ending my 11 month streak of hiking without a fall. Well, I needed to do laundry anyways.

There was a bear on the trail in the other direction, but we missed it. On the drive back, there were mountain sheep and three elk by the road. For dinner at the Huckleberry Patch for a piece of pie and their elk burger, excellent!

Butte

Went to Butte with Bamboo to have breakfast, to see the Mining Museum, the Headframe distillery and lunch. Bamboo’s friend invited us to his house for delicious sausage and biscuits, fresh squeezed orange juice. Thanks Matt, Lucy and Molly.

Afterwards, we toured the Covellite Theater, which Matt is restoring and renovating. It is a historical building, formerly a church. There is a small theater/ refreshment area below the larger main theater, Up top, there is a good view of the city.

From there we went to the Mining Museum which had a nice collection of minerals, gems, and other rocks along with mining equipment and houses filled with items of historical accuracy. There is an underground tour of a mine, but I passed on that. There was a picture of the area taken from an airplane, I imagine. We counted 23 mines in operation at one point. One remains. That is a headframe below, different elevators carried miners and ore.

We drove up a hill on the outskirts of the city for a better view of the city. That is the city, hard to see but the operating mine is in the distance. If you zoom in, you might see a terrace which marks the backside of the pit.

The Headframe Spirits Distillery had 7 items available: each named after a mine Anselmo Gin, High Ore Vodka, Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream which is very popular in the area, and 3 whiskeys: a light whiskey, approaching moonshine in its clean taste Destroying Angel, a short run Rye, and Neversweat Bourbon, a sipping whiskey. I liked the rye and Neversweat the best. It was a nice break from breweries. Thanks Kyle for chatting with us. That is a picture of the bar.

For lunch, I wanted to go to the oldest Chinese restaurant – opium den – whore house, but they had to close on Sundays. Nah, that’s formerly opium den and whore house, but they were closed anyways. Instead, we went to the main John’s Pork Chop. Bamboo had never been to John’s. The wings were very good too. I purchased 8 frozen to put in my freezer for later.

After that it was back to Anaconda, to get ready to pull out tomorrow for Glacier National Park.

I had a very good time in Anaconda. The people were very friendly and helpful. I got in some good hiking, saw some wildlife, and spent time with old friends.

 

Anaconda, Peppermint Patty for a John’s Pork Chop Sandwich

 

The weather in Montana is dynamic. Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, I’m used to rapid swings in weather, but Montana operates at a different level. Today was supposed to be nice, but this morning the forecast predicted thunderstorms this afternoon with Sunday beautiful and Monday dreadful. No thunderstorms so far, although it has been raining off and on and windy enough to rock the trailer while making noise.

A short hike of no consequence, 3 miles maybe, I timed it right. The rain started falling as I turned. Even though I was wearing a wool hiking short, the wind was chilling. Then as suddenly as it started it stopped. The wind kept blowing and in a little while, I was dry. The rain started again when I reached the truck.

Onto Peppermint Patty’s for a Pork Chop Sandwich, a fried breaded pork chop on a toasted hamburger bun with condiments of your choice. I went with the onions, yellow mustard, and pickles. It was as delicious as I had hear, the best non-BBQ sandwich I can remember in ages. The breading stuck to the pork chop, instead of flaking off. Pork Chop John’s family runs a restaurant in Butte, and provides Peppermint Patty with the pork chops ready to fry.

The pictures are from the historic walk around the Upper Works, about .9 miles one way. The box like structures with slots are the remains of the lower portion of the smelter, the long sandstone flume is actually the remains of a flue carrying the exhaust up to a smokestack atop a hill, the bricks look to be too small to be masonry blocks for the smokestack, and there is a picture of the town to the southwest. There are pieces of brick here and there during the walk, but look closer and see discarded metal, and one half buried large pipe along the way.

 

Phillipsburg, Montana, and Awesome Montana beers

Friday, today, it was supposed to rain, thunderstorms, not quite, but I had gone to play tourist at Philipsburg, a popular tourist destination. A couple places had been recommended to me: Upnsmoke BBQ, the Sweet Palace, the Phillipsburg Brewery Company, and a bakery. I forgot about the bakery, but hit the rest, and the Montana Gems for some sapphires.

Upnsmoke is an excellent, prize winning BBQ restaurant, invited to select competitions. The walls are lined with ribbons and awards. It was superb, the best since Texas and Alabama.

The candy store has over 1100 different candies from around the world, not your common retail candy bars. It reminded me of the Montana Candy Emporium at Red Lodge, Montana. The fudge melted in my mouth. I bought a gift bag and some chocolates. Superb.

The Phillipsburg Brewery continued to impress me with the skill of the Pacific Northwest breweries. I had enjoyed their Haybag Hefeweizen earlier, so I sampled a few others, deciding their Late Ryeser Rye Saison was another favorite. Unfortunately, they don’t sell beer other than growlers at the brewery. I’m hoping I can find some in town.

My three favorites available retail have been: the Haybag, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, and Mountain Man Scotch Ale. The flowers were by the side of the road.

Storm Lake, Horseshoes

Thursday, I picked up Morning Kid early to drive out to Storm Lake about 10 miles south of Anaconda, turn left onto a dirt road, inexplicably paved for a short distance, to climb from about 5,500 feet to 8,000 feet and the Lake, except the road turns rough, increasingly steeper, rockier, more rutted, and covered in more snow and ice until even with 4-wheel drive, the truck slides sideways, gets stuck, roll back down a ways, try again, and finally give up, back into a slot on the uphill side of the road, get out and walk the last mile to the Lake. Someone has been up there, we walked in the tire tracks, through running water, mud, and snow, and over slippery ice. I’m sucking wind and need to stop frequently. MK is breathing heavily but doesn’t need to stop.

The Lake, but for the edges, is covered in ice. The next day I would learn that a man died fishing there in recent years, falling out of the boat, the shock of the cold or something getting him. His friend watched helplessly as his body sunk into the clear, deep lake. Looking across the lake, piles of snow surround the shore. We start the loop around then see fishermen behind us on the other side. We backtrack to say “hello.” They lock their truck as we approach, “Beep.” Aha!, the wheels to their truck wear chains. We all wonder if they are the first to try fishing up there this year.

We continue, finding many flowers on the clear, high banks, water and snow in the slots below. At one spot, water bubbling up from the bottom of the lake indicates a spring emerging under water. We make our way, sinking in the snow, rock-hopping and jumping across streams and water. We start to post-hole, which is a safety issue, because we don’t know whether a rock or stick will slice a leg or water will soak us. From a high bank, looking down, the snow is deeper, streams coming out from underneath the snow. We decide it isn’t worth going further. We turn back and go back in our original direction. The fishermen have given up fishing, because the fish remain in deep water. The fishermen are at the outlet, taking pictures of the water cascading down the hillside. They follow the water down hill, while we cross the snow bridge over the running water to go around the other side of the lake. We don’t get far before encountering deep snow again. There is too much snow to make it around the lake, way too much to do the 3.5 miles out to the Continental Divide Trail.

In the evening, I meet Bamboo at Club Moderne, a bar from the late 1800’s that sadly burned down last year but has been rebuilt. In an unusual twist of fate, the roof collapsed quickly, burying the bar and some of the items inside, thereby saving them.

We reminisce and shares stories of adventures since the Appalachian Trail. He shows me a video from the PCT which has a secret, surprise happy ending.

Anaconda has a horseshoe league with different facilities providing horseshoe pits and serving as “home” for one of the teams. Bamboo easily beat me in three games before league play started. They had a little fun with me about the “hookers,” which are sticks with a hook on end for picking up the horseshoes without bending over. There appears to be a competition developing in terms of who has the nicest “hooker.” A shout-out to Bamboo’s team mates: Mike, Laura, Brit, and Sandy; also to John the owner of Club Moderne.

That’s me on the snow standing on the snow bridge, the main bar at Club Moderne, and a picture of a hooker made from willow by Mike.