The High Country, Part 8

Lunch was made more pleasant by a Moose Drool Brown Ale--one of a number of tasty western microbrews I sampled during the trip--but after I'd reached the bottom of the glass, it was time to head for the Two Medicine entrance and do something my folks and I hadn't done together in a while: take a boat trip.

DSC01065 Crop.jpgThe boat trips we'd taken in the past had always been pretty close to sea level, but this was not the case for today's voyage across Two Medicine Lake, two miles long and only a hundred-odd feet shy of being a mile high. Our craft was the 79-year-old wooden craft Sinopah, commanded by the genial Captain Clint, whose font of knowledge about the area was broad and deep and whose delivery was often very funny. Mind you, it was sometimes a little scary, too; the water, he informed us, was roughly 38 degrees Fahrenheit on this sunny June afternoon, so we might want to give swimming a miss:

DSC01070.JPGThe trip took only about a half-hour, but it offered us the most intimate views we'd had yet of Glacier's peaks, including the two that dominate the landscape, Sinopah and Rising Wolf. The latter lay on the north shore close to the eastern end of the lake, where the boathouse, camp store, and parking lot lay, while the former commands the western end, standing on the south side and shading the stream that flows into the lake. Here's our first look at the beautiful Sinopah, which stands over 8200 feet above sea level and, according to tradition, was named after a local chief's daughter:

DSC01048.JPGThe chief's daughter was famous primarily because of her love for a man named Hugh Monroe, a white fur trapper whose own fame began when he joined the Blackfeet. The notoriously xenophobic tribe were resistant at first, but once he had proven his loyalty by abandoning his old life and joining them on raids and hunting excursions, he was given the name Rising Wolf and eventually married the chief's daughter. Yes, it does sound strikingly like the plot of Avatar, doesn't it? But in any case, the mountain named after him stands across the water from his wife's namesake, and rises to an elevation of over 9500 feet:

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The name "Two Medicine," Clint told us, comes from the tradition that two Blackfeet women, each from a separate band, were independently wandering the area to find a suitable spot for a springtime "medicine" ritual when they met near the lake and decided their mutual presence was a sign. He also told us that the lake was both very deep (as glacial lakes tend to be) and originally barren; the waterfall below the stream leading out of the lake's south end was simply too high for fish to ascend, so the Parks Service had stocked it with five species of game fish. What he did not tell us was whether those fish would get rid of the evidence if we tossed someone overboard.

I know this is probably a result of my own children's having reached legal adulthood, but I was seriously contemplating the likely result of throwing someone else's kid overboard. Or possibly two of them. The younger, in all honestly, wasn't giving me nearly as much trouble as he was giving Mom and Dad, as he was sitting behind them and kicking the back of their seat through most of the trip, but his older brother was also making an annoyance of himself by running back and forth from his seat to the bow and back, not to mention incessantly asking Clint questions of dubious relevance ("Why do fish breathe water?"). Clint, for his part, handled the interrogation without resorting to sarcasm or harshness ("Because that's where they live, dude."), Still, I'd bet that he, like me, would have appreciated at least one parental attempt to inform Junior that maybe other people might want to ask something, or even just contemplate nature's beauty in relative peace and quiet

Luckily, Mom distracted us all by spotting something unexpected charging down the side of Rising Wolf: not a grizzly, or a bighorn sheep, or even a life bird for me. It was an avalanche:

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As you can see from the two photos, which were taken one after the other as quickly as I could work the camera's manual shutter, the mass of snow, rock, and mud is advancing down the slope rapidly. Scale was a bit difficult to judge, but given the size of the trees visible on the far side of the snow field, I can't imagine that the length of the avalanche's path could be measured in anything less than hundreds of yards. Because of the trees at lakeside, we couldn't see much of what happened at the end of the snow's journey downhill, but we didn't see any treetops vanishing. Still, it was an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime event, and I know Mom's going to be talking about it for a long, long time.

Before long, we'd reached the western terminus, where we let some hikers off and picked up a few returnees before setting out for our home port. The weather continued to be gorgeous, and our last look at Two Medicine Lake remains one of the most beautiful sights I saw in Glacier:

DSC01075.JPGBut Clint's words had stuck in my head: he'd mentioned a waterfall below the lake, and my map of the park showed it: Running Eagle Falls, which lay only a short distance (0.3 miles) from a parking lot along the main road. If I wanted to get out among the birds of the park, this would probably be one of my best chances. And as I described the trail and and falls to Mom and Dad, they agreed that this would be one trail they were willing to hike. Given Dad's bad knee and Mom's preference for staying with him, rather than birding--not really her thing--I hadn't really expected them to be coming along on most of my walks, so this was an unusual development.

The trail led from the lot through a stretch of forest (largely evergreen, as most woods in these parts were), but once again our enjoyment was tempered by the presence of one of our least favorite species: Homo sapiens. One couple wandered down the trail accompanied by their daughter, who might have been four, and each parent was not only all but ignoring her, but carrying a lit cigarette as well; had the area not been fairly well wet down by recent rains, I would probably have said something about maybe SETTING A NATIONAL PARK ON FIRE, but I bit my tongue and let them get ahead of us, which unfortunately left us following their trail of smoke. There was another group, perhaps six or seven in number, featuring a couple of adults, a teenager or two, and an indeterminate number of small children, at least one of which was in stroller. They presented no fire hazard, but they were being loud enough that I didn't consider their proximity likely to help my birding.

Luckily, the woods soon ended, and we found ourselves at the intersection of two gorgeous creeks. From the north flowed Dry Fork, over which a plank bridge was laid, allowing us to cross and see the falls Clint had talked about pouring down into Two Medicine Creek, with Rising Wolf looming over it:

DSC01088.JPGIt was here that I found my greatest annoyance with the large group of tourists who'd led the way down the path, as they were standing to the right of the falls, above the rocks you can see at the bottom corner of the pic above--standing on the far side of the safety rail. This was a problem because of my ethical obligations as a Wilderness First Responder. Part of my training involves a commitment to helping those in need in the wilderness, and I was having visions of the unpleasantness I would have to go through if one of these yahoos slipped and fell into the 38-degree waters.

Luckily, there were no splashes from upstream--no audible ones, anyway--and I had other things to distract me, and I don't just mean the falls themselves. There were, for example, these bizarre flowering plants on the shoreline, which we later found out are called beargrass:

DSC01083.JPGThere was the startling clarity of the water, as well as the two major colors of what Clint informed us were mudstone; the redder version comes from geological layers where more oxygen was present, leading the iron in the greenish stone to rust:

DSC01080.JPGAs I bent to snap the photo of the creek bed, however, I was disturbed by a sudden call and a dark silhouette whirring down from the falls. I had just enough time to note the grayish plumage, the short tail, and the teetering flight before it reached the confluence and hung a left up Dry Fork. There was no time for focusing the camera, let alone training binoculars on it, but there was no question in my mind: I had just seen my first American Dipper. Not my best look at a life bird, no, but it was in arguably the best setting, as Mom and Dad proved by posing there:

DSC01085.JPGAnd with that, we were done with the falls, done with Two Medicine, and ready to head back to East Glacier for dinner. Mom and Dad walked ahead of me, as I was still toting binoculars and hoping to see something unusual, which I did: one of the aforementioned yahoos, in this case a teenager sporting a close-cropped black mohawk and a bright pink t-shirt, came barreling down the trail from the falls at full speed, no doubt terrifying every bird in the forest into silence. I gritted my teeth, wondering if standing and looking into the woods with binoculars is somehow a signal to some people to make as much noise as humanly possible, while his family came more gradually up the trail and past me. Luckily, one of the birds I'd heard was still calling near the back of a stand of firs, and with patience, I was finally able to glimpse the telltale orange patches of an American Redstart, my first of the year. It was a good bird, and I was ready to pull up stakes, but I was suddenly distracted by a chik note and the sight of a small bird darting into the low growth by the path. My binocs were immediately back up, giving me a brief look at the olive back, and a few seconds later I could see grey head with a white eye-ring--no, actually, it was a pair of white arcs that didn't quite form a complete ring. A western specialty, this: MacGillivray's Warbler, which rarely comes east of the Rockies. And another lifer. Running Eagle Falls had been unusually generous to me.

And with that, it was time for food. We made our way into East Glacier, sauntered into Serrano's, and had what may have been my favorite restaurant meal of the trip: the Enchiladas Especial, combining chicken breast, salsa verde, jack cheese, and sour cream and wrapped in organic blue corn tortillas. Sated with nature's goodness and Mexico's bounty, there was only one thing left to do before retiring: get a picture of the sign out front:

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NEXT:
BEARDED IN THEIR LAIR
(or IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE)

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on June 25, 2013 10:05 PM.

The High Country, Part 7 was the previous entry in this blog.

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