Monday, August 29, 2016

Light the Sky and Hold on Tight

It’s back to Glacier for part two, which has turned out to be the far more adventurous half of this trip. After meeting back up in the park yesterday, the three of us took a short, not-that-steep hike to two waterfalls.

For the record, my mother would object to both of those descriptors.

From there, after a quick dinner, it was off to the Two Medicine area of the park to see if Glacier could finally provide an interesting sunset. Was this one pretty? Yes. Was it interesting? Ehh…

Because we’re staying 20 minutes away from Two Medicine, I decided to head back out there this morning for a sunrise. It’s one of the more remote sections of the park, so I had the entire lake to myself for most of it.

Just when I was starting to get frustrated that I couldn’t find an interesting foreground, I put the tripod aside and made a little stack of flat rocks to put the camera on, to get it closer to the ground. Until that point, the ripples in the lake had been messing up the reflections of the mountains, but from this lower vantage point, I could see that a little circle of rocks in the water had formed a mini bay, where my reflections would be mostly undisturbed. Victory.

Then the adventures really began. Today’s main event was the Highline Trail, one of Glacier’s signature attractions. The full trail is 12 miles long and hugs the side of the Garden Wall – a steep arête studded with wildflowers – for most of its length, providing spectacular views all along the way. When we first tried to hike it last week, it was closed due to a carcass on the trail. And the bears that were eating it. I know parks are about preservation of nature, but who would have minded if they had just poked it with a stick and it “accidentally” fell off the trail, down a 500 foot cliff? Certainly not I.

Today, though, the Highline Trail was back open, so off we went. First were the cliffs. For about a quarter mile, the trail is only 3 feet wide and has a sheer drop of several hundred feet on one side. Nary a guardrail to be found. I loved it. Meredith did not.

After the cliffs came the wildlife. Thankfully the carcassing bears were gone, but someone did point out a derpy goat in its more usual habitat – climbing the side of a rock face.

Not bad, but I had seen a goat before. I was really hoping to cross “bighorn sheep” off my list of animals that I’m told exist but about which I harbored serious doubts. I accomplished that goal 5 minutes after the appearance of the goat, when a sheep was happily munching flowers just a hundred feet below the trail. He was even polite enough to pose several times, and to not charge even once.

Later, there were squirrels, too. Aggressive manipulative bastard squirrels that don’t understand “no.” I guess enough of them have learned to beg for food that now all of them come right up to people to give their most pathetic faces for some crumbs. I nearly had to kick one the other day to convince it I wouldn’t be feeding it. Today, they only went so far as to stand up and make their most ridiculous faces before giving up.

For the rest of the way out, we had to be content with sweeping mountain vistas and sheets of wildflowers in full bloom. I guess I could tolerate that.

Overall, we did about a third of the trail before turning back, but I don’t feel like we missed anything. Between the wildlife and walking on the edge of the world and seeing snowcapped peaks from every angle, it would have been hard for the rest of the trail to top it. Plus, we got back to the trailhead at Logan Pass with enough energy left to function for the rest of the day.

Speaking of the rest of the day, all that was left on the agenda was Mexican food, sunset, and star viewing. After we headed back towards the hotel for enchiladas, we raced back north to the park in the hopes that we’d arrive before the sun was gone. Along the way, we noticed that some very dark clouds had rolled in to the west, and at one of the brief moments of cell service, my radar app told me that storms were headed directly for us. It looked like the sunset would be a washout, yet again, but since we were already there, we might as well see if a hole in the clouds opened up and lit up the sky.

Well, the sky did light up, but not because the sun came out. As we pulled into the parking lot at the St. Mary Visitor Center, lightning had already started popping off all around us. So I set up in a west-facing field, turned on my lightning trigger, and waited.

As the show began getting really interesting, my mother started bellowing from the car that it was time to leave. I, of course, had no interest in that. After all, I didn’t feel like I was about to be struck by lightning. And if she had really been serious, she would have gotten out of the car to try to drag me back. So I figured I’d wait around as long as I could, until I started getting too wet. Eventually, the lightning got closer and closer, until it was flashing directly overhead. But it was up there, so I had nothing to worry about down on the ground. Or at least that’s what the confirmation bias of not having been struck by lightning in the end proves. Here’s the best of what came straight from the camera (editing and stacking will have to happen when I get home).

That sunset was many things, but a washout was definitely not one of them.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the star viewing. It took until nearly 11pm for the sky to clear up enough to see anything, and by then we were back at the hotel. Speaking of the hotel, this one is… different. It’s rather rustic and quaint – one of those every-room-is-a-separate-cabin places. We have our own porch. We also have a TV – with 4 whole channels. And 3 entire outlets. And a bathroom with a stair down to enter and a door that requires a full-on shoulder tackle to exit. Last night we also realized my mother had left the window open, so we woke up to a 40 degree room. So basically it’s camping with mattresses and running water. Not that I’m complaining – in a room like this it’s impossible to forget you’re in Montana. Which is the whole point of being here in the first place.

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