Fire season is in full swing, with several major fires currently burning in the area. The nearest large fire is the Skyland Fire, which is right at Marias Pass in the Lewis & Clark National Forest. As of tonight, that fire has burned over 19,600 acres and is 20% contained, and forced the closure of Highway 2 over Marias Pass for at least one day. We're not sure if it's that fire, or the other numerous large fires in the area, including Fool Creek, Ahorn, and Brush Creek, that's making it smoky enough that's it's a little hard to breathe and even harder to see farther than about 5 miles. I about fell asleep at the desk this afternoon, and was getting a bit grumpy by the end of the day, and I blame it on smoke. The only notable fire in the park so far has been the Lee Ridge Fire, which was only a couple hundred acres, between the Belly River Ranger Station and the Chief Mountain Customs Station.
As for me, it has been business as usual, with only a couple exceptions. Yesterday, I had to kick a mime off the Hidden Lake Trail. Yeah, I said it: a mime. I was not pleased to see a man in a top hat, overcoat with tails, painted face, and gloves soliciting on the trail, and I let him know of my displeasure. I actually got a mime to talk, apologizing and scampering down off the trail. Although upset at the time, I knew I would be laughing about it later, and I was. Particularly, we were laughing at the image of an NPS recruitment poster that reading, "National Park Service, Protecting You From Mimes Since 1916," and with a picture of me with my boot on a mime's painted face. Today, I had a great St. Mary Falls boat trip and hike, with a calm, reflecting lake, a bald eagle sitting atop a tree on Wild Goose Island, and a yearling black bear along the trail that I nearly walked right past without noticing (it was only 10 yards off the trail).
On Sunday, I hiked from Logan Pass to Many Glacier via the Highline Trail and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. I started as early as possible to remain in the shadow of the mountains for a good part of the journey, a strategy that paid off. I decided to climb to the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint, which turned out to be pretty far uphill despite the encouraging sign that indicated it was only 6/10 of a mile away. After a brief (and I mean brief) stop at the Granite Park Chalet, I climbed up to Swiftcurrent Pass. My original intent had been to go up to the Swiftcurrent Lookout Tower atop Swiftcurrent mountain, but my knees and ankles were screaming at me after the ascent to the glacier viewpoint and I turned around one switchback into the operation. I was glad I aborted that mission, since I was racing the clock to meet Blake at the end of the trail, who would pick me up and drive me back to St. Mary. Swiftcurrent Pass turned out to be a fairly interesting place, with its parklike subalpine meadows and scattered sub-alpine fir trees. There were still a couple small patches of snow, as well as Swiftcurrent Glacier looming in the distance. From the pass, one can see several lakes in the Many Glacier Valley. On the way down the switchbacks, amid thanking myself for not trying to go up them, I discovered an ocean of ripe huckleberries. Needless to say, that pushed my trail speed down as I devoured the berries as fast as I could pick them. I don't have the patience with food like that to store any for later. Looking down into the valley, I could barely see a moose walking in Bullhead Lake, noticeable only because it left a wake of mud behind it as it walked through the shallow end of the lake. At Redrock Falls, I stopped to inspect the raspberry crop in the one patch of raspberry plants I know of in the park and found a couple edible ones that were quite good. The last treat was to see a grizzly bear with its yearling cub on the slope north of Redrock Lake, at a distance of about 1/8 to 1/4 of a mile. The heat down in the valley was almost unbearable, and I lamented not buying new insoles for my boots the last 4 miles of my 16-mile trek as the balls of my feet shot with pain. Nevertheless, it was an awesome hike I'd love to do again! I do enjoy getting to walk at my own pace, rather than the "ranger pace," since I actually cover a lot more ground in a shorter period of time.
Other notable things going on in the park, as far as wild things: Almost all of the flowers are done blooming, except for the few that last through the driest part of the summer like pearly everlasting, fireweed, asters, harebells, and goldenrod. Most of the "nice" flowers I like are about done or went to seed long ago. I no longer hear the chatter of the ruby-crowned kinglet, the cheery declaration of the white-crowned sparrow, or the spiraling song of the Swainson's thrush, and I miss those birds. Also, no rain to speak of lately, and none in the forecast. Looks like it's going to be smoky for a while.