Saturday, August 25, 2007
I got to lead the Beaver Pond hike on Wednesday, something I can't recall doing more than once or twice since graduating from my internship. It was fun, since I know the area so well and it's so different since the fire burned about 1/3 of the forest along the trail. What really struck me was how all the grasses and plants were yellow and dry, except for in the areas that burned last year, which were all lush, green, and leafy. I was so impressed, I came back the next morning with my camera.
It's not advisable to hike alone or quietly, but I did both. I didn't want to disturb the very peaceful scene on the trail that morning. Black-backed woodpeckers were drumming on the trees, and the sound echoed off all the trees for miles and the sound lingered in the air for several seconds after the act. I even saw some elk on the trail at close range; no sooner did they see me than they turned and ran away into the woods to the tremendous crashing and snapping of brush. I have never seen elk on the trail, even though I always suspected elk lived there. A great-horned owl hooted away long into the morning as I was photographing the vast fields of fireweed in the burned forest. On my exit of the trail, I saw a huge gang of crows and magpies in the field trying to bully a sharp-shinned hawk. I wasn't sure who was harassing whom in that situation.
Another day at Logan Pass went by and the goats, sheep, and ground squirrels were up to their usual antics. One day soon, the squirrels will go back underground and I will be able to rest - no more incessant chirping or misbehaving visitors. It's amazing how one little animal can captivate so many people every day, but it is a weird little thing that most of them have never seen.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Finally we got a change in weather. Although Sunday morning was very smoky, Sunday afternoon, the wind picked up and the air got colder. For two solid days now it's been mostly cloudy with a few small showers, but not the soaking rain we really need. The change in weather cleared the smoke out of the air and we could suddenly see all kinds of detail in the mountains and trees that we had not seen in at least 6 weeks. It's like a whole new world all of a sudden. It shows in the temperature/dew point graph.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
In order to alleviate the dry spell, Matt and I washed our cars this morning (team effort makes it more fun and go faster). It is well known that I can conjure a rain cloud by doing one of two things: washing the car or not packing my raincoat. Doing both almost guarantees precipitation. Although the day started out incredibly smoky, with visibility no more than 4 miles, the wind shifted in the afternoon. This evening as the sun settles behind the mountains, dark clouds are gathering. My strategy appears to be working. I hope it rains for a week. That would be a pleasant change.
The change would, however, bring about a different obnoxious question to be asked 113235425 times a day: "When do you think this rain will stop?" to which I will bellow and regale them with tales of just how dry it's been. Although I've become immune to questions like "Where's the bathroom?" (not here, obviously. keep looking) the one that's gotten to me lately is "So, how many times a day do you do this trail?" No greeting, just how many times I do the trail. Yeah, like I have all day to hike laps on the same stretch of trail. I get it at least 10 times every time I am on the Hidden Lake trail.
It makes me wonder what people think rangers really do all day long. Do they think we lie in flower-filled meadows and eat berries? OK, yeah, we do, but we do stuff the other two hours a day.
The question also invariably comes up when I do the St. Mary Falls boat trip and hike, "How many times a day do you do this?" (Well, it takes 4 hours every time I do it, so you do the math and think about whether I would want to do this twice a day.) Then, there's the variant, "How many times a week do you do this trail," as if there were no other ranger capable of doing that activity.
It's not that I don't like people, or mind that they ask questions (I'd rather they did than be completely ignorant), I just wonder why they ask some of these questions. I also don't like it when they ask me where I'm from, or what I do in the winter. That's a little nosy, don't you think? I'm going to start asking the same questions back. "Where do you live? What do you do? Can I get your e-mail address? Can you help me with my car problem?"
And while all that sounds like I'm annoyed, I also get to have people tell me I have the best job in the world. I don't think most people get that at work.
Anyway, back to the goings-on. The flowers are having their last hurrah at Logan Pass, where the Lewis monkeyflower is at its peak. It is most abundant right next to the small trickles of water that still persist there from the melting snow at the base of Mt. Clements, and it's the last bastion of green plants anywhere to be found. Yesterday, I found some white-lined sphinxes feeding on the nectar in the deep flowers.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Mike and I departed at the last possible minute from St. Mary. I had been waiting for a phone call from either Marc or one of the backcountry supervisors because there had been a murmur that they might like me to stay in the cabin overnight Sunday just to keep an eye on things since Marc would be leaving. Anyway, the point was that we started packing in St. Mary at 6:45 to depart at 7:05, hitting the trail at near 8:00 and reaching the ranger station before 10:00, a 6-mile hike/jog for us. We arrived just as it was getting too dark to see without a flashlight.
Aaaaaanyway, we spent the night there in the cabin and hung out for a while in the morning. Marc gave me some carrots and apples to feed the horses, which made me quick friends with the locals out there in the corral. Mike and I hiked to Elizabeth Lake for the afternoon, where he had planned to fish. Marc loaned me a fishing pole and all sorts of assorted equipment that I used to attempt to catch fish. I did catch one fish, an arctic grayling, which I devoured later in the evening. It was the only fish I actually hooked all day, about 6 hours of (pants-splitting) work.
*Reference to The Royal Tenenbaums, and if you didn't get it, you should really go watch that movie.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Around midnight, as I was preparing to settle down in my sleeping bag on the floor of the lookout, I took my nightly walk into the trees to relieve myself. While whizzing off the top of the mountain, I noticed a flash of lightning on the horizon. The lightning moved closer and closer, and the only safe place was in the tallest building on top of the tallest mountain around because it has a lightning rod.
I didn't sleep well at all, which was just as well. I was able to wake up and capture a picture of first light over the mountains while the smoke was inverted - down in the valleys with the peaks exposed. The picture is too awesome to throw out here on the internet, so I'll save it for when I see you in person (much like many of the pictures I've taken this summer).
On our descent, we collected another bagful of huckleberries - the limit is 1 quart per person, per day, for personal use, and I don't know how you'd pull that off - until we got sick of picking them and just wanted to get off the trail and to a real restaurant with something that didn't taste like huckleberries.
It turned out the lightning storm actually kicked off a fire on Goat Mountain, which is right here in the St. Mary Valley. But it was up in the rocks and not going anywhere. I saw the smoke from the car on the way home on Monday, but it wasn't all that impressive compared to something explosive like the Red Eagle Fire. Just a small, but noticeable, plume of smoke.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Here's this afternoon's view from the St. Mary VC webcam.
That puts visibility at no more than 2.5 or 3 miles, and it's all smoke. Needless to say, I have a familiar headache that never goes away, a tired and grumpy disposition, bleary eyes, and a crudded-up nose.
Good news, though, a cold front from Canada should be moving in this weekend. It's already less than 80 degrees today (hooray!) and will continue to cool the next few days. Maybe that will clear the air and slow the advance of these fires.
I wonder if anyone will be stupid enough to actually come on my boat cruise this afternoon. I don't know what I'm going to point out.
Friday, August 3, 2007
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.