Friday, September 27, 2013

GNP Day 6: Hidden Lake Trail

Day six in Glacier took us on our very first hike right out of Backpacker magazine which we've subscribed to for years.  In general those hikers are a bit more intense than Matt and I, but we were more than up to the hike to Hidden Lake which they designated as number six in the spread called "America's Best Views."  I don't know how they possibly decide upon these rankings, but none the less I can agree that it was a very, very, very outstanding view indeed.
The trail starts out as a boardwalk from Logan Pass, just behind the visitor's center.  Immediately it begins to cross a delicate, open expanse of wildflower meadow.  Seriously.  I don't know if I've ever seen so many flowers in one place!  We saw yellow monkey flower, Lewis's monkey flower, Indian paintbrush, yellow Indian paintbrush. St. John's wort, sitka valarian, sticky geranium, blue pleated gentian, elephant head flower, and undoubtedly countless others I failed to notice or identify.  There were seemingly rivers of blossoms flowing down the mountainside and pooling in that meadow.  It was mind blowing.
Lewis' monkey flower
The pink one in the back are the elephant head flower--it really does look like one, too, trunk and all.
8,760 foot Clements Mountain and a river of Lewis' monkey flower.
The Hidden Lake Trail is very popular--though it seemed most people only hiked the 1.5 miles to the overlook and then turned around.  Matt, Kjell, and I were up for a little more than that though so we continued on down the 1.5 mile decent to the shoreline some 700 feet below the overlook.
Our first peek of the stunning turquoise waters of the lake and the 8,684 foot tall Bearhat Mountain which looks over it.
The first part of the decent was fairly flat and followed along a stunning wall of mountain, passing small streams lush with greenery and flowers, and and endless variety of colorful rocks.  We also spotted another hoary marmot and watched a mother and baby mountain goat relaxing on a patch of snow a ways up the mountainside.  They were eating it and rolling on it with what seemed obviously great enjoyment.  It was pretty special to watch.  This hike, it would turn out, would be our best opportunity for viewing mountain goats.  It was so cool.
The view really just kept getting better and better the closer we got to the shoreline.  We met a few other people coming up as we were on our way down, but it was clear the majority of people turned around at the overlook.
When we finally emerged on the rocky beach it was just stunning.  The water was so smooth and flat.  It is some sort of magic trick that it can be clear as glass near the beach and opaquely turquoise, like a glowing gem, out in the deeper waters.  What a beautiful lake!!  Once again the waters were so clear we could easily see fish swimming along, both little bitty minnow types and big beautiful trout, too.   In addition to fish we saw the tiniest frog I've ever seen in the wild.  It was no bigger than I dime.  I think it was Matt that spotted it and that was only because the frog moved.  Otherwise he would have been completely invisible.
We decided to keep hiking around the lake in the interest of finding ourselves a private little place to relax and enjoy the majesty of our surroundings a while.  It didn't take us long to find a sizable boulder jutting out into the lake.  We'd had to cross an inlet stream to get there and Matt misjudged his steps and ended up getting water over the tops of his boots.   The boulder seemed like a nice sunny place to let his socks and boots dry out.  And allow me to go swimming!
I had been wanting to jump into one of these beautiful bodies of water since day one, but the timing and conditions had never seemed right.  At Hidden Lake they finally did.  I stripped down to my underpants (figuring I was with friends and it was as modest as a bikini...not that I wear bikinis, but...) and waded out into the water.  As I was pumping myself up for the icy plunge I slipped on slick rock and--ready or not--was in the water.  It was refreshing and invigorating on account of the cold water temperature.  I took a second dunk and was pretty much ready to get out immediately.  It didn't take too long to dry in the sun and I felt so good afterwards.  Matt and Kjell soaked their feet and, I think, thought I was a bit nuts.
After a good long while we thought we might start the trek back up to Logan Pass.  We gathered up some fishing line, and hooks which had been left behind by some fly-fishers and headed back.  Along the way we met some people who were going fly-fishing and gave them the hooks we'd found.  When we reached the inlet stream on the return trip we all took our boots off and waded back across--having learned from Matt's lesson on the initial crossing.  On the other side of the stream we had to stop and let our feet dry off before we put our boots on and continued.
Kjell and Matt skipped stones.  I took a short nap in the shade of an evergreen tree.
And then we were off.  Up, up, up the trail again to the overlook and beyond.   It was really not bad at all.  Not as exerting as I might have thought it would be as we went down into the valley.
Along the way we saw an American Pipit--a new-to-us bird sighting.  We also saw a totally crazy looking fuzzy caterpillar that was bright orange and another hoary marmot sunning on a rock.  We'd later learn, on a short nature trail back at Logan Pass, that hoary marmots hibernate from September through May.  That means that on average they are only "awake" for three months a year.  Talk about an animal of the high country, I guess!  From our Mammals of Montana field guide we learned that when they are awake the spend upwards of 40% of their day sunning themselves.  What a remarkable critter!
Just past the overlook on our return trip Kjell noticed a pair of mountain goats just up the hillside from us.  We stopped and watched and the goats meandered their way down until they were right on the trail.    We were quite close to them, but kept backing off as they approached on the trail--maintaining a distance that was both safe and fascinating.   From that vantage we saw the utterly miraculous mechanics of the mountain goat hoof.  There really are not adequate words to describe it.  It was like the hoof became fingers that folded around the rock.  It was amazing and made me have a better understanding of how they are able to scale such high and narrow ledges.

It must have been hot because the goat closest to us was breathing hard, I want to say panting, to the point that the goat was visibly rocking forward and back with each breath.   Most animals' cooling systems are related to respiration (humans being a notable exception to this rule) so this isn't really surprising, but it was very interesting to watch.
As we kept going we kept seeing more of them!  I think all told we saw nine goats (though it may have been only seven if the mama-baby on the hike in had migrated closer to the lake and were the same mama and baby that we saw on the hike out).  In the stillness we could hear the goats ripping up the grass as they grazed.
This is my favorite!  Her tongue is sticking out!
I don't know exactly how long we watched goats from the trail.  I probably could have stayed and watched them all day!  But, we did eventually mosey on down the trail--back into the wildflower bonanza.
We saw someone rip the bumper off their car in the parking lot at Logan Pass by hitting a short pole.  Oh, what a bummer!  We left the lot with no such incident and returned to camp.  Matt and I took another stroll through the Trail of the Cedars in the search of birds, but once again completely struck out.  The grove was great for trees and ferns, but we never did see a single bird in there.
An epic, mind-blowing, expectation-smashing sixth day.

2 comments:

  1. Wow. I can't stop looking at all these Glacier pictures! Thanks again for sharing your incredible adventure.

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    1. It was heaven for this photo-happy woman. Every direction was stunning.

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