Daily Archives: September 16, 2013

Climb On

Driving out of Glacier National Park one immediately enters the vast expanse of prairie that’s owned by the Black Feet Native Tribe.  We learned about the Black Feet and other Nations at the Plains Indians Museum in Browning, MT a low key museum full of original artifacts, clothing and stories. The drive onward was important as it was the first time that the kids ever saw the Great Plains. The first time I (Joseph) drove through the Plains was driving from East to West where the subtle changes from flat Midwest woodlands to Great Plains vastness occurs over hundreds of miles.  Here, where the two landscapes collide, may well be one of the most spectacular transitions of scenery on Earth.

We moved on to Great Falls to visit the Lewis and Clark museum and replenish our reserves before we continued south to a highly recommended rock climbing area just east of Butte Montana called Spire Rock. This area is comprised of a cluster of granite domes and blocks in the mountainous regions east of the Continental Divide.  It sits at about five thousand feet elevation and is completely undeveloped.  There are networks of National Forest roads that wind around the area and you can set up and camp where ever you want.  The forest consisted of some of the Fir species we recognized from further north but there was a well defined increase in Rocky Mountain species found clear down to Arizona, including Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and of course Sage.  There was sage everywhere and it smelled delightful.

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Over the next four days, we relaxed into the landscape rising to the new day with strong coffee, stretching and yoga.  The kids joined as they chose.  By mid day we meandered to the rock outcroppings and enjoyed clean granite crack climbing.

Family AM yoga

Family AM yoga

Spire rock is notable as it was Ila’s debut to rock climbing. She eagerly donned her full body harness and asked to go “up up”.  She smiled and hung out on the rock about 4-12 feet off the ground at which time she signaled that she was ready to lower.

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She easily transitioned to napping as we walked back to camp which allowed for the rest of us to work on lessons, different projects and relaxing.  At some point we’d start prepping dinner and eat.  Each evening ended with tickle fights, wrestling, song circle of kid’s songs and different variations on the family pile ups until it was just too dark to see.  This is what we did everyday and frankly if the choice was all mine this is what I would do every day for the rest of my life.

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Alas, laundry needed to be done, food and water were running short and we were eager for more adventure so we packed up camp and headed on.  From here the plan had changed though.  Previously we saw ourselves spending several days in the Bozeman area but realized that a succinct resupply of food, used books, knitting needles and ice cream was in order and then off to Yellowstone…

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As we drove in to Glacier we had our sites set on Avalanche camp which is nestled in the deep valleys of the Cedar and Hemlock forests.  These forests were a spitting image of the mountains at our own home of the Mt Baker region.  Everything just a little smaller and no tree moss really to speak of.  Above you could catch glimpses of towering peaks which reached 4 thousand feet above.  The peaks were calling so we didn’t want to call it a day yet but set up camp and headed up to the famous Going to the Sun Road.


With its high point at Logan pass (6,600 some odd feet) Glacier was spectacular.  I need to point out that tourists were swarming like flies on camel snot but that’s OK.  Logan pass is above tree line and although peaks are very sharp and jagged as well as valleys tend to drop steeply for thousand of feet, the rolling meadowy landscape that wrapped itself around surrounding peaks was good medicine for the whole family.   From Logan pass we hiked up to a higher pass above and caught a view of Hidden Lake…See photo.  The Logan Pass hike included many mountain goats, mamas, kids and papas with horns only steps away from the trail. Elias made friends with the Columbian Ground squirrels that scurried across the trail.

The walk felt really great for everyone.  There was a bit of excitement in the air as this was really the first time we had hiked on the trip and the scenery was spectacular on quite an unreal scale.

Camping at Avalanche Creek, the following day we hiked as a family up to Avalanche lake.  Good fun and spectacular but the feel of being at Disney world had it’s day so we packed up to see what we could find on the east side of the mountains.


We then traveled to the east side of the park to camp at Two Medicine Campground, a quieter and more remote spot in the south east corner of Glacier. We immediately noticed the stark change in vegetation as we traveled over the divide and welcomed the new flora. Something really amazing about the forests here is you have four different ecosystems that rarely meet coming together in the mountain range:  From the west  the most eastern stands of the North West forests push their way up to just shy of the Continental divide.  As big and magical as these thick forests are they are also thick and it’s not as easy to see all the big and awesome terrain above.  Once you’re just shy of tree line and rolling over from the east side, the Northern Rockies and Southern Rockies forests meet and mingle cascading down the eastern slopes.  Pushing in from the lower sections of the east side of the range is the Steppe or the “Prairie” creating a very pretty mosaic of grasslands and forests which also lends itself to the big scenic views of giant alpine peaks literally rising right out of the Great Plains.  In some places the grasses of the prairie seem to have no distinct boarder or perhaps only hinted by some small stands of Aspen forests.

Inspired by the magnificent views at Logan pass and from the Going to the Sun road, with bear spray in hand, we attempted to get backcountry camping permits but where sold out.  Instead we settled on day hikes and based out of Two Medicine campground.  This place was stunning.  The camp was located on a picture perfect lake and mountains towered on all sides.  Easy living.

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The next day we hiked around the North Shore of Two Medicine Lake with the bulkiness of Sleeping Wolf Mountain looming over four thousand feet above.  Once we were beyond the 3 mile long lake we continued up one of the valleys to the stunning Upper Two Medicine Lake.  Here we hung out for quite some time, swimming, sunbathing, skipping rocks and sunbathing some more.  On the way down we wrapped around the south side of the lower lake and found patches of the best huckleberries ever.  Finally back at camp we clocked in as a total of 12 mile loop. The kids were incredible. We discovered the deliciousness of thimble berries which are different from the ones in the Cascades and the variation of blue berries and huckleberries on the trail.

Overall visiting Glacier was great but it was in the Two Medicine region that things felt magical.  Everything was so crisp and refreshing and there was a wildness that we finally found.  As we spent several days enjoying in soaking it in, the bug to keep exploring was constantly buzzing and the laundry started to stack so we packed it up and moved on.

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