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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Journey Through Montana to Theodore Roosevelt National Park Then Home

The journey through Montana was relatively uneventful. Other than the occasional Indian Reservation and town consisting primarily of casinos, the vast nothingness of eastern Montana was rather impressive.

Not long after nightfall, we were in Medora, ND, home to Theordore Roosevelt National Park. With TRNP being in the middle of nowhere and on our drive home, we decided to spend a couple days exploring the park, assuming that we may never come back. After checking into the hotel, we drove into the park to get away from the lights of Medora to try to catch a glimpse at the stars. It is hard to describe the stunning display the stars make when not competing with city lights. Incredible. With the drive catching up to us, we headed to the room to get some rest before hiking in the morning.

After a good night's rest, we started organizing our supplies for our day hike. While this was happening, we also took advantage of our plethora of cellular coverage to check and return messages. Once we were loaded up, we headed off to the ranger station to ask a few questions and pick up a map of the area. The ranger mentioned that we should hike the big plateau trail to the petrified forest then backtrack to take the lone tree trail. While we were told that there should be 4x4s indicating the trail, we were advised that there was not really a trail marker indicating where lone tree trail diverged from big plateau trail, only a supposed mud hole. Confident that we knew the plan and had plenty of water (Ben was carrying a little over 1 gallon and Kari had about 3/4 of a gallon), we left the ranger station in search of the trailhead. Perhaps the only poor decision we made was starting our hike around noon with temperatures already in the mid-90s.

The first challenge on our hike was crossing the Little Missouri River. Nothing like getting your feet wet less than a mile into the trail, knowing that to exit would require the same crossing. We quickly set off on our trail, climbing buttes to eventually reach the plateau. The majority of this section of trail, once atop the plateau, was fairly flat. The only major challenge was the herd of buffalo hanging out on the trail. After assessing the best way around and taking a few photos, we set off around the buffalo, chatting briefly with the only other person we saw on trail all day. Solitude was easy to come by in this park. Apart from the noticing that about every other 4x4 was knocked over, likely from the buffalo, our journey to the petrified forest was rather uneventful.

Hoping to find some shade to eat our lunch, we backtracked to where Ben thought the lone tree trail might diverge. With some excellent route finding skills, and a bit of luck, we found the mud hole and sat in the shade for our lunch. Following lunch, we continued our journey along lone tree "trail". Trail is in quotation marks because for about 90% of it, there was no trail. We just tried to aim for 4x4s, whenever they were present, and find the path of least resistance (sometimes the actual trail, sometimes game trails, and sometimes bushwhacking our way through). We were not mentally, nor physically, prepared for this section of trail. After enjoying the super highways in Glacier, this was a bit of a shock. We both wore shorts to account for the incredible heat. As a result, our legs got torn up from the various thorns, grasses, brush, etc as we journeyed along. Pants would have been phenomenal! We did manage to enjoy the view to some degree. Extreme solitude amidst the buttes with only elk and buffalo as our companions. After about 5 hours of hiking and drinking almost all of our water, we finally reached the river crossing that would get us back to our car. Victory!

Instead of taking a scenic drive, we opted to head back to town to shower and grab dinner. Following dinner, we took a scenic drive around dusk to see some wildlife and hopefully see some more stars. Unfortunately, Ben was not feeling well, so we ended up cutting our evening short. Not before we saw a few lone buffalo, a badger and then got stuck in a buffalo traffic jam for close to 30 minutes! Nothing quite like a herd of buffalo completely surrounding your vehicle, preventing passage to our desired destination.

Our final morning in the park consisted of one last scenic drive to drive the loop. Despite overcast skies, the badlands really are a special place. Arid wastelands, full of life. Frontier men referred to the North Dakota Badlands as "hell with the fires put out". After our day roasting in the blazing sun, we have a deeper understanding of this saying. The scenic loop did not disappoint. We saw lots of buttes, buffalo, wild horses, and antelope.

Following our time on the scenic drive and at Painted Canyon, we started our drive back home. Partly due to how short a drive we had to get to our next stop and partly because Kari was obsessed with roadamerica.com, we made a quick pit stop at Salem Sue for some photos. Before long, we were at our hotel for the night.

For our final leg of the trip, we swung by Kari's Aunt and Uncle in the Minneapolis area for lunch. It was nice to have a home-cooked meal after almost 2 weeks of meals on-the-go and spend some time with their family. The remainder of the drive was very uneventful. We were excited to be getting home to our own bed and be able to get out of the car for a while. Needless to say, laundry was one of the first priorities after the car was unloaded!

Click here for photos from Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Glacier Exploration Post-Trip

We arose early with unabashed anticipation for our delectable huckleberry bear claws; there was also our boat tour adventure on the horizon. We quickly loaded the car and began our journey to Many Glacier Hotel via the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Unfortunately, we did not have much time to stop, due to trying not to be late to our boat tour.

Many Glacier Hotel was built in 1914. The original owner was obsessed with the Alps, so Many Glacier Hotel was constructed to look like a Swiss chalet and early advertising described Glacier as "Switzerland of America". It is a beautiful hotel.

Once we arrived, we walked to the boathouse to pick up our tickets and board the boat. Our guide told historic tales of the surrounding landscape while we glided along Swiftcurrent Lake.

Upon reaching the head of the lake, we walked to another boat to begin our journey across Lake Josephine. Earlier that morning, our guide mentioned that there were some moose in the shallows. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see any critters while in the boat.

Part of why we chose this boat tour was for the chance to hike to Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake, while experiencing a boat tour and cutting over 5 miles off of our hike! The hike up to the lake was rather eventful. We met a father and son out for a couple nights that recommended the Wind River Range, some bighorn rams playing and eating on the trail, stunning vistas, and plentiful thimbleberries for Ben to munch on.

After the full day of driving in the car the day prior, our legs were pretty stiff, but we still made good time and quickly arrived at the end of our hike. We saw many people taking a lunch break by Upper Grinnell Lake, which is directly fed by the Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers. We continued on, past where the clear trail ended, and made our way across of rocky debris. We were determined to get closer to the Grinnell Glacier and to touch it.

At the end of the rock field, we were stopped by a frozen stream that lead from Grinnell Lake and ended in a waterfall over the mountainside. Still determined to find a way to get to the glacier, we sat down for lunch and admired the icebergs floating in the lake. We filtered some of the FREEZING lake water (the coldest water we had used yet...even colder than Iceberg Lake) for the rest of our hike and then clamored on across the boulders and rock ledges, searching for a narrow point in the stream to crossover, but no luck. We came all that way and were thwarted by a darn creek!


When we were about to give up, we saw a young man jump and emerge on the other side of the creek. We yelled to him and he showed us how he got across - by leaping 4 feet across the icy river and landing on a narrow, slippery ledge. We weighed the risks: camera equipment going in the water or slamming into the rock, slipping and landing in water on a mountain-top (hypothermia, concussion, drowning, going over a waterfall, etc). After coming this far, Kari was determined to make it to the glacier. But Ben reasoned that her short legs could not make the jump without risk and we were forced, reluctantly, to abandon the quest.

We later found a shirt that said something along the lines of "Determination - What you feel before you do something really stupid". Yes. Just yes.

We retreated down the trail, back toward the boats and stopped off at a smaller glacier just off the trail to officially touch a glacier. Then we continued on, past many bighorn sheep on and near the trail, and went down to catch the "hiker's shuttle" (an unadvertised boat departure for the early AM hiking tour group) back across Lake Josephine and then across Swiftcurrent Lake back to Many Glacier Hotel.

Since we were winding down our time in Glacier, we finally began accumulating souvenirs and gifts at Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (mmm...Huckleberry Products...) and headed back to Apgar for one last dinner at Eddie's.

Click here for photos from Glacier National Park

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Glacier Car Retrieval Post-Trip

Since we arrived in East Glacier the previous night, we were able to sleep in a bit, shower again, and grab a good breakfast before beginning our long journey back to our car. After we packed up, we walked over to the Trading Company to pick up our rental car from the Avis counter. While there, we spotted a homemade triple berry coffeecake that we could not pass up. It was delicious! Before leaving town and reliable cellular coverage, we contacted (or tried to) our families to let them know we were alive and well. Then we were off!

Two and a half hours later, we were back at Kintla Lake and Ben's car, stopping to check in to our room in Apgar along the way. Apart from seeing more people on the unpaved roads, it was rather uneventful. Ben loved having his chacos back on his feet!


Kari followed Ben back to Polebridge Merchantile, so we could sample the famous huckleberry bear claws! Fabulous does not begin to describe these tasty treats! We even bought a few more for breakfast the next day! Following our short stop in Polebridge, we continued our journey back to East Glacier to return the rental.

Back in East Glacier, 6.5 hours after we began, to drop off the rental, the owner was impressed with the time we made. We realize that this may be obvious, but Glacier is huge. Gigantic, really. It is also fairly inaccessible to motor vehicles, with only one road going through the park. Thus, any journey from one side to another, in our case southeast corner to northwest corner, is a rather long, sometimes arduous journey.

Once the rental was returned, we decided on and reserved a boat tour for the following day and ate at the highly recommended Serranos in East Glacier. Wonderful Mexican food that even Mexicans, so we were told, rave about. You could tell it was a local hotspot by the line waiting to get in. We highly recommend it if ever in East Glacier.

Following dinner, we drove the final hour back to Apgar to our motel room. We decided to take a stroll along the beach of Lake McDonald as the sun was setting before crashing for the night. It was absolutely beautiful!

Click here for photos from Glacier National Park

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Epic Journey Day 6

Start: Elizabeth Lake (Foot) Campsite
Exit: Ptarmigan Trailhead
Mileage: ~10.6 miles with ~4.2 miles spur trail to Iceberg Lake
Elevation Up: ~2518 feet
Elevation Down: ~2480 feet

It was another morning of tearing down camp, followed by a quick breakfast with our campmates before beginning our last day on the trail.

Right from the start of our hike, we began ascending the mountain via a series of switchbacks weaving up through the trees. As we climbed up and up, Ben paused to capture views from the overlooks on his camera and to scavenge berries. Raspberries and thimbleberries were favorites of the day, choke cherries, elderberries and various other mystery berries were huge disappointments.

After about 1.5 hours, we reached the ridgeline, where the forest faded into open scree fields. We traversed these slippery slopes as they climbed toward Ptarmigan Tunnel. While keeping our eyes open for any grizzlies that might be playing in the fields below us (at a safe distance for photo ops), we spotted a pair of moose grazing and paused to take their pictures and snack on some raspberries near where we sat.

We dusted ourselves off and continued climbing the final ledge to Ptarmigan Tunnel. As we proceeded past the man-made wall that lined the walkway, we paused to admire the nearby glaciers and listened to their creaks and groans.

Despite having climbed over 2000 feet in our first 5 miles, carrying heavy packs, we appeared to be the first people of the day to reach the tunnel. We took some photos on the north-west entrance of the tunnel, chased a chipmunk out of the dark as we admired the stonework and noted the sidewalls a ranger had told us before were designed to keep horses centered within the tunnel so riders in years past would not bump their heads on the ceiling.

As we emerged on the south-east side, we met the first hikers arriving from that side. After a few pictures there, we sat down for 1st lunch and defended Kari's goodies from our pesky chipmunk friend (PLEASE DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS).

Following lunch, we continued down the mountain, past numerous day-hikers, admired their various fragrances, and were amazed at the fear of bears which the park had instilled in them.

Kari became increasingly concerned about whether Kari would be able to find a place to pee with all the day-hikers on the trail. What an inconvenience! Fortunately, Ben stood watch and crisis was averted.

Other than a short pause to photograph a mountain goat family, playing on the snow off trail, our descent went uninterrupted and we quickly arrived at the intersection with Iceberg Trail. Taking the path leading up toward Iceberg Lake, we climbed up what smelled to be a popular day hike trail. With our big backpacks, questionable body odor, and Ben stopping intermittently to snatch thimbleberries off the bushes, we definitely stood out. When we made it to the lake, we sat down for 2nd lunch and filtered some of the icy water to wash it down.

With our tummies and water bottles full, we began our descent, keeping an eye on the grey clouds that were starting to roll over the valley. We passed the sign indicating the direction to Many Glacier and set off in the direction of our final 2.8 miles toward Many Glacier Campground. We held hands when the path was wide enough to do so. Our feet had already begun to hurt - 13 miles in a day seemed to be Kari's limit with a full pack. The backwoods phase of our adventure honeymoon was coming to a bittersweet and drizzly end.

We held hands as we stepped off the trail and into the parking lot. With no clear idea of exactly where Many Glacier Campground was and no desire to walk on the hard asphalt any more than we had to, we strolled together down the street to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Office. Taking charge, Ben approached the front desk and asked where the campground was and where to be to get on the 9am shuttle the following morning, so we could get to our rental car and retrieve Ben's Honda from Kintla Lake on the opposite side of the park.

Good thing he asked!

Despite having been told over the phone during the planning months preceding our trip several times that the 9am shuttle would be available, the 9am shuttle would, in fact, NOT be running anymore. Fortunately, we arrived 30 minutes prior the 4:45pm shuttle, giving us just enough time to find a room in East Glacier for the night prior to picking up the rental. The manager on duty pointed out the East Glacier accommodations to Ben and handed him the phone, wishing him luck finding a room. After a couple no answers, Ben found us a place to stay for the night, so we went out to wait for the shuttle.

While we sat on the kid-sized bench by the door, we met a small group of thru-hikers who were almost finished traversing the Continental Divide Trail. They carried minimal gear, but claimed to hike ~30 miles/day, making Kari feel like an absolute weenie.

When the shuttle arrived, we hopped in the back to keep our smell (which had only gotten REALLY bad on this final day) away from the other riders. We moved up by the driver when the other riders had left and were joined by one last rider. This man was probably ~30 years old and had been doing seasonal concessionary work and exploring the world since graduating college. Now, he and his girlfriend travel and work together, getting jobs via connections and storing up letters of recommendation. But as they get older and thoughts of kids start to enter their minds, things would be changing and the transition might be difficult. This was a very interesting conversation for Kari because that was how she had wanted to live but she had chosen a different path. Glacier for season, then off to Nepal, then who knew!

The shuttle driver was also a seasonal worker - he and his wife worked at Glacier doing more grown-up jobs over the summers and stayed in provided housing.

The driver kindly dropped us off at the door of the convenience mart/Avis/etc. where we met the store owner who also owned the motel we would be staying at, along with several other businesses in town. We dropped off our bags at The Whistling Swan Motel, bought two pizzas (1 12" pizza for each of us) and demolished the food, while sitting on the "dirty" bed. We splurged with some TV and showers (though the body odor would persist through several washes) and hopped into the clean queen bed for the night.

Click here for photos from Glacier National Park

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Epic Journey Day 5

Start: Stoney Indian Lake Campsite
Camp: Elizabeth Lake (Foot) Campsite
Mileage: ~14.4 miles and ~1 mile with spurs to Cosley Lake and Dawn Mist Falls
Elevation Up: ~1200 feet
Elevation Down: ~2708 feet

Kari was all too happy to be leaving Stoney Indian. Goodbye cold mountain shadows! Goodbye memories of heat exhaustion and chemical burn! And goodbye awful pit toilet! After breaking down camp and a tasty kiwi berry smoothie for breakfast, we were on our way before our campmates even left their tent.

We began up the steep climb - a series of switchbacks that lead out of the basin, up and over the side of the mountain. Upon reaching the top, we noticed a distinct change in the frequency of useful trail signs indicating which paths were overlooks/scenic/game trails and which was the true path. Fortunately, we chose the correct paths and were able to navigate the basin and valleys on the other side successfully.

The trail leading down the mountain was beautiful, taking us past high mountain glaciers, through tall pines overlooking lakes, across rivers that lead down to waterfalls, cascading into the valley below.

As we descended into the valley we passed through many berry bushes and Ben got to snack on thimbleberries. We did not encounter any bears amongst the bushes; the mountainside shaded us from the sun; and the sight of rivers, waterfalls and lakes below kept our spirits high.

As we descended into the valley, the trees grew thicker and continued to shade us. It became apparent just how far Mokowanis Lake would have been and we were grateful for the permit change, especially given the circumstances of yesterday. Upon the recommendation of several hikers we'd passed by, we made a mental note to stop by Cosley Lake before fording the river and continued onto Elizabeth Lake.

In the valley, we were warned by several hikers that a black bear sow and her cub had been seen hanging out by the Glenn's Lake (Head) Campsite. And, sure enough, despite our loud conversation, bear bell, and boisterous versions of "Call Me Maybe" and 'guess that song', there they were on the trail. Ben saw them first and stopped Kari. This time they did not run. We did our, now practiced, bear encounter procedure - Ben took the bear spray out of Kari's pack and Kari took Ben's as he moved between her and the bears, both of us careful to leave the safety firmly in place. Mama bear moved slowly toward us and baby bear stood up on tip-toes, trying to see around her. We packed up slowly, talking calmly to the bear. After briefly considering us, Mama bear took her cub and ran off into woods. Grateful that we knew roughly where they were, we moved slowly and noisily down the trail before putting our bear sprays away.

We stopped for 1st lunch in the food prep at Glenn's Lake (Head) Campsite before continuing on. After many bungled renditions of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", "Call Me Maybe", and various Christmas carols, we arrived Cosley Lake. The mountain and lake views from camp were beautiful and we noted that this would be a good place to stay in the future.

We were tauntingly close to the ford site but, looking back at the trail behind us, the view of the mountains lakes and rivers we had traversed in just this one day was incredible.

Two rangers sauntered up behind us on horses and we shared our bear encounter stories while they examined our permits and then mosied on.

Finally, we reached the river ford site. Now, we had come "Boy Scout Prepared" for just about anything, but fording the river was our one major unknown. We had no idea how deep the water was, how fast, how sharp the rocks would be, etc. But we were pleased to find that the river was mellow and only came up to Kari's upper calves in the deep spots. We crossed, one at a time - 1 hand on the cable that ran above the water, the other clutching one of Kari's trekking poles for extra balance. Ben was very happy to find the river-bottom rocks were worn and smooth against his bare feet (Kari was in flip-flops).

After our successful river crossing, we rewarded ourselves with 2nd lunch, sitting on the riverbank and gazing at the majestic mountain view.

Following lunch, we dried our feet and trekked on through the forest. We discovered "Dawn Mist Falls" - one spur to a waterfall that actually WAS worth the extra effort, a short way off the trail. Then we continued on to finish up the final couple miles to Elizabeth Lake (Foot) Campsite.

We were very happy to reach the food prep area and have a quick snack. Our feet had really hurt during that last mile and Kari was grumpy. When "the gorgeous" is grumpy, nobody is happy.

After putting our food in the bear box, we set out our tent to dry from last night's dew and endured mass assault from horrible little green bugs while we filtered water by the lake (careful to get water FAR from where one of our campmates decided to pee on the beach - you could tell we were getting nearer to the exit point).

We had a good, long evening eating dinner and socializing with our fellow campmates. We met Dustin, who was a wildlife biologist and field workers traveling from job-to-job and backpacking in between for the last several years. The pair we had met as we arrived at Stoney Indian Lake joined us here - they appeared to be siblings who loved to sleep in, eat full-fat southern dishes and carried a portable shower. Matt and Ellen were Montana natives and friends of Dustin just out for a night before going back to college for the Fall. The eclectic group had an interesting dynamic, with one main commonality - a love of time in nature. We stayed up, swapping stories until long after the stars came out.

When we did retire for the night, we laid half-out of our tent, balanced the camera in a hiking boot "tripod" and took some awesome star photos before going to sleep.

Click here for photos from Glacier National Park