Day 20 / 21
Hello everybody! How y'all doing?
Dan's doing a separate blog entirely focussing on our train journey from Chicago to Seattle via West Glacier, which leaves me to concentrate on our stop over in the Glacier National Park.
Where to start?? This really was an amazing 48 hours, completely mind blowing. first of all we were picked up from the train station by the car hire people and whisked up the road to their office. After a couple of forms Dan was let loose in an automatic car, which he's never driven before, and on the wrong side of the road, which he's only done a couple of times before. I opted to stay a passenger for the duration of this trip and was quite happy navigating, with the odd "BABE, YOU'RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD" scream!!
So, after a short drive, we arrived at our luxury chalet (not much choice on the accommodation front for where we were so had to splash out) to find we'd been upgraded as I'd mentioned this was our honeymoon (we kept quiet about the Maldives!) I've never been upgraded in my life and having worked in the hotel industry I was in seventh heaven and was running round like a little kid squealing! After a quick change we met the rest of the residents, who had already eaten and shared a complimentary bottle of champagne while we ate our three course main meal (best meal so far! Ranch salad, Roast Lamb, and chocolate mousse). We hung out on the veranda for a short while talking to the owner and her sister and getting some tips on where to spend the next couple of days. In this short space of time I got bitten four times and retired to bed.
Day 20 started with a more English breakfast - cereal! (good old Frosties for me) and then we ventured out. Before we left Susan (owner) gave us our very own can of bear spray and showed us how to use it. It's not a repellent but actually a pretty lethal pepper spray to use in the event of a bear encounter. On our way we stopped in the village to grab some sandwiches and stuff for lunch and off we went.
Man, I was in seventh heaven! Dan bless him, he was concentrating so hard on not doing an emergency stop looking for the none existent clutch, and remembering to drive on the right and I was sat in the front with the camera taking pictures every ten seconds saying "Wow look at that!" or "Oh my God that's amazing!" but he was really good and kept his eyes on the road. We decoded to drive over to the Eastern side to do a hike to somewhere called Iceberg Lake, which he had read about in the Lonely Planet guide and on the net so we were pressing though, passed all the scenic views and would admire them properly the following day.
Glacier National Park, is incredible. No one lives inside the park so there are no houses and most of the visitor centres and shops etc are either on the park boundary or just outside so all you have is a couple of roads and gorgeous Rocky mountains, with the odd glacier, lots of water and wildlife (see the photos to appreciate this fully). No one view is the same, you can look out your window in one place and admire what you see and yet 50 yards down the road the scenery has changed again and is even more remarkable. For this very reason if I had to choose I would say the GNP is far more spectacular than Niagara Falls, with no evidence of tourism whatsoever, apart from the shuttles (in the form of mini buses), which stop at most of the iconic sites so you don't have to drive if you want to fully focus on the views.
Health and safety is virtually none existent out here, by that I mean there are very few crash barriers. Trees and little stone walls are your protection from the sheer drop off the mountain or into the lake / river so driving is quite a adrenaline rush, so Dan experienced! The Going-to-the-Sun road takes you from West Glacier village to St Mary's and it snakes alongside the biggest glacial lake in the park - Lake McDonald which really does remind me of Loch Maree in Wester Ross, Scotland. It then takes you up the side of the Rockies and over the Continental Divide and down the other side. It is 52 miles long and takes about two hours to drive.
Eventually we came to St Mary's and carried on for a further 20 minutes and reached Many Glaciers, were we had our lunch and started our walk. We left the car park and wandered along the road a little way to the start of the trail and stopped at the first signpost where there was a massive sign warning about bears and how your safety isn't guaranteed. Dan, who was slightly in front of me, suddenly took two steps back towards me and pointed and said "Look, a bear". Yeah right!! As if I'm going to fall for that! Everyone had said you won't see a grizzly and we were barely (boom boom) out of the car park and in the woods. But I followed his gaze and saw a Grizzly Bear calmly crossing the path and heading into the undergrowth not 20 feet in front of us. Of course, all the guidance and instructions went out of my head and I completely forgot what we were supposed to do, we were both transfixed by the large honey-coloured animal walking on all fours. So, I said rather loudly "Aren't we supposed to make lots of noise?" and Dan shushed me and said no, that's what you do to alert them when you're walking, not when you're this close to them. We didn't have to worry though, after ten seconds or so he had walked out of view and we were left to carry on and walk past where he had crossed the path. 30 seconds later I'm looking over my shoulder to make sure he (or she, we weren't that close to find out!) isn't following me and that's when my heart nearly jumped out of my chest and it sunk in that we had seen a Grizzly!
The rest of the walk was slightly uneventful, where wildlife was concerned anyway! We saw a mountain goat after about an hour. He was on the trail path and ran up it once he saw us. Five seconds later he came running back towards us clearly spooked by other hikers and saw us again. We stopped so not to scare him and he decided to go straight up the cliff face to hide from everybody. It was a beautiful walk and nice and gentle apart from a steep climb at the bottom. After about an hour we came to a pretty waterfall and almost straight after that the path split. Our path was closed due to "Bear activity" and we couldn't go any further. We decided to climb the much steeper path to a smaller lake called Ptarmigan Lake, which is not as breathtaking as Iceberg Lake does actually have icebergs floating in it, even in July. It was a good back up plan as the small lake was beautiful, with a rocky sandy back drop, where you can clearly see the path continuing up and then through the mountain ahead. Sadly we weren't able to go any further as we had to get back to the Chalet for dinner so we set off back down after a brief rest and a zillion photos later.
The path has glorious wild flowers growing either side and goes through open spaces as well as woods which gave us some much appreciated respite from the sun. It is surprising how hot it is here even though you are quite high, the sun is very strong and it is understandable that the glaciers are slowly melting way completely.
On the way back down a small snake crossed the path in front of Dan who did an emergency stop and I almost crashed into him. I immediately knew something was wrong and started scouting for bears and then he carried on walking, refusing to tell me what he had seen until I had walked past. It didn't bother me to hear it was a snake, I was just relieved it wasn't a hairy spider. I still don't know how I am going to survive in Australia!
We got back down in just over an hour and had two hours to get back to the Chalet. Dan decided not to risk going back through the park and took the highway which hugs the boundary from St Mary's to and beyond West Glacier, bypassing East Glacier. Now, the train took 1 hour 40 minutes to travel from East to West Glacier with a quick stop at Essex. This particular stretch of road is 57 miles long and it took Dan 45 minutes (without speeding, he was still on his best behavior, honest!) which shows how slowly the train travels through and over the Rockies. Our trains are much faster, which is saying something and the Americans won't shut up about how appalling this service is if they ask us how we're getting around. We love the trains and don't mind that they don't go so fast. It's our rest time and a chance to catch up on this blog!
We got back well in time for dinner and enjoyed what was left of wine hour. My family will be pleased to hear that my wine drinking is slowly improving, I had FOUR glasses that evening and could have drunk some more! I am almost a coffee drinker as well and keep drinking Dan's coffee fraps from Starbucks (everyone's gotta start somewhere!)
Day 21 came round too quickly after another restless night due to the bites, despite the wine and nine mile walk the day before. We were sad to leave the Chalet, the five dogs and Susan, who was a classic American, very loud but great fun. We set off again down the Going-to-the-Sun road to the view point of Jackson's glacier (about 40 miles down the road) and set off back stopping every now and then in laybys to take in the views. Jackson's Glacier was feeling a bit sorry for itself and alot of the snow that we saw nearby yesterday when we passed through had melted. It was still worth stopping to see though. We ventured back up to the highest point of the road and the Continental Divide at Logan's Pass and stopped again and had a look in the Visitor Centre as well as a small stroll to ease our legs, which were starting to ache after yesterday's 9 mile hike. Clements Mountain sits behind Logan's Pass and is pretty dramatic at 8700 feet high. There's no grass on the peak as it has been formed by many Glaciers and so it is a rocky peak with sharp ridges.
There are so many beautiful waterfalls in this National Park, all ice cold as most of them are fuelled by glacial meltwater, which means that water could be thousands of years old, quite impressive hey. No two waterfalls are the same, some only have trickles of water falling from a huge height, others have vast quantities crashing though but they are all stunning. We stopped to take pictures of one just below Logan's Pass and came across two mountain goats grazing on the hillside above the layby. There was quite a commotion of people all taking photos, but not of these two goats. I looked up to find a shady rocky ridge at the top of the slope, next to where the cliff begins a steep incline and saw a couple of kids (baby goats, not children!) resting here, watching their parents decide if all these photographers were a threat to their young. They decided not and wandered back up to their babies and laid down to keep a look out. In the time this all happened (about five minutes) I had taken many pictures and then walked up the road to photograph the waterfall. When I looked back to the layby there were about five jeeps, which had tried to pull in but were still technically on the road, and then several more cars just abandoned behind them, the owners of which were taking photographs, and then a long traffic jam behind them. Just as well it wasn't a bear with cubs otherwise the whole park would have come to a standstill!
We carried on making our way back down the Rockies to the valley below stopping continuously. My favourite attraction was the Weeping wall, which is exactly as it sounds, water cascading off a wall made of natural rock. There was a tall waterfall which stretched as far as you could see and made its way down over the rock and then a bit further on there was about a 20 feet stretch of wall roughly ten feet high with drizzles of water flowing over it onto the road - a good way to clean half your car as you drive right next to it!
We stopped in Avalanche to complete the Trail of the Cedars, a 0.8 mile nature walk through what is believed to be the oldest trees in the park that have avoided forest fires since the 1500's, it also takes in Avalanche Gorge, again very beautiful. We then walked over to Avalanche Lake which was 2 miles away, despite the bitten feet and aching limbs. My, how we were rewarded! The path is very gentle with a combination of ascents and descents rather than just one or the other and it follows the route of the river. The entire path is through the cedar wood so it is much cooler and shadier. This trial is quite a popular one with families and is very busy and you don't get greetings from every passer by like we did on the Iceberg trail. After about 45 minutes the wood cleared and the river opened into the most beautiful lake, very different to the one we saw the day before. The green Rockies towered behind the water with at least three tall waterfalls feeding this lake providing the stunning backdrop to the turquoise water. I did not want to leave.
When we eventually got back to the car we carried on back to West Glacier, stopping a couple of times for pictures at Lake McDonald, which was again very beautiful and reminded me of family holidays to Scotland. We took the car back to the hire place and they gave us a ride back to the station and so our journey continues!
Speak again soon
Love Elles xx