No, not me. I’m not lucky enough to be in a park yet this year. In fact I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. June is a bit crazy for me this year as I’m working several weekends (which turns out to be 19 days straight with no days off). Truth be told: June can’t pass soon enough for me.
When I travel for work, people often ask me “how does The Hubs do while you’re away?” I usually just
roll my eyes smile and say…”oh just fine.”
You’re all aware that he’s not one for staying home on the weekends, and me being gone doesn’t change that. He still embarks on amazing adventures and always has plenty of stories and pictures for me when I get home. This past weekend was particularly epic (as he would say) so we decided it was a good one to share with ya’ll. So for the second time this week, please enjoy a guest post. This time from non other than The Hubs.
And don’t mind me…I just had to interject at a few points along the way. You’ll notice those instances by the pink text.
So it seems the “Hubs” has been given full access to the wheel house. In the past I’d suggested I do a guest post but finally Janna must have taken me seriously, plus she had to work all weekend while I went to Glacier National Park. I could at least capture some of the adventure in a post.
As the weekend approached those “full sunny icons” stayed on the National Weather Service page. I think it was Thursday and realizing I didn’t want the weekend to go by without a solid plan I emailed the usual crew to see if they wanted to ski Lolo Peak or Sheep Mountain. Don got back quickly and suggested we could pull off a trip to Glacier Park and Joe had some ideas of ski tours we could do. This is probably the latest I’ve made it into the spring without a camping trip, so with enthusiasm building, we planned a Friday departure. We finally settled on the west side of the park and planned a first day tour into Granite Chalet.
There were two “required” stops along the way due to past favorable experiences. First was dinner at El Topo where I had a smothered burrito the size of my arm. Next, just before entering the park we stopped at the iconic Frita’s Bar. Don and I discussed for some time why we called it that as the only name we see is the West Glacier Bar. No doubt what the locals probably call it or something.
The plan was to camp at Sprague campground along Lake McDonald. We rolled into a campsite with plenty of time to plan the next day’s adventures. The length of the days in June is amazing.
I quickly realize why I can’t wait to get camping in the spring. We’ve got a fire going and as evening comes on the birds are going nuts. One bird in particular, the Varied Thrush, might be my favorite bird. Below is a picture as well as a short video of Lake McDonald. At the end of the video you can hear the high-pitched call of the Varied Thrush.
Video of Lake McDonald with call of the Varied Thrush.
In the past I’ve been accused of being a birder which I quickly deny. Basically when I hear or see something that is unfamiliar to me I tend to want to know more about it. Being tuned into your surroundings often allows you to experience much more of what is going on. On this trip I also heard several Ruffed grouse drumming. Later we were able to see a Blue grouse strutting and blowing up the red sack on the side of its neck. Wouldn’t want to forget the bush growing through the mushroom. Spring time is a good time to be out.
The next morning we proceed to Avalanche Creek where the road is closed to vehicles. From there we gear up for the 7 mile ride to the Loop where we will hike/ski to Granite Chalet. We chose this tour to get in on some great views while assessing the snow conditions.
Just as we pass the gate we see a sign indicating the road is closed 3 miles ahead. Having made it this far and a little late to attempt another tour we decide to ride up and see where we get. Maybe half way up Ranger Rick comes down the road and announced over the PA for the “skiers to stop” and “he would like to talk to us.” We pull over and he proceeds to tell us that there is construction going on and we won’t be able to get to our intended Loop. He then begins to say that it isn’t safe up there and he doesn’t like us being up there. Supposedly 6 skiers had already foiled him earlier that morning and he was looking to ticket them all as soon as they got down. It’s obvious now Ranger Rick isn’t so much concerned with the construction but rather his preconceived notions of what is safe and how others should enjoy the park. This isn’t the first time I’d thought about safety and risk. Both my mother and wife had expressed concern about “skiing in Glacier” but followed up by saying I probably knew what I was doing. So do I know what I’m doing?
Now Ranger Rick in in my face, Joe is not happy (the park website had mentioned nothing about the road closure) and Don is explaining to the Ranger how search and rescue takes safety into account first when doing any rescues. <<Eric is currently on Missoula Search and Rescue and Don has been involved in the past>> The discussion continues about the recent rescue on Stanton Peak just a few days earlier. A couple of park employees had climbed the peak and while glissading down one of them was unable to self-arrest went over a 30 foot cliff. Ranger Rick quickly explained how irresponsible it was to put the rescuers at risk. This is a common argument that often plays out after an accident has occurred in the backcountry. In an attempt to experience the backcountry you must accept some risk. Through experience and training you hope you can reduce the risk. Ultimately we are trying to experience some absolutely amazing places first hand. Skiing off peaks, bow hunting for a week in the wilderness and spending 7 days running whitewater are first hand experiences I feel fortunate and lucky to have experienced. Can things go wrong? Yes, but we manage that risk constantly and for most of us it’s worth it. My guess is Ranger Rick isn’t very educated on avalanches and doesn’t understand the specific risks. His retirement portfolio probably sucks too.
This topic of risk sparked several conversations throughout the weekend. I couldn’t help but think about the documentary 180 Degrees South. I’ll probably have to watch it for a 4th time. I’ve added a link to the trailer below. There are two quotes in here that I particularly like. The first is when Yvon Chouinard says, “Any mountain at certain times is safe and at other times its super dangerous.” The second is when one of the climbers yells that “finishing the climb doesn’t seem worth risking his life for.” The crew has already traveled thousands of miles sailing, climbing, and surfing and just a few hundred feet from summiting Corcovado the climber realizes the risk and decides it not worth it. I supposed some would have just said the whole trip was too dangerous and left it at that; I disagree.
After the ranger finally decided that he couldn’t tell us not to go up the Packer’s Roost trail (instead of our intended Loop) we proceeded on up the road. We figured the distance would be a bit far for carrying the skis, however no one would complain about just getting in a great hike. We stashed the bikes and skis and proceeded up the trail.
On the way out we played slalom with the hordes of tourists making their way up the road. Other than one flat tire, it was a smooth ride out. We finished with a stop at the Lake McDonald lodge for a Going to the Sun IPA and time at the lake. Back in camp I was able to pull off lasagna in the dutch oven for the first time (no you really don’t need to cook the noodles first). While I don’t have any pictures I can assure you that it was outstanding. I guess Ranger Rick did stop by to make sure we made it back to our campsite safe. It’s probably best he doesn’t know where we are headed tomorrow.
Sunday starts at 5:30 am as we load up the vehicle and head for the Trout Lake trailhead. Joe had decided the night before, after looking at Stanton Peak from the lakeshore, that it would be a hard hike and possibly not worth it. But we’d better give it an attempt anyway.
The Trout Lake trail climbed quickly but at least had been cut out this year. I knew I should enjoy the trail as we’d be off of it soon. We came to a large avalanche chute that would be our route. Still piled up at the bottom were huge piles of snow from avalanches during the winter. I certainly brought up the question of traveling up the avalanche chute but later realized just how far we were from the snow at that time. Wet avalanches had been sliding when we reached higher elevation and had not progressed far down the chute. The reason for leaving early in the morning was also to beat the wet slides with the heating of the snow pack later in the day. The plan was to make the summit around 11am.
The climb to the top would be about 4000 vertical feet. After an eight mile hike and 6 miles on the bike the day before it certainly seemed steeper than it probably was. We reached snow around 9am where we starting skinning up the rest of the slope. We quickly found out that the snow was softer than expected. While we didn’t have substantial ski penetration we figured it probably hadn’t froze during the night. On the route up we saw some tracks that were most likely the where the group had glissaded down a few days earlier. We reached the ridge about 700 feet below the peak around 10 am and decided the snow had softened enough and we did not need to proceed any farther. Views in all directions were spectacular.
<<So, they were within 700 feet of the peak and decided that it wasn’t safe to continue if they wanted to get some skiing in. Do you know how hard it is to stop at that point? After working so hard to get that far? But it’s one of the things I truly admire and respect about the Hubs and his friends; they are constantly analyzing risk and making decisions based on the conditions around them. No they didn’t make it to the peak, but they made solid, safe decisions and probably had a good time out there sliding around. And that’s what it’s about>>
Skiing down, the snow conditions were better than expected and we got some outstanding turns. Ending right at dirt, we put the skis back on the packs and continued down slope.
I spent the afternoon back at the shore of Lake McDonald with another Going to the Sun IPA that was particularly tasty. Sitting on the shore you can look directly up at Stanton Peak where we had been earlier that morning.
It was unanimously decided that the steep hike was more than worth it for the turns and views from up top. My only interruption to a sunny afternoon was Don showing up saying we needed to go pick up Jenny. Turns out she was about 20 plus miles away and had broken her derailer on their road bike ride on the Camas road. After we “saved” Jenny we headed to the Garden Bar in Bigfork for cheeseburgers.
Sunny Weather Service icons were fully taken advantage of this weekend.
So what do I think about all of this? Several things.
- I think The Hubs is not your typical guy. Perhaps it’s fair to say he’s a bit more ambtious than most people.
- I think he does a lot of cool shit.
- I think I would have a minor panic attack after seeing Grizzly bear tracks “all over” in the snow where I was hiking.
- I think everyone can be reassured after reading this, that much thought and anlysis is put into decisions when we’re out on trips. The Hubs has a lot of training and experience that help him mitigate risk (for himself and us).
- I think the answer to his question…”So do I know what I am doing?” is “yes.”
- I think “epic” surely is the word to describe his weekend. And did you know that when you text the name Eric in T9, the first choice that comes up is Epic? Coincidence?
- I think I need to stop working so much so I can take part in these amazing adventures.
- I think (at over 1600 words), The Hubs just surpassed my longest post.
Now do you understand why I say The Hubs gets along “just fine” while I’m away for work??