Hiking in the Rain, Part 2

One of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written for this site was Hiking in the Rain.  I wrote that after hiking with a friend during an unexpected shower in late May that year.  That was over 4 years ago and I’ve learned a lot.


In general, when a weather forecast indicates a 50% chance of precipitation  it means that 50% of the forecast area will see at least 0.01 inch of rain (the smallest reported).  That’s just a quick shower, so be informed but don’t let a 5 minute shower keep you indoors.  You need to pay attention to the entire forecast before you make your plans.


Test  your gear

Because gear fails.  My rain gear failed on me during a weeks worth of rainy day hikes.  The last day was the most miserable day I’ve ever spent hiking.  I was soaked to the bone because of failed rain gear with temperatures dropping and rain changing to snow.  I was borderline hypothermic, hungry (I didn’t dare eat fearing my temperature would drop even further) and exhausted (we had a rescue on that trip as well).  That weekend, I went out and bought a new Paclite Jacket (aff) which I need to test out.  If I’d tested my gear beforehand (I knew it was going to rain all week), I’d have bought that jacket before I started.


Be informed and double check.  But if you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never go.


Kickin’ it in Western Montana

Sorry I haven’t been updating you on my time in Montana, but I’ve been kickin’ it and been really busy.  This place is an outdoorsmen’s paradise.  How anyone could spend more than a day in this place and deny the existance of God is unfathomable.

I arrived with the beginnings of a head and chest cold, so that really slowed me and paralyzed my planning.  I’ve been winging it and  so far, I have:

I’ll catch you up in detail, including pictures, a bit later I promise.  I’m finishing packing my backpack for an overnight at Lincoln Lake tonight, 8 miles in.  I’ve got to stop at the outfitter on the way to the park this morning to pick up a for extra things for my first night out in grizzly country.

The best way to track me on this trip is by Twitter.  I post a little something there most days.


  • Hiked 16 miles roundtrip to overnight at Lincoln Lake
  • Hike 24 miles roundtrip to overnight at Grace Lake with my friend Dave

I promise, promise, promise, I’m working on getting the photos ready from this trip and a few writeups.  Be patient, it’s worth the wait!

Big Sky Country 2009: Highline Trail Hiking

In this series, I document my adventures in Glacier National Park, Montana in 2009. For more in this series, check out this page
Highline Trail Hike-41Today I made my way up to Logan Pass to tackle the Highline Trail. It’s a easily accessible (and thus popular) section of the Continental Divide Trail with some spectacular views of the Lake McDonald Valley.

My route was from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet for 8 miles, then down the Granite Park Loop Trail for 4 miles to the Loop parking area on the Going to the Sun Road where I picked up the shuttle back to Apgar where I parked.  The trail runs just above the Going to Sun Road and gets precarious in spots

The few days I’ve been here have been unusually warm and today was no exception.  Since I was hiking almost entirely in alpine country, there was no shade from which to escape the sun. Even when I thought I might get some relief on the descent through the forest, I passed through 3 miles of recent fire area.

My first exciting find was of this ram grazing in the alpine meadow near Logan Pass and the Going to the Sun Road.  I found out later they hang out at Logan Pass all the time.  A glance upward at most points of the hike yields some interesting views of rock formations.  A glance downward gives the wonderful views of the Lake McDonald Valley and the Going to the Sun Road below.

The trail is only about 18 inches wide so you may have to do some creative things to get by someone headed the opposite direction.  There is little running water along the trail so bring plenty.  Depending on the time of year you make run into a snow field or two.  I did come across one even at the beginning of September.

Since I was pressed for time (shuttles quit running at around 7pm), I didn’t take the 2 miles roundtrip to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook near the chalet.  I made my way up to the chalet, staked out a piece of ground and had a my snack.

Highline Trail 49I had to cut short my break at the chalet when I spot a storm brewing and realize I need to get off the mountain, quickly.  I start down into the forest, grateful for a break from the sun.  That break doesn’t last long as the forest opened up into recent fire territory.  It was really eerie walking through 5 or 6 year old burned area.  The trunks of trees give the place a ghostly feel.

Stopping in the burned area was not very pleasant, as every fly in the state of Montana decided to check me out.

Finally I reach the treeline again, fill my water bottle (I was almost out) and make it out into the open just in time for the rain to pour out.  Thankfully I made it to the shuttle stop shelter in time and back to Kalispell for a lovely dinner with the Phillips family.

Big Sky Country 2009: Avalanche Lake

The weekend has absolutely flown by and I’m off trekking on my own.  Thankfully Dave has helped me get my bearings and even lent me a van with which to traipse around the Montana wilderness.  I’m still nursing a chest cold, but determined to not let it ruin my experience.

looking towards Avalanche Lake at Glacier National ParkToday, my objective is Avalanche Lake, easily accessed about 2.5 miles from the Trail of the Cedars where we stopped on Saturday.  The trail is heavily used and wide so it was natural that I ran into lots of people along the way.  The walk beside the roaring Avalanche Creek soothed my ragged soul as I hiked into sub-alpine territory.

Avalanche Lake at Glacier National Park Not surprisingly the lake’s namesake is clear once one gets here.  A number of scars and gashs on the sub-alpine forest are immediately obvious.  As an electrical engineering student I was exposed to structural and mechanical concepts in my statics and dynamics classes, but the raw power of a slide of snow and ice amazes me still.

Avalanche Lake at Glacier National ParkI made my way around the lake and took this shot looking back from whence I had come.  I had been looking for a suitable place to eat my lunch.  This will have to do.

Mule deer at Avalanche Lake, Glacier National ParkOn my way out I decided to rockhop along the edge of the lake.  I ran into this young lady (mule deer doe) and decided to watch her for a while.

Since I was fending off my chest cold, this was exactly the type of hike I needed today.  It wasn’t terribly far (5 miles roundtrip) but I did have to work to get there.  The lake was a great payoff.  I highly recommend it, even it you consider yourself a “walker” and not a “hiker.”

Big Sky Country 2009: Fishing at Upper Stillwater Lake

Stillwater LakeDave introduced me to his cousin Kevin and his boy Jack as we all left to do a little fishing.  Jack and Elijah are both about 3 1/2 years old so it was a blast watching them fish and carry on.  We took Kevin’s boat out about 30 minutes from Kalispell to Upper Stillwater Lake , put in and motored out.

Specifically we were fishing for Lake Trout, Northern Pike and Yellow Perch.  Nobody really had any luck until late afternoon when David and Kevin started hooking Yellow Perch from around a small brush pile.  I got a few nibbles, but they just didn’t like me or my lures.  Honestly, I really didn’t care… something about a bad day fishing being better than the best day working.

Big Sky Country 2009: Iceberg Lake

Honestly, I’m not sure you could walk a mile in Montana without tripping over 3 lakes.  Of course I exaggerate, but in my 10 days there I visited at least 6 different lakes.  Iceberg Lake lies east of the Continental Divide.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal but to give you an idea of the scale there, Kalispell was only 30 minutes from the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park.   It took 3.5 hours to drive from Kalispell to the trailhead at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier area.

Avalanche Lake HikeDave and I stopped at Trail of the Cedars to stretch our legs before heading up to Logan Pass.  There I was acquainted with Devil’s Club for the first time.  One look at the picture and you will need no further explanation.  EVERYTHING on this plant is covered in thorns.  I’ve heard even the roots have them.  Could you imagine walking through thickets of this stuff?

Going to the Sun Road looking towards Logan PassLeaving the Trail of the Cedars behind, we continued up to Logan Pass along the Going to the Sun Road.  I’ve got several shots from and of this road in my gallery and it is nothing short of an engineering marvel.  It was originally completed in 1932 and only took 5 years to build.  Today the park service in the 3rd year of a 10 year rehabilitation project.  Leave it to the government to find a way to spend more time repairing it that it took to build it.  Just over Logan Pass on the way to St. Mary, I caught a fleeting glimpse of my first black bear.

The frustrating part of this trip to the east side of the park is that we had to drive east all the way through the park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, north about 10 miles and back west into the park about 10 miles.  To quote “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, it’s a “geographical oddity.  Two weeks from everywhere.”  All I can say is it was definitely worth it.

me at Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, MontanaIt was a 10 mile round trip hike with a moderate incline back to Iceberg Lake.  Even in late August there were still a few small blocks of ice in the lake.  I will simply say this: there is nothing more refreshing after hiking 5 miles that a long swig of ice cold glacial melt water.  The alpine meadows and views were simply stunning.  I have several shots of the lake in the gallery.

On the hike back, I got my Montana initiation.  Not 1/4 mile from the lake, we spotted a bull moose about 100 yards away.  Dave and I stood for 10 minutes watching him until the folks behind us spooked him.  Another 1/4 mile, we ran into Ptarmigan who nested beside the trail.  Apparently we just missed an elk.  After another 3 miles, we saw a grizzly making his way up the side of the mountain about 250 yards away.  In my years of hiking back east, I had never seen this many large wild animals on one day.  If this was my first day, what else lay in store?

Big Sky Country 2009: Planning, Preparing, and Traveling

Going to the Sun Road-4In  September 2008, I mentioned to my friend Dave as he left Franklin that I’d be visiting him the following summer at his new home in Kalispell.  Summer came and I hadn’t prepared even one second.  I knew what I had to do.  Just go online, book the flight and I would begin to prepare.  Around the end of July I set the dates, got the flights and thought a month would be plenty to do just that.

Little did I know I would be filling in for a client on an emergency, on-call basis for most of the month of August.  That was in addition to my regular duties and projects under deadline.  How did I feel?  One word: frustrated.  I had wanted to book this trip for a year and what I thought was adequate time to plan was reduced to an hour here and there before bed.  Finally, I was able to get the situations stabilized with my client and get some coworkers to help me manage the remaining issues.

I don’t regret not planning more.  Montana will not be planned.  Any amount of pouring over maps and guidebooks is horribly inadequate.  So after packing in one night for a 10 day hiking and backpacking trip, I left the humidity of Tennessee behind for Big Sky Country.

The flight from Nashville to Kalispell via Salt Lake City was uneventful, just the way I like it.  It was a cool 68 degrees when I arrived in the Flathead Valley.  Dave picked me up and we were off to Snappy Sport Senter and Walmart for supplies.  We stopped by his beautiful home to get cleaned up and then he, his lovely wife Natalie, his two boys and I headed to MacKenzie River Pizza Company for dinner.  Dave and I split (and I highly recommend) the Highlander (pheasant sausage and roasted potato pizza).

I wanted to include Dave in whatever I did on the weekends since he had to work during the week.  Initially we were going to overnight Triple Divide Peak on Saturday night, but with my sniffling getting worse we decided to day hike to Iceberg Lake instead.  So glad we did.

How to Not Get Your Head Ripped Off by a Bear

This video from HowCast explains the intricacies of not “getting your head ripped off by a bear.” Honestly, this is one of the funniest, yet educational, videos I’ve seen.

I just love well-done claymation.

The video doesn’t mention it, but if you’re carrying food and the bear follows you, drop the food. Better to lose some food and gear than “get your head ripped off by a bear.”

Most bear attacks in the backcountry occur because the bear

  1. Feels threatened (ie, you’re too close)
  2. Wants your food
  3. Is protecting their young

I’ve been regaled with stories from rangers and fellow hikers on human stupidity when interacting with black bears in the Smokies.  I’m sure there’s many a similar story in other parts of the country about interacting with grizzly bears as well. One hiker recounted to me his story of approaching a tourist tossing out food for a black bear. He told the guy that he should stop because it was dangerous and he might get hurt. The tourist replied “These bears won’t hurt me. This is a National Park” as if the bears know the boundaries of the park. Interactions such as these always end poorly and usually for the bears. Once they lose their fear of humans, they do begin to act aggressively. Once that happens, they get put down.

Let’s all enjoy these bears respectfully… from a distance.

HT: Modern Hiker

Montana Bound, the planning

At lunch the day my friend Dave left to move his family to Montana last fall, I told him to be expecting me this summer.  He moved to Kalispell near Glacier National Park.  

A year has past and with the recent economic uncertainty, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  Thanks to airline miles, I’ll be headed there during the last week of August or first week of September.  I have done zero planning so I’m asking my blog readers for help.  

What is not to be missed in Kalispell, Glacier National Park or surrounding areas (besides huckleberry pie)?  What are the sites to see, campsites, trails, etc?  I’m planning on a couple of backpacking overnights, but I may need to check in to a hotel for some of the time.  What are your suggestions for lodging?  What are the resources to check out (books, maps, websites, etc)?  

Thanks for your help and stay tuned for updates from the road to Montana.