Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Glacier National Park: Triple Divide Pass

Glacier NP – 8/24/13 – Triple Divide Pass – 14.4 Miles

Our last day in Glacier National Park.    We’ve been so incredibly lucky with the weather and today even the smoky haze had dissipated.  For our last hurrah we hiked up to gaze upon Triple Divide Peak, one of the few places on earth from which waters flow to three different oceans.  Rain that falls on the western side of the peak makes its way to the Pacific Ocean.  Rainfall on the southeastern slope eventually drains to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  And water flowing down the northeastern slope becomes part of the Arctic Ocean.  Worth taking a walk to see that, eh?

First we had to pack up and wave goodbye to good old St. Mary Campground, an outstanding base for the eastern side of the Park, not to mention the life-restoring hot showers.  Will I ever be back there again?  I think so.  The more important question is:  how soon?

Yesterday we hiked on Pitamakan Pass Trail starting in the Two Medicine area and today we started from the opposite end of the same trail, located at Cut Bank.  [Point of confusion:  Some hiking guides call this Cut Bank Creek Trail, but the NatGeo map and, more importantly, the trail sign itself calls this Pitamakan Pass Trail.  Keeps us on our toes.]

Marta camped in Cut Bank, a seasonal, first-come- first-served better- bring-your- own- water camp- ground and was waiting for us early in the morning.  And away we go on our last adventure in this wonderful place (Jeff’s photo). 

Tranquil North Fork of Cut Bank Creek

We walked through forests of tall lodgepole pine and Douglas fir with a thick undergrowth of thimbleberry foliage just beginning to turn brown.  Elevation gain was imperceptible as we all talked and the miles quickly churned out under our feet.  Atlantic Creek joins the North Fork at a trail junction where we turned right to continue on Triple Divide Trail (turning left goes to Medicine Grizzly Lake).  Soon we reached Atlantic Creek Campground, where we paused for a snack, and excellent signage kept us from wandering around the many side trails to campsites.  Less than a mile more and the trail went….UP.  No switchbacks, no apologies, just a good steady climb. 

Razoredge Mountain on the left.  You can see a trace of a waterfall flowing down.  Triple Divide is the pointy peak on the middle right.

Looking down at Medicine Grizzly Lake.  Can you see the lake in the hanging cirque, in the upper left third of the photo?  It’s just a bowl of water sitting there, unnamed.  Why wouldn’t it have a name?  Are there so many lakes that they just ran out of names?  I think we should call it Hanging Bear Lake.

On and on we climbed, to my delight, walking on the narrow edge.  Marta kept up an interesting running conversation so I didn’t have to talk much, just concentrated on my footing, the view, and that steady breathing and trying to be ultra-attentive to all my senses on this last day. 

At the foot of Triple Divide Peak (Jeff’s photo)

At Triple Divide Pass, the base of the peak, we rested, ate, and were entertained by a young marmot.  Jeff suspended all peak-bagging on this last day, proving that he is not obsessed (much).  Perhaps he thinks he will return someday, too.

Marmots here are like squirrels in a county park back home

Norris Mountain in shadow on the left, Split Mountain on the right

Me barely visible on a rock outcropping going up the side of Mount James.  I think this is one of the peaks Jeff passed on.

Brandon contemplating Split Mountain.  I vote for this for the cover of an REI catalog. 

The hike back was easy, contemplative, bittersweet.  Seldom do we get to know the last time we’ll be in a certain place.  An eagle on our first hike, icebergs, bighorn sheep, tunnels, and not one single bear.  Truly a "trip of a lifetime."  To make this day especially memorable, I found a parking violation warning on our rental car’s windshield (along with about 10 other cars) where we had parked with one tire “on the vegetation.”  Ahh, the beginning of re-entry into civilization.  We drove to Great Falls, slept in a hotel, ate one more great meal, and flew back home. 

So far all of my big hiking vacations have been with like-minded friends, but this time I really missed having Jim along.  Many times I thought of telling him about certain aspects of our adventures, and I tried, but I couldn’t adequately describe to him the scope of what we experienced.  I know that my photos only begin to capture the vastness, the air, the sunshine and haze, the sound of the waterfalls.  We took the kids to Yosemite when they were young, so he understands the limitation of my words.  One thing I’ve learned, though, is that camping out and eating well is the way to go so…Jim and I have made reservations for Yellowstone National Park later this year…

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  ~Dan Wilson, Semisonic

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