Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day 31: St. Mary via Two Medicine, Scenic Point, and Running Eagle Falls.

We left early for Two Medicine because everything we read said that parking was extremely limited.  The trip takes about 30 minutes and winds along the east end of Glacier National Park, some of which on roads that are barely acceptable for a regular car, and even with something stronger can only take speeds of about fifteen miles per hour.  One small plus (maybe not) was that once we got to the Two Medicine cut off we found ourselves with phone reception!  We did a quick check of our email, my wife checked in with family, and we headed back into the park to no service.

Two Medicine is gorgeous!  I know it gets old that I keep saying that every area of Glacier is gorgeous.  But I don’t know how to express that at every destination there is something that just totally stimulates the landscape senses.  The glacial lakes are beyond picturesque, only in this area the peaks are a bit taller and the scene feels a bit more intimate.  We parked in a little side lot and met up with our ranger, this time an older man who was also a middle school teacher in Montana.  We also ran into Jack and Gretel and planned a potential beer and pie tasting later in the afternoon in St. Mary.  And we were off!

After a stroll through the woods we stopped at Appistoki Falls, a tall and narrow falls that seemed a tad bit unimpressive after yesterday’s views along the Grinnell Glacier trail.  It might have been because we were right next to it, too close to get a good view.    After a small backtrack we took a right turn and began the long trek up the switchbacks to Scenic Point.  I’m sorry, I meant the long, long, long trek up to Scenic Point.  2,400 feet in elevation gain in three miles.  Up, up, up!  Through the dead Whitebark Pine forests.  Through the exposed cliff faces and shale rock.  It was serious work.  It was also fairly dangerous.  At the bottom of the trail the temperature was around 75 degrees.  Around 2/3 of the way up the mountain a storm started to brew over Upper Medicine Lake.  The wind started to whip and my wind breaker was not helping in the slightest.  The climb had turned me into a sweaty mess and now a massive chill was starting to grip my body.  The ranger stopped us and asked me if I had an extra layer, which I did.  I have no idea why I didn’t throw on the flannel earlier except that the climb and the cold might have been taking their toll.  Once the flannel was donned the chills stopped and the hike resumed.  Thankfully the storm skirted northeast and we only received a spit of rain. 

We reached the top of the mountain and began our final push across a small ridge to Scenic Point.  Man was it windy.  In fact I don’t know if I have ever been in a wind that was angry.  This wind seemed furious.  People have mentioned winds that acted like they want to throw you off the trail and this sucker seemed to want to throw us off the entire mountain.  Then, as we approached the point, it stopped.  It was literally as if the wind was turned off when we hit the rocky outcropping.  We stopped and enjoyed the view of Two Medicine to the west, the plains of Montana to the east, and the town of East Glacier a few miles to the south.  It was pleasant picnic weather and the group of eight of us enjoyed a nice break and some food while the conversation drifted towards education.  Our ranger, the middle school teacher, shared the all too similar stories of Common Core, budget cuts, and the overall negative environment of being a teacher in America.  We agreed that we loved the job but sometimes we wondered when the nation was going to get a clue.

The hike back was fairly uneventful.  The angry wind tried to block us off the ridge initially and gradually died down as we descended into the valley.  As the clouds parted the views of Two Medicine become more and more spectacular.  One of our hiking companions commented that some of the best scenery in the park was past Two Medicine on a loop of Dawson and Pitamaken Passes.  We would love to do it but the grizzly country makes us take serious pause.  At the end of the trail we parted ways with our Belgian companions Jack and Gretel.  The hike seemed to run them really ragged and Gretel was having a severe case of shin splints. 

We finished up the day with a tiny quarter mile hike to Running Eagle Falls; a facinasting waterfall that looks like the water is coming out of the rock itself.  It was nice to end on a mellow note after such a strenous climb up in the cold.      

Trails Hiked:  Running Eagle Falls, Scenic Point

Miles hiked:  8.6

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