Sunday, March 27, 2016

Day 32: St. Mary, Montana to Somer’s Bay, Montana via Avalanche Lake and Costco.

Damn, it was cold this morning.  We didn’t wake up to rain though and that meant a hike was up and coming, although we needed to hustle because rain was supposed to be ugly later throughout the day.  The St. Mary Valley was the worst we had scene it smoke-wise.  It looked like something was holding the smoke inside the valley making visibility very poor.  I was happy we were leaving. 

By the time we hit East Glacier we had limited phone reception, some of the first in days.  I had one message on my phone.  My wife had…more.  There are definitely benefits to being out of cell phone contact.  On Highway 2 between East Glacier and West Glacier we came out of a mountain pass when my wife pointed down the road that something was on the right side.  That something was a bear. 

We pulled up within ten yards of the bear which had one cub in tow and one behind it munching on what seemed to be huckleberries.  My wife struggled to get my iPhone camera to work as the black bear calmly looked at her and lazily turned to walk back into the forest.  We continued west as our roadside attraction ended. 

We made the turn into West Glacier and headed for an old stomping grounds, Avalanche Lake.  It was relatively early and the traffic was light as we wound our way along Lake McDonald and into the center of the park.  Avalanche Lake is well traveled but we  took along bear spray anyway and hiked quickly up to the lake, only to find that many small groups were already there.  Bummer.  But fear not the crowds because an extra half-mile brought us along the west side of Avalanche Lake to a more secluded location and the perfect place for a mid-morning snack stop.  We had been to Avalanche last year and there was a noticable lack of snow along the ridges that fed the lake.  This meant that the number of waterfalls going into the water was cut down about about a third; still impressive but a tad bit of a let down since we saw the lake last.

We decided to head into Kalispell and have our first Costco trip in a long while.  After snagging some supplies and wolfing down a Costco dog we drove south to Somer’s Bay and a series of cabins there were across the road from Flathead Lake.  The cabins were very nice but the road noise was a definate minus.  We’re thinking of maybe hiking some local trails or maybe even hitting a beach tomorrow for a picnic.

Trails hiked:  Avalanche Lake, Trail of the Cedars

Miles hiked: 5.6

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Day 30: St. Mary’s via Grinnell Glacier and one of the best days ever.

The smoke seemed to have lift when we woke up around 6 a.m.  It still smelled like a large campfire but you could actually see across the St. Mary’s Valley with the smoke hanging like a haze over the treetops.  But the wind.  Man, the wind just doesn’t seem to want to let up.

We headed back to Many Glacier and the Many Glacier hotel for the boat ride and hike up to Grinnell Glacier.  The boat ride is two fold; first across Swiftcurrent Lake.  Then you disembark, hike up and over a small hill, and take another boat across Josephine Lake.  It cuts off about two and half miles of uphill hiking, and saved our legs for more hiking in the end.  The boat rides cost about $25 a piece.  Is it worth it?  Probably not but again, save the legs. 

We met up with our Belgian couple, the ranger, and thirty others and started up the Grinnell Glacier Trail.  Note to those wanting to take the trail; it’s not for those that don’t like edges.  The views are fantastic, the wildflowers in the alpine meadows are great, and the waterfalls will knock your socks off but it will freak people out that don’t like heights.  About 3/4 into the hike we crossed the bottom of a waterfall; like the trail was actually in the waterfall and the water was streaming down next to and around you.  The stone stairs are ok but look left.  There is nothing there but the western end of Grinnell Lake, about 1,000 feet below off the ledge.  If you can master the heights issue then you are greeted to fantastic views of mountain passes, valleys, and three glaciers (Gem, Grinnell, and Salamander) for the majority of the hike. 

As we approached the Grinnell Glacier overlook we passed by a few avalanche chutes, basically cleared out areas of forest that were plowed by avalanches at some time in recent history.  A small meadow had developed in one of the chutes when some said “look, a bear!”  Sure enough, a bear with two cubs was wandering in the meadow, nose to the ground, and oblivious to the attention she now attracted.  At 150 yards away it was clear the bears were not only brown but the mother also had a hump on her shoulder.

“That’s a grizzly sow with her cubs!”

The ranger was almost excited as we were, and then promptly got on his radio to notify the powers-that-be that a grizzly bear was wandering the Grinnell Glacier trail with her cubs.  It was magnificent.  The bear was large and seemed like it was a powerful entity in the alpine landscape.  The humans walking the trail were whatever.  This thing was actually in control of the environment and the group that was watching it seemed to have the ultimate respect for the animal.  It eventually wandered into a grove of trees and disappeared.  My trip is absolutely a 10!  I saw a grizzly sow with cubs from a good distance and it was wonderful.  A special moment that probably won’t happen twice. 


We continued up the trail and over a moraine to Upper Grinnell Lake, fed by the runoff of the three glaciers.  In front of me was a brilliant turquoise lake surrounded by a glacial wall that towered over the back of the canyon.  On my left and eye level was Grinnell Glacier, once mighty and now has receded so much that there is concern that it won’t be around much longer.  Above it on the glacial wall ledge was Gem Glacier, a small patch of glacial ice that was by far the smallest of the three.  Finally, stretching across the middle of the glacial wall, Salamander Glacier.  A long and slender ice field that had a variety of waterfalls flowing from it’s lower portion into Upper Grinnell Lake.  The scene was unreal.  Occasionally the sun would poke out of the clouds allowing for the perfect color, then it would become overcast again and the view would just go back to excellent. 

We spent a half hour enjoying the views.  A group of us prepared to head back down without the ranger; me and my wife, our Belgian team of Jack and Gretel, and a group of Taiwanese ladies who where in college in the United States.  One of them was researching the effect National Parks had on people.  If we could only be the subjects of that research. 

Down the moraine we went, at a good pace and starting to glance over our shoulder at the glacial wall because the clouds were getting a shade darker.  About fifteen minutes into the decent we noticed about three people stopped in a nook in the rocks. 

“Come see this”, a hiker said.

I stepped down, looked up into the meadow and 20 yards away were the two grizzly cubs.

I said “BEAR” immediately and everyone in our group stopped.  As I watched the cubs playing my brain was processing two things;

“This is the one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen!”


“Holy fuck, those cubs are RIGHT THERE!  Where is mom?”

I took two steps to the right and mom lumbered out and started to sniff the ground next to the cubs.  The cubs stopped, looked at us (probably ten total people at this point), then proceeded to play like they could care that they had an audience.  Mom didn’t seem to really care either but I had a feeling that at 20 yards I didn’t want to push my luck.  We watched the three grizzlies for about a minute and then left.  Could we have stayed?  Sure but the rule of thumb is that bears and wolves are 100 yards for viewing, and we were really breaking that rule…in THEIR HOME.  We left, satisfied that we got to see them twice, once up close. 

Ten minutes later, as we were walking along the cliff edges and slick rock, it rained like God decided that Ark II was an appropriate sequel.  It was windy as well which created an interesting and very slow feeling as we were crawling down the cliff edge trail.  Eventually we made our way down the valley, the rain let up, and we reached the junction at which we had to make a decision; head down the hill and catch the two boats, or continue along the ridge and walk to the Many Glacier hotel.  The Taiwanese students wished us the best and headed towards the boats.  Our Belgian companions joined us as we continued the walk, all the way to the Many Glacier Hotel.  It added another two miles to the walk but believe it or not, we arrived exactly at the same moment as the people taking the boats. 

The grand total for the day?  Three glaciers, a dozen waterfalls (including walking through one), spectacular views, a pounding rainstorm, two marmots, two mountain goats, four bighorn sheep, and one grizzly sow with two cubs.

A fantastic day.

Trails hiked:  Grinnell Glacier Trail, Josephine Lake Trail

Miles hiked:  9.7

Monday, March 07, 2016

Oh, you know, the typical Monday morning conversation

“Is it possible to be a feminist stripper?”

This was the actual conversation from students in my classroom before school started at about 7:15 this morning.  No, it wasn’t a joke.  It did start as a joke but then drifted into one of those questions that may not be appropriate for class except that my students are:

A)  Seniors.

B)  Intelligent.

C)  Mature.

D)  Inquisitive. 

This means that very little is off the table when discussions are concerned.  Potential personal issues will cause me to shut things down rather quicky and that’s about it.  Since I didn’t feel like anyone in the class was a stripper or had the massive potential for stripping (although it has been a way to pay for college) I let the conversation continue as long as it wasn’t going to go off the rails.

It didn’t. 

In the end the commentary revolved around the idea that a feminist stripper who is against objectification of women is kind of doing it wrong, although some of the people in the conversation disagreed with that assessment. 

The issue is a trap for men without a doubt, and hopefully my male students were learning that conversations in college are becoming more and more like the trap.  If you support a woman’s right to be a stripper then you are by the very nature of the act, objectifying her.  If you don’t think that women should engage in the act of stripping then you are obviously too threatened by female sexuality and are a misogynist.

Regardless, one of the great things about teaching is that every day brings something different and unexpected.  Tomorrow?  Who knows….

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Day 29: St. Mary’s via Iceberg Lake

The smoke was still there a-plenty, although the wind wasn’t blowing and breakfast was had with lousy visions but little campfire flavor.  We left and headed over to Swiftcurrent Lodge for our ranger-led hike to Iceberg Lake.

Our ranger was a mid-20 something female who majored in business and promptly moved to Montana because she felt nature was more fulfilling.  Now she works at an REI in Missoula while trying to deal with the Montana winters and works in Glacier National Park in the summertime.  Our hike was to take us up into a little nook in a canyon containing Wilbur Creek.  At the top of the creek was Iceberg Lake, a body of water surrounded on three sides by massive walls of rock thus allowing for ice to remain in the lake well into July.  I was hoping to see ice. 

The first 3/4 mile was a strong climb up a narrow trail that eventually flatted out to a nice gradual climb up to Iceberg Lake.  Along the way our ranger educated us about local glaciers (we saw Swiftcurrent from the trail), the different forests on the east and west side of the Continental divide, and bears.  It was the bears that people were most interested in because our large party (had to be about twenty) were fairly concerned about running into a grizzly.  The ranger was fantastic, discussing the ins-and-outs of bear encounters.  Interesting fact; bear bells are no longer recommended.  Basically if you are going to hike in bear country, you better be talking every couple minutes and talking loud.  We got the in’s and out’s of bear spray, bear tracking, and most importantly, the reminder that most of the time if you are acting in a bear safe manner you’ll be fine. 

We stopped at Ptarmigan Falls for a short break and then continued our journey towards the lake.  Eventually we broke out of the forest and started walking through alpine meadows.  I think I’ve found my favorite type of terrain.  The meadows are full of different types of wildflowers and the occasional trees seem to create a perfect match to the granite rock and green lushness on the ground.  Mix in the jagged peaks, the multitude of waterfalls, and the plethora of animal life and it feels like your in the greatest wilderness that could have been invented by a Creator.  Iceberg Lake was fantastic.  Set in a bowl and covered partially by, well, icebergs, the lake was a brilliant blue hue contrasted with the white snow surrounding its banks on the far side.  While there were probably thirty or so people there, the tones were hushed as an almost reverent feeling overcame all of us.  Even kids seemed to appreciate the vision before them.

As the afternoon waned we had a choice; wait by the lake for over an hour more for the ranger to head back or get a group together start the journey early.  We paired up with Jack and Greta, an older couple from Belgium and began our way down the trail.  We discussed everything from the European Union to teaching in the United States to families to the hope that grizzly bears stayed out of our way.  We were loud and I lead the way with the regular “waayyyyyyyyyyyyyohhhhhhh” every couple of minutes and any time we neared a blind curve.  We avoided bears ok but ran into this baddy:

SUmmer 2015 2085 That’s a grouse that was very bold in an effort to find her chicks.  She found them eventually and it was actually really cool.  But damn those talons…..

Once we got back to the Swiftcurrent Lodge we sat and enjoyed a couple of cold brews and talked about our road trips and (in the case of our new companions) trips around the world.  It was a fabulous day that started with a beautiful climb and ended with excellent company.  Jack and Gretel are actually staying at the Many Glacier Hotel and we are going to meet them tomorrow for our climb up to Grinnell Glacier.  

Trails hiked:  Iceberg Lake

Miles hiked: 10

Well, on to other things.

I resigned from coaching basketball.

At this point I’m not going to get too long winded about why because a lot about basketball is still clouded with vitriol from particular people and situations that surround high school sports.  I’d be ranting like a crazy person and that’s something for much later on when I have time to edit.

It’s really not a sad moment.  It’s been years in the making and to be totally honest I’m a different person now than I was years ago.  I love teaching and I love adventures with my wife, and I really love the fact that I acted on doing something about both those things before ignoring those impulses became damaging. 

It was great working with kids and coaching a competitive athletic sport.  People will never completely understanding teaching until they do it and those condemn it as something other than teaching are fools.  Kids are the easy part of coaching because they want to be there and they soak up good teaching like a sponge.

But this is about the best use of human capital for myself.  Teaching is a marathon in which I probably have at least twenty more years.  I’ve spent the entirety of every Winter holiday and at least half of the Summers engaged in basketball since 1988.  That wasn’t a bad thing then but now I have other things that fill my soul.


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Everybody knows you are a lesbian and care way too damn much

Student free speech lawsuit

That’s Taylor Victor. 

She went to class at Sierra High School in Manteca and a teacher apparently tossed her towards the office where two administrators told her to change the shirt because of “inappropriate sexuality” and “dress code violations.”  That caused a bit of a stir and the school and Taylor worked out an agreement that allowed the First Amendment to run amok on campus in exchange for ignoring the error of the districts ways.  Or whatever.

“she met with Leland (the principal), telling him the dress code did not prohibit the shirt; he told her that she was not allowed to display “personal choices and beliefs” on her clothing and that it violated the dress code because it was “disruptive” and could be “gang-related,” the lawsuit says.”

Gang related?  What the hell kind of gangs are hanging out around Manteca these days? 

Yeah doubtful. 

“Assistant Principal Dan Beukelman, who also is named as a defendant, said she could not wear the shirt because it was “promoting sex” and an “open invitation to sex,….”

It sort of is promoting sex because she’s announcing something regarding her sexuality, which is about sex.  But the question is whether or not it really is ABOUT sex.  My guess is that Ms. Victor is doing the part pay-attention-to-me and part social justice thing that is not uncommon with teenagers, and my God did the school overreact.

I can’t see a situation with a Senior coming into my classroom where I do anything but smile and move on.  Taylor’s shirt is the equivalent of a Now This clickbait video, and that’s not entirely uncommon amongst the teenagers that proliferate a high school.  Good, bad, justified or not, the shirt became way too big of a deal for a high school. 

Move on.