Siyeh Bend to Sun Rift Gorge

First of all, I’m kind of digging the name “Sun Rift.” What a great word pairing.

Anyways, a few weeks ago I hiked 10.3 miles, beginning about 2 miles to the east of Logan Pass. I chose it because my friend posted a photo of it the other day, and also the shuttle stops there so I wouldn’t have to find parking. I hate looking for a parking spot.

The first three miles or so were nice. It felt really good to be on a hike, and there were a ton of flowers carpeting the ground between the pine trees. Every so often I’d get a glimpse of the mountain face above me, but mostly I just keep walking and enjoying the sunshine.

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I stopped for lunch at Siyeh Creek, in part because it was pretty but mostly because it was the first place with enough of a breeze to keep the biting flies off me. Pro tip: bug spray that you leave in the car does you no good.

After Siyeh Creek, the trail goes up a series of switchbacks. This is where the trail gets glorious. I was almost regretting hiking it in that direction, as the view behind me got better every time I glanced back. I could see the mountains above Logan Pass behind the forest I’d just walked through. To the left, a bare mountain slid into a cirque with a pair of lakes in the base. I could hear a group of people laughing as they swam in them.

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The trail narrowed as I crossed Siyeh pass. There was a woman and an eight-ish-year-old girl crouched against the uphill wall. “We’re not used to this sort of hike. Please don’t go near the edge,” she said when I asked her to take my picture.

From there, the trail was all descent. It was not a bad descent, though–my legs feel a lot better after that than after the Highline, to be honest. The sun was starting to hide behind the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, streaking the air with sunlight. There’s a glacier-fed river running the length of the valley, with a few sparkling waterfalls as well. Basically, I stopped being sad that I hadn’t hiked the other direction–my way was both easier and prettier.

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Due to me oversleeping that morning, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t make it to the shuttle. However, I got to the Sun Rift Gorge shuttle stop an hour before the last shuttle arrived, and got to Logan Pass in time to stand in line with some really fun retired people. Yay, travel friends!!

Home in 4 Days!!

In case the title of this post was too obscure, I’m going to be home in 4 days!! Based off my past adventures, here are some answers to questions I know I’m gonna get asked.

Wait, you were gone?

Yeah! I left May 8 and got back (or, at the moment, plan to get back) September 6. I spent the summer in Glacier National Park, working at a gift shop as a barista and t-shirt putter-outter, and also serving with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

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The best ACMNP team I could have asked for. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to flip this image so that it actually looks like we’re spelling out “ACMNP.”

I thought you were supposed to be back at the end of September?

True! I was originally supposed to work until September 21, but it turns out that is a ton of time to be away from home, my family, my super cute boyfriend, Burgerville milkshakes, etc.

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Was it just amazing?

Just amazing–that’s a really high expectation to put on any 4-month period.  So no, not exactly. There were some really awesome parts, and also some really sucky parts. Overall, it was a good experience.

Are you glad you did it?

Absolutely! This had been a dream of mine for seven-ish years, and I don’t think it would have ever left me alone if I hadn’t gone and tried. Also, Glacier is gorgeous and there were so many days when I stepped out of my dorm and thought, “I can’t believe I get to live here for a summer!!”

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A view from my evening walks. This was about a 4-minute walk from my house.

So what happened? Why are you home early?

Okay, this question maybe falls on the “questions I know people will want to ask but will probably be too polite to actually ask” list. Honestly, July happened. I cruised through June with only a few homesick days, but then I hit July and thought, “Wow, I’ve been here two months………and I’m not even halfway done yet. Crap.” July was one of the loneliest months I have had in the last 7 years. That was my own fault–I didn’t make a huge effort to go out and meet people. I get pretty stressed out of I don’t get time alone, and when I’m working retail 5 days a week and spending Sunday doing worship services, the thought of taking someone I barely know on a 2-hour car ride, then a 6-hour hike, then another 2-hour car ride back home on my only day to myself seemed like a bit more than I could handle. And it didn’t help to be thinking that I was also missing out on my first summer of dating Marc because we were in separate states.

Then, in the middle of July, I decided to Skype my mom. She was with my sister’s kids, so I got to talk with them. I was in my car so as not to disturb my roommate. The conversation went like this:

Pearl (my 3-year-old niece who loves to point out the obvious): Auntie, you are in your car.

Me: Yep.

Pearl: Good. Now you can come home!

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Pearl, umm, helping me in the garden last spring before I left.

And I thought, dang, girl, you have a point. I might have started the car right then and been home by dinner the next day, except my favorite books were in my dorm at the time and there’s no way I’m abandoning them. In any case, that got the idea in my head, and a few weeks later I found out that one of my co-workers was staying later than she had originally planned, and they were hiring another person who would stay until my original end date, so I asked if I could leave and my manager looked at the schedule and asked if I could stay till September 5, which was reasonable.

So, basically, I’m home early because I took advice from a 3 year old. But, like, a really cute one so it’s okay. #auntielife

Did you get to go on some great hikes?

Oh yeah!! I loved my days hiking.

Did you see some cool wildlife?

I saw mountain goats, marmots, deer, foxes, and a billion squirrels. I didn’t see any moose, and I only saw bears from the car, which I was honestly okay with. I usually hiked alone, so I wasn’t all that interested in seeing things that might decide to kill me.

You hiked alone! Insanity!!

Shhhhhhh……I was usually on well-traveled trails, I had bear spray and an emergency locator, and I didn’t spend four months away from home, family, friends, nieces, nephew, and boyfriend to not hike. It worked out fine. #NotDead

So what’s your next adventure?

There isn’t one! At least, not a long-term travel adventure. That’s kind of a new experience for me. I started dreaming of the PCT in middle school, and that dream took me through college. Then six months after I got back, my sister and I started planning our trip to New Zealand, which took me through another two years, and then a few months after that I got to come to Glacier, which is another dream I’ve had for a long time. I’m gonna go ahead and stay put for a while. I’m excited to not constantly be living a few months ahead of myself. I think it’s gonna work out just fine 🙂

Hiking the Highline 😃

Yes, that’s an emoji in my blog post title, because this trail was awesome. I first hiked this trail in 2015 with my dad and sister, Olivia. It’s kind of the reason I started dreaming about Glacier and wanted to come back. It’s pretty gorgeous.

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The view near the Granite Park Chalet. Heaven’s Peak on the right, Mount Oberlin on the left.

It also takes a while for the snow on it to melt, so it wasn’t open until early July. Then, the day before i planned to hike it, there was a grizzly bear hanging out on the trail, so they closed it for a few weeks. I finally got to hike it a week and a half ago, on a glorious sunny day in which I remembered both my sunscreen and my hat. #rare

The trail starts at Logan Pass, and quickly goes out on a ledge in the middle of a cliff. There’s a steel cable along this length, to which a family of 5 desperately clung. However, the trail is pretty wide even here, so I was able to pass them without feeling like I would die.

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Not great for people who are afraid of heights.

One of my favorite moments happened a few hundred feet after that section, on what’s called the Garden Wall. Steep fields of flowers stretch above and below you, the trail the only interruption in its descent. The vastness of the valley masks the true height of the mountains around you, making them seem somehow huge but also not that far away. As I came around a corner, there was a little boy kneeling in the dirt, his grandpa walking a few steps ahead of him. His grandpa turned when he heard me coming and looked down at the 4 year old.

“What are you doing?” he asked, confused.

“Drawing,” the little boy replied.

Because, ya know, what better place to draw than in the dirt of the most gorgeous trail around?

Grandpa sighed. “Move aside so she can pass.”

The boy stood up, the seat of his sweatpants as dusty as his cuffs, and scampered out of the way. He was adorable.

The rest of the trail was also nice. I saw another goat, marveled at the flowers, and took a billion pictures. At the Granite Park Chalet, I stopped to make a sandwich on the porch. A squirrel tried to steal it from my hand. Some Canadians laughed at that. I ate faster.

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The Granite Park Chalet with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

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Me at the Granite Park Chalet.

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I wonder why they call it the Garden Wall?

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Name that flower! (Refer to my previous post from Iceberg Lake for a hint 😉 )

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McDonald Creek flowing towards the Lake.

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Looking up!

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Towards the beginning of the trail. The Going to the Sun Road is on the right side of the picture.

The last four miles are pretty lame, but they’re made worth it by the 7 or so that you’ve already done. The trail ends at The Loop, a hairpin turn in the Going to the Sun Road. From there, I caught one of the last shuttles back to my car at the Apgar Campground, got some ice cream at the Cedar Tree, and finished the day cooling my feet in Lake McDonald. Not bad for a Friday 🙂

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Indian Paintbrush on the trail back to the Loop.

Iceberg Lake

About a week and a half ago, I picked up my friend from work, Cindy, and we headed over the Going to the Sun Road with two possible destinations in mind: Grinell Glacier or Cracker Lake.

We did neither of them.

Instead, we decided to go to Iceberg Lake, which was in the same area but has actual icebergs in it. I figured seeing icebergs floating in the lake would be pretty cool.

It was, but that wasn’t even the highlight of the trip. The highlight was the walk there. The trail makes a quick ascent right at the start, then levels out to a more gradual incline so that the last few miles let the gorgeous views take your breath away, instead of the hills. As I approached Iceberg Lake, I had the distinct feeling that I was about to happen upon Rivenedell, with the river flowing over small waterfalls and wildflowers everywhere. Bear grass covered steep hillsides above me. The trail looked forward to the mountains and back at the valley we’d just climbed through, so both the walk in and out were beautiful. This is my favorite hike I’ve gotten to do this year.

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Iceberg Lake

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Bear grass and the cliffs of insanity!!

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Bear grass along the trail leaving the lake

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More bear grass

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Also bear grass

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The Rivendell-esque approach to the lake, feat. Bear Grass

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Cindy dipping her feet in some super warm water. There was bear grass behind us.

Cobalt Lake

Today I had the day off, and since I was pretty sure I didn’t work until 2 tomorrow, I thought, “Hey, I’ll go for a hike on the east side of the park, camp there, and then take the Going to the Sun Road back tomorrow.”

Luckily I checked my schedule before I left and discovered that I actually work at 11. So, instead of a camping retreat, I just drove an hour and a half to the Two Medicine area and hiked to Cobalt Lake.

Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite hike ever. It’s pretty, but not spectacular like so many of the hikes in Glacier are. Still, I think it was exactly the hike I needed to be on today. Just being outside, on a trail that wasn’t crowded and was full of my favorite wildflower (Indian Paintbrush) and shallow water crossings was perfect.

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The whole hike was full of meadows like these.

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Like a trampoline, but sketchier.

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Rockwell Falls.

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I also met another solo female hiker, which is always fun. She was probably a few years younger than me and starts work in the park on Monday. She’s headed to New Zealand in October for a year, so we chatted about that for a while. After she left, I ate my dinner and watched the lake for a while. A marmot crossed the creek and walked within 10 feet of me to nibble some bear grass.

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Hello, friend!

It started raining just as it was time to leave. Luckily, I’d packed my warm jacket and leggings, and the rain was intermittent anyways so I didn’t get even a little uncomfortable. It did make the mountains look really cool with the shadows from the evening sun. It also gave me a great excuse to stop for hot chocolate on my way back home. Oh, darn 🙂

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Two trips to Avalanche Lake

One of the things I love about working the day shift in Glacier is that you almost get two days in a 24-hour period. You get the day that you work and get paid for, and then, if you don’t spend too long on dinner, you get a second day to go for a 5-6 mile hike.

Monday, my ACMNP team (almost–sorry you had to work, Claire!), one of their roommates, and a few other friends who work for our company decided to use our second half of the day to hike to Avalanche Lake. It’s one of the more popular hikes in Glacier, in part because the beauty-to-difficulty ratio is astounding.

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Logjam and the Lake

This is from my first trip to the lake.

I had hiked it about a week ago. It was the perfect way to spend my day off. I got to the top and, attempting to escape the 5th-grade field trip on the near side of the lake, circled around it and found quiet refuge on a gravelly beach on the opposite side. It was close enough that you could practically whisper to the mountain above us. There was just me and a few other adults seeking quiet, including a man watching mountain goats with binoculars and two guys fishing. I sat for half an hour listening to the waterfalls ringing down the mountain and the birds calling in the wind.

This time, we found a really peaceful beach at the near edge of the lake. Still, I liked how the other beach was so close to the foot of the mountain and suggested we go to it. Everyone agreed. I fell a bit behind on the way, until I got to the spot where the trail ends and you have to cross a little creek to get to the beach.

Except it wasn’t a little creek. The snow melt from the mountain has increased significantly in the last week, and there was no way we could pass.

But, we were undeterred. A small path ran just past the “End of Trail” sign along the edge of the creek, so we followed it through the woods until we found an opening. It was perfection. At least six waterfalls tumbled off the mountainside, splitting up as they hit what looked like a staircase for giants. There was a rainbow caught in one waterfall, and I sat on a log with my friend, Faye, and watched it inch higher and higher as the sun started its descent. It was the perfect way to spend my last night as a 26-year-old.

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Team photo!

Me and three members of my ACMNP team. Camden to the left, Jackie to the right, and Ethan floating on the log in the middle of the lake.

Avalanche of waterfalls

I really couldn’t decide if I liked watching the rainbow or the stairstep waterfalls more.

Photo cred: Faye Rogers 🙂

On the way down the trail we passed within a few feet of a doe and her baby. Also a bunch of the girls jumped into the lake. I was tempted, but I also love not being cold, so I stayed dry and lame, but man, I’m proud of them 🙂

Surprise! I’m becoming a barista?

I started work Monday, setting up children’s clothes and the Christmas section. We have super cute ornaments, if anyone was wondering.

Our gift shop also has a coffee shop in it, but the barista won’t be here until the middle of June. Because of that, our manager asked me and my friend, Claire, to learn how to make coffee.

I’ve never actually had a cup of coffee. The closest thing I can remember was when my sister took me to Starbucks in high school and got me a caramel frappecino. “There’s no coffee in it,” she assured me.

I took two sips before saying, “I think they forgot to clean the blender, because this tastes awful.” Thus her malevolent plans to trick me into liking coffee were thwarted.

Anyways, turns out making coffee is kind of hard, but also pretty fascinating. Our trainer went into a bit of the science behind it, and how the milk temperature needs to be about 160 degrees if it’s cow milk but 145 if it’s soy or almond, and the water is forced through the grounds at an exact pressure (9psi) (jk, actually 9 bar, which is more like 350 psi. Thanks to my friend and co-coffee-maker Claire for straightening me out 😉 ) and humidity and weather can make it so you need to change the coarseness of the grounds. A lot of it went over my head, but he left a cool manual showing how to make espresso so I’ve been reading that a lot.

So far I’ve worked 2 shifts. I always seem to be throwing out half the milk I steam, even though I swear I start with the same amount that our trainer told us to. Yesterday a guy ordered a 16 ounces chai and I ended up giving him an extra 8 ounce cup because I didn’t realize how much I poured in. I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials all morning to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Pretty sure I’m getting over-excited about the foam part of the drink. Kind of like how today I forgot to turn off the steam wand before taking it out of the pitcher of half and half I was heating up. I ended up wearing half and half all day. There are worse fashion trends. By the time the summer crowds start coming in, I should be competent at it!Also, while I may be the least qualified barista ever, the shop also has an ice cream stand with 12 flavors. I’m extremely qualified at loving ice cream and handing out samples, so it balances out.

To Glacier I go!!

Wednesday I leave for the summer, so I figured I should write a blog post about it instead of clean my car or pack. Here’s a direct transcript of every conversion I’ve had for the last couple weeks:

Wow, Glacier?! Where’s that at?

Montana, right where the Rocky Mountains meet Canada.

How far of a drive is that?

According to Google, 11 hours. But I feel like I remember it being more like 16. In any case, I plan to stretch it out over 2 days.

And you’ll be a ranger, building trails and doing other…rangery… stuff?

Actually, I’ll be selling souvenirs at the Cedar Tree Gift Shop. I’ll also be volunteering with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

How did you find that job?

About 7 years ago I found out about the ministry and thought, “Wow, I’d love to do that.” I’ve actually filled out the application several times, but due to student loans, being in wedding parties, and other family things, it’s just never been the right time. Then I quit my job in January for my New Zealand trip, I figured I’d do this this summer as well.

*Interested sound* That sounds cool. So you’re not getting paid?

I will be getting some mula, no worries. The ministry will be volunteer work. My team of 5 people will host 5 worship services (I’ll be at 3 of them) every Sunday in the campgrounds of West Glacier. I’ll be playing the violin and doing some preaching as well. They seem like awesome people and I am so excited to get to know and serve with them this summer!! However, ACMNP partners with concessionaires in the park to help us get jobs. I’ll be working in the gift shop, for which I will be paid.

Where are you going to live?

They have employee housing there for us. I don’t know what it looks like–dorms, cabins, other–but since I just spent 2 months living out of a van, tent, or hostels, I think I’ll be able to survive 😉

What hours are you working?

No idea. I’ll find out when I’m there.

Have you been to Glacier before?

Yep! I was there July 6 and 7, 2015. I’m sooo excited to go back and hike the trails there!

How long will you be gone?

I’ll leave May 8 and return September 23ish.

What does your boyfriend think of this?

He’s the best ever. He’s okay with it and even plans to visit me a few times 🙂

Well, cool. Have a great summer!

Thanks, you too!!

Two Months at Home

In the immortal words of Samwise Gamgee, “Well, I’m back.”

I’ve actually been back almost a month, but have been so busy getting used to the fact that YouTube now puts ads at the end of videos (among other tiny changes in the world) that I haven’t gotten around to writing a blog. Also, I wasn’t sure what to write. I came home almost 2 weeks earlier than I’d originally intended. I had a great time those two weeks at home and honestly wouldn’t have traded them for another 12 days of getting rained on in New Zealand, but I think I still felt a bit of fear that I would be perceived as a failure, even though I don’t feel like one. You feel me? (Sorry, had to get the word feel in there one more time. #writing.)

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Anyways, any posts you see from here on out about New Zealand are actually being written from the comfort of my room. Or possibly the library. It depends on whether I want to channel my inner hobbit or inner Hermione that day.

What now? Glad you asked. Until May 8, I’ll be hanging out mostly at home, doing freelance editing and writing work. (If you have a project you would like help with, let me know!) On May 8, I’ll be driving to Glacier National Park, where I’ll spend the summer working in a gift shop, helping lead worship services, and maybe doing a bit of hiking. If I feel like it 😉

The Nicest Smelling Pit Toilets I’ve Ever Been In: Glacier National Park

I’m a big-picture planner. By this I mean I like to focus on the overall arc of an idea, and let someone else figure out the details. Sometimes, though, both of the other people I’m planning things with are also big-picture planners. The result? Two days in Glacier National Park with less than twenty minutes of planning, total, from our group. And most of that was me booking us a campsite. Which we didn’t even use one of the nights.

That one time my dad used the word “Selfie” correctly!

Months ago, my sister and I decided that, since our cousin’s wedding was about 5 hours on the road towards Glacier anyways, we would meander on from Oregon through whatever Google said was the fastest route and camp in Glacier for, who knows? Three days? A Week? Summer break, people! But then my dad got a few days of vacation time freed up, so he was able to join us. The catch? We had to be back in time for his knee surgery, which meant leaving the park after only 2 full days. 

No big deal. Being an efficient Googler, I would have a plan. I would mark out exactly which trails we could hike, and what to do, and–what? We leave tomorrow morning? I reserved the last available campsite in the entire park and trusted the rest to luck.

Three people. Three people’s camping gear. A very large cooler that in hindsight we could have skipped, because how many bologna sandwiches can three people stomach in two and a half days? (Answer: Not as many as that cooler can hold.). All of this in one Camry, filling the trunk and half the back seat. Not the ideal camping scenario, but since we grew up taking vacations with one child crouching on the floor of our turquoise Aerostar, ducking whenever a police car came into view, we weren’t concerned.

My sister and I!

Like family vacations of olde, we got started two hours later than we had intended. And between not wanting to stop for food in case we might miss our campsite, and thinking I might want to start eating healthier now that I’m almost done with college, I hadn’t eaten a lot on the very long drive. (How to reconcile that with bologna sandwiches? Just let it be, folks.) And I had also just done another 1,000 mile road trip a few days before. I was tired! So tired, that by the time we got to Kalispell and decided we were not going to make it to the stressfully-booked campsite in time to pitch our tent, I was running on empty. There may have been tears in the pizza parlor parking lot. Old ladies were giving me sidelong looks as if they weren’t sure if they should call a women’s shelter or an insane asylum.

The pizza place was out of original crust, so we had overpriced thin crust pizza. After throwing my nutritional goals to the wind and eating half the pizza, I felt great. Embarrassed, but great. Lesson learned: if I ever try to become anorexic, someone will probably shoot me before I see any weight loss.

After a short night at the Super 8, we finished our trip to Glacier. At first it felt like a theme park, mainly because of the themeparks and rafting companies gathered around the entrance. Inside, though, we accidentally ended up on the Going to the Sun Road.

I had learned 3 things in my research:

  1. You have to do the Going to the Sun Road. It’s on some list of awesome Civil Engineering things.
  2. The Northwest corner of the park is the most remote part of the park, and supposedly has some of the top 100 most scenic backpacking trails in any national park (Per this list compiled by Backpacker Magazine).
  3. The Glaciers are dying.

The bottom of the Going to the Sun Road.

What they never told me was that there really is no other option besides the Going to the Sun Road. If you want to cross that park, that’s it. It’s the main road. And though the beginning part is flat and doesn’t make sense as to why it would be a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, after a few miles we completely understood the hype.

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It’s steep and beautiful and scary as Hell and I was grateful my Dad came, if only so that my sister and I didn’t have to risk driving.

A view from the Going to the Sun Road. Very High. Very Steep. Very Gorgeous.

So we marveled at the road. At the top, we saw a sign for Logan Pass. “Why don’t we get out here and hike a bit?” we thought.

“Because the parking lot is full, and as soon as one car leaves, twelve more swoop in to take their place,” the visitor center answered.

“Let’s not do that,” we decided. Instead, we meandered onto a waterfall just on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. We finished driving the road, found a gas station that charged more for a bag of ice than for a gallon of gas, and returned to the western side to pitch our tent in Fish Creek Campground.

What to do with the remaining four hours of daylight?

“Let’s head over to Bowman Lake,” my dad suggested.

Bowman Lake–in the remote northeast corner! We could finally escape the crowds… that we honestly hadn’t encountered much of the entire trip. But we decided to go, and two hours down a mostly gravel road (again: we were in a Camry) we finally said, “If we haven’t found it within the next ten minutes, we’re turning around.”

Nine minutes later, we arrived. It was a pretty lake, until you stepped out of the car. The only mosquito bites I received the entire trip were bestowed during the hour we spent there. After such a long trip, I found the pit toilets mentioned in the title of this post. We then walked around the lake about a mile, past the sign warning us of Grizzly attacks and absolving the state of any fault if we happened to run into one. The trail was surrounded by dog hair (thick forest and brush that makes it impossible to see more than a few feet).

We played “Would You Rather” so our noise would scare away the bears, and turned around well before leaving the lake shore. We got back to camp, ate quickly, and went to bed with a plan to hit Logan Pass early the next morning.