Bicycling Going-to-the-Sun Rd. in the spring

Last weekend we went to the west side of Glacier National Park to bicycle Going-to-the-Sun Rd. before it’s open to vehicle traffic for a special Mother’s Day weekend.  This is one of my favorite times in the park since everything is a glorious green, and it has a completely different feel than in the mid-summer when millions of visitors descend upon it.

Spring is a special time in Glacier National Park.
Spring is a special time in Glacier National Park.

I lived just outside of West Glacier for many years, and always enjoyed taking the bike to the park in the spring. It is decidedly busier now. Parking at Avalanche Creek was akin to a the mayhem in the summer, except that the campground was open for vehicles to park for the day so folks were pulled in wherever they could fit. To reduce the congestion of the area, the Glacier National Park Conservancy obtained a grant to put two bike shuttles on the route between Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche. They can haul up to 16 bikes at a time, and run every 20 minutes or so. They weren’t well used when we were there, but of course, it was their first day in operation. I do hope that, like the shuttles that run in the summer, more people take advantage of them.

Hiker/biker shuttle
Hiker/biker shuttle

We opted to brave the parking situation since we were on a bit of a time crunch, and even cycling our way out of the campground was a challenge with the amount of traffic streaming in to find a spot. (Another reason to use the shuttle the next time.) But once we made it past the gate, it all changed. It was only hikers and bikers on the peaceful road. The newly leafed out trees created a brilliant green canopy over the road as we peddled along enjoying the sound of McDonald Creek instead of traffic.

Grant giving John a little extra help making it up the road.
Grant giving John a little extra help making it up the road.

It’s a slight grade starting out from Avalanche. John did enjoy a bit of help from Grant heading uphill, but overall did just fine making our way up the road. We stopped at one of the pull outs to walk down to view the roaring waters of McDonald Creek along an obviously newer trail and step system, undoubtedly funded by the Glacier Conservancy. It looked fantastic. 

The ride back was an easy coast. Of course, being a mother who typically looks at the worst case scenario, all I could envision was one of the boys careening out of a control as they sped down the hill ending up in the waters of the creek. Thankfully, they worked those brakes and made it down safely. 

We didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked on that absolutely perfect day,  but I’m hoping to make it back over there in the near future to enjoy the road before it’s open for everyone.

Weekend Winter Getaway

A couple of weeks ago friends invited us to join them a the Glacier Wilderness Resort near Essex where they own a timeshare week, and make a point to spend time there every winter. Even though I worked at the Izaak Walton Inn many moons ago, and have driven past the Glacier Wilderness Resort at least a thousand times, I had no idea it was such a lovely place to stay. The cabin was large and comfortable with pretty much everything you needed (except for food and such, of course). And the hot tub on the porch was a big hit with the boys. The Lodge has a nice little fitness room, pool table, and reading area. There’s even a swimming pool that’s kept at 95 degrees F. It’s truly everything you’d want, and it would be easy to spend a week without leaving the grounds. 

Shortly after we arrived, which involved driving in blizzard conditions over Marias Pass, we donned our snowshoes and headed out on the trails behind the cabins. A short walk took us to a beautiful waterfall where the bridge allowed us to walk close to the flowing water behind the snow. We continued a little bit farther, but the lure of opening birthday presents for our youngest got the better of him, and it didn’t take long before he wanted to go back. Even though it was a brief walk through the beautiful woods, the possibilities didn’t escape me. 

By the next morning the weather had improved so we decided to head to Apgar and Lake McDonald to snowshoe or ski on Going to the Sun Road.  The winter in Glacier is one of my favorite times to be there because it is a completely different world than the insane overcrowding during the summer. It was a popular place on that particular Sunday, but it was nothing compared to what the parking lot looks like in July. 

We parked at the end of the parking lot at Lake McDonald Lodge, where there is a great vault restroom you can use before you start your trek. (This is important stuff to know!) Our eldest and I put on our skis, despite the slick conditions. John started with snowshoes, but switched to skis. Even then, he was resistant, and his dad ended up pulling him with a ski pole for the entire 3 mile trip.  We went down to the bridge at the head of Lake McDonald where we grabbed a snack, and spotted a large whitefish in the water below. It was absolutely gorgeous blue-sky day, and I thought it was very interesting that our trip back to the car took half the time as it did to reach the bridge. 

Being outdoors at any time of the year refreshes the soul, but it’s especially rejuvenating in the middle of winter when outdoor recreation is often limited by inclement weather or shortened days. It was a fantastic opportunity to show the boys how beautiful it is, and how fun the winter can be.

Fishing the hard water on Holter Lake

Ice fishing is one of those activities that makes winter pass a bit more quickly, and depending on the thickness of the said hard water, might make your life pass more quickly, as well.  But it’s my husband’s favorite type of fishing,  so we occasionally join him during the season.

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Those occasions mostly depend on the ice conditions. While the standard recommendation is ice is “safe” for people walking on it around 4 to 6 inches thick, I’m more comfortable with an excess of 9 inches after we’ve had days of sub-zero temps. We had cold temps the previous weekend, but when it warmed up to the upper 30s for a couple of days, I’ll fully admit that I was a bit anxious. Rationally, I knew it wouldn’t melt the ice significantly, especially since it was freezing at night, but that lovely warm sun nagged at me that the ice was weakening. Thankfully, my concerns were for naught as it was a good 11 inches thick where we went on Holter Lake.

Catching trout

Holter has been fickle this year. One day people will limit out at 50 really nice fish per person (we’re talking 8-10 inch perch); other days you’re hard pressed to hook a couple. Yesterday was the latter. We had multiple lines in the water, but didn’t catch anything except a 10 inch trout and a single perch.  Yet, it was a mild day with a little sun to make it nice, and with thick ice under our feet, it was still a good time for the most part. (I have to add “for the most part” since a few brotherly squabbles turned into some somber moods.)

While they fished, I took the opportunity to clip into the Nordic skates once again to see if I could at least stand without falling. I tried them on Gibson Pond last weekend with the realization that I didn’t have a clue how to move forward.  I had John pull me along, then I bit the ice. (Or, as John says, “Mom fell on her tush!”) So I came home and looked at videos to see how these things work. The big difference is you ski skate with these. They’re not figure skates where you push off with your toe, and once you get the hang of it they really look amazing and effortless. I’ll keep working on it so hopefully I can get to the point where I can be off skating while they’re fishing (if the bite is slow… if it’s on I want to be there). Nordic Skates

I didn’t do anything too exciting yesterday, but managed to shuffle around in circles without taking a dive.  As Grant reminded me, he really didn’t want to have to drag me off the ice, which was probably a good 1/4 mile walk just to the trailhead back to the truck, and I fully agreed. They did feel better, and I can see how these can be a whole lot of fun once I get my “ice legs.”

Overall we had a great day outdoors. It’s always good to take this time  outside with the boys. We saw osprey and heard them call, watched dozens, if not hundreds, of geese fly in and land, and spotted numerous duck species. They always learn something from these outings, and they’re going to remember these things.

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So with warming weather in the near future, I’m not sure if we’ll make it on the ice again this season, but we’ll undoubtedly be fishing the open water within a month, and hitting the hiking trails before we know it!

Embracing winter

Winter can be rough on people, and I must admit, that I can whine along with the best of them when the temperature plummets and the snow falls.

IMG_1591When you look at it,  it’s simply not that fun to have to put on snowshoes to take care of the chickens, or to take 10 minutes just to dress to feed the horse. On the other, there really are a lot of fun activities that we can only do in the winter. So I’m making a concerted effort to change my attitude. The reality is, winter isn’t going anywhere, and complaining about it does nothing to make it better.

IMG_1740Obviously ice fishing is a sport best done when it’s been very cold for a considerable amount of time. When they’re biting, you don’t notice the weather. And, to add to the fun on the ice, this year I’m experimenting with a pair of Nordic skates. They’re fast, more stable, and can glide along the rough surface of the frozen lakes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cruise around while waiting for the bite to come on, although I’m guessing I’ll be the go-to person for tip-up duty.

Sledding is a simple adrenaline rush for those of us who aren’t used to swooshing down the ski hill. It’s great fun, and a tremendous workout hoofing it back up the hill.  Plus, it lets you feel like you really earned your hot cocoa.

IMG_1593Along these lines, although preferably with less of a thrill unless you find yourself on a steeper-than-desired incline, cross-country skiing can take you places deep in the woods or the prairie, allowing you to really get out and enjoy this peaceful time of the season. Or, if you totally want to keep your feet on the ground, strap on the snowshoes. They’re kind of like the tanks of winter travel. While they’re not as graceful as skis, they certainly are stable and reliable.

This year I’m looking on the bright side of winter. Every opportunity will find us out either skating on the local pond with our friends (since an impromptu hockey game can’t be beat for winter fun), or snowshoeing in the nearby National Forest or Glacier National Park. Winter won’t last forever so it’s time to wring every bit of enjoyment out of it as we can. You just have to make the best of what winter has to offer. Grisak