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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Highline Heaven

Today was amazing. Our itinerary had us doing 20 miles from the Granite Park campground to the Kootenai Lake campground. We noticed 3 stellar side trips we could do today to scenic overlooks. In total, they would add 5 miles and a lot of beauty to our day. We of course did all three.

First, we decided to climb Swiftcurrent Mountain. This 8400 ft. peak promised great views of the entire northern part of the park. Eric left camp early to eat breakfast in the sun at the top of Swiftcurrent Pass. I ate breakfast in camp and started up later. We planned to rendezvous at the pass and climb the peak together.

Just as I was about to start up the trail to the pass, I noticed something moving in my peripheral vision off to the left. It was a Grizzly maybe 150 yards away digging for moths right on the trail. It stopped and looked at me for a second, then went back to digging. The bears are up high this time of year. They apparently like to turn over all the rocks near treeline
looking for a species of moth that they like to eat. This particular moth lives off of flower nectar and thus has a high carbohydrate value. These moths and berries make up the bulk of the Glacier National Park Grizzly diet.

I wasn't about to disturb this bears breakfast, so I just waited for him to
move on. Finally, after many displaced rocks and moths eaten, the bear moved on and disappeared in the trees to the right of he trail. It was fascinating to watch him feed on moths. Who would have thought? Luckily, he seemed to have no interest in the dried fruit in my pack. :o)

I decided to give the bear a wide berth and took a path far to the left of the trail to get up to the pass. I made noise the whole way up to where Eric was waiting. We walked up the trail to Swiftcurrent Mountain a short ways and looked back to see Mr. Grizz strolling right on the trail over the pass below us. We watched a little nervously as he reached the trail junction between the pass trail and the trail up the peak which we were on. Fortunately, he continued on the pass trail. It was super enjoyable to watch the bear from above like that. This was the way I had always wanted to see a Grizzly.

We climbed on past a Mountain Goat grazing on the tundra grasses and reached the top of Swiftcurrent Mountain in high spirits. The view up here was amazing. We had 360 views out into the land of a hundred Grand Tetons.

There was actually a fire lookout station on the top manned by a fellow named John. Just before we reached the lookout, there was a sign that said, 'Private Residence.' Talk about an amazing place to call home. John had about 2 hours of work to do each day, then he was free to write or read or whatever. The park service used pack mules to bring his supplies up, so he didn't have to pack up water or food or anything. The woman who was the lookout before him held the job for 20 years and raised her kids up there. I assume those kids were homeschooled. :o)

Next on the side trip agenda was Ahern Pass. We reached this lookout in time for lunch and sat down to enjoy the view of Helen Lake below. After lunch, we walked down the pass a bit to the east and stood on top of the snowfield/glacier that graced the mountain walls above Helen Lake. Eric walked up and to the east to get a picture of me on the snowfield with Helen Lake below. As he was walking through the talus to a good spot, he started freaking out and said, "You gotta come check this out." I walked up and freaked out myself. We had worked our way around to the east on the slopes south of Ahern Pass to the point where we could see the Ahern Glacier high above Helen Lake. Three or four 1000 ft. waterfalls flowed off the glacier down into Helen Lake. Holy amazing!! It was a scene like no other I have ever witnessed.

The last of our side trips was the Sue Lake Overlook. We crested the divide and looked east down on massive Sue Lake. This lake seemed to sit in the middle of a huge basin surrounded by towering peaks covered with snowfields. Conical Pyramid Peak was east of us on the other side of the lake. The view of the glaciers in this basin from that peak must be amazing. It was such a beautiful spot, that we decided to have an early dinner and spend some time.

After dinner, we packed up and rejoined the Highline Trail which led to our camp. We immediately passed through a large alpine tundra field before dropping into the trees of Waterton Valley. Some friends of mine who hiked the CDT in 2003 southbound had been bluff charged by a Grizzly in this area on the first day of their trip. And we'd heard from some folks up at the Sue Lake Overlook that 4 Grizzlies were sighted in this tundra field last evening. This was a big Grizzly feeding area, as there were abundant rocks around which held little moth treats for the bears. We were a little weary as we walked through this prime Grizzly feeding area, but we didn't see any bears.

We strolled into camp at Kootenai Lake around 9 p.m. for the days Grand Finally. Four Moose were standing in the middle of the water grazing on grasses which grew on the bottom of the lake. They would stick their head under the water for about a minute to chomp on grass, and then come up for air. It was quite a sight to watch these magnificent animals graze as the sunset colors lit up the sky. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Grizzly Bears, Moose, 1000 ft. waterfalls, beautiful alpine lakes. I can't believe this day. My words seem so inadequate.

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