Aug 092010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I did indeed wake up early enough for the sunrise this morning. I went to Sprague Lake to take photos of the sunrise and reflections in the lake. The lake is perfectly flat this early in the morning and reflects the surrounding mountains like a mirror. I saw several other photographers with their tripods out and about, and there were even more people out with just a camera.

We all could not get over the beauty of the lake in the morning. It is so hard to describe what I saw. There was a lingering mist over a portion of the lake, and the light was just starting to shine through the morning cloud cover. Only the tops of the mountains in the distance were bright from the sunlight and there were bands of light across the trees in front of the mountains. The cloud cover made interesting designs and all of this was reflected perfectly in the lake.

The trail around the lake was 0.5 miles and I moved all the way around. The morning had started out a crisp 46 degrees, but now that the sun was out it had warmed up into the 60s.

I drove up to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead around 7:15am and got one of the last 3 parking spots available. The hiker shuttle starts at 7:30 and my plan was to take the shuttle up to Bear Lake and then hike back down to my car.

While waiting for the shuttle, I had a good chat with the ranger about the hike I was about to do. I had a couple options based on time because I wanted to be down off the mountain by 1pm so that I could chat with Mark.

Once up at Bear Lake, this most popular hike in the park was already teeming with people. I hiked about 6 miles total from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake to Dream Lake to Emerald Lake, then down to Alberta Falls and back to the car. The hike to all the lakes was uphill, so it was slow going, but I took breaks and took photos along the mountain stream I was following that connected all the lakes. Nymph Lake was covered with lily pads and their yellow flowers. Past the lake I found a good spot to take sunrise photos should I decide to wake early again tomorrow. By the time I got to the other lakes, the sun was high and the light was too harsh for decent photos. The lakes were indeed pretty, but I have to say that I enjoyed the hike more than the lakes. I’ve been to some more magnificent lakes in other National Parks, so these just didn’t compare. However, there were lots of places along the hike to see the wildflowers growing along the stream, and find places of shade to hang out in and set up my tripod.

I decided to skip a loop hike to another two lakes due to time restraints and went back to the parking lot and my car. Bear Lake started at 10,000 feet and the rest of the trail ascended higher. So, I was happy to see the car at the end of the hike and take a break.

I was impressed that even when I got down to the visitors center with the wifi it hadn’t started raining yet. I had some time before Mark came on so I had a good chat with Christy and Laura and worked on photos and the blog. Thanks for all the email responses, too. I enjoyed reading them.

It started raining about 2pm even after such a clear morning. While I was chatting with Mark it started hailing! The hail was about a quarter inch in diameter and came down so fast and so hard that the ground was soon covered in white little balls of hail. It looked like snow. When I went for a drive later, the hail definitely looked like snow as the roads and sides of the roads were covered in white. It was the most impressive hail storm I’ve ever seen. We don’t really get hail in Houston, so it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a hail storm.

I waited until the hail turned back to rain and then lessened enough to dash to my car and then decided to drive up Old Fall River Road again hoping to escape the rain. I stopped by Sheep Lake again, but still no sheep. None had been spotted now for several days and the ranger told me that sometimes they go even 11 days without coming down. He said the best place to see sheep was to go to Milner Pass and hike a 2 mile route there that went into bighorn country. In fact, the hike just opened on August 1st due to sheep activity. Also, he mentioned moose are usually on the west side of the park if I wanted to try for a moose sighting.

Old Fall River Road did not prove to get me out of the rain, and I didn’t really make any stops along the road. By the time I got to the top of the mountain, the rain had abated and there were several bull elk on the side of the road begging to be photographed. I have to say that the most prominent animal I’ve seen in the park has been the elk.

I stopped at Milner Pass on the way down to the west side of the park, but it was so cold and windy that I had no interest in hiking at that moment. I continued on and the drive along the west side of the park was uneventful. The west side mostly consists of a long straight road between the mountains and a wide valley with a meandering stream. The speed limit was 45, so I kept pulling off to allow people by so that I could drive slower and spot a moose. No moose were spotted.

I drove back up the mountain and decided to go ahead and hike Milner Pass. I got out of the car and put on all the warm clothing I brought including hat, gloves, and 2 fleece shirts. I packed up all my photo gear and started off The Crater hike.

The Crater hike ended up being a wonderful choice of hikes. It was one mile straight up the mountain. It actually reminded me of the Appleton Pass hike we took in Olympic NP. I startled a deer on the way up. I was hiking around a bend and all of a sudden a deer head pops up and gave me a very confused look. When I got to the top I was on the top of the pass and looking down into a crater. I was now in bighorn sheep country and not permitted to pass a certain point.

Unfortunately there were no bighorn sheep, but the views were magnificent in all directions and I decided this would be a magnificent place to stay for sunset. I was glad I brought my tripod and I sat down to wait.

I knew sunset was at 8:30, but around 8, I decided that it would really be better to head down the mountain early. I wasn’t really looking forward to hiking in the dark on my own even though I had my headlight.

On the way down the mountain I startled a bull elk that was grazing on my trail down. It was too dark for photos, but I took some anyway.

Finally down the mountain it was dark and I drove back to camp, had dinner and went to bed rather late.

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