Glacier National Park-Outrider David Jaap

Glacier National Park
With Outrider David Jaap

My sudden turn for the North ended up a serendipitous decision. My gnar-carving, social guru, David Jaap, was returning from an outdoor excursion in Alaska and opted for a short adventure layover with The Ruck Report. The initial plan was to scoop him up at Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, Montana but the airline cancelled the flight due to a mass crew hangover or something to the effect. David immediately began disaster recovery and came up with a flight to Missoula, about an hour South of Polson, where I had relocated the rig from Finley Point State Park the night before. As it Happens, Glacier International was an hour North. How convenient. He just made the flight and ended up arriving a few hours earlier than originally planned at an airport about the same distance away from the Ruck Rig. Polson was on the South tip of Flathead Lake and the campground had full hook-ups so we had a final night of amenities before hitting the backcountry. We spent the first day scouting out Flathead National Forest and plotting potential routes. At the break of dawn, we relocated the Ruck Rig to Lake Five and prepared for some wilderness.

Lake Five Resort, situated on the clear and pristine waters of Lake Five, is owned and operated by life-long area resident, Ron Ridenour. It is a stunning and beautiful campground and day-use facility located in an evergreen forest adjacent to the lake. I had scouted out the location a few days before in a desperate measure to find a camp closer to the park with availability as I had hoped to explore the area for several weeks. The Fourth of July was during that time and crowds were higher than usual due a later-than-expected park opening. Lake Five was not in my search app but I followed a small sign along Highway 2 and stopped in and found Ron and his dog, Isabel, in the office and it only took a few moments of conversation to determine that Ron was a dynamic and extraordinary person. After some diligence, he got me completely squared away. I would have to shift between three spots, but he could accommodate me for several weeks, including the holiday. It was neat getting three different perspectives of the campground and relief to have a break from load in/out. Lake Five has a little bit of everything including the nostalgic feel of summer camp. Ron offers tent sites, full-hookup RV sites and a dozen cottages. You have the woods and a nearby bike lane along Highway 2. The smooth pebble beach on the lake remained filled with activity throughout each day as sounds from large speakers at the small amphitheater rocked classic Knopfler and other musical greats. Docks accommodated ski boats, kayaks and SUPs. Swim docks were in a rope and buoyed area for swimming. Bring your maneuvering skills if your rig is larger as it can get cozy. It became clear that many of the families present on the Fourth were repeat campers and were fond of the place. Everybody accommodated one another as we loaded in and out making life much easier. It would amaze and impress you to see what some folks can fit into an area with only inches of clearance between trees, vehicles and other obstacles on all sides. The campground’s vibe was just…warm. This is where I will stay whenever I adventure in Glacier as perhaps the best part for me was location, location, location: Just a few miles from the West entrance of the park.

Jaap collected some intel from the locals and we decided that the East region would be our best chance to bag some vistas and avoid the crowds trapped in the more densely populated, West- region of the park. A great deal of the park remained closed due to heavy, late-season snowfall. This included Logan Pass, centrally located on the only pavement that cuts through the center of the park, Going-to-the-Sun Road. Alberta and British Columbia lie just across the Canadian Border to the North and no other roads span the million-acre park. We took the only other option, Highway 2 to Montana 89, which traces along the Southern and East boundaries of the park. This route is just over a two-hour drive from the West side to the East. It is just as fast as the Going-to-the-Sun Road once, squirrel- gawkers, vista-neckers and those that seem to think it is ok to simply stop in the road to photograph free range cattle despite the three-mile-long stretch of traffic behind them, are accounted for. Why a cow in this neck of the woods warranted any more admiration over the millions in pastures elsewhere is beyond me but they stop and pull out their cameras just the same. Please Mooooooove. Bear-Jams, Waterfall Jams, Overlook Jams, and this was the third National Park that was inundated with road construction. It certainly appears as if some tax dollars were being spent but it would take a local to share the project durations, degree of interruption and any subsequent benefits. Regardless of the impediment, the most sought-after destinations required some time and effort to reach.

Glacier is an enormous park and only accounts for half of the original region that stretches into Waterton Lake area in Canada. Together, they create the Waterton-Glacier International-Peace Park. Both Nations flags fly at Logan Pass. It is regrettable that peace was not always present in the region and not all of the past inhabitants have a flag at the mast. The history is rich and the land was desirable to man, animal and plant alike. It was inhabited by numerous Native American cultures though the ages and predominated by the Blackfoot when the majority were displaced by Euro-explorers and US governing officials in the late 1800s. George Grinell, who was enamored by the land during hunting expeditions is largely responsible for championing the area into a National Park in 1910 with the rubber stamp of President William Howard Taft. He declared it “the Crown of the Continent” and it is every-bit worthy of the title. The U-shaped valleys between the Lewis and Livingston ranges were carved by glaciers one-hundred and seventy thousand years ago. Leaving behind moraine-formed lakes and sheer mountain faces. There are over seven-hundred lakes and tarns in the park filled by over two-hundred waterfalls. Glacier sediment in the streams and falls lends brilliant blue and green colors to the water and a few dozen glaciers remain of the one-hundred and fifty known in the late 1800s. Yes, many glaciers known since the 1800s have broken up and disappeared. Until the next ice age. Right? A highly regarded research team has a goldmine of data benefiting climate change research and is quite active at Glacier collecting metadata. I know there is some kind of debate out there and wouldn’t want to cause a kerfuffle but it seems a bit obvious from photos and almanac records that there is a massive glacial retreat. I don’t profess to know exactly what the sources are as I cannot confirm the efficacy of the available science. Could be human emissions. Could be pig farts. In either case, it is undeniably clear that its getting hot in here. Experts estimate the remaining glaciers will be gone by 2030. That could devastate the waterfalls and lakes. While the glaciers may have drastically diminished over the years, the flora and fauna have not. Most of the original indigenous species are still found in the land today. Grizzly and black bear, lynx, wolverines, moose, goats, several species of deer and dozens of smaller creatures furry, fishy and feathered. Diverse and aromatic flora filled prairies, tundra and forest ecosystems are teaming with hundreds of species of mammels, birds and fish. Oh. And free-range cattle in the East, at Many Glacier.

We entered the park at Many Glacier and were immediately met with eye-candy. Lake Sherburne stretched beside us along Many Glacier Road road and shimmered a brilliant aqua as Wynn Mountain and Boulder Ridge loomed in the backdrop. We cut in a turnout and took in a series of cascading waterfalls emerging from Swiftcurrent Lake to the West. We maneuvered onto a rock close to the falls and had a few moments of quite reflection. I contemplated the nature of the water molecule in varied topography and I am pretty sure Jaap was looking for Yeti.

We worked farther in and got some shots of the pale blue water of Swiftcurrent and hit our first hike up to Apikuni Falls. It was a short two-miler with about eight-hundred feet in elevation gain and was an easy break-in hike that afforded a photogenic waterfall stemming from the Apikuni River. We crushed the hike and played at the falls for a while. We made an effort to work our way up the steep slopes of scree that surrounded the falls but the going was too treacherous to make it very far. Jaap’s feet had gotten wet in the falls when he almost took an unexpected swim grabbing an intimate pic with Apikuni Creek. We pointed homeward and descended in no time and were back on the road heading towards camp and ravenous for a burger to cap off our day.

The following morning, we scaled up the action. We routed a twelve-miler to Iceberg Lake located Northwest of Many Glacier. Armed with bear spray and Ruck’s homemade beef jerky, we hit the trail hard and fast. It was twice the elevation of Apikuni and a considerable distance longer but we crushed it again. Passing hiker after hiker, we moved like purpose driven machines pushing further to the lake through wooded glades and then along a ridge overlooking dozens of cascades rippling through the valley below. Jaap was enthralled by the white puffy-flowering Beargrass that would cover you with pollen if you brushed by it on the trail. We came across a deer just off trail and Jaap could get within a few feet and captured a great pic of the lean beast craning her neck in the sun. After a bit of flirting, David reluctantly left the furry fem and we made for the chasm that surrounded the lake. After crossing several lingering snow fields, Iceberg Lake revealed itself to us and it was a spectacle to behold.

David reflects in silent awe

Cliff faces shot up over three-thousand feet around the still-frozen lake. It was impossible to frame both the lake and the entirety of the enormous stone walls in a single picture. The water under the ice was an ominous deep and dark blue. It was eerily beautiful and I set up under the shade of some hemlocks while Jaap scouted up further from the shoreline. While we had encountered hikers up to the lake, no one else ventured as far down the shoreline as we did so we had the area to ourselves. After capturing some footage, we moved East and checked out a smaller lake slightly off the trail.

A nostalgic moment in paradise…
Photo Credit: David Jaap

Dark clouds began to roll in. Some rain was predicted and while Jaap was well outfitted, I had little more than a ruck full of gadgets and camera gear. Some say, the man with the most toys wins. I say, the man with the right toy survives or at least captures the moment.

Jaap notices a small mammal in my beard…
Photo Credit: David Jaap

We were fortunate and saw little more than a few sprinkles as we made the predominately descending trek out. We rounded out the day with some burger nourishment at a local eats spot on the way back to Lake Five and promptly hit the hay in preparation of a West-side hike planned for the early morning.

Avalanche Lake is the most frequented trail in the park so we decided to catch it early and in the middle of the week to avoid the crowd as much as possible. Even with an earlier start, prospects of solitude were challenged as Going-to-the-Sun Road was gated at the trailhead which funneled everyone into the same area. It was a shit-show in the parking lot but once on the trail, we turned up the heat and began overtaking trail Jerrys one group at a time. The hike is shy of four miles and under a thousand feet in elevation making for an easy trek. While we had expected the crowds to be bad, we had not expected the hike to be so good. It was a spectacular movement. We kicked off on wide, well-worn dirt paths through Red Cedar along the torrents of Avalanche Creek. We jumped on and off the trail snapping shots of the cascades and meandering currents of the creek as we made our way deeper into the glade. When the trees opened and the view was revealed, we were floored. An emerald-green lake fed by five waterfalls dropping from thousands of feet up. It was breath-takingly gorgeous. We balanced on a field of deadfall logs that spanned the lower end of the lake and snapped some photos of the aquarian collection known as Monument Falls. As the trail-laggers filtered into the area, we pushed further up the lake to the far end and eventually off the trail and up to one of the falls where our progress was abruptly terminated. We had a snack and reveled at the visual spectacle. It was an epic scene and a serene moment. We explored off-trail amongst rivulets from the falls and searched for navigable routes further up the slopes to little avail and after some time, we reluctantly began our return course.

Photo Credit: David Jaap
Path Terminus
Photo Credit: David Jaap

It was just as we were beginning our hike back in that magic really Happened. We were still on a side trail when we rounded a bend to a large mass of fur dead center in the trail. Our bear protocol was simple. I was carrying the bear-spray, so I would defend us and Jaap was responsible for documenting the event on video should my efforts prove futile. But this was no bear unless it was a fuzzy horned bear. This animal had large antlers and was likely a Montana Black Tail buck. Could this be the jealous beau of the female we saw earlier? We quieted our steps and moved forward until we came upon the buck on the trail again. This time, he did not flee. We approached closer and as we would get within six to ten feet, the animal would saunter a little further down the trail and devour some leaves from a branch. It did not seem remotely threatened by our presence and as we continued to approach and the buck continued to lead, we hiked with one another for over a half mile. It was a completely surreal experience. As we began along the shore of the lake, onlookers at the far end later said to our chagrin they thought we had our own pack-goat carrying our gear. I have had moments at Radnor Lake, in Tennessee, where the deer allow you to get exceptionally close, but not this close. At one point, I could nearly reach out and touch the animal and I am not convinced that would not have been possible had I attempted. The deer did not seem the slightest bit concerned about us. As we neared the hikers at the far end of the lake, we aligned ourselves between the mammal and the trail to avoid pushing him into the easily excitable crowd. We had heard that just days before, a crowd of camera-sporting tourists had surrounded a grizzly and agitated him so badly that the rangers closed the trail. It takes a real dumbass to do the math on that kind of ring-around-the-bear roulette and it’s a shame the animals suffer under the stupidity of those not suited for, or respectful of, the indigenous species. We were successful in our directional fencing of the buck and parted ways halfway up the shore of the lake. It was a mesmerizing and amazing moment that won’t soon be forgot and I could think of no higher note to conclude our outdoor overture.

David was hard pressed to return to Nashville to address some not-my-real world issues and hopped a flight the next morn. Glacier International is conveniently located just thirty minutes away. It is an odd experience to have friends visit you on the road and then depart leaving open and silent air in the prior space of sharing and conversation but with so much to reflect on, and so much more to come, I was excited to be able to remain in the life of an adventurer for just a while longer. I still had another Outrider just a few days out from joining me as the exploration of Glacier National Park continued…

Ruck out…

Jaap Quests for Yeti
Jaap bids a fond farewell to his totem, the Yeti…


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