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March 07, 2020

Montana Winter Trip—Day 1

   Yesterday I packed everything into Eve to begin a trip that will take us to western Montana.  The goal is to visit Glacier National Park, and then visit our friend Shane at a ski resort.  This will be my first winter trip out west and I have 1,200 miles to cover in the next couple days.  I work up at 6:00 am, loaded the last couple items, and started the drive at 7:00 am.  A stop for groceries and travel began at 7:30 am.  Managed to cover 867 miles stopping at the last rest area in North Dakota a mile from the Montana border.

March 08, 2020

Montana Winter Trip—Day 2

Stanton Mountain

Stanton Mountain

Warmer during the night than I had suspected, but cooled below freezing before morning. Trunk covered in moisture from breath but I stayed comfortable. Alarm set for 6:00 am, but it was shutoff and reset for 7:00 am. Found out daylight savings had kicked in so I’m glad for the additional hour of sleep.

Put in contacts and was on the road by 7:30. Morning fog had me starting slow, but as the sun came up the fog lifted. Most of the road was clear but there was a brief snowstorm. Mostly blowing snow with little road accumulation. After the snow stopped, I hit areas where the snow had been more significant. None of the roads were icy or frozen. Good deal of slush. The air temperatures were often below freezing and I developed a coating of ice on the doors.

Shortly after Cut Bank, Montana, the drive really started to get pretty. The mountains were covered in snow and the trees all had a white coating. The drive from East to West Glacier had periods of snow and wet roads and sometimes areas of snow cover, but for the most part it was just a beautiful drive.

Arrived at Glacier National’s west entrance about 15 minutes to 5:00 pm. The ranger station was already closed and my first stop was Apgar Village. It had begun to snow small snowballs. Lake McDonald’s north side was not visible from the south shore. After a quick walk around I went to the Apgar campground. That was closed for the season and I was confused. I thought I had read it was open. After rereading I found it was the Apgar picnic area that was open for winter camping. I drove the Going-to-the-Sun road along the shore of Lake McDonald until Lake McDonald Lodge which is where the road closed. I stopped at a few locations for pictures and the sun had started to peak out of the clouds. There was no easy way from the lodge to the shoe line so I turned back. When I reached Apgar Village, the snow was done and the sun was beginning to set. I walked the shore just an hour latter and the view had completely changed. The mountains had a backdrop of dark clouds, some disappearing into them. All had a white blanket of snow and lite from low sunlight the view was magnificent. I walked the shore until the sunlight was gone.

There was still plenty of twilight so I headed to camp. There I found an empty spot—everything was empty—and decided to cook a can of soup for dinner. It was growing chilly so I dawned my new snow pants, heavy coat, balaclava, neck band, heavy hat and heavy socks. That did the trick. With the sunlight gone it was time to retire for the night. The plan is to get up just before sunrise and see if I can’t capture it.

Pictured is the 7,750 foot Stanton Mountain as seen from the south shoe of Lake McDonald.  It was magnificent with its snow capped top and dark clouds.

March 09, 2020

Montana Winter Trip—Day 3

Wanted to get up early, but when my alarm went off I told it to shut-up and didn’t actually get up until after 9:00 am. I was fairly comfortable in my sleeping bag. After I did manage to wake up it was time to explore a little. Went back to Apgar Village and hiked the edge of the lake. Then I went to the Fishing Creek. Most of the road was closed, but I did hike the west shore of Lake McDonald for a bit. Then I went back to McDonald Lodge and hiked the lake shore there. The water in Lake McDonald is extremely clear, and at the dock by the lodge I was surprised at how deep the lake was at this location. I must have been able to see down 50 feet.

After tooling around the west side, it was time to travel to the east side of the park. The drive today had no snow and a fairly clear sky making the mountains a divine backdrop for the travel. Almost everything at and around Glacier National is closed for the season. I was expecting much of the park to be closed, and the motels. However, almost everything is closed. There is a little gathering of shops at the west entrance of the park that include a gas station and grocery store. All of them closed. Apgar Village had two places open, the Montana House and the convenient store. Everything else was closed. Some of the cottages might have had someone staying in them but it was hard to tell.

It was the east side that surprised me the most. The village of St. Mary’s looked abandon. All the shops and inns boarded up the windows. I thought maybe the village actually supported some residence, but clearly not the case. I had planned to fuel up and pick up some soup for dinner, but that wasn’t possible. I have plenty of fuel, but when out west I like not to take chances—you know, in case the entire town I planned to stop was shutdown for the season.

While I have a national park pass, it doesn’t seem having it matters too much. I couldn’t tell of the ranger station on the west side was being used, but no one was there any of the times I passed. On the east side the ranger station wasn’t even plowed. I drove up the road to St. Mary Campground. Looks like I can have any spot I want. After that I continued up the road until it was closed. I was hoping to get closer to St. Mary Lake. Although the Going-to-the-Sun road runs beside the lake, there is a sharp drop off for the first few miles. The road was closed before the elevation dropped. St. Mary lake was frozen over and covered in a blanket of snow. I was someone wind surfing on it. Seemed like a pretty good place for this as there is nothing it hit on the lake and plenty of wind.

I travelled to a road I hadn’t not been just as you enter the park. There I found a trail I hiked for awhile that led me to the lake. I was able to walk out on the lake and take in the site.

The temperatures have been all over today. This morning when I finally got up it was around 23 degrees. By the afternoon it was up to around 40. The east side of the park was around freezing with a strong breeze. I’ve been dressing in layers and found my most comfortable setup involves snow pants, heavy coat, balaclava, neck band, heavy hat, heavy socks and ear muffs. My hiking boots are not the best for cold weather and I might have to look into something else if I continue cold weather hiking. Otherwise, my setup works well. Even with a strong wind to the face I was pretty comfortable.

March 10, 2020

Montana Winter Trip—Day 4

   As much as I hated to leave Glacier National Park, it was time to continue my trip.  The winds had been howling all night and were only getting strong come morning.  After waking up and starting Eve so she could warm her engine I took a walk to the bathrooms at the campground.  The winds were insane but my winter gear was working well.  The only thing I could have used were goggles.  After breaking camp I stopped along the road for a couple pictures before heading to the gate.  This is when I started to notice what I quickly understood couple be a problem: drifts.
   As tree covered disappeared there was nothing to stop the blowing snow from piling up on the road.  I blasted through the first several drifts without an issue, but right at the main entrance I encountered a drift too big to make it through.  I tried taking a couple running starts at it, but there was no easy way through it.  While I may have been at the park entrance, there was nobody around.  Despite having a season national park pass there wasn't anyone around asking to see it.
   Knowing I was stuck I knew the only way forward was with a shovel.  I always keep one in the car and in full gear I set out to dig my way out of this mess.  The drift was about 3 feet deep but it was getting worse.  The wind was brutal and delivering snow very quickly.  I'd make a couple feet of progress and the drift would grow by about the same amount.  About half-way through the drift a ranger came by.  There was no denying I was an idiot now.  He asked what my plan was and then started helping me shovel.  After getting enough snow out of the way he was able to tie a rope to my car and his truck and pull me through two large drifts.  Seems they were the worse right at the ranger station.  He told me they were not that bad the last time he had been through and he was on his way to close the road.  I just got to this spot a bit late.  It was a good thing for the rangers that helped or I don't know how long I might have been there.  As it stands I was there at least an hour.  Kudos to the rangers of Glacier national.
   Now on the road and not wanting any more problems I followed the ranger's suggestion to take a route north before heading east and south.  Only the Going-to-the-Sun Road was drifted shut and while there was blowing snow on the other roads I drove I didn't encountered any more problems.  The remainder of my drive to Neihart, Montana was windy but otherwise uneventful.  In Neihart I met up with my old friend Shane at the place he has been staying while working at a ski resort.  We went for dinner and chatted the remainder of the night.  Tomorrow I see if I can remember how to use a snowboard.