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May 30, 2021

Glacier-Arches Trip 2021—Day 1

Porter Sculpture Park

Porter Sculpture Park

   Since last year I have been watching the webcams of Glacier National Park in anticipation of the snow plows reaching Logan Pass.  When this happens there is a span of a couple weeks where the Going-to-the-Sun road is closed to cars, but open to cyclists after the plows finish for the day.  I watched crews reach Logan Pass last week and put my notice into work that I would be taking a week off to take advantage of this unique period of cycling time at the park.
   The travel plans have been shifted around some as my original road companion was unable to come along.  Luckily, Annie (aka Wingnut) was able to join me last minute.  After packing the car all day yesterday Annie and I set off this morning.  A quick stop to the grocery store and the long quest west began.
   Aside from gas and bathroom breaks we didn't stop until we reached Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota.  I have seen the large bull's head since my first trip out west back in 2013.  Then we stopped to visit Dignity of Earth & Sky in Chamberlain, South Dakota.  I had hopped we would make it all the way to Wyoming on the first day but we got started latter than hoped.  So we found a campsite just outside of the Badlands.

May 31, 2021

Glacier-Arches Trip 2021—Day 2

Campsite with a View

Campsite with a View

   Broke camp fairly early and set out for breakfast in Wall, South Dakota.  Wingnut has a thing for Wall's main attraction.  After breakfast we continued west and took a roundabout path to Devil's Tower.  There was a decent line to get in but after that we were quick to find a parking spot and ready for a hike around the tower.  The signs specify that one can climb the bolder field but no further without registration.  The bolder field reminds me of Devil's Lake.  It was a good way to get away from the crowds of people and a great way to get fantastic views.  After the hike we decided to see about a place to sleep for the night.  Being Memorial Day weekend I didn't think we would have much chance of finding a good campsite, but decided to check the campground at the park anyhow.  To my surprise there were several open sites.  Turns out that everyone goes home Monday night.  The campsite we selected is on the list of the most beautiful sites I've ever camped. 
   After setting up camp we took a short bike ride to see the beeps (Prairie dogs).  They don't mind people and after they got used to us went about doing things beeps do.  Must have spent an hour watching them.

June 01, 2021

Glacier-Arches Trip 2021—Day 3

   Full day of driving to get from Devil's Tower in Wyoming to West Glacier in Montana.  The beginning of the ride was quite pretty going through a hilly area of Wyoming.  It transitioned back to prairie and remained so for most of the drive until we started to get into Rocky Mountains.
   Glacier National Park has become quite the tourist destination and they have had more and more problems with the number of people showing up each year.  This year they implemented a park pass one must have in order to drive during the day.  They are basically impossible to get as they sell out within minutes 30 days in advance.  And the Going-to-the-Sun Road isn't even fully open yet.  However, I also knew that the ranger stations close for the day and there would be no one to check for passes.  If we were able to find a campsite in the park, we could sidestep this pass requirement.  It was a gamble, but one I had to take.  I only knew I when I would be traveling one week ago so there was no chance of getting a day pass.
   We arrived in West Glacier around 8:00 pm.  We saw signs about needing a day pass, but the signs also said passes were only needed between 6:00 am and 5:00 pm.  We were clearly past the end cutoff.  The last time I checked, the Apgar campground on the west side was the only campground open.  This campground has close to 200 of sites so our chances were pretty good at getting a site.  We chose Loop C, and found site C131 ready for our arrival.  I signed us in, we setup camp, took a walk by Lake McDonald and made some dinner in the twilight.  Even at 10:00 pm there was still light.  Tomorrow would be a big day, and I wanted to be rested.

June 02, 2021

Glacier-Arches Trip 2021—Day 4—The Big Ride

2 hours 45 minutes with 3,100 feet of climb

2 hours 45 minutes with 3,100 feet of climb

   After a quick breakfast it was time to find a parking spot near Avalanche Creek.  This is as far as drivers are able to travel on the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun road.  The campground at Avalanche is closed for camping but used for parking.  We got lucky and found a parking spot just off the road.  It was time to suit up in biking gear and bike up the mountain.
   This is Wingnut's first time trying to cycle up the mountain.  We did a couple rides back in 2018 using the shuttle to get to Logan Pass and cycling down the mountain, but she let me cycle up the mountain by myself.  This time there were no shuttles running.  However, this time there were no cars allowed beyond Avalanche.  The road was completely for bikers and hikers.  This is exactly why I choose to come out this time of year.
   We would be allowed to bike as far the The Loop for this ride, which is around 8 miles and about 1,000 feet of climb.  The first few miles are fairly easy and go by quickly with the spectacular views on all sides.  In the air was the smell I fell in love with back in 2017 when I first biked the road.  This time it was warm, sunny and not a cloud in the sky.  Lovely day for a ride.
   As we approached the loop the climb began getting steep.  Wingnut was not accustom to this kind of riding so I showed her how to make S-curves to ease the rate of climb.  Using this technique we made it to the tunnel just before the loop.  Wingnut was more than happy to call this victory.  I was told to ride the remaining 1/4 mile so she could have some introspective time to herself.  I completely understood this request and set out to bike the remaining road.  My heart rate riding with Wingnut was around 130 BPM which is a bit higher than a brisk walk, but left to my own I had to keep myself from pushing above 155 BPM.  If I pushed too hard I could exhaust myself, and this would not be my last ride of the day.  It was only 1/4 mile, but a steep climb and by no means the last climb.  So it was important not to push too hard.
   At the loop were a sizeable group of people.  Most were bikers and there were a couple of hikers.  I chatted with a volunteer ranger who had biked up.  My whole trip had been planned around reaching Glacier at a special time.  There are just a couple of weeks between when the snow crews reach Logan Pass and the plowing finishes on the Going-to-the-Sun Road allowing regular car traffic.  As soon as I saw that snow crews reached Logan Pass I put in my vacation request for the following week.  This would allow me to bike all the way to the top of the mountain without car traffic.  Unfortunately, just before I departed I read that they had stopped bikers/hikers at the Big Bend about 4 miles from the Logan Pass due to problems with avalanches.  In talking to the ranger I learned a spring filled with warm days and 55 additional inches of snow made for bad snow packs and high avalanche risk.  Still, I would be allowed to bike to the Big Bend after the snow crews were done for the day.
   I also found the bikers I were chatting with were both over 70 years old.  I could tell they were over 50, but I would not have guess over 70.  I hope I can still bike the mountain when I am in my 70s.
   I returned to Wingnut in the tunnel and we cycled back to the car.  While there was little though to how we had traveled and how high on the way up, the way down made it clear.  I think Wingnut felt pretty good after seeing how long it took us to make it back to the car, which was almost entirely down hill.  She did good for her first hill climb.  It was slow, but she made it.
   It was past lunch time and both of us were quite hungry.  So we went to Apgar Village and had some lunch.  The restaurant there isn't anything great, but when you are hungry everything is good.  After a sizeable lunch and a nice rest, it was time for me to return to Avalanche Creek and bike as much of the Going-to-the-Sun road as I was allowed.  Wingnut and I had already biked 16 miles, but there was a lot more mountain waiting.  This is what I had come out to do. 
   The plan was to have Wingnut drop me off at the gate at Avalanche and then go off to explore on her own.  I would bike as far as I could and meet her back at camp.  The road from Apgar to Avalanche was about 13 miles.  I figured two hours to get up the mountain, 45 minutes to get back to Avalanche and an other hour to get back to Apgar would give me plenty of daylight.
   The ride back up the mountain was a heavy push.  I had to slow myself down but was still holding heart rates of more than 160 BPM.  At The Loop I saw the gates open and knew I could continue forward.  My last trip up the mountain this far was overcast, chilly and had periods of light rain and the road was covered in fallen rock.  This time it was warm, sunny, and the road was very clear.  Some ways up the road I saw a street sweeper which explains why the roads were in better shape.  Although it was exactly the same day (June 2) the snow crews had not made it nearly as far in 2017 as this year.  So that explains why the roads were so much better this trip.
   The climb after The Loop is significantly steeper and doesn't let up, but the view is also better.  There is no better way to appreciate the beauty along this route than a slow trek by bicycle.  I made it to the Weeping Wall, which Susan rightly commented was more like the Bawling Wall.  Shortly after this is the Big Bend.  There I saw two signs warning about avalanches, but no gate across the road.  I was not being stopped, and I had no plans to stop riding if I didn't have to.
   The next part of the ride was through much sketchier roads.  A lot of fallen rocks, running water, and in time, some huge threatening looking banks of snow.  It became clear I was going to be allowed to cycle all the way to the top of the mountain.  However, with the snow banks looking like they wanted to collapse at any moment, I decided to stop for pictures on the way down rather than up.  It was a quiet push for the last 3-4 miles.  Then at long last I was at Logan Pass.
   The giant parking was mostly clear.  Not sure it was actually plowed or just melted.  The visitor center was still covered by snow--lots and lots of snow.  Some of the drifts went up over the roofs.  I set my bike down, put on some pants, sweat shirt and hiking boots, and hiked around.  Logan Pass is a unique place, and this visit was unlike any other I've made.  It was completely silent.  Just the sound of the wind.  Everything was still asleep under a deep blanket of snow.  I had wanted to see this in person for several years, and now I was.  What a great birthday present.
   After my hike a couple of other bikers showed up.  I chatted with them and they offered to take my picture.  I'm standing in shorts and short sleeves surrounded by an area covered in at least 4 feet of snow, but the temperatures were probably in the high 50s lower 60s and would hardly be considered cold.
   The sun had already disappeared behind the mountain peaks and it was time to start making my way back down.  Getting down doesn't require much effort, but with all the fallen rock and running water it does require paying close attention.  Running over a rock and puncturing a tire would be a real pain, so watching the road was a requirement.  What took about 3 hours to climb took about 30 minutes to get down.  After the loop the road was fairly flat again and I would have to trek back to Apgar.  With the additional time biking to Logan Pass and hiking I now had an ETA of 10:30 pm.  With no cellphone service it would be hard to tell Wingnut everything was ok.  I typed out a text message, but knew it wouldn't actually send until I got a signal again.  Turns out that was about 9:45 when I had a clear view across Lake McDonald but was still around 10 miles away.  As expected, I got back to camp at 10:30 pm with just a bit of twilight left in the sky.  I proceeded to eat everything and then climb into the tend for a well earned evening of sleep. 
   My first ride was 16 miles over about 4 hours, and my second ride was 46 miles over 5 hours for a grand total of 62 miles over 9 hours.  That's blows away my daily record for hours, and close to the most miles ever ridden in a day (69 miles).  This is also the largest climb I've ever done.  Although I did bike the entire Going-to-the-Sun road in 2018, I did so from east to west.  There is more uphill climb from west to east--about 3,100 feet of climb.
   I had gambled on even being able to get into Glacier National this year, and avalanches had me excepting that I might not be able to get to the top of the mountain even if I got in.  Yet I got lucky on all counts, getting in after road passes are required, finding a campsite for two nights, and having the road to the top of the mountain reopened the very day I did my ride.  I love Glacier National and this trip just reinforces why.