Frolicking in Glacier

February 19, 2020 11:18 AM

A classic G. George Ostrom column from 2000...

A concerned wife called our house late last Thursday evening…maybe 9:45. Iris came to the bedroom where I had dragged my aching carcass after returning from a day of frolicking in Glacier Park. Iris said the lady was concerned about her husband who had gone hiking with “that Thursday Over the Hill Gang” and had not returned.

I could have said, “The last time I saw him he was heading up to the cliffs of Grinnell Point into clouds of rain, sleet, and lightning,” but I didn’t say that. The lady is a summer visitor from Minnesota and new to The Gang’s idea of fun. Told Iris to tell the woman her husband was with Walter Bahr and Walter has never lost anyone on the mountains. Next morning I learned the group had not topped Grinnell until 4 p.m., and got home shortly after Mrs. Williams’ call.

Though Grinnell Point is one of my favorite climbs, I declined going with Walt’s group for two reasons: (1) there was still snow and ice in the normal route up the east face; and (2) I have not done a strenuous climb in 10 months. Skied some this past winter but that’s not real physical activity, and have been bothered by what my neighbor calls a “sigh-attic” nerve pinch. That disorder causes numbness, pain, and tingling in your hind leg; however, I didn’t mind too much because instead of hiking with The Gang all spring, I’d been working on a new book.

With the book at the publishers and the weather promising last Thursday, it was time to get back on the mountains. Most of The Gang and several new faces went to Many Glacier. I decided to further explore a big game paradise we’d discovered last spring. On that trip, we spotted six bears amidst great rolling green hills of wild flowers. Last week’s plan was simple: go up Poia Lake Trail to the ridge top, then bushwhack back along the base of the Appikuni cliffs which snake for five miles, high above the Many Glacier Road.

Bob Zavadil, Ray Kenney and I had great panoramas of Swiftcurrent Valley with all its lakes and mountains until the first storms moved in off the Continental Divide about 1 p.m. Found dry haven under trees during the downpour and sat there feeling sorry for Walt’s group on Grinnell. None of the lightning hit real close to us but things were bouncing up there to the west.

The worst time came when we reached the Windy Creek Canyon. It looked deep and the steep hill on the other side was solid alders of the impenetrable kind. Being a kid of only 62, Ray opted for climbing up scree under the cliffs for his crossing while Bob and I decided to descend into the canyon and go up a “good lookin’” elk trail on the other side. The canyon was steeper and deeper than we thought. The creek was wider and swifter than imagined. The elk trail played out in a jungle.

Rendezvousing with Ray in late afternoon, we headed south toward the Poia Lake Trail through an alpine jungle. In one place Bob remarked, “This is the first time I ever saw swamp on a ridge top.” There was not a dry place on my plumpish 190 pound body. It was a long bushwhack.

Back at the road, we started the car to get the heater running. I had the guys watch for cars while I changed soggy Levis for a dry pair by the side of the road. When they said it was clear, I acted fast but one leg hung up on the soggy socks. I was hopping around on the bad leg in my best pair of red jockey shorts when a van full of women from Minnesota came ‘round the bend.

There are obviously some people visiting Glacier who have no understanding of mountaineering nor compassion for senior citizens. Both Bob and Ray reported the same fact, “All those women were laughing.”