Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bears and the Art of Rock Skipping

So we left Jackson and traveled north through Yellowstone and into Montana. On our way, we found a bear. According to a ranger, he was a two year old cub who had just killed an elk calf. We watched the bear at fairly close range for almost an hour before he decided he was done with us and left.

Our trip up through Yellowstone and into Montana was relatively uneventful. There was a traffic jam because a few bison decided to use the road as a trail, but this too was routine. Traveling north through Montana, we decided that it’s one of the prettiest states we’ve been through. It seems to be all green meadows and tall pine trees. The first thing we noticed was the smell. I’m sure you know how a Christmas tree makes your whole house smell great… Well, Montana has millions of Christmas trees, so most of the state smells pine fresh.

Our destination in Montana was Glacier National Park. Glacier is one of the most popular and famous national parks for its mountain scenery and grizzly bears. Unfortunately there’s been so much snow that the road over the pass still hasn’t opened. Every year, the park service has to plow Going to the Sun Road to open it from June through October. At the beginning of the season, the road can have up to 100 feet of snow covering it. Opening the road is a tremendous task every year, but this year it has been especially difficult. Only last week over two feet of snow accumulated at the pass. Snow has been the story of the year here as it was in Yellowstone. We decided to move to the east side of the park and check out the Two Medicine area.


Two Medicine Valley is a long, deep valley into steep-walled peaks with several lakes at the head of the valley. Two Medicine Lake is surrounded by steep peaks and a mountain that amounts to a wall on one side and a pyramid-shaped mountain at one end. The spot is incredibly peaceful. The only sounds are the wind, water lapping at the pebbles, and the occasional bird. Fresh air blows out of the mountains and down across the lake. The mountain air is cool but sharp and invigorating. Water falls out of the lake and down the valley in a small creek. The beach is made of smoothed rocks in fantastic colors. Deep reds and greens predominate in the rocks. When they shine underwater, it gives the lake a jewel-like appearance. As the cool wind blows and the sun descends below the peaks, we decide to stay a while and skip stones. Two Medicine Lake seems designed for rock skipping. Each rock is the perfect size and many are smooth and flat. The water is calm, and the scene is peaceful. We spend the last minutes before sunset skipping rocks across the lake and enjoying the quiet.

The next morning, we rose for the sunrise again and walked to the lake. It was a mirror for the sky above, the mountains in the distance, and the trees all around the shore. We watched the light bathe the peaks mirrored in the even more peaceful lakes. The rock skipping was exceptional when we decided to stop shooting. Now for the Art of Rock Skipping with Greg. Greg recommends for successful rock skipping: Choose rocks that fit well in the hand. Plant your weak forward foot and make sure to use a level follow-through. You can control the type of skip by the angle you hit the water. Throw slightly down for high jumps, and throw smooth and level for many long skips. Above all enjoy yourself and spend some time. That’s what this is all about.

After our rock skipping, we moved to the Many Glacier section of the park. On the way, we saw a black bear cub on the side of the road. He was simply sitting there, swinging his head from side to side. I’ve never said this of a bear before, but this little one definitely looked huggable, but you must always remember that all bears are wild animals and that the little cub you see is not near as dangerous as that the mother bear you don’t see. We continued on and saw an absolutely huge black bear walking along a lakeshore. He was so big that many people mistook him for a grizzly bear. The Many Glacier Valley is much like Two Medicine, but has many more hiking trails. We decided to pick a trail and start walking. The Swiftcurrent Trail follows a chain of lakes up a glacial valley to the cirque at the end and then continues over a mountain pass. It was an excellent walk. We saw loons on the first lake and a waterfall at its head. The turquoise water flows over blood red rock in a torrent. Above the falls is yet another lake nestled in between two lines of sharp peaks. Further up the valley, the final lake lies right in the glacial cirque, a natural amphitheatre carved by the glacier. Greg and I decide that this is a truly special place. The mountains encircle the calm water, and the pine smell is twice as strong here as anywhere else we’ve found. The rock hangs and soars thousands of feet above us. We spend the time we can and return the way we came – over a rather sketchy and damaged swinging bridge, several snowy sections, a couple of creeks, and four miles of trail. It was eight miles well spent.


Needless to say, we’ve had a full and very exciting day.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jason and Greg,
I just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying your trip blog. Jason you definetly have a very descriptive ability to allow people to see what you have seen. You guys are taking beautiful pictures, some are breathe taking.
Hope you are enjoying yourselves and making lots of memories.
Have fun and be safe - Katie

Nate said...

I don't know what lotto is trying to say, but I'm enjoying the blog.

Good advice on rock skipping Greg. I wish I could use it right now - I'm clicking my heels as I write.

The swinging bridge sounded frighteningly amazing. Did you take a picture of it?

Guys I'm telling you you've gotta knife that bear! If you knife the baby you can knife the mama too - remember you need a bearskin rug and a bearskin cloak, or at least a hat. The baby'll do for a hat. What're those knives for anyway?

Glad you're having fun.
Be Dangerous.

Jason Lewis said...

Thanks, Katie. I'm glad you're enjoying it. See you when we get back and say, "Hey" to everyone at the office for me.

Nate, it's really hard to find a bear sleeping hard enough to use a knife on. Right now, I'm going with a guy who told me, "When you're outside your car in Alaska, remember, you're not at the top of the food chain anymore."

Lucy said...

Good words.