Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Backcountry Jaunts

Sometimes you just want to have the stream to yourself. Around here, that usually means a hike and the longer the better. On some of our smallmouth bass streams, those hikes don't have to be as far. Those streams rugged nature and difficult fishing means that they aren't buried in people like some trout rivers are. On the other hand, if you head to the Clinch River on a weekend morning, you better bring your own rock to stand on. 

The Great Smoky Mountains fall somewhere between these two extremes, although on some days it can feel awfully crowded these days. Not all that many years ago, you could fish just about wherever you wanted to most of the year. Those days are long gone or at least on an extended pause. Thus, if you want some semblance of a backcountry fishing experience, you better plan on walking. 

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy and fellow fly fishing guide Pat Tully and I trekked into the Smoky Mountain backcountry for a few hours of fishing. This wasn't the longest hike I've ever done to fish in the Smokies, not even close in fact. However, at over four miles, we were far enough into the backcountry to have rather high expectations. As we finally broke through the brush that separates the trail and stream, we were filled with anticipation of a good day ahead. Crimson bee balm brightened the scene even further.


I was already rigged and ready while my buddy Pat still had that task to do. Thus, I quickly eased into the first pool and made a few casts. A couple of wild rainbows inspected the fly, but overall they were surprisingly skittish. Or maybe I should have said suspiciously skittish. Backcountry trout are supposed to be pushovers. That's why we go to all this effort anyway. Still, the day was young and my expectations high. Moving up to the next pocket, I didn't expect much since it was fairly small. When I was greeted with no fish, I just assumed it was too small of a spot.

The third pocket had some potential but was also smack dab in the middle of a big sunny patch. When I drifted my flies through just right, one quality fish made a beeline for my flies before backpedaling and disappearing in the direction it had approached from. Things were definitely looking strange. 

By this time, Pat was rigged and ready so we started to leapfrog. Somewhere around this time, I finally got a small rainbow on my dropper nymph. Then, as I was sneaking past Pat to get to the next spot without spooking his fish, I saw my first clue in the form of water drops on the rocks. Paying careful attention, I found a few more. This was a person (or creature anyway) that knew how to move in water. The tracks were not obvious nor definitive. They could have just as easily been an otter as a human. Still, between the shy trout and the marks on the rocks, I was convinced we needed to adjust.

After consultation with Pat, we decided that the thing to do was to move to another nearby stream. That is always a good choice when it is feasible. We were lucky to be in an area with so much water. A short walk put us on some different water. While it wasn't fast and furious, we were soon finding enough fish to confirm our decision as the correct one.

Backcountry streams in the Smokies all fish similarly but each with its own unique character. These particular streams both have long sections of flatter water with some really great quality plunge pools mixed in. The flatter water is conducive to the occasional brown trout, but the majority of the residents are rainbows. Brook trout also turn up from time to time, becoming more numerous not more than a mile or two upstream from where we were fishing. On this day, I was destined to catch just rainbows, but some of them were memorable. 

We appear to be in the middle of another big fish cycle. Maybe not as much on the brown trout, but definitely on the rainbows and maybe brook trout as well. This is due in no small part to the multi year high annual precipitation event we've had for the last 3.5 or 4 years now. We have lost at least the majority of two age classes for the brown and brook trout due to high flows in the fall and winter. Rainbows have been impacted to at least some extent. The benefit is that we are now seeing some better than average fish. this is part of the natural ebb and flow of life on these streams. Some years the numbers are through the roof, but fish seem to average 5-7 inches. Other years the numbers seem slightly impacted, but the average size is a legitimate 8 or 9 inches.

The fishing was good but somewhere short of phenomenal. Those rare days where every fish seems to be eating any fly on the first cast don't come along too often, but on this day, fish would at least eat if the drift was right and you showed it to them a few times. In fact, I was surprised at how many drifts it took in some pools. 

One particularly good hole was producing lots of hits, but few hookups. I have always caught several fish in this pool and expected no less on this day. My buddy Pat was somewhere just downstream, so I had time to relax and really work the pool. My first several casts produced strikes but no fish. Yes, everyone misses fish on occasion but this is especially true in the Smokies. Eventually, I finally hooked one and realized the problem had been as much the small size of the 5 inch trout. Those little ones eat and also spit the hook back out the fastest making them tougher to hook than the nicer trout. 


Slowly I worked into the head of the pool. Throwing my dry/dropper rig right into the fastest water started yielding more promising takes. I think it was after the second or third trout to hand that the nice fish came up and all but ate my dry fly. Realizing that it was a trout I really wanted to hook, I settled down to show it as many different angles as possible. Finally, several casts later, it happened with the dry fly diving hard into the current. When I set the hook, I was attached to the big fish of the pool. Big on these streams usually means 8-10 inches. 

The fight was fairly short lived. Soon I was admiring a gorgeous wild rainbow that was clearly the top of the pecking order in this pool. I let the rainbow rest in my net while I fished the cellphone out of my pocket. A quick picture and the fish was back swimming in the pool again. These fish are too special to harvest, so all of mine go back.


Right as I looked up again, I noticed something interesting. Way over on the right side of the pool was a small current that curled around some rocks and over a shallow, rocky bottom before rejoining the main flow in the middle of the pool. It was the sort of spot I would generally ignore, especially with the bright sun overhead. Still, what I had seen was definitely a rise, and I'm a sucker for rising trout.

I worked some line back out and made the long cast and a quick mend upstream since I was fishing up and across the current. The correct move would have been to carefully cross the stream and fish from the right side, but I'm always up for a challenge. Right before the line started to drag in the middle of the pool, the dry fly slowly sucked under. I knew it had to be the rocks on the bottom, but out of habit, I set the hook anyway. This was one of those times that I was probably more surprised than the fish on the other end as a gorgeous rainbow exploded out of the water. 

I quickly fought the trout and repeated the process from the previous trout. In the net, rest, a quick picture, then back into the water to enjoy another day. Neither fish was out of the water more than a few seconds. Both will be healthy and there when I return unless someone else harvests them.


 

At this point, we had probably been fishing a grand total of an hour or so between the two streams. Certainly no more than an hour and a half. I was getting antsy though. With a newborn at home, I've been finding more and more excuses to get home fast at the end of a day. We continued leapfrogging upstream, but I had already caught my fish and was thinking more and more about getting back home. At this point, I was enjoying watching Pat catch fish as much or more than catching them myself. One particularly nice fish had me asking for a picture and he obliged. 


Finally, after one last really nice pool, I decided to take my leave. Pat was planning on fishing a little longer, so we parted ways, and I hit the trail for the hour walk back out. Getting back home in time to fix supper and relax was nice on my day off.


Lately, I've been getting the itch for another backcountry jaunt, perhaps with the backpack and making it an overnight. Then again, I might just spend more time at home. Either way, I enjoyed this opportunity to get into the Smoky Mountains backcountry for myself that is becoming rarer these days. Hopefully it will happen again soon!

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Hunt for Bull Trout Day Two: A Bitter Disappointment and Baby Bull Trout

Have you ever had one of those rare trips where all the good things happen right at the beginning? My hunt for bull trout very nearly turned out that way. The first day gave me a taste of what hooking one of these fish was like. If you haven't read that story yet, do so HERE first, and then come back and read this sad tale. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective), the good things didn't happen at the beginning. If they had, we probably would have missed out on some really cool experiences and the story wouldn't have turned out as good. 

For several months, I had been formulating a game plan for the fishing part of our trip. The main part of this fishing excursion involved lots of hiking. That wouldn't be a problem after all of our Glacier National Park hiking. We had hiked 75 miles in eight days. Two or three of those days had been rather short hikes while the longest was a hair over 20 miles. In other words, we were in peak hiking condition, at least for us. The tricky part was going to be hauling our fishing gear. My poor wife does not do well hiking in wading boots. I decided it was probably better for my feet to wear normal shoes as well. So, we packed our heavy wading boots the five miles in to our fishing spot.

The day went downhill right from the get go. We were planning on starting about five miles in, but as we approached the area where I expected to start, I was surprised to see a couple of backpacking tents and a campfire. Someone else had beat us there. They looked just about as shocked as we were feeling. This simply wasn't the kind of place you expected to come up on another angler. After exchanging brief pleasantries, I asked them which way they were fishing so we could go elsewhere. The tributary creek I had been banking on had already been fished. Seriously. They had just hit all the water we had drove across the country and hiked a ways to fish. 

Immediately, I had a sinking feeling. Maybe, just maybe, catching a bull trout wasn't going to happen for me on this trip. Luck was clearly not on my side, at least not yet. We contemplated hiking well up the canyon above where they had turned around. In fact, we forded the main creek and hiked a decent distance on out the trail that followed the tributary. We had switched to wading boots to ford the creek, so my wife was now hiking in them. After probably a mile or so, I finally had to admit that the trail just wasn't going to get down close to that creek. That was valuable information for a possible future trip.

After giving up on my first stream choice, we headed back to the ford to fish up the main stream instead. As it turns out, our plan B wasn't so bad. The cutthroat were willing, plentiful, and really nice sized. The wildflowers were phenomenal as well. Later on, I would begin to suspect that it might have been the best choice for bull trout after all. On this day, however, all I could think about was that the wheels were starting to come off on my trip plans.



As we worked our way up the stream away from the trail crossing, we had to remind ourselves that the only way out (that we knew of), was going to be back downstream the same way we came up. There was no trail access into the upper reaches of this drainage. While we might have located some game trails, we weren't counting on that possibility since we were in an unfamiliar area. I don't like taking chances unnecessarily.

The first section of stream was fast riffle water with a few deeper pockets thrown in for good measure. The largest fish we saw in this section was maybe six or seven inches. It felt a lot like fishing back in the Smokies as far as the fish size was concerned. The only difference is that we were catching native westslope cutthroat trout. Fish were rising well to our big foam dry flies that doubled as a good strike indicator. Even more fish were attacking our nymph droppers.



The first good pool we approached looked incredible. I figured that maybe, just maybe, there might be a bull trout in this one. I switched to the streamer rod and gave it a good workout. Unfortunately, there just weren't any fish willing to play, at least not any bull trout. The larger cutthroat trout in this pool made several valiant attempts to eat the streamer. I even hooked a couple that shook off after a brief fight and landed one.

A quality cutthroat
A quality westslope cutthroat trout ©2020 David Knapp Photography


I had my wife try the dry/dropper rod and she picked up a couple of fish here and there as well. We soon got into a good routine. When I could, I would fish the larger streamer rod. Everywhere else, I let her fish for the most part. Of course, every once in a while I would borrow the other rod and catch a fish or two that way also.

By this point in the day, we were already getting hungry. Breakfast had long since worn off and we began looking for some rocks or a dry bank to sit on for lunch. The only problem was the numerous wildflowers. Neither of us wanted to crush the beautiful flowers. Finally, we found a spot that had both wildflowers and a small area we could sit. We had carried in hummus and pita chips along with some other goodies. This is always a great backcountry meal, both healthy and filling!

With my hunger under control, I turned towards some of the gorgeous flowers growing along the stream banks. My favorites were the purple monkey flowers (last flower picture). These tend to be a rich fuchsia or magenta, at least the ones I've come across in the northern Rockies. Otherwise, we also saw more flowers than I can count. Here is a small sampling from throughout the day.


Indian paintbrush ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Sticky Wild Geranium ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Showy Fleabane ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Musk Monkeyflower (I think...?) ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Purple Monkeyflower ©2020 David Knapp Photography


While the purple monkey flowers were probably my favorite, the western monkshood was an unusual treat that I don't recall seeing before. New to me flowers are always fun. These were growing along the stream, apparently liking the wet environment.


Western Monkshood
Western Monkshood ©2020 David Knapp Photography


Lunch consumed and flowers photographed, we packed up and continued upstream. Probing every likely spot with either the hopper/dropper or the streamer, we caught plenty of cutthroat but no bull trout. The shadows were soon getting longer and longer over the water. I didn't want to get caught back here in the dark. We had plans other than spending the night in the backcountry. 

Then, in one likely pool, my wife hooked a small fish that immediately looked different and got me excited. Upon landing the fish, I knew we had found our first bull trout. Of course my wife would be the one to catch it. At this point, late in day two, I was getting concerned about catching a bull trout. I would have gladly taken a baby just to knock this species off the list. I was happy for my wife, of course, but even more wanted to catch one for myself.


baby bull trout in Idaho
Baby Bull ©2020 David Knapp Photography

My wife's baby bull trout
My wife's baby bull trout ©2020 David Knapp Photography


We soon started to develop a good rhythm. My wife would fish the dry/dropper rig through a hole. Then, I would drag the streamer through a couple of times. She started to catch some really nice fish. In one deep bucket in a hard corner, she hooked the largest westslope cutthroat trout of the day. The fish was in fast water and took some careful maneuvering to land. I jumped in with the net and scooped the fish before it could get in the fast water heading downstream. Of course, we had to get a quick picture of this fine trout!


My wife's big westslope cutthroat trout
My wife's big cutthroat ©2020 David Knapp Photography


In one particularly good looking hole just upstream, I had something slam the streamer. It looked a lot like a cutthroat, but I only got a brief glimpse before it bored back under a log. Try as I might, I couldn't turn the fish and soon the hook popped free. The fish had wrapped me around the log and used it as leverage to throw the barbless fly. While I was 95% sure the fish had been just another cutthroat, the power and strength had me questioning that assumption.

It was about this time that we really got serious about the hike back out. We both had some ideas that required daylight to successfully enact. Thus, after one or two more pools, we turned a corner upstream and saw nothing but shallow pocket water for an extended distance and knew our day was over. Hiking back downstream to the trail crossing didn't take as long as expected. However, from the trail crossing, we still had a solid five mile hike out.

Just downstream, the two backpackers had packed up and left. I couldn't resist hitting the junction pool where the other tributary entered and found one last quality cutthroat trout there. Still wanting to find a bull trout, we also hit a couple of spots on the hike down. However, most of the water was generally inaccessible from the trail without a lot of hard work. Our schedule at this late hour didn't allow for much hard work.


One more cutthroat ©2020 David Knapp Photography


On the hike in, we had noticed a good supply of huckleberries all along the trail. In fact, there were so many huckleberries that we didn't know what to do. We wandered from one bush to another, filling the ziplock bags I had brought just for such a situation. I had one more bag of homemade pancake mix and we hoped for some more huckleberry pancakes in the morning. In other words, the next day would be a slower day again. We discussed some roadside fishing and decided to try that again. After all, the only bull trout I had definitely hooked so far was just below camp. We filled our two bags fuller than full. These were going to be good huckleberry pancakes. I could already taste the delicious pancakes, but first we needed to hike out and get a good nights rest. Maybe, just maybe, the next day would bring some bull trout finally. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Glacier Day Eight: Hiking to Siyeh Pass and Hiking to Piegan Pass

We did not mean to save the best for last. Even now, my wife and I debate which day in Glacier National Park was our favorite. One thing we don't argue about, however, is that our last day is right up there at the top. The closest possible competition was the day we hiked to Sperry Glacier. We still debate which of those two days were our favorite. Gunsight Lake would have been high on the list if it hadn't of been for the bugs. A good day, for sure, but the bugs guaranteed it wouldn't be our favorite.

On our last day in Glacier National Park, we really wanted to do a big hike that my friend John had told me about. Siyeh Pass is best done as a through hike that utilizes the Park's shuttle system to get from one trailhead to the other. Of course, with COVID going on, this wasn't going to be an option. We briefly considered just making the hike up or down the road. In the end, however, we decided to begin and end at Siyeh Bend. This would strictly be an out and back hike. Our goal was a quick hike up to Siyeh Pass to enjoy the wildflowers in Preston Park.

The whole trip would be about nine miles, just a quick jaunt at this point in our trip. We decided to skip carrying lunch for such a short hike. This was a small mistake but not one that we would notice too badly. That morning, we almost thought we wouldn't be able to do the hike. We woke up to thunder and lightning and a much needed rain shower passing through. The early morning was gloomy, but soon gave way to the dramatic. 

Sunrise in Glacier National Park

As the rising sun slanted over the top of the mountains, the rich early light lit up the appropriately named Heavens Peak. We had checked the radar and thought we would be able to hike, but the sky was quite foreboding at this point. Here is a closeup of Heavens Peak along with a wider angle shot showing the dramatic sky. 

Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park
Heavens Peak at Sunrise ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Morning Sky over Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park
Sky On Fire Over Heavens Peak ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The dramatic light did not last long. The sunlight was slanting under the clouds from the east and lighting up the sky to our west. These shots were taken from Trail Ridge Road looking west. The light was just barely coming over the top of the ridge to our east before the clouds covered the sun. This is looking up towards Logan Pass from the same place. 

Sunrise looking towards Logan Pass, the Garden Wall, and Bird Woman Falls
Looking Towards Logan Pass at Sunrise ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The dramatic quickly turned a flat gray. It seemed obvious that we were about to get wet and our hike would either be delayed or ended completely before it began. This is higher up towards the pass looking south. 

Mt. Oberlin, Clements Mountain, and Mt. Cannon with Bird Woman Falls below
Bird Woman Falls ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Surprise Bonus

Around this time, we came across another special bird that I had last seen just days before near Sperry Glacier. The ptarmigan is a neat bird that I had always wanted to photograph. Somehow, on this trip, I got two opportunities! This one wasn't great in terms of the setting, but I did have another picture of a ptarmigan. This one was in full summer dress with just hints of white left from the winter coat and blended in perfectly with all the rocks and brush nearby. 

 

Ptarmigan on the Going to the Sun Road
Ptarmigan Beside Going to the Sun Road ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Parking at Siyeh Bend and Preparing for Our Hike

We soon resumed our trip towards the parking area at Siyeh Bend. As with all other mornings, we got there early to snag a parking spot. It was a good thing we got there when we did. Breakfast came out next and we watched as the last few parking spots were taken. If we had been 30 minutes later, there would have been no hiking or at least a much longer hike. As we ate breakfast, the sky turned even more dramatic before starting to look like things would clear up. Mammatus clouds loomed over Going to the Sun Mountain and also off to the south before drifting on to the east. 


Dramatic sky over Siyeh Bend
Dramatic Clouds Over Siyeh Bend ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Mammatus clouds over Going to the Sun Mountain
Mammatus Clouds and Going to the Sun Mountain ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking back towards the west, we finally started to think this hike would happen after all. Neither of us wanted to get caught above tree line in a lightning storm. Thankfully, the area of disturbed weather seemed to be passing us by finally. We got our packs ready, loaded with water and grabbed our cameras. We had already experienced some incredible scenery and dramatic views and we hadn't even hit the trail yet!

Beginning Our Hike to Siyeh Pass

Just across the road, we began hiking up the short bit of trail that parallels Siyeh Creek. The wildflowers that were blooming there were just a foreshadowing of things to come. This hike would easily win for best wildflower hike of our trip. At this point, however, we didn't yet know that and were just glad to be finding some amazing color and scenery. 

Siyah Creek looking towards Piegan Pass
Siyeh Creek Looking Towards Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

It didn't take long before the trail started heading rapidly higher. Coming around one sharp corner, we ran into our only up close big animal for the day. This skinny looking doe was eating as much as she could and clearly needed still more food. We quickly snapped a picture or two and then kept going. 

deer beside the Siyeh Pass Trail hiking to the Piegan Pass Trail
Doe Mule Deer Spotted While Hiking to Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

We were in a hurry so to speak. You see, much of this hike is through exposed terrain without any canopy to keep off the hot sun. At this point, we were still fortunate to have widespread clouds to shade us a bit longer and wanted to make the most of this nice cool morning. Climbing rapidly higher, the trees started to thin out as we approached our second trail junction of the day. Our first trail junction happened when we turned onto the Piegan Pass Trail. This second junction was when we finally turned off on the Siyeh Pass Trail and began ascending into Preston Park. The wildflowers were already amazing. Without knowing how stunning things would be yet ahead, we began taking a lot of pictures and our pace slowed dramatically. 

Mount Siyeh and wildflowers along Piegan Pass Trail
Mt. Siyeh Looming Over Everything ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers and looking towards Siyeh Pass
A Hint of Extraodinary Things to Come ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers Of Preston Park 

Soon, we found ourselves wandering slowly up through Preston Park. Again and again we found ourselves stopping to take pictures from different angles of the extraordinary scenery we were passing through. I was going from one extreme to the other. I wanted to capture the entire view and also all the details. The sheer number and volume of wildflowers had me really wishing that I had carried my tripod on this hike to get some better pictures. Alas, I have just another good reason to go back someday. 

Large Mountain Monkey-Flower along Siyeh Pass Trail
Large Mountain Monkey-Flower ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Alpine Forget-me-not near Siyeh Pass
Alpine Forget-Me-Not ©2020 David Knapp Photography


After the wildflowers, I looked around and took what would become one of many. The views back down Preston Park to the west and southwest were just incredible. I think I could dedicate a whole day just to take various versions of these pictures. To the right is Piegan Mountain with Heavy Runner Mountain in the distance in the middle. The left side of the first picture is the side of Matahpi Peak. Sometime, I want to go back and climb some of these mountains, but especially Piegan and Siyeh. 

Piegan Mountain, Matahpi Peak, and Heavy Runner Mountain views from Preston Park
Matahpi Peak Flanks, Piegan Mountain, and Heavy Runner Mountain ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking down Siyeh Creek towards Heavy Runner Mountain
Heavy Runner Mountain and Siyeh Creek Headwaters ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Shortly after taking these pictures, I came across one of my favorite wildflower displays of the whole trip. Yellow Columbine were high on my list of favorites from this trip, and I found them growing in such numbers that it was literally overwhelming. I didn't even know which way to point the camera, but somehow I managed to snap a couple pictures. 

Yellow Columbine near Siyeh Pass Trail in Preston Park
Yellow Columbine Along Siyeh Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Of course, it wasn't long before I was looking at the bigger picture again. At some point, I had wandered out ahead with my camera while my wife was further back taking some closeups. I cannot remember if she was taking pictures of flowers or ground squirrels, but I'm guessing it was the latter. She was always on the lookout for animals on this trip!

Preston Park hiker below Heavy Runner Mountain and Piegan Mountain
My Wife Looking for the Next Shot ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass

Another large mammal encounter awaited as us we finally made it to Siyeh Pass itself. This female bighorn sheep wandered out across the stark and now barren landscape of the pass. I can't imagine how incredibly harsh this environment is during the winter months. Intense winds and snow scour this landscape every winter. In the warmth of summer, however, the wild critters venture through this otherwise wild landscape to feed on the transitory abundance. The wildflowers take advantage of the brief growing season before going dormant for yet another long cold winter.

Bighorn Sheep at Siyeh Pass
Siyeh Pass Bighorn Sheep ©2020 David Knapp Photography

As we enjoyed the views from Siyeh Pass, we were reminded that lunch would be nice by the other hikers enjoying their lunches there. Briefly, we contemplated enjoying our raspberry fig bars, but instead decided to make a quick descent back to the car for a full blown lunch. Funny how our plans don't always happen the way we think...

Panorama just below Siyeh Pass
Panorama Just Below Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass selfie
Selfie Near Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Descending the Siyeh Pass Trail Through Preston Park

As we began descending, I couldn't just walk away without a few more wildflower shots. Okay, maybe a lot of wildflower shots. Up close, further back, landscape scenic shots still featuring wildflowers, more yellow Columbine, I just couldn't get enough. We were just about to have our day extended, but at the time, I just figured we had a quick descent and a few extra minutes wouldn't hurt. 

Dwarf Fireweed near Siyeh pass Trail
Dwarf Fireweed Near Siyeh Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Rocky Ledge Penstemon along Siyeh Pass Trail
Rocky Ledge Penstemon ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Mountain and wildflower foreground
Piegan Mountain and Wildflowers ©2020 David Knapp

Yellow Columbine
Yellow Columbine ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers Galore in Preston Park
Preston Park Wildflowers ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Shortly after taking this last picture, I ran into the most interesting gentleman. He was retired and lived in nearby Kalispell, Montana. He was a Vietnam Veteran who spent most of his free time in Glacier National Park, hiking, enjoying photography, and otherwise having great adventures. We struck up a conversation and soon he was telling me more about the surrounding landscape than I could have ever read in a trail guide or other book. He mentioned that he would probably go up on Piegan Mountain for the day, but since the day was still young, he wasn't sure what he might end up doing yet. I asked about Piegan Pass, to which he replied that we really needed to go up there to see it. "It is only a couple of miles up there," he said. Our short nine mile day with just a couple of snacks and two liters of water each was about to morph into yet another thirteen mile hike.

We continued talking for a good long while. I asked about the large mammals that he had seen. Apparently he had seen just about all of them. Then, I asked about wolverines. When planning this trip, I had read that Glacier National Park is the best place in the Lower 48 to see a wolverine. Everything is relative, of course, but I still thought that was pretty intriguing. As it turns out, that is one animal this gentleman had not seen. He had missed seeing one by about fifteen minutes one time, but never had he seen one himself. Just another reason to return to this amazing National Park!!!

After finally wrapping up my discussion with this interesting guy, I talked to my wife and explained what he had told me. She agreed that we should go ahead and head up to Piegan Pass. We both knew we might get pretty hungry, but this was a potential once in a lifetime trip. You just never know when you'll be on an adventure to Glacier National Park again. 

Hiking to Piegan Pass


We quickly hiked back down to the trail junction with just a couple of stops for pictures. One interesting flower we spotted was the western anemone. This flower has a beautiful silky fruiting head after the flower blooms. These silky heads were so incredibly soft. You have to see and touch it to grasp just how soft these are!

Siyeh Pass Trail western anemone or western pasqueflower
Western Anemone ©2020 David Knapp Photography

By the time we got back down to the junction with the Piegan Pass Trail, the sun was high overhead and beginning to finally break through the clouds. This would be a bright sunny hike along a very exposed section of trail. The hike was absolutely worth it, however! We had to cross a couple of large snowfields that were still drifted over the trail. We carefully took our time. If you start sliding on some of these snowfields, the final landing spot is on rather jagged rocks far below and you don't want to make that mistake. Here are a couple of views of the trail.

Piegan Mountain and Piegan Pass
Looking Towards Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Pass Trail looking towards Piegan Pass
Piegan Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography


As we ascended closer and closer to the pass, the bulk of Piegan Mountain was well off to our left, providing impressive views. Suddenly, we noticed some specks moving across the large expanse of white on the flanks of the mountain. Upon closer inspection, we realized we were looking at a couple of bighorn sheep. Here is what we saw. 

Bighorn sheep crossing a snowfield on Piegan Mountain
Mountain Sheep and Snowfields ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Mountain and Snowfields
Can You Find the Bighorn Sheep? ©2020 David Knapp Photography


At this point, we were nearly at the pass. As we entered the pass, we found amazing views down towards the Many Glacier portion of Glacier National Park. We had hoped to spend a lot of time on this side of the Park. Alas, they had closed it down due to COVID, greatly adding to the crowding and congestion in other portions of the Park. Oh well, next time we'll explore this area. We took some quick pictures, finally ate our snack, and then finished off our water. We now had a good long walk ahead of us before we found water again. It was time to head downhill. 

Looking north from Piegan Pass
The North Side of Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking towards Many Glacier from Piegan Pass
Big Views at Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Selfie at Piegan Pass
Piegan Pass Selfie ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The Hike Back Down

The return hike went rather quickly. This trail is a nice gentle grade without too many steep sections. We were able to make incredibly good time. At this point in our trip, we were both in peak hiking condition and could really crank out the miles. The only thing that slowed us down was the wildflowers. I know, big surprise, right?!?!

I found some beargrass blooming and had to make a few more photographs. This is an incredible wildflower and iconic of Glacier National Park. In addition to photographing a few more flowers, we also stopped at the first good stream crossing to filter some fresh drinking water. We were both getting a little parched at this point!

Piegan Pass Trail Beargrass
Beargrass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass Trail Beargrass
Beargrass Trailside ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Scenic Beargrass and Matahpi Peak
Beargrass Looking Towards Matahpi Peak ©2020 David Knapp Photography 


We made it back to the car in good shape, just a little more hungry than we had intended. Lunch happened and then we turned our car back towards camp for our final night in Glacier National Park. One adventure was wrapping up, but another was just about to begin. The next phase of our trip would involve a little more fishing and chasing a bucket list fish for me, the bull trout. On our way back to camp, we found the bighorn sheep hanging out at the Logan Pass Visitor Center Parking lot again. We had to take a few more shots of them of course...


Logan Pass Visitor Center Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep at Logan Pass Visitor Center ©2020 David Knapp Photography

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