Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout
Showing posts with label Mountain Goats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mountain Goats. Show all posts

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Glacier Day Five: Hiking to Sperry Glacier Part Two

After we had a nice lunch break on our Sperry Glacier hike, it was time to hit the trail again. We still needed to climb a bit higher to get to Comeau Pass and Sperry Glacier beyond. The daylight would get away from us if we didn't keep moving. Not only did we need to still reach the glacier, we also had a long return hike ahead of us. 

As we were wrapping up lunch, I noticed a large clump of flowers overlooking Akaiyan Lake. Since I had my pack open already for lunch, it was easy to grab my camera and take a picture. As with many of the other flowers I encountered in Glacier National Park, I'm still having a hard time with identification. That said, I believe this one is rocky ledge penstemon. If anyone has any better identification, please let me know!


Rocky Ledge Penstemon above Lake Akaiyan

The next wildflower was one I recognized without the need for an identification guide. Spring beauty is a wildflower we have here in Tennessee. In fact, I even have them in my yard. They are one of the earliest wildflowers in the spring around here, so I was surprised to find them still blooming at the end of July here in Glacier National Park. Of course, with the huge snow fields everywhere and a large glacier lurking just over the pass, the wildflowers probably still thought it was early spring. 

Spring beauty along the Sperry Lake trail above Akaiyan Lake

Shortly above our lunch stop, the trail reached yet another bench that followed the headwall above Akaiyan Lake towards the base of Gunsight Mountain. At the far end of the bench, the trail turned and started a series of switchbacks up to Comeau Pass. We were getting close. 

At this point, both of us had our cameras out. The scenery was the same that we had enjoyed during lunch, but the perspective was constantly shifting as we moved along. Our cameras were kept busy with the occasional wildlife as well. We both enjoy the marmots, ground squirrels, and other critters. My wife stalked a marmot while I found a willing golden mantled grand squirrel. 

Photographing a marmot along the Sperry Lake trail

Golden mantled ground squirrel along the Sperry Lake trail near Sperry Glacier

Oh, and we didn't forget to photograph the views either. 

Headwall above Akaiyan Lake on Sperry Lake trail

Akaiyan Lake view on Sperry Lake trail near Sperry Glacier


Speaking of wildlife, if you haven't read about the mountain goat, go back and do so now. This was one of the hiking highlights of Glacier National Park for both of us but especially for my wife. Here is a teaser picture of the goat along with the story. 

The Goat on the Trail to Sperry Glacier


Sperry Lake trail to Sperry Glacier Mountain goat

After the mountain goat encounter, we were excited for the final push up to Comeau Pass and Sperry Glacier beyond. The trail finally turned and made a beeline to a gash in the final headwall below the pass. This passage has been vastly improved by the park service with some stairs cut into the rock to make climbing easier. It is a little sketchy, but overall not a bad final climb to breathtaking Comeau Pass. When we got to the top, the views were incredible. The Sperry Glacier was lurking out of sight, however. With a bit of research, I found this interesting comparison of what it looked like back in the 1930s with today. Unfortunately, Sperry Glacier has retreated a LOT since then. 

Here is the view towards Sperry Glacier from Comeau Pass. Note the mountain goat in the lower left side of the first picture. This mountain goat came up the stairs just after we did and continued on across the landscape. The bulk of Gunsight Mountain is just out of view to the right. 

Looking towards Sperry Glacier from Comeau Pass

This second view from Comeau Pass is looking generally west towards Edwards Mountain. There were still huge snowfields, probably semi-permanent. You can see the rugged layers in the rock that makes up Edwards Mountain. The geology here in Glacier National Park was incredible.

Edwards Mountain from Comeau Pass

After gaining the pass and pausing for a few pictures, we pushed on towards Sperry Glacier itself. This was our main objective after all. The trail crossed rocks and many large snowfields. We had to be a bit careful on some of the snow bridges. Streams were running underneath and we didn't want to have one collapse and dump us into the icy water. All of this water was rushing downhill towards Avalanche Lake for the most part. 

Finally, after what seemed much farther than we anticipated, Sperry Glacier finally came into view. We simply stood still and took it all in before remembering to snap a few pictures as well. We felt incredibly fortunate to be able to experience this place while a glacier is still present. At the rate things are going, this opportunity won't last long so see it soon while you can.

Sperry Glacier

My wife in front of Sperry Glacier

Sperry Glacier Panorama

We were getting low on water at this point and decided to filter some water from the glacial runoff before heading too far back towards Comeau Pass and the trail downhill. As we were heading that general direction, we had a couple more awesome wildlife encounters. The first happened as I came over a jumbled pile of boulders and stepped down. Out on the white snow, something moved. I quickly froze and realized I had almost run over a ptarmigan. Since I love birds, this was a big treat. I'm not a hard core birder, but I do enjoy seeing new to me species. This was one that I hadn't found when I lived in Colorado or on any other trips out west. I quickly switched out lenses on my camera and thankfully the bird didn't run off too fast. Here are a couple of pictures. 

Ptarmigan near Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park

Ptarmigan near Sperry Glacier

The second encounter was better for my wife. We saw a good sized group of mountain goats resting on the snowfields below Gunsight Mountain. My wife decided to move in for a closer look and better pictures. I'll share her post so you can see her pictures if and when she gets around to it, but the neat thing about this group is that it had a big billy goat. When I say big, he made all the other goats look small.

After these two wildlife encounters, we decided it was time to make haste. According to my wife's watch, we were over 10 miles for the day and still had nearly that to get back to the car. Our extra wandering around to see things was adding up to a big day.

On the trail down, we got serious about walking. Both of us put our cameras up and got our trekking poles back out. The trekking poles are really useful for when you have big elevation changes up or down. On the downhill, they really take a lot of the pressure off of your knees. This was what I had brought them for. I can do uphill although on this day I had struggled a bit with the heavy cardio. The downhill usually gets my knees aching, though, and we had a lot of trip left. I didn't want to get gimpy now!

Back down the trail a ways, we ran into some more mountain goats. These things are everywhere but it takes at least some luck to cross paths with them. These were pawing and eating at the trail itself. Apparently, the goats like to eat the minerals and salts from where people urinate. Yep, the goats eat pee or at least the remnants of it. This is a really good reason to do your business on durable surfaces. There were huge gaping holes in the trail where the goats had pawed and otherwise dug into the trail to get at the minerals. Regardless of why they were there, the goats did offer some good photo opportunities and we dug our cameras back out. 





After this, the wildflowers were distracting, but I was getting tired enough that I didn't bother to photograph any until we stopped for water. At that point, there was a clump of some of my favorites, the purple monkey flowers. I snapped a picture, filtered water, and then we kept trucking on down the long trail back.

Purple monkey flowers along the Sperry Lake trail

From that break on, we really made haste. The miles flew by on increasingly tired feet. We were both starting to look forward to the end of the hike, something that doesn't happen too often. Thankfully, nature had one more surprise to perk us up. We were on the steep downhill section just above Lake McDonald. As we came around one switchback, we noticed a deer. Seriously, normally we wouldn't be too excited about deer, but we hadn't been seeing tons of larger wildlife on this trip. This was another photo opportunity that couldn't be missed. This curious buck was not worried about us in the least.

After this picture, we quickly finished our hike and were back to the car ready to go back to camp and rest. According to my wife's watch, including our small side trips for different things, we had put in a little over 20 miles. This was a new record for each of us. We have been close but never broke 20 miles in the Smokies. We were tired but also very satisfied from a day well spent in the most glorious surroundings. 

In many ways, day five was the pinnacle of our trip to Glacier National Park. This was our longest hike for the trip and also one of my favorites. The only hike that came close was our last day in Glacier, but I'll save that for another day. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Glacier Day Three: Hiking to Hidden Lake, Pole Bridge, and Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River

After pushing close to ten miles on our second day in Glacier National Park, we were not sure how our energy would be for day three. Accordingly, we planned an easy day that involved hiking to Hidden Lake. This trail starts at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From a previous morning, we already knew that the parking lot would be completely full by 7:00 am. That meant an early start.

One advantage of the early starts we were getting every day was the chance to enjoy sunrise every morning. This is something I always enjoy as a fishing guide since I’m often on the road by five or six each morning. For this day of hiking, we hit the road by about 5:30 am and were none too early. We got one of the last parking spots when we arrived at the Logan Pass Visitor Center around 6:30 am.

Our plan was to wander down to Hidden Lake and maybe even enjoy some fishing. This lake is supposed to contain Yellowstone cutthroat trout that are relatively easy to catch. The Tenkara rod was packed accordingly along with snacks, bear spray, water, and of course our cameras. We had our quick breakfast of fruit, granola, yogurt, and nuts and noticed quite a few other people doing the same thing. Soon we were done and ready to start moving.

Views on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Hiking to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park  

As we walked across the parking lot and up the stairs to find the beginning of the trail behind the visitor center, we were excited for what the day might hold. This excitement was quickly tempered when we found a sign at the beginning of the trail announcing a closure from the overlook onward. Apparently, the trail was closed because the cutthroat were spawning, and the bears were concentrated in area of the outlet stream looking fish to eat. Another bummer, but also another reason we need to return to Glacier National Park for another try. Still, we were already there and ready to walk. Up to the overlook we went.

This was the most crowded trail we hiked in Glacier with only the Avalanche Lake Trail being anywhere close. The reason for these trails’ popularity becomes obvious when you realize that they are two of the shortest trails and also two of the more scenic. Soon, we would be looking for longer hikes that would offer more solitude. At this moment, though, we were just happy to be tourists and see the sights.

The trail is a boardwalk for quite a distance. This helps protect the fragile alpine environment (please stay on the trail!!!) and also inadvertently provided some type of structure for marmots to live under. We found one of my favorite creatures of the Rockies early in our hike, and I had to stop for some pictures before moving on.

Marmot near Logan Pass Visitor Center on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook


The trail heads slowly uphill towards the southeast flank of Clements Mountain. Wildflowers were abundant here. While I was tempted to pull out my good camera, I kept using my cellphone and snapped a few quick shots of the glacier lilies which reminded me a lot of the trout lilies back home in Tennessee. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time photographing them as we wouldn't find many more during our time in Glacier National Park. I didn't realize it at the time, but we were already late in the season to be finding them. Most of the specimens we saw were already starting to fade and wilt. 

Up high, large snow fields were still blocking the trail. We joined the throng of hikers slipping and sliding our way across the snow. As you hike, you are surrounded by big views everywhere you look. We could easily have spent our entire day wandering along this short section of trail with our cameras, but we had other plans. 

Mountain Goats Near Hidden Lake Overlook

Approaching the overlook, we noticed some mountain goats off to the north side of the boardwalk. They were really close to the trail. It was time to get out the “good” cameras instead of our cellphones we were using for quick pictures. One thing that both myself and my lovely wife enjoy is wildlife photography. Seeing animals that we don’t have in Tennessee is a highlight of our trips out west. We both turned our backs to the incredible scene of Hidden Lake and started photographing the mountain goats. The pictures were not anything fancy, but we were nice and close which made for good crisp pictures. 

Mountain Goat at Hidden Lake Overlook


Soon enough, the mountain goats wandered off and we turned back to the scene before us. Hidden Lake is spectacularly beautiful. I hate that we didn’t get to hike on down to the lake, but we enjoyed the views we had and the extra time it saved allowed us to enjoy some other portions of the park.

Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park


Finishing the Hidden Lake Overlook Hike


Snowfields on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook

With our cameras already out, we sauntered back towards the trailhead rather slowly. Taking lots of pictures along the way, we eventually were back near the beginning. 

Views along the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


I finally slowed down long enough to enjoy some of the wildflowers before continuing on to the car. The spring beauties (second picture) were the first that I actually recognized although all the wildflowers were beautiful. The coiled lousewort (first picture) was one I had to look up later. I found out it is closely related to one of my favorites, elephant head lousewort. Seriously, they look like tiny pink elephant heads!


Spring Beauties on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Searching for Wildlife on Going to the Sun Road

Back in the parking lot, we made someone very happy when they discovered we were about to leave. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes were circling continuously in search of a place to park. Access is definitely an issue at this park, and with the shuttle system shut down because of COVID along with the entire eastern side of the park, this problem was exacerbated. As we exited the parking lot, I turned the car east.

We decided to drive as far as possible and look for bears and other wildlife. This would become another daily ritual. Whenever we finished a hike with time to spare, we would drive along the Going to the Sun Road in search of wildlife. The road was open all the way to a roadblock along Saint Mary Lake. With the east side of Glacier National Park completely shut down due to COVID, people had to turn around at this point. 

We stopped at the Wild Goose Island Lookout and took a few pictures before continuing onward. We were lucky to find the lake calm as glass and reflecting the mountainous background like a mirror. This side of Glacier tends to be windy, so this was quite the treat. 

Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake


On this day, the wildlife managed to elude us except for some glorious views. As we headed back west, a stop at camp sounded like a plan along with a trip to town. We wanted to pick up a few groceries in town and check out a different section of Glacier National Park. 


Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River near Polebridge, Montana

After the town stop, we headed north to Pole Bridge. This area of the park does not see as much visitation as the famous Going to the Sun Road, but there were still plenty of people around. One bonus of this portion of Glacier National Park lies in the fishing regulations. The North Fork of the Flathead River can be fished without a fishing license, provided that you are accessing it from Glacier National Park and not from Montana state lands. My good friend Bryan Allison had given me a tip on fishing that area, so I was anxious to give it a try. Thankfully, some reasonable access was not too hard to figure out. 

The warm afternoon breeze had me thinking hoppers. I quickly rigged a fly rod with a big foam bug and was soon wading in my sandals. Surprisingly, the fish would at least check out my offering but were being a little shy. I’m guessing they got at least some pressure based on both the fishermen’s trail from where we parked and also the constant parade of boats going by. At least a few of the passing boats contained anglers.

Finally, after switching flies a few times, I settled on a small yellow stimulator and was soon catching plenty of fish. They weren’t really picky exactly, but they did want something a little more natural. Despite my hopes, there wasn’t a massive grasshopper hatch in progress and the fish were looking for aquatic insects hatching. The bright sunny day had some caddis popping along with a few smaller stoneflies. Interestingly, they weren't as interested in nymphs or pupa patterns as they were in dry flies. Cutthroat trout just really like dry flies!


The fish here are not big, or at least I didn’t find any large ones. They were larger than the small fish at Snyder Lake the day before though. They were also reasonably willing to eat a fly, at least once the correct fly was tied on. I caught a few and offered the rod to my wife, but she declined. I got the idea that she might prefer to continue our search for animals, so before long we were back on the road. It was getting later in the day now, and we hoped to find some wildlife moving about.

North Fork Flathead River cutthroat trout near Pole Bridge
  


Back to Camp For the Night

Apparently it was not meant to be. We made the drive back down to the Glacier Campground via the Camas Road through Glacier National Park. There were some nice meadows but no wildlife feeding in them. The hot weather probably had most of the wildlife either in the woods or at higher elevations. We made it back to camp in time for a leisurely evening. We had another very early start ahead of us to find parking at one of the most popular trailheads in Glacier National Park. Back in camp, we found one last bit of wildlife for the day...

Spider Web at Glacier Campground





Thursday, October 04, 2018

Onward To the Fishing: Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

As you may have noticed, our Yellowstone trip was a bit slow developing on the fly fishing front. While I had stared wistfully at trout streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota and through the Big Horns and beyond in Wyoming, the fishing was on hold until we arrived in Yellowstone. The first day in the Park was busy and so I did not get a fishing license until our second day there.

The second day was busy as well. Our first night had been spent at the campground at Canyon for which I had obtained reservations (a must if you want a guaranteed site!). The plan was to wake up early on Sunday morning, take down our tent, and drive the short distance west to Norris. Here I hoped to snag a site at my favorite campground in Yellowstone. It just so happens that this campground is one of only two in the Park that are first come first served and have running water and flush toilets. We were trying to avoid pit toilets for the next two weeks as much as possible.

Upon arriving at Norris around 8:00 am, we already had to wait in line while others signed up for their campsite first. When it was my turn, I was informed that the section I had hoped to get into did not have anything available...yet. If we wanted, we could hang around and see if someone would leave. There was one other party waiting ahead of us. When I asked what was available for tent camping, the ranger said she really only had one site available at the moment. When she said it was a large site and had a tent pad, I accepted without really thinking twice. She assured me that if we didn't like it, we could come back the next day and change sites. That seemed more than reasonable so we registered, paid for 10 nights, and were soon driving through the campground to find out if we liked our campsite.

Turns out, we liked the campsite even better than expected. We were up against the woods at the back of the campground with neighbors on only one side and not too close at that. This gave the possibility of wildlife viewing right from our site! More on that to come a few posts down the road.

We quickly pitched our tent, added our sleeping pad and bags, and headed back out for the day's adventure. That adventure needed fuel so we headed back to Canyon for breakfast. In much too great a hurry to pause for food, we had got the campsite we needed and could now focus on things like sustenance. The grill at Canyon in the gift shop and general store is a favorite of mine for breakfast. Nothing here is fancy, but they do the basics like pancakes, eggs, and hash browns well. We loaded up on fuel for the day and purchased fishing licenses. Then we pointed our car towards the Lamar Valley.

On the drive over, I was already dreaming of Yellowstonecutthroat trout rising to dry flies. However, if there is one thing I should know about fishing out west, it is that nature will probably have the last laugh. When we arrived in the Lamar Valley, the wind was howling. Now, I know what you are thinking: it always blows hard out west. That is true, but the wind was unusually strong on this day. I asked Leah what she thought about fishing and while she didn't feel like casting in the wind, she said it would be just fine if I wanted to fish. "Just for a little while," I promised.

I put together my 9' 6 weight Orvis Recon. With the wind blowing hard, I needed a little more rod than I would normally fish. While most people default to a 6 weight out west, I normally still fish my favorite 5 weight or even lighter. On this day, the extra backbone of my 6 weight seemed necessary.

With the wind blowing so hard, I figured that surely some hoppers must be ending up in the water. I remembered some of the great hopper fishing I had enjoyed on my last visit here. Amazingly, only a couple of half-hearted glances resulted from fishing that hopper and none were hookups. I needed to change strategies quickly or my fast fishing expedition would result in a skunk.

I moved up to the head of the pool where some faster water was coming in. Maybe they need a faster presentation and less time to examine my imitations. As it turns out, those fish didn't want a hopper either. What was going on? Here and there, I was seeing fish rising. My observation skills needed to be a bit sharper so I paid better attention. Then I noticed some gray mayflies drifting lazily on the current. Not a lot of bugs, mind you, but the ones I saw were getting slurped greedily. The bugs were out in the middle, but looked like about a size #14. When I opened my box, I grabbed a size 14 Parachute Adams and knotted on some lighter tippet. Attaching the fly, I was ready to fish again!

On just the third or fourth cast I finally hooked up. It was a feisty little fish. While beautiful and a native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, I was here for larger specimens. I started fishing again and soon saw a larger shadow ghost up from the depths to inhale my fly. This time I got excited. My Yellowstone fishing was underway! Leah was kind enough to not only help take pictures but also to net this fish. With the wind blowing hard, we were careful to keep the fish in the water until the last possible moment for a picture. Things dry out quickly in this environment and the fish definitely didn't need that kind of treatment.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the Lamar River
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018

A few fish later, I was nearly satisfied. Just as I was about ready to leave, I noticed a rise on the far side of the current. Too far and windy to high stick, I was going to have to come up with an epic reach cast. With the wind blowing up the valley at 30-40 mph, I didn't think I would be able to pull it off. Then, just like that, everything fell into place, the fly landed and the line laid well upstream. I got just enough drift to see the fly sucked down greedily by another nice fat Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

By this time, while I had only fished for 30 minutes or an hour, a shower was threatening, and Leah didn't want to stay out and get soaked. I suggested that we go looking for wildlife and we were soon back on the road towards the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. I always like stopping at a roadside pullout with a good view of Barronnette Peak to look for mountain goats. Wanting Leah to see some, this is where we headed.

Sure enough, the goats were there. While looking at mountain goats through our binoculars, we kept noticing cars stopping back down the road towards the Lamar Valley. Wondering what they were seeing, I started scanning the meadow and trees in that direction. Suddenly I noticed something large moving...a moose and her calf!!! The moose magnet legend grows further still. This was the first time that I have seen moose in Yellowstone which made it particularly satisfying.

By this time, the showers had seemingly passed and we headed back down the valley for one more quick stop along the Lamar. Stopping at a favorite roadside pool, I walked the high bank along the road and spotted several cutthroat. Next I scrambled down the bank to get into position to fish my way back up over each of those fish. A few fish later, I was satisfied. The wind was still gusting hard and I wanted to get back to camp before it was too late. We needed some down time after the long day of moving camp that we had.

Another Lamar River Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018