You could easily do this hike in 3 hours (our moving time was 2:45), but why? We started at Sunrift Gorge for a quick photo shoot at around 9:20 and did our hike via Baring, St Mary, Lower Virginia and Virginia Falls, back to St Mary Falls, up to the GTTSR and finished off at Sunrift Gorge at 3:51 includng a leisurely stop for lunch at St Mary Falls.
After our foiled plans to go to Helena to visit my other cousin (I'm sure Ambika was "cousin"ed out anyway), we were lucky enough to get reservations for Saturday nite at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. We were not disappointed with this "Plan B" before having to make the drive to Gt Falls for our flight home on Sunday.
After driving from Kalispell, stopping at the trail junction parking lot for St Mary's Falls to put on our hiking shoes and prepare our day packs, we drove to the Sunrift Gorge pull-out for our Four Falls hike. As long as one is at Sunrift Gorge one might as well go check it out to see what photo ops are available. We had stopped here on the evening of the 18th http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4A2Fz9M9o4
when the light wasn't the best so we were interested to see what it had to offer. The light was tough once again but you could really get a good visual as to how far back the gorge went.
Next we headed down and under the bridge that goes over the Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR). The water was falling voluminously and loudly as it made its way toward St Mary's Lake. This time we were much more comfortable with continuing this "bear warning" trail than the other evening. The trail follows the creek down through some very thick vegetation and being desert rats, we had to stop at each little side trail to see the water. We finally made it to Baring Falls, walked across the log footbridge and got to enjoy the 40 foot waterfall. To me it seemed like there was more water coming down than the previous two times I had visited this spot.
If you like water, you'll like this video of Sunrift Gorge and of Baring Creek as we follow it down to Baring Falls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0JPQ_34wlI
Ambika made her way to the west and south side of the Falls. She always tries to find the best vantage point to photograph so I didn't spend too much time trying to get photos from the various angles where I was walking. The light wasn't the best so we didn't shoot very much here. But this was a neat area she had found that I hadn't been up to before.
Next it was down through the Thimbleberry toward the boat dock until we got to St Mary's Lake where we turned west and headed toward St Mary Falls. It really is a beautiful walk through some forest and some open area as St Mary's Lake lays to the left of you and the mountains tower above to the south and west. Along the way we found a small meadow of "Self-Heal" flowers. We just love the name. We did see a couple side trails that led up to GTTSR that we made a mental note of for our way back.
St Mary's Falls did not disappoint. It's just magnificent, not as to its height but as to the volume of the double almost triple waterfall and its beauty. So we snapped away and then finally got to have our lunch break; left-over huckleberry pie
from breakfast. Oh my gawd. That was so wonderful. The one thing about hanging around the Falls is that everyone wants you to take their picture. So after one too many of that; we decided to head on for Virginia Falls.
It is a pretty hike too especially with all of the little flora along the way. You cross a little creek and make your way east gaining a little elevation and then turn south gaining even more elevation. Before you know it and after a couple little side trips to see some of the smaller water cascades, you are already at Lower Virginia Falls. They are so pretty and present a nice backdrop looking several different directions. The argulite rock is just something as is the crystal clear water. It is not as turqoisy as St Mary Falls but still....
And then it's that last climb to the bottom of Virginia Falls. Once again Ambika made a beeline for the area to the west of the bridge to get the best light for her photos of the 100 foot Virginia Falls. I hung around at an area below the bottom of the Falls to try and get some pictures before heading up. The spray from the Falls was pretty significant so it was difficult to get pictures at times as your lens gets wet if you're close.
Eventually we decided to get each of our pictures with the Falls in the background and this is when, well, I slid in. Ambika was trying to get the perfect photo and said to step back. I thot I had room but I didn't count on the rock being slippery and so down I went
. I couldn't get my footing to come right out and these people saw me and came running to try and help me out. I was really fine as just my very lower legs were in but this lady kept trying to pull me up when all I wanted her to do, if anything, was just provide an arm to hang onto until I could get my feet under me. I found a tree root to grab onto and was able to bring myself to safety. I gave the woman a hug and thanked them for being there. Ambika will have to tell her side of the story cuz I was concentrating too hard on my dilemma.
And if you like waterfalls, this video is for you as we go from St Mary Falls to Virginia Falls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlhMz1D2QeA
Once we caught our breath, we took additional portrait photos while standing on the bridge with the Falls in the background. Whew. I wouldn't have gone too far if I had been sucked down the water way to another narrow gorge, I just would have been pretty cold
. The hike back to St Mary Falls was pretty uneventful except we kept finding more new flora. Our next task for the day was finding the best way up to GTTSR so that we could get on a shuttle to Sunrift Gorge where we had left the car.
On the junction signs there is a little icon with a shuttle bus on it so you know not to make a wrong turn. We took the horse cut-off trail and walked up to the GTTSR. For whatever reason, we decided to walk the last mile to Sunrift Gorge instead of taking the shuttle. This was fine because as you know, some of the best flora is along the road... plus we were going down hill
. Before you knew it and after one more quick trip up to see Sunrift Gorge, we were back at the car and ready to head back to the Motor Inn to check in.
After another wonderful dinner at Two Dog Flats Cafe, we headed back out to St Mary's Lake Sun Point to see if there were any sunset photos to be had. So back to bear country we went at around 9 pm. We ended up going up a trail that really wasn't THE trail and then came back to the actual trail out to the Point.
What we found was a nice view, lots of wind and a pedestal with a flat semi-circle sign attached to it that had a directory on it. If you could hold on to the flat sign, you could take a picture of the mountain/water fall mentioned on this semi-circle directory and then of the mountain/water fall it was pointing too. What we didn't find was a nice sunset.
All in all, GNP did not disappoint and now that I'm into the hiking, it just gets even better. I am so pleased with this, rather than waiting another year I think I'm headed back on July 21st, 2011. Are you with me?