Before heading out from the campground we were visited by 3 deer and a ranger had told us there was a bear and a horse in the vicinity. I had wondered how come there were so many ranger vehicles at the campground entrance ; that 'splained it. For this day we were going to take the 10AM boat ride on St Mary Lake and then hike to all the Falls but opted for the noon ride so that we could run into St Mary's Visitor Center, the gift shop and grocery store.
The morning started off windy with occasional threats of rain but as Ambika and I learned last year, you just gotta go for it. And you know the saying about weather, wait 5 minutes... well on this trip that was shortened to a minute as the clouds seem to move so quickly.
We stopped by a very active Visitors Center to just check it out and get any kind of update on trail status. We kept hoping that somehow they would get the Highline Trail opened by the 24th but knew the odds were not in our favor based on the amount of snow still remaining in the mountains. Plus they had only just opened the Going-to-the-Sun Road a week ago. From there it was a quick jaunt to the gift store where I ended up getting a pink cardigan sweat shirt on sale and Wendy got me a bear bell. Last, the grocery store: you know it's gonna be a good day when you find a new flavor of huckleberry flavored soda and now huckleberry flavored licorice .
We rush back to the campground to make our sandwiches and drive to the boat dock arriving at 11:55. The wind and cold and clouds continued to be blustery so it would be a closed window ride on St Mary Lake. There weren't many passengers either which was just fine with us. Wendy and I did go up to the open bow for about 5 minutes until that last big wave gave us a good splash causing us to go back inside. I always love the story of Wild Goose Island: http://www.americanfolklore.net/folklore/2008/09/goose_island.html and Captain Graham added some levity to it as well. This is an interpretive boat ride so you do get a good bit of info. I highly recommend this as the #1 boat ride in the Park. Here is a video of our boat ride: http://youtu.be/LJcSOu1Wpks
We disembark and head west along St Mary Lake
. You are treated to views of the lake almost the entire way to St Mary Falls. As the sky changes, so does the appearance of the water and you can't help but revel in its incredible beauty with the still partially snow-covered tall mountains to the other side jutting up into the sky. About 1/2 way you can see Virginia Falls across the way and boy were they flowing
. We walked by what I call the "Heal-All" meadow. It is a flower that just thrives in this small area along the trail and with the overcast skies, we were able to get some great pictures of it.
The first indication you are getting closer to the Falls is more folks on the trail. There are a couple areas where you can go down from the trail closer to where the water comes into the lake (below & before the bridge) and get nice photos of the bridge with Falls in the background. I had never done that before so was pleased when Wendy made a left
not too far before the trail turns south toward the bridge. She got a couple photos and then I urged them on so I could get a video and stills of them on the bridge. It was particularly dramatic this year because of the voluminous water flow of the Falls.
Once at the Falls, there is the usual crowd of people. I mentioned to Wendy the possibility of having our lunch toward the top of the Falls so we proceeded up a little ways to an area that was somewhat secluded from the wind, especially the gusts and no other folks. We ate our sandwich, chips and drank our newly purchased huckleberry
soda before making our way to the top of the Falls. It was such a rush
to be up there as this great river of water tries to get thru some narrow slots down to the lake. The power is overwhelming.
We explored around the Falls and then headed up the river a piece to get a better view. Video (including stills & movies) from our hike to and above St Mary Falls:
It looks like you might be able to get up river a little further but we needed to get to Virginia Falls.
So we went back down and across the bridge and then up and up toward the falls of Virginia Falls. The topography changes here as you are deeper into the forest. The nice thing though is you are sheltered from the weather. That is until you get to Lower Virginia Falls where the spray of the water gets your attention quickly. Once again, the volume of the water going over this Falls is amazing. I will do my best to post 2010 vs 2011 pics so that you can see what I'm talking about. From there we head up to what I call the Middle Falls as it's hard to distinguish this year what is really the Lower Falls cuz the water is falling hard everywhere.
And before making the trek up to the bottom of Virginia Falls, we cross over the bridge where a woman slipped and fell and was killed last year
(a few days after we had been at the Falls in 2010 - in fact they have posted signage asking you to be careful). I actually tried to find this turn off in 2010 but missed it. It was amazing that you could hardly get a picture of Virginia Falls at such a distance yet because of the spray; of course, the gusts of wind wasn't helping!
We finally made our way up to the bottom of Virginia Falls... well at a slight distance as the spray was quite significant. Wendy put on her rain gear and went out to where the bottom of the falls was landing and decided to shoot
the Falls head-on. I can't hardly wait to see the pictures. I, on the other hand, went up to the area off to the west side where Ambika and I were last year. I still got sprayed and the area was pretty wet but I stayed much drier. Before we headed back down though, I did head out and grab a quick head-on shot between wind gusts.... reminded me of being in a tempest; whatever that really is. Video of stills and movies of Virginia Falls hike: http://youtu.be/kiVCbL5avHA
Back down we went, stopping at each of the Falls (middle and lower) to take one last look. It was just incredible. It would have been nice to linger but we needed to make sure we got back to the boat dock by 5. We made pretty good time back to St Mary's Falls, took a couple pics and continued on until we rounded a corner and spotted a deer
eating away like there was no tomorrow. He seemed ravenous and let us get within petting distance and never did run off.
We continued our hike encoutering a few hikers now and then before finally reaching the dock area where we indeed had enough time to make the quick 300 yard hike up to Baring Falls where we got to wander around for about 15 minutes before going back on board. Baring is not as pretty as her sister falls but still as powerful since the waters that feed it come all the way from Sexton Glacier through Sunrift Gorge and on down to St Mary Lake.
The day was still overcast and the boat ride was a nice ending to a pretty glorious day; the astronaut jokes by the Captain and Ranger, not so much. But as usual, I still get a kick out of the
lichen story between the fungi and the rock taken a lichen to each other and now their union is on the rocks or something like that.
Here is a video of our hike back from St Mary Falls, Baring Falls and boat ride: http://youtu.be/UpgDsIyDxv4
. We arrived safely back at the dock and headed to King Gilbert (Wendy & Gary's named trailer)for our margaritas.
Wendy made us a nice turkey and rice dinner while we made a fire; which wasn't easy because of the wet wood. After dinner we headed over to the KOA to do some laundry and of course, some huckleberry
goods shopping. On our way back after entering the Park, we saw a bear and her cub
off to the south of the road so we stopped and I was able to get a few photos though they were quite far away and it was almost 8 at nite.
We were surprised by how light it was even at 10:30. This lightness, in spite of the sun setting an hour earlier, would continue to surprise us each nite. We remarked what a long day it was if you went to bed at hiker's bedtime (1/2 hour or so after sunset or when it got dark) would be here?
This late light effect was particularly interesting because there was still cloud cover too.