Showing posts with label Featherwoman Lake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Featherwoman Lake. Show all posts

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sketching Featherwoman Lake

Featherwoman Lake, watercolor pencil, 8" x 10."

My time at Sperry Chalet was drawing to a close, and I wanted to hike up towards Comeau Pass one more time, to sketch one of the lovely alpine lakes in that vicinity. I picked up my bag lunch after breakfast and got my gear ready for the hike. The morning was fine and cool, and I took time to observe and photograph the progression of wildflowers along the trail.

Glacier Lily seed pod.

The Glacier lilies near the chalet path were gone, only their seed pods remained. The yellow Groundsels and purple asters were starting to show more flowers as the Pentstemons and Spireas began to fade. I photographed other interesting plants such as Elk thistle, Yellow buckwheat and Cow Parsnip that I had observed earlier but hadn't had a chance to record.

Arrow -leaved Groundsel (Senecio triangularis)

Elk Thistle (Cirsium foliosum)
Cow parsnip (Heracleum sphondylium)

As I climbed upward into the alpine zone, the progression of bloom continued to change. Patches of Pink Mountain Heather that had been blooming the week before were now setting seed, and new plants emerging from the melting snow patches were blooming. Yellow Monkey flowers, which I had not seen before, bloomed under rock overhangs with pink shooting stars.

Going up the trail to Comeau Pass.

Pink Mountain Heather setting seed (Phyllodoce empetriformis)
Tiling's Monkey Flower (Erythranthe tilingii) and Dark-throated Shooting Stars (Primula pauciflora) bloom under a ledge.
Red-stemmed Saxifrage (Mycranthes lyallii)

Lyall's Rockcress (Boechera lyallii)

The steep switchbacks seemed a little easier to negotiate this second time, and with the patches of snow along the trail gone, I managed to reach the first lake before noon. The rocks crossing the lake's drainage had been nearly covered in snow the week before, but now they were exposed and the water flowed freely.

The trail crosses the first lake.

I walked onto some rock slabs around the lake towards the upper meadow, looking for a good vantage point to frame a painting. Clumps of wildflowers dotted the meadows--pink and yellow Mountain Heather and other alpine plants. There was still some snow on the surface of the lakes.

Wildflowers dot the meadow around the lake.

I set up my camping stool on a ledge and unpacked my lunch. The minute I started to dig into my sandwich a hoary marmot came out from behind a rock and tried to make off with one of my hiking poles a few feet away. I shooed him off and went back to my sandwich. A minute later, the marmot was back, now from behind a different rock, trying the same maneuver again. I stood up, scolded him and sent him off again. A few moments later, he was back--this time approaching from a different direction. I had to give him points for determination, or was it desperation? These creatures really craved salt...

Me waving. (photo by Linda Hsu)
Trying to scare the marmot away. (photo by Linda Hsu

The wily beastie.

 Unknown to me, one of the guests at the lodge, a young lady named Linda Hsu, had witnessed the marmot's antics and my attempts to stave him off, and photographed the exchange from a distance. The pictures which she sent me after I got home are too distant to be very clear, but give some sense of what was going on.  After a number of frustrations the marmot finally left for more promising pastures, and I was able to finish my lunch undisturbed. Afterwards I took in the view, and decided that a bit higher might give me a better painting, so I gathered my pack and stool to hike a bit farther up to the next lake.

Featherwoman Lake

This lake, which I later learned was called Featherwoman Lake, held all the grandeur of these heights: a veil of waterfall dropping into the melting snow, and Gunsight peak in the background. I walked out on the rock ledges for a closer view--perfect! I spent the rest of the afternoon there working on my watercolor pencil sketch, then hiked back to Sperry Chalet.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Hike to Sperry Clacier I

The Sperry Glacier Trail.

Most of the folks who visit Sperry Chalet spend two nights (if they can get reservations)--to rest from the hike on the first night, then hike up to Sperry Glacier on the next day, and rest for another night before going back down to Lake McDonald. Those who can't get a second night's reservation usually hike up to the Glacier on the following day and then go back down to Lake McDonald, making for one very long hike on their second day.

The hike from Sperry Chalet to Sperry Glacier is about 3.5 miles one way, with an elevation rise of about 1500 feet up to Comeau Pass. Being fortunate to have ample time at Sperry Chalet, I could choose which day to hike up to the Glacier. After several days of conditioning with short hikes, I was ready to attempt the hike to Sperry Glacier towards the end of my first week.

Bear Grass along the trail.

The staff had told me there would be several difficult switchbacks on the way to Comeau Pass, and a number of slippery snow fields to cross--to watch out for undercuts in the snow, where one could easily fall through. I lightened my pack as much as possible, taking only water and lunch, with the usual extra layers of clothing and can of bear spray on my belt, and I put the snow tips on my hiking poles.

Akaiyan Falls.

I was already familiar with the first part of the trail between the two waterfalls, and didn't linger there to take photos, except for some really beautiful stalks of Bear grass. I made mental notes of other plants that I hadn't noticed before for future sketching excursions. 

Shortly after the second waterfall, the trail became steeper, and once again, I started needing frequent breaks to catch my breath. The vegetation was becoming sparser, but there were still plenty of alpine wildflowers to observe as I rested.

Alpine buttercups

As the trail rose, new views of the rock formations became visible, and I came across the first snow patch--it was much slower walking on this, because it was so slippery from the tracks of other hikers. The snow tips on the hiking poles were a big help, I was glad to have them.

Patches of snow on the trail.
The waterfall above the cirque.
Looking down at the trail.

Distances can be so deceptive in this kind of terrain--certain landmarks appear close, but the trail swings around wide, making the distance much greater than one thinks at first. Looking down at the trail below me, I got a much more accurate view of how wide the circle it really was, and how the switchbacks doubled back and forth. After this stretch the trail leveled out a bit and rose past several small lakes with a good deal of ice still in them.

On the Sperry Glacier trail.

At this point I passed a young couple from Colorado I had met at Sperry Chalet the night before, hiking back from the Glacier. It was around eleven-thirty in the morning and they had  already been there and were heading back towards Lake MacDonald--I wished I could be as young and physically fit as they were, but I wasn't doing too bad for someone my age. They were kind enough to offer to take this picture--I was sweating profusely from my exertions but reluctant to shed my vest in the chilly breeze.

Featherwoman Lake on the way to Comeau Pass.

I hadn't caught sight yet of Comeau Pass, but there were some lovely meadows around the lakes, and spectacular views of the mountain ranges beyond.

Meadows above the lakes
Wildflowers at the timberline.
Mt. Edwards from the trail.

The imposing mass of Mount Edwards loomed towards the left, its waves of geological strata scoured by the action of glaciers over eons. A hoary marmot clambered around the rocks nearby, and there were still more snow fields to traverse.

Hoary marmot near Comeau Pass.

Eventually, the snow fields led to the headwall that forms Comeau Pass. Dr. Lyman Sperry's party had to climb up this vertical wall to get over the pass; later on an immense ladder bolted onto the rocks was installed to make it easier (shudder!) for hikers to climb. To make the trek to the glacier less daunting, in the 1930's the Park Service widened a natural fissure in the rock (this was accomplished by trail crews using hand chisels), and a rock staircase was built into it, still used today.

The headwall at Comeau Pass
Going up the stair at Comeau Pass

As you can see, the rise on some of these steps is three to four feet in height, while the treads are very narrow, making for an interesting scramble up. The guy wire railing was a recent addition--the original railing was a rope that had to be replaced every few years--and very necessary on the way down. It's not hard to imagine what it'd be like to try this stair in icy conditions...

Looking down the staircase.
Comeau Pass and Gem Lake

After the workout getting here, it was a good time to enjoy lunch at the top of the pass. I sat on a rock while contemplating the views, but with the wind and exposure, drenched in sweat, I put on my jacket to ward off the chill.  The moment I brought out my paper bag lunch a tiny chipmunk showed up--how it is these animals know we're bound to drop a scrap or two?

Chipmunk joins me for lunch at Comeau Pass

As I was eating my sandwich, a young man joined me. We chatted as we ate--he was waiting for his three friends to catch up. They were from California, taking a trip through the Rockies, and had camped at the Sperry campground near the chalet.