Climbing Mt. Cadillac 

Yesterday we ventured over to Acadia National Park to hike up Mount Cadillac — the towering peak situated right on the coastline that is the first place in America struck by the rays of the rising sun.  It’s a popular destination that offers staggering views of the jagged Maine coast.  Most people drive up to the top — but heck, anybody can do that.  Hiking up is more fun and a bit of a challenge, besides.


We chose the south ridge trail, which begins along a road and, for the first mile of so, takes you through a dense, almost primeval forest.  At that point you emerge above the tree line and are exposed to the first of the sweeping vistas that this hike affords — with views that just get better and better as you gain altitude.  You follow blue trailblazing signs painted on trees and then on the granite of the mountain itself, as well as rock cairns that also mark the way.


The trail takes you along the granite spine of the mountain, shown in the first picture above, and you actually feel like you are moving from knob to knob on the gigantic backbone of a huge, hunched-over creature.  Eventually you are treated to a commanding view in all directions and can see dozens of miles to faraway peaks in the Appalachian chain.  You also pass a beautiful pond that is covered with velvety, impossibly green shoots, shown toward the middle of the photo below, and you wonder:  “what is that doing way up here?”


It’s not a difficult climb, but it’s a rewarding one nevertheless.  When you reach the top, having clambered up the last few rock faces, you can stare slack jawed in any direction.  The rocks at the top are covered with people, and no wonder — the scenery is spectacular.  It’s one of those spots that simply can’t be captured in a photograph.  But I’ll always remember it.

Sobering Sign


Montana is bear country, with a hardy population of grizzlies and black bears roaming through the wilderness.  Signs at trail heads remind you of the risk that you might encounter a bear.  The risk was made manifest a few days before we arrived, when an experienced outdoorsman on a mountain bike literally ran headlong into a grizzly after turning a corner on a trail and was fatally mauled.

We don’t want to mess with bears, so we’ve stayed on the popular trails, tried to make a lot of noise to warn the bears away, and kept our eyes open.  So far, we’ve had two bear sightings, but no direct interaction — fortunately.

On The Trail To Avalanche Lake


The trail to Avalanche Lake is the most popular hike in Glacier National Park.  Measuring between 5 and 6 miles round trip, without significant elevation changes or rough trails, it’s well suited to hiking novices like us.  The parking lot at the trailhead is always jammed, but we lucked out and drove in just as some other hikers were leaving.


The trail begins at the Going-To-The-Sun Road.  The first section of the trail is a loop that is built with cedar planking and is so flat it is wheelchair accessible.  It winds through towering pines, cedars,  hemlocks, and cottonwoods.  At the bridge over the roaring falls of Avalanche Creek, pictured above, the trail to the lake veers off the planking and takes you up onto a well-worn, well-marked dirt path into the virgin forest.


Shortly after we left the plank trail we encountered a young buck circling a huge boulder, on the prowl for forage, close enough that we could almost reach out and touch it.  It moved quietly through the woods, vanishing as silently as it appeared, without paying much attention to the hikers who stopped to admire it.


As we moved along the path toward Avalanche Lake, we felt like we were in one of those “Discover the Forest” public service commercials.  Although we didn’t get into a staring contest with a deer or marvel at a frog, we did gape at the size of the trees and, especially, the colors.  Artists could only dream of their palettes having the rich variety of shades of green on display on the Avalanche Lake trail.


Ultimately the trail emerges at Avalanche Lake, a pure, cold lake created by the melting glaciers high up in the surrounding mountains.  The first look at the lake is framed by countless huge logs pushed to one end of the lake by the water.  If you then follow the trail around to the right, you emerge onto a huge and spectacular natural amphitheater created by the lake and framed by by the towering peaks.


The water is crystal clear and the air is cool.  It’s a quiet place, with only the rustle of the wind moving through the trees behind you and the whisper of the multiple waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside in the far distance.  We sat for a while on a log bench, taking in the immense natural splendor, and I tried to fix the scene in my memory as best I could.


The hike back seemed shorter than the hike out, as is so often the case.  We walked over rocks and exposed tree roots that had been turned bright and glossy by the feet of innumerable other hikers who had gone before.  We were very glad we had joined them in taking the trek to Avalanche Lake.

Vacation Challenge I — The Bear’s Hump

 I think it’s fun when a vacation presents some kind of challenge.  Maybe it’s trying something you haven’t done before, or eating something you haven’t eaten before — but a challenge can be a good way to totally break away from your normal, standard, at-home, at-work world.

Hence, the Bear’s Hump.

The Bear’s Hump is a prominent rock outcropping the juts out of Mount Crandall in the Watertown Lakes National Park in Alberta.  The guide on our boat cruise on Upper Watertown Lake pointed out the Bear’s Hump and said it offered a tremendous view of the surrounding area — but that the trail was steep.

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“Steep” really  doesn’t begin to describe it.  According to the sign, the trail takes you up 787 feet over a distance of about one kilometer.  There are 18 switchbacks — but who’s counting?  Basically, you head straight up the mountain, dealing with the altitude change as you go.  At some points, the trail is so vertical that outsized wooden steps have been helpfully built into the mountainside, and some of the trees beside the trail have been worn smooth by the hands of hikers giving themselves a boost.

And you’re in the wilderness, too, so you can’t just focus on the trail as you gasp for breath.  I saw a black bear cub nosing through the underbrush right next to the trail as I descended, which provided a nice additional adrenalin jolt.  No sign of mama bear in the vicinity, thankfully.


But the guide was right — when you finally reach the top, huffing and puffing and heart pumping, you can’t beat the view.  When I reached the top of the Hump, I encountered 50 mph winds that threatened to blow me over the side of the bare outcropping, but a vista so sweeping it was awe-inspiring.  I felt like I was on top of the world — and was actually glad that my tired body needed to sit for a while so I could take it all in.  The photos accompanying this post give you a sense of the views in each direction, but of course photos can’t fully capture the magnificence of the scene.


To give you a sense of just how far up I was, you can see the familiar outline of the Prince of Wales hotel, looking like a doll’s house, in the lower right corner of the photo below.


The Bear’s Hump challenge was worth it.

Bear Country

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We’ve been trekking through areas of the Pisgah National Forest, enjoying some beautiful streams and waterfalls, cool air and chirping birds. So far, we haven’t seen one of the other natural wonders of this area — bears.

The Asheville area is black bear country, and the Pisgah National Forest is where they live. It’s one of those areas that is wilderness — in the sense that no houses are in sight — but it’s regularly visited by campers, hikers, anglers, birders, and tourist who drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Bears often see humans, and are known to prowl suburban neighborhoods at night, rooting through garbage and looking for food. The bears are accustomed to people and have lost their fear of them. That’s not a good thing, because an emboldened bear is more likely to charge — and we don’t want that.

The trail heads here feature posted warnings about bears that seem ironically hilarious to me. Don’t approach a bear? Give a bear in the distance wide berth? Hey, thanks for those useful tips! But some people are idiots, and expect any bears they see to be like animals in a petting zoo. They’ll approach them and even try to feed them and take a selfie while doing so. I’m not sure that posting notices will penetrate the cluelessness of such people — but you’ve got to try something, I suppose.

On our hikes I’ve tried to stay alert for signs of bears. If I see one, I’ll gladly turn and head carefully in the opposite direction.