Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Silver Lining of Kayaking at Glacier's Lake Bowman

We have heard wonderful things about kayaking on the lakes inside Glacier National Park, so we wanted to experience that for ourselves. But there is a new step before we could hit the water--a required inspection of all watercraft. New for 2017, before going onto a lake inside the national park, every boat must be certified to be mussel-free by a park ranger. It is then tagged parasite-free for the day, but the process has to be repeated any time you leave the park. The inspection station doesn't open until 7 a.m., so we got a later start to our day because of this extra stop.

There are many lakes inside the national park boundaries. The most accessible ones are crowded; and most of the beautiful remote lakes are too far away to carry a kayak. But we have been told that there is a primitive road that will take us all the way to the remote Bowman Lake. So we headed up the gravel road to the lesser known northwestern section of Glacier National Park. We passed through miles of burned trees, still standing tall ever since the big fire of 1988.

The roads were a combination of rough pavement and gravel until we got to the tiny village of Polebridge, Montana. Then the road got dramatically worse. Denisa tried to take pictures with her eyes closed because there was one scary curve after another on this narrow bumpy road.

She happened to snap a picture as a pickup appeared around a blind curve in a cloud of dust. The tree branches were hitting both vehicles as we tried to find room to pass on this narrow road.

You really have to work to get here, so we didn't have the crowds like the rest of the national park. But there are limited parking places, so we had to go early just to get a spot for the car. When we first arrived, the lake was as smooth as glass. But by the time we inflated the boat and parked the car, a stiff wind had emerged from no where. As we speculated about what to do next, someone offered to take our picture together with the boat on the shores of Lake Bowman.

This narrow little lake flows into the mountains that make a dramatic back drop. But the mountains also form a wind tunnel effect. If you look at the picture above, waves are washing onto shore, making it like launching into the ocean surf. But we had gotten up too early and driven too far on roads too rough not to get the kayak out on this lake. The waves were coming over the front of the boat as we tried to paddle against the wind. We got so much water on board with those incoming waves that we had to beach the boat on a sandy cove along the lake just to dump the water out.

We thought maybe it would get better, or perhaps the wind would die down as fast as it had blown up. Our new inflatable sea eagle has a lower profile in the water, so any sizable wave washed into the boat. At the front of the boat, Denisa was wet to her waist from incoming waves. Meanwhile, Mark was sitting in six inches of water in the back of the boat. That extra weight of water was making us heavier and even harder to paddle against the wind. Everything we had with us was drenched!

We stopped on the edge of the lake three different times to empty out water and rest our arms. If we stopped paddling while we were on the water, the wind blew us backwards. Those beautifully tall mountains were calling for us to continue. Even though the scene is shrouded with the smoke from the Montana fires, it was still lovely. We really wanted to paddle deeper into this seven-mile lake. But after a couple miles, the waves were getting taller. We weren't making head-way even when we paddled our hardest. We finally admitted defeat and turned around.

The good news was the trip back to shore was easy. With that stiff wind blowing at our backs, the only reason to dip a paddle in the water was to steer. We were disappointed that we didn't get to see the end of the lake, or experience the lovely peaceful kayak float we had envisioned. Sometime things don't work out like we plan.

We deflated the boat and loaded it back into the car. We were shivering in the cool wind with our wet clothes. When we finished driving the 7 miles back over the worst of the gravel roads, we saw that they had posted a sign that the parking lot was now full. Even with rotten weather, people were willing to make the trip to Bowman Lake. With that sign posted, we shouldn't have to meet any cars on our way out. But we still met five different vehicles on our trip back--that's five too many on that narrow road.

The trip had been disappointing, but we had one more stop to make. We had also heard good things about the bakery inside the Polebridge Mercantile. We were surprised that the parking lot was busy here as well.

We had already tasted their huckleberry bear claws, purchased at a farmer's market this week. They bake fresh every day--everything from spinach bleu cheese bread to Chunky Monkey Rolls (banana, nutella and nuts). While we struggled to make our choice, they took a batch of sticky buns out of the oven. 

To console ourselves after that disappointing kayak trip, we sat on the front porch and ate every crumb of that warm sticky bun. At least we had enough sense to share it. The guy sitting across from us ate two huckleberry bear claws all by himself in the same amount of time. We were feeling much better about our trip by the time we polished off the last pecan and headed towards home.

So even when we face the perils of disappointing kayak trips, there still seems to be a silver lining. Sometimes those silver linings are covered with pecans--straight out of the oven.

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