A day with the Old Man

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  • A slew of alpine wildflowers bloom at Pitamakan Pass.

  • 1

    A whitetail buck surrounded by bear grass.

  • 2

    Itís tough to beat the views from Pitamakan Pass.

  • 3

    Dawn at Old Man Lake.

  • 4

    A bull moose grazes in a sea of bear grass.

  • A slew of alpine wildflowers bloom at Pitamakan Pass.

  • 1

    A whitetail buck surrounded by bear grass.

  • 2

    Itís tough to beat the views from Pitamakan Pass.

  • 3

    Dawn at Old Man Lake.

  • 4

    A bull moose grazes in a sea of bear grass.

ďI donít think itís going to rain,Ē I told a fellow camper who was sitting next to Old Man Lake.

We had just been to the Pitamakan Pass Overlook to get a look-see at the weather. The skies had a smattering of clouds when we left ó about 6 p.m. ó which is usually primetime for thunderstorms.

But there were no storm clouds brewing and in the distance it looked like it would probably clear up entirely.

Just as darkness rolled over camp the tap-tap of raindrops hit the tent. Then a boom of thunder and then the heavens let loose with a terrific squall. Rain and wind hammered our tents, and lightning crashed down all around us.

It lasted about an hour and then there were stars in the sky.

Good thing no oneís counting on me to be their weatherman.

I have walked by Old Man Lake several times over the years, but this is the first time Iíve stayed at the pleasant backcountry camp in the Two Medicine region of Glacier National Park. Old Manís a popular place because itís a stop on the Dawson-Pitamakan Pass loop. Done in a day, the loop is about 17.3 miles, but Old Man is just 6.5 miles. We did a loon survey at the lake for the Park Service (got skunked), took a short nap, and then headed up to the Pitamakan Pass Overlook to get our weather forecast.

This year the flowers have been spectacular in Glacier and this route didnít disappoint. The lake and campsite were rife with bear grass and the alpine wildlflowers at Pitamakan were some of the best Iíve ever seen.

Getting a permit for Old Man can be tricky. Many folks use Glacierís advance reservation system because the camp is so popular. But the campground is surrounded by huckleberry bushes and a favorite place for bears when theyíre ripe. As such, the campground is prone to bear closures.

We didnít see any bears ó the berries arenít ripe up there yet ó but we did see a bull moose and a couple of whitetail deer. We also saw a few Clarkís nutcrackers, a bird that was once common in Glacier, but is less so now since its main food source ó whitebark pine nuts ó have been decimated by blister rust. Blister rust is a fungus that infects, and eventually kills, whitebark pine trees. Glacier has been planting rust-resistant trees over the past 10 years, but they take 30 years just to reach maturity.

If you go, be prepared for a variety of conditions. The wind can be fierce, particularly at the passes, and thereís little to no water from Dawson Pass to Pitamakan Pass, which can be an unforgiving journey on a hot summer day.

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