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The Indiana Sierran

  • Here are two stories from our archives.  Enjoy! 

    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes:  Y2K Glacier National Park Trip

    by Bob Friend

    Glacier National Park, Montana, was the AMTRAK destination in August of 2000 for four Hoosier Sierrans, two from the Michiana Group (Geza Csapo and Charlie Day) and the other two from Dunelands (Ken Kovach and myself). My first trip to Glacier, also via AMTRAK with Geza leading the excursion, was back in 1988, and I returned for more of the same in '94 and '95. The Y2K trip was different from the rest in three ways: (1) we rented a car because the "Jammers" (ancient open-top mini-buses), which usually provide more-than-adequate transportation around the area, were in the process of being upgraded or replaced; (2) we did less backpacking and more base-camping; and (3) the numerous forest fires dictated, to some degree, where we could go and how much we could see.

    As is almost always the case, I took plenty of slides to document our adventure. So pretend you're in a darkened room, looking at a screen and hearing me tell you about our experiences.

    The first pictures you'd see were taken at the AMTRAK station in Hammond, where Ken and I waited for the train going to Chicago's Union Station. Charlie and Geza were already en route, having boarded in Elkhart. In Chicago we had plenty of time to walk around and grab some food at any of the ubiquitous restaurants right there in the station.

    East Glacier Park, Montana, is about a 30-hour ride. I've been asked why I'd want to "waste" so much time on a train--why not fly? Well, flying to such a remote area (1) requires several plane changes, (2) is expensive, and (3) does not give me the "downtime" I need to catch up on my reading and make a necessary transition--from the hustle and bustle of the business world to the slower pace and quiet beauty of what's known as the "crown jewel of the national parks."

    A few things have become traditions among us Sierrans--one of them being a brief scheduled stop in Havre, Montana, where a local bar & grill is long-accustomed to filling "train orders" expeditiously. I'm typically the "designated runner," dashing across the railroad yard to purchase several to-go boxes of chunky cheeseburgers and fat French fries, then quickly delivering same to my compatriots. This gives us a nice break from the AMTRAK dining car, which, it should be noted, does indeed offer good-to-excellent meals at reasonable prices. Farther west, into the mountains, another highlight is being able to look out the window and see both the front and rear of the train as it rounds the tight curves.

    Arriving at East Glacier late Saturday afternoon, we walked over to the small commercial campground that has always been our initial rendezvous point on these outings. We set up our tents--except for Geza, of course, who almost always sleeps "under the stars." It got close to freezing that night, but he's a tough old (age 75) bird!

    We chipped in and rented a "mid-sized" car, into which we fit ourselves and our packs--barely. The ideal situation would have been a bigger vehicle (too expensive) or one less guy (not an option!).

    On previous trips to Glacier we'd all spent most of our time on the east side of the park; I, in fact, had never been to West Glacier. Ergo, westward ho! We were able to secure a backcountry permit for two nights at Bowman Lake. Charlie, recovering from a tick bite suffered back home before the outing, elected to stay with the car at base camp. Next morning Geza, Ken and I shouldered our backpacks and began hiking to the "primitive" backcountry campground located at the far end of the lake. We took our time as we made way along the surprisingly hilly trail. (I logged an extra mile or two backtracking to retrieve my aluminum walking stick, left behind after we'd stopped for a break.)

    The campsite turned out to be excellent, with beautiful views over the lake, especially at sunrise and sunset. Among others, we met a vacationing family from Connecticut--husband, wife, kids of varying ages; what a great experience for those children! The lake water, filtered of course, tasted crisp and clear. Oatmeal, fried eggs and Spam (for Geza!), and "cowboy coffee" in the morning . . . freeze-dried grub ( not grubs--those are for grizzlies!) at night . . . paradise!

    Next day, while Ken and Geza stayed near our camp to try their hand at fishing, I went on a day hike up into the mountains--making lots of noise so as not to surprise any members of the Medved family. ("Medved" is Hungarian for "bear"; hang around with a guy named Csapo and you'll learn some Hungarian words in short order!) I brought along a 35 mm camera and enjoyed really getting into some photography. (I was a professional for seven years, and these outings are about the only time I can return to my craft "full-time"--if only for a week or so.)

    On the trail I met a local woman and her two grade-school-age daughters; they were hiking more than 15 miles that day--the stuffed bunny in the younger's backpack belying her toughness!

    Charlie, when traveling in bear country, has been known to holler out a little sing-song ditty along the lines of "Hey bear, ho bear; Charlie Day is on his way." As I walked, the memory of his voice inspired me to pen the following, sung to the tune of the old "standard-issue" military chant "Sound Off":

    Hey bear, ho bear, go away;
    Come again another day;
    I have heard you play too rough,
    And my meat is way too tough.

    Hey bear, ho bear, hear me say:
    Don't eat Bobby Friend today!


    I amused myself in belting out this tune, especially in thickets or other limited-visibility areas. Grizzlies will generally leave you alone if you don't surprise them or (worst of all) find yourself between a sow and her cub(s). I was plenty noisy!

    After arising the following morning (when once again a beautiful mist hung over Bowman Lake), and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, Ken, Geza and I trekked back to the car-camping area, reversing our route from two days prior. I picked up my pace in order to get back early and advise Charlie to strike his tent and pack up his stuff. He consequently was nearly ready to hit the road when Ken and Geza arrived.

    The four of us, reunited once more, crammed ourselves and our gear into the car and drove to Polebridge, a dusty frontier town 20 miles from the Canadian border. The most photographed thing there has to be the facade of the Polebridge Mercantile building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. We considered tent camping, or maybe staying at the hostel next door.

    I talked to an Ohio transplant, name of John, who owns and manages the hostel. It turned out, since there were four of us to share expenses, that we could have a log home to ourselves for the same money. We'd have privacy and a whole lot more room--easy decision! The house had running water and gas lights; no electricity. No bathroom, either, but we had our own outhouse. Three of us (Charlie opted for the sofa) were afforded the luxury of sleeping in "real beds" for the first time since the previous Thursday back in our own homes; actually, it had been Wednesday for yours truly, because I'd had to stay up all night Thursday sorting, packing, making sure my Coleman Peak One stove worked after five years of non-use, etc., etc. At any rate, this log home was Donald Trump's mansion compared to a sleeping bag and tent.

    We were allowed to use the gas-fired shower at the hostel--which felt good, really good. You appreciate these "little things" when you've missed them for a few days. The same goes for food--food that does not require the addition of water heated to a boil over a campstove. Example: For dinner we stepped over to the only restaurant in "town," which (thank God!) was excellent--I mean "4-Star" quality. We thought it incredible that victuals this superb could be on our plates in a tiny enclave so far beyond even the proverbial boondocks. Likewise, the bakery (located inside the Mercantile) offered such fare as sumptuous turnovers, bear claws (figurative term!) and cinnamon rolls the following morning. We sat at a small round table under the way-high ancient ceilings, sipping strong coffee and devouring the wonderful home-baked goodies.

    Our timing for visiting Polebridge had been just right, for as we were leaving we heard several reports of imminent road closings due to the fires. The restaurant and bakery owners said they would likely soon close (temporarily) due to lack of customers (no way to get there). On dry, dusty, narrow gravel roads replete with blind curves we inversely retraced our route along the North Fork of the Flathead River, bound for Apgar Visitors Center and Park Headquarters. After lunching there, mostly on food-bag leftovers (for me) and deli items (the other guys), we drove along Going to the Sun Highway.

    This twisting highway is generally said to be the most scenic drive in North America. Ken, Geza and Charlie had been here before, during years when vistas were not limited by the smoky haze that now seemed to hug the terrain. This situation was created by the unusually high number (and magnitude) of forest fires--reports of which caused many travelers to avoid Montana altogether in Y2K. To this visitor, having never seen these views looking better, they were awesome enough, natural smog notwithstanding.

    Our next stop was Two Medicine Lake, where we car-camped. The following day's ferry ride (passengers only) to the end of the lake brought back memories of other visits to this spot, beginning 12 years ago. We all hiked to the waterfalls, where I climbed (via a parallel trail, if you could call it a trail) most of the way to the top, taking photographs as I ascended. Ken went up partway; Geza and Charlie relaxed at the bottom.

    Ken and Geza decided to catch the next boat back; Charlie and I returned by foot, via the trail that roughly parallels the water's edge--except that it's along the hillside and kind of up and down and sometimes you lose sight of the lake entirely. It was a good hike, though, very enjoyable, interesting photo opportunities--the only downside being the disappearance of the silver & gold bear's-claw-shaped piece of jewelry I'd purchased in East Glacier six years ago. The hole must have worn through, allowing the pendant to fall off the chain. I failed to notice this loss until the next morning (Saturday) in East Glacier, after I'd packed everything up.

    I held out a ray of hope that I'd later find it in my tent or sleeping bag--but no such luck. I probably lost it on that trail. If so, I hope a deserving someone has by now found it and vowed to treasure it forever. Either way, my memories of one more great Sierra Club outing could never be long dampened by such an inconsequential occurrence. Better to lose every single one of my material possessions than never again to experience nature!

    Back home again in Indiana (hmm, has a nice ring to it), I kept my backpack readily accessible. After all, it would be just four weeks until I'd be departing for our next adventure--the Grand Canyon. And what an adventure this truly would be--Bowden Quinn will tell you all about it in a future issue.

    Happy trails, buckaroos

  • 75-Year-Old Leads Another Trip into the Grand Canyon

    by Bowden Quinn

    Geza Csapo made his first trip into the Grand Canyon in 1985 at age 60. He was scouting it out, solo, as a possible excursion destination for Hoosier Chapter backpackers.

    He went down the south Kaibab trail and spent the night in the Bright Angel campground on the canyon floor. On his way out, he stopped to talk with some rafters on the beach.

    Their leader turned out to be from Indiana. "Hey, Hoosier," the fellow yelled as Geza was leaving. "How would you like to ride the Colorado?"

    Geza was worried about getting stranded, but the leader explained that the Bright Angel trail parallels the river for a couple of miles. So on his first hiking trip in the canyon, Geza also got to raft the river.

    His unexpected side trip delayed him. He was still a long way from the canyon rim when it started getting dark. "I didn't think I could make it up," he recalled as we were chugging our way through Kansas on Amtrak 15 years later, homeward bound from our most recent Grand Canyon trip and Geza's fourth visit.

    "And to be honest," he added, "I wanted to spend another night in the canyon." So he found a ledge that ran back from the trail, with a small cave at the end, and there he spent the night.

    Geza began organizing trips for the Hoosier Chapter in 1978, the same year he helped form the Michiana Group, of which he is the only remaining charter member. At the time he was very active in the battle to save Grand Mere Dune (now a state park) west of Stevensville, Michigan.

    To give club members a break from their campaigning, he decided to organize an outing. But not just any outing.

    "I wanted to find something a group could do economically and feasibly," he explained. "I looked at a map and noticed that the railroad tracks went from Chicago right next to Glacier (National Park)."

    So in June he and two other people took the train to Glacier for the first of what has become a rite of summer for Hoosier Chapter hikers. June turned out to be too early in the year (the three hikers got snowed in), so the annual outing is now held later in the summer.

    Geza has organized other train-hike excursions to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah and the Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, but Glacier remains his favorite. "Glacier's an easy one; anyone can do Glacier with a little preparation," says the 75-year-old Osceola native with twinkling brown eyes.

    The Grand Canyon is a different story. Even though he emphasizes preparation for those who sign up for his trips, it's impossible to train for the South Rim's 8,000-foot altitude in Indiana.

    We (Geza, Bob Friend, Ken Kovach and myself) arrived in Flagstaff about midnight on the most recent Grand Canyon trip, only three hours behind schedule.

    The coyotes and pronghorn antelope seen from the train,
    plus a spectacular lightning display in Missouri, made the delay a small

    Geza had reserved a room at a motel near the station, where we found the fifth member of our team, Paul Pearson, snug in his sleeping bag on the floor. To save time, Paul had flown into Phoenix and taken a bus to Flagstaff.

    The four train riders shared two double beds (not much of an improvement over the previous night's Amtrak coach chairs). Conditions were much better the next night in the Mather campground at the national park</span>'s Grand Canyon Village <span class=excerpt>on the South Rim, even though the temperature dropped below freezing.</span> We broke camp before dawn with flashlights and frozen fingers to be first in line for breakfast at the Yavapai Lodge.

    Four of us (Ken had rented a car for a trip north) took a shuttle to the south Kaibab trailhead and were on our way down by a little after 7 a.m. A flock of Clark's nutcrackers flew through the Ponderosa pines as we left the rim. Although Geza realized that time had caught up to him, he remained in good spirits, determined to go on. At Cedar Ridge, a mile and a half from the trailhead, he told us to hike on at our own speed.

    Since I hadn't backpacked in about 12 years, I was wondering how I was going to do on the steep 7-mile trail, which has no water. Drinking from a tube that led to a 70-ounce water pouch in my backpack (one of two that I carried, along with a quart canteen), I marveled at the awesome spectacle of the canyon, which I had never visited before. As the Colorado came into view, my legs began to wobble. I wondered how Geza was doing as I struggled into the Bright Angel campground a little before noon.

    Paul showed up about an hour later and increased my worries as he shook his head, unloaded some gear, and headed back to meet Geza. I had the easy job--guarding the gear. Paul came back a few hours later. He had met Bob on the trail waiting for Geza, who did not show up for another two hours. Paul was uncertain whether the pair would be able to make it to the campground by dark.

    They did, coming into camp as the canyon shadows deepened, after 11 hours on the trail. Geza was stripped to the waist and walking slowly, but still smiling. Cheerful as ever, Geza regaled Bob and Paul with World War II stories around the camp stove. (He is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.) I heard a little from my tent before falling asleep, exhausted.

    The next day we bathed in the cold waters of Bright Angel Creek; marveled at the prices ($30 steak, $18 beef stew) of the Phantom Ranch, where people on loose budgets can sleep in cabins; and enjoyed the pleasant temperatures (a high of 90 and a low of 69) and beautiful scenery. We saw a fox near the mule corral in the middle of the afternoon, and I (the only birder in the group) added Virginia's warbler, American dipper and rock wren to my life list.

    The following morning Geza was on the trail before I was out of my sleeping bag, leaving in the dark around 5 a.m. We were taking the Bright Angel trail, a gentler though slightly longer route, with Indian Gardens campground at the halfway point.

    I caught up to Geza about 10 a.m., as he sat on his "favorite rock" just below the Gardens. Bob and Paul joined us in the campground, where we ate lunch. Geza napped on a table and we others had the temerity to hike the mile and a half out to Plateau Point, a spectacular overlook of the river and canyon gorge.

    Geza started up the final leg around 3 p.m. A thermometer at the side of the trail in the camp read 90 degrees. Soon after we all found each other on the way up, we were lucky enough to see some desert bighorn sheep across a ravine. But as evening fell, we were still more than 2 miles from the top.

    We began looking for the ledge that had served Geza well 15 years before. We did not find it, but Bob and Paul found similar lodgings. We spent the night looking out at the north rim under a sky full of stars. Geza made it to the top around noon the next day.

    Our return to Indiana was long and uneventful (though I recommend the burritos sold from the back of a truck at the Albuquerque station, and the fascinating talk by a Native American guide as the train travels between Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico).

    "This was my last trip into the canyon," Geza said as we rode the train home. "Well," and his eyes sparkled, " . . . probably."


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