I got up at 4am in spite of my lack of sleep, only to discover our room lacked a coffee maker unlike every room we’d stayed in to this point. An hour and a half later, after showering, packing up, fetching more ice, and heading down to leave, we learned that there wasn’t any coffee to be had anywhere in the hotel at that early hour. Nothing anywhere opened before 6.
We stopped for gas on the way out of town, then fifteen minutes later, arrived in Browning to find the gas was much cheaper. Whoops. But we had to stop there anyway because one tire was very low on air pressure and it was the first place air was available. Luckily, the convenience store was actually open. (Presumably because it was now after 6.) I took advantage of the opportunity to get a cup of coffee. Screaming Eagle flavor (high caffeine). I wanted to hike really fast.
It was nearly another hour to Many Glacier with the road work intensifying and the slow cars ahead of us. And once in the lodge parking lot, I still needed to repack the food I had taken out of my pack as well as some items I had elected not to carry out taken out for convenience while not on the trail. It was 8am by the time I was ready to hike out, but it was sure to be fine since I only had 15 miles to go.
After the obligatory trailhead photo shoot, I was off down the Piegan Pass Trail and immediately saw a rabbit. I’d seen a couple in the park already, but I finally got one recorded, even though it’s unique features aren’t visible.
The next few miles were not very interesting. I couldn’t even see the nearby lakes through the trees, and there were a lot of bugs. I was hiking through dense green undergrowth with my headnet on. The trail condition was great though. Eventually, I reached the head of the valley near a small ice sheet and a big waterfall and the climb started in earnest.
The next four miles carried me up the wall of the valley, over and along several beautiful glacier-fed creeks, and up more than 2300 feet in elevation to the top of Piegan Pass. I had been worried about the snow across the trail here, but it was nothing to worry about. The steepest crossing was maybe a dozen feet wide, and the rest were easy to navigate or skippable entirely.
As I climbed, I passed more and more day hikers coming down. I decided to find a private spot for lunch near the top of the pass where passing tourists wouldn’t be likely to see me. This worked exactly as planned, except that I was spotted by a sneaky ground squirrel that managed to get within a few feet of me without being noticed by sneaking up from behind and below. But he made a small sound, drew my attention, realized he had been made, and fled empty-handed never to return.
Some day trippers I talked to had said they had seven at once coming up to them while they ate, probably using their numbers as a distraction to help each other get closer. They are extremely devious and not to be trusted.
From the top of the pass, I came down in a single section, playing leapfrog with a visiting family that seemed fun and sporty and kept a good pace. The last mile after the junction to Siyeh Bend was a bit of a blowdown jungle gym. It’s fitting that the last 500 feet of elevation was the slowest part of the descent, coming down the face of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain to the road that bears its name. A trail crew would come through the very next day to clear the mess, but I got to do all the climbing, detouring, crawling, and tightrope walking.
When I got to the road and came through the underpass, Jacob was already there waiting for me. Did I mention that my cousin was joining me for the latter part of this section? Well, he did. Since I had just come five miles without a break, I made him wait on me a little longer.
It was a little more than a mile from the road to Reynolds Campground where we were spending the night, so we got there by 4:30. We just kind of checked out the campsite and the creek for a little while before joining the rest of the guests at the food prep area and making our dinner. We put our tents up in an empty site but didn’t want to hang out there because the bugs weren’t as bad in the food prep area or by the creek. We hung out in those places until nearly sunset before turning in. With only a 15 mile day ahead, we had no need to worry about being early to bed, early to rise.
Trail miles: 13.9
The Jacob version:
I flew in to Kalispell Sunday night after running the Peachtree Road Race that morning. In hindsight, maybe I should have skipped the race, but whatever. It’s just that getting up at 4:15 am eastern and then getting to Montana at 10:30 mountain (12:30 eastern) is a long day. But my bag made it to Montana with me, even with a layover in Salt Lake, so not too stressful.
One of the benefits to traveling west is that getting up early suddenly doesn’t mean as much. That 6 am alarm still felt like 8 am. I ended up taking my time getting ready and still ended up just sitting there waiting for my shuttle to pick me up.
After a detour to REI to pick up some supplies I had shipped to Montana, the shuttle drove me out to the Apgar Visitor center so I could take the park shuttle to the trail head. The Going to the Sun Road started out just looking like any other forest in the west until we got the to the point where we had to get off the big shuttle and switch to the smaller shuttle. The views in this section are amazing. I almost wish I had time to rent a car and just drive it after my hike.
Even though I left Apgar before noon, it was after 2 before the shuttle got me to Jackson Glacier Overlook. I walked down the trail to the spot I was supposed to meet David, ate a little lunch and read for a while. I got in trouble when I got up and walked about 15 yards down the trail to see if David had made it to our rendezvous spot and some rangers saw my bag but didn’t see me so they didn’t know I never let the bag out of my site. They take bear precautions seriously. David made it to that part of the trail about an hour later and we set off for Reynolds Creek campground for the night.
I hiked just a little more than a mile today. I won’t even be sore tomorrow, but we have about 14 then so I’ll get to make up a little then. Since we have 52 miles to hike, obviously the other days will be more challenging.
Oh, and I used to play a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2 and I’m pretty sure there’s a bend in the river we passed on the shuttle that inspired one of the areas in that game because I’m pretty sure I murdered a bunch of people in that exact spot in the game. I really play RDR as chaotic neutral with evil tendencies.
There weren’t a lot of great wildlife sightings today. None on the shuttle except for a Columbia ground squirrel at Logan’s Pass and only once we got to the campsite did I see any interesting birds. I saw a Western Tanager and two American Dippers. The dippers are cool because they look like little charcoal gray sparrows but they feed in fast flowing mountain streams and only there.