There’s not really much to be said here. I got up at 6, put on my camp shoes, and walked to the gas station to get microwaveable breakfast for myself. Jacob had the rest of his burrito. After breakfast, I packed up all my food to hike, but determined the internet in the room was far too lousy to handle uploads and downloads for this blog, so we left the room at 10 to seek better service.
On the way out the door, I realized my pack was completely busted where the right hip belt and strap meet the pack, which makes it very difficult to put on, but luckily doesn’t affect how it wears once put on at all. However, it’s the kind of thing that could further deteriorate into a complete breakdown and can’t be repaired at all.
Anyway, after a brief stop at the convenience store (this time primarily for headphones as I had forgot to remove the last pair before washing my shirt), Jacob and I relocated to the lodge. We found a decent cell signal in the back corner, and I even went out to sit on the deck. I was soon joined by one of the hikers who I’d camped with in the park, and soon Jacob came to say he was hungry. Around this time, the other host revealed that the other members of his party were washing clothes at the laundromat. Jacob wanted to wash some clothes to wear until he got home, and it turned out the laundromat was adjacent to Brownies, the deli, pizza joint, bakery and hostel, which would take care of the hunger problem. So we relocated again.
We had to wait a while for a table to come available at Brownies. Indeed, Jacob’s clothes were nearly washed and our pizza nearly finished baking by the time someone left. But once I sat down at that table, we remained camped there for the rest of the afternoon. My only activity besides eating and drinking was workin#sesg on this blog. And believe me, I was eager to get back on the trail. It was already apparent that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Marias Pass by nightfall long before I had gotten everything posted. And Jacob, bless his heart, stuck it out with me, sitting right there at the table with nothing much to do once his clothes were dry.
I got everything done just before 6, and Jacob was ready to head off too since his train left at 6:45. We parted ways finally in the street across from where we sat. I went back to the trail with locals worriedly (or patronizingly) telling me there were grizzlies out there.
I got back on the dirt road that led out the back side of town. Then it got grassy and muddy as it became Blackfeet conservation land ($100 fine for any use without a permit…definitely a fair price to pay to avoid the effort of getting a permit), then more of a firm if overgrown dirt track with plenty of bridges and water diversion work that you expect of national park trails as soon as it reentered the park.
It was also mosquito hell. Just tons of overgrown vegetation, small streams, creeks, and a surfeit of standing water. Perfect breeding ground for the mozzies. I was hardly into the woods at the very beginning of the section before I had swapped my hat for my headnet.
There wasn’t much to see on the section. Just a couple of spots that had views. Mostly a green tunnel. I took one break two hours in, then hiked on until there was almost no twilight left. I spotted a dirt patch on a closed sidetrack just long enough for my tent, the first such spot I had seen since starting hiking for the day. So of course I took advantage of it.
It was around 10:30 by the time I was in my tent with the mosquitos still buzzing around outside (except for the one that made it in somehow) and I was asleep by 11:30.
Given the hassle of all the uploading and posting I had spent most of the day on, I was happy to have gotten any hiking in at all, even if it meant making an illegal camp in the national park. But this amount was actually pretty good:
Another early start. By 6:30, when we’re ready to get going, Jacob says he is having trouble eating, didn’t get enough sleep, and doesn’t have it in him to climb back up the hill to Dawson Pass. So we parted ways. He took the trail down the valley and was at Two Med by 10 or 10:30.
By that time, I had climbed up to Dawson Pass and come around the ridge, and was already descending into the Noname Lake valley toward the north shore of Two Medicine Lake. It was beautiful along that upper ridge, views for miles in several directions. But it was also extremely windy. I took my morning snack break in the only spot along the way that had any wind protection.
Coming alongside the lake, I passed a family that had seen several bears just ahead, so I readied my bear spray and forged ahead. I didn’t encounter anything. An hour later I arrived at the Two Med camp store and Jacob was sitting at the table right in front waiting for me with a crowd of tourists and a few other hikers. We grabbed some snacks and carried them over to a less popular picnic area around the corner. He had been sitting so long waiting on me that he thought I might have fallen off a cliff on the way. And he had already had an early lunch while waiting. I practically ate two lunches before we left, the stuff from the store and what I packed in.
Jacob also bought some replacement trekking poles from the store, so we figured the last twelve miles to East Glacier Village would be no big deal. Jacob speculated he might even be able to catch the Atlanta United game. But it turned out to be a much more difficult section than anticipated.
The two mile or so climb at the front was not a surprise. We knew that was coming and that it would be a bit of a haul in the afternoon sun. We got through it with several breaks, usually to talk to the interesting characters we met along the way. It took several hours though.
Then it leveled out when we reached the top of the ridge. We thought there would be no more climbing, but we made a wrong turn toward a scenic overlook that involved another quarter mile of climbing. I definitely had wanted to see it though, so I was happy about the brief diversion.
But it turned out the descent out of the mountains was no walk in the park either. It was actually quite steep. And rocky. Hard on the feet and the legs. Slow going.
We stopped with several other hikers at a creek crossing to collect water. While we were there a single season western loop hiker joined us. He was doing 40 mile days on average and had already done all of the CDT up to Glacier since the beginning of May. But that was just the warmup for his year. He still had a long way to go. But I guess if I had a 7.5 pound base weight and lived off nothing but Clif bars and Pop Tarts, I could do big mileage too, right?
The last five or so miles into town were pretty awful. Everything hurt and the trail was just a muddy dirt road with tons of mosquitos and no views. It was already after 8pm by this point, a time by which we had already been in camp every day previously, but this was our big mileage day. Since everything in town closed at nine, I called the Mexican restaurant and put in an order.
When we got into town, we went straight for the Glacier Park Trading Co to get my box, a razor, detergent, drinks, and beer. The Mexican restaurant was next door and had supper waiting. And then we had to carry all that two blocks to the motel where we could walk right into the room because the motel had no check-in process.
The room was actually pretty good. Full kitchen, fridge for the beer, no bathtub but a deep washtub sink. No air conditioning but screens for the windows. We both decided to shower before we ate. I ate everything I ordered for myself and more (on actual plates with actual silverware no less), but Jacob couldn’t even finish his burrito.
After supper, I went to work in the sink doing my laundry. I stuffed washcloths in the drain, filled it up, poured in some Tide, put my dirties in, then turned the water gray.
It took a while, so I didn’t even get to bed until 11:30, but even though we shared a bed, with the curtains closed and no strength or energy left, we had no trouble falling asleep.
Trail miles: 19.1
The Jacob version:
Day 4 So… remember that waking up refreshed and not even sore thing? Well, I’m still not sore (a little surprised at that, actually) but I still feel kind of crappy this morning. Eating breakfast was a challenge and mentally, I’m just not really prepared for the day. And it’s a LONG day. About 19 miles. Part of it is just exhaustion and my trouble eating enough and part was because the wind gusts last night kept waking me up because they sounded like cars driving past. They were loud, but weirdly rarely reached ground level.
David had planned on taking an alternate CDT route to Two Medicine that stayed up high longer and offered better views, but it was a little longer and started immediately with a climb back up the pass we’d just descended the previous night. I’d struggled with the steepness coming down so I knew I didn’t have what it took to go up today, especially with a second big climb at the end of the day.
I also didn’t want to keep David from his preference so we agreed to park ways between Two Medicine. I’m more comfortable hiking through grizzly country with people, but this section was close to a busy trailhead so I wouldn’t be on the trail solo for long and the busier section of trail made me think bears would be a little less likely anyway. Plus, that’s why I had the bear spray, right?
The wind gusts hadn’t stopped from the night before and a few of them were strong enough they would push me around a little. Luckily, this trail was all a gentle descent through the valley and not on some exposed ridge like yesterday’s passes. Most of this was a really pretty hike, but it’s just hard to compare it to the views from yesterday’s heights.
But taking this route was a good idea. First, there were not bears. Second, it was really easy. I was able to push through the 2 and half hours it took to hike to the Two Medicine store and feel better when I finished than when I started. Plus, this ended with the bonus of getting a chicken salad sandwich, a coke, and a Powerade when I finished. I had expected David to beat me there. The map didn’t make it seem like his route was much longer and he’s honestly a much stronger hiker than me and would be keeping a faster pace without having to accommodate me.
But he didn’t beat me there. I finished my lunch. Emptied the trash out of my bag and waited for almost two hours. Just long enough to start thinking about when it would be time to start worrying, but finally he cruised in and I knew I’d made the right decision. If a stronger hiker had taken that long to finish the alternate section, I would have struggled. Instead I’d had a really good meal and a two hour rest and was in an incredible mood. While David shopped for some food of his own, I got an ice cream Snickers bar and a huckleberry cider David recommended.
The rest of the day was actually pretty good. The climb up the last pass on our hike was challenging, perhaps the hardest actual climb of the hike when you add steepness and rocky conditions, but I was feeling pretty good. The view from the top was surprising. Ever other view from the top of a pass had been limited by the mountains on the other side of the narrow valley, but here we were literally at the edge of the mountain range and we just looked out over the plains stretching into the distance. It was the first time in 4 days that how far I could see was limited only by the horizon and not a wall of rock.
This rest of the hike was uneventful. The descent was steep and rocky and my quads were quivering long before we reached the bottom. When the trail finally flattened out to a comfortable descent, it turned into swarms of mosquitoes on a dirt road with no interesting views complicated by the fact that just by the distance we’d traveled I was starting to crash. I was exhausted. Today had been about 19 miles and by the time we got to the store in East Glacier Park, I could barely hold my head up and walk at the same time. A 7-Up helped a bit. Sugar water is beautiful on a hike. When we got to the hotel and started eating after a shower (one of the highlights of the day) I could only finish half of my burrito. My body could have easily used all the calories in there but I was just too tired to eat.
Of course David has been doing distances like this on a regular basis for over a month now and it really puts into perspective just what he’s doing (and did on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail).
Also I finished and I don’t regret doing it at all so it couldn’t have been that bad.
I woke up at 3:45am with a backache. That’s what happens when I make the mattress firm and sleep on my back. I rolled over and slept until 5am when the alarm went off. My clothes were dry–I had cooked them dry by body heat while I slept.
Jacob heard the alarm too and started packing as soon as I did. He actually went to the food prep area before me. I had to collect and filter water and apply sunscreen and bug stuff. Either way, the camp was already busy by the time we emerged from our tents. All but the last couple in was hiking out by or before I was ready to relocate to food prep. Everyone else must have started packing the moment they first saw even the tiniest bit of light.
Link and Smiles joined us at food prep just before we left. It was nice to not be the last to leave.
The first bit of the hike went up the valley over some rolling hills before crossing and recrossing Cataract Creek on suspension bridges. Jacob said the first of those was kind of scary since the cables on the side were too low to catch him if he fell sideways.
The trail switched directions and started climbing slowly up the canyon toward Triple Divide Pass. We were following a different creek and started having to do unbridged crossings. There were always well-placed rocks to hop across. Jacob borrowed one of my poles for these as he had forgotten his on a shuttle.
There were also a number of waterfalls both far and near. As the climb got more serious and the sun got higher, we got hot, so I made myself an ice pack at the first snowbank we came to. Soon after that, Link and Smiles caught up and passed us. We didn’t see them again.
Jacob noticed some animals walking across a distant snowfield, but we could not determine whether they were sheep or goats. We took a break just before the last climb up to the pass, and while we snacked (and I filtered some glacier melt runoff) some clouds rolled in.
The clouds were a great boon and made the last little climb to the pass like nothing. There were even a few moments of light rain but nothing annoying.
Halfway up, we were spooked by the sound of rocks clattering down from above, and we spotted a huge group of animals running across the hill. I think they were goats, but Jacob insists they were bighorn sheep. Either way, they were all female adults or kids. There were 13 in total, five of which were kids.
At the top of the pass was an incredible view on both directions. Jacob would later call it the most beautiful he’s ever seen. He was just in awe at the time.
There was also a handful of marmots at the pass, the only ones I saw in the park, though I knew they must be around. We got to hear one scream up close and personal; it was painfully loud.
Rain came again as we descended the other side of the pass. We had great views of Medicine Grizzly Lake and the array of waterfalls that fed it and the creek (Atlantic Creek) that drained it into North Fork Cut Bank Creek (and toward which we were headed). Even the rocks were interesting on the hillside, an ever-changing mix of red, yellow, and green layers, flaking off into traffic light themed talus piles.
But both of us were eager to get to Atlantic Creek Campground both because it would be a great stopping place to eat lunch and get some more water and because it had a toilet we were both desperate for. By the time we were close, I ran ahead to get to it first. Jacob was so pooped from having been so long and far since the last meal that he barely made out there–he was ready to give up just a few feet from the campground entrance.
The campground ended up having one major downside as a lunch stop: it was utterly swarmed with mosquitos. While I am fairly liberal with use of my bug net, pulling it out at the first sound of a mosquito whining in my ear, this was the only time I saw him put his on. I killed several dozen of them just in the hour we were in that spot, the first dozen just in the ten minutes Jacob was in the head. On at least two occasions, I killed one on accident just by brushing my hand across my skin. It was a madhouse.
Just a few miles up the valley was Morning Star Lake, and this was a beautiful campsite. Someone was already called there (and we would eventually find out it was one of the couples we were camped with), but we had plenty of evening daylight to reach the campground we were permitted for, so we just stopped for a snack.
We began the climb up toward the unnamed ridge in earnest there. It was slow going because it was steep, hot, and late in the day. To help with that, I stuck my head in the water and wet my shirt every time we came across or near a creek. It definitely helped. At one point I did it without warning Jacob and had to practically run up the hill to catch him.
It was almost six by the time we had climbed up to the outflow of Pitamakan Lake. Jacob needed water anyway, so I just got out my stove and started cooking dinner. When it’s dinnertime, you make dinner. We were briefly joined by a northbounder on his first night out, heading up to the Pacific Northwest Trail to walk home on. He told us this side of the pass was much more difficult than the other side.
When we packed up and began climbing again, we could confirm the trail up was extremely steep. Jacob had to take frequent breaks. It was clear he was flagging, but there was good reason to stop often anyway. The views were incredible from up there.
It was only a mile and a half from the pass down to the turnoff for Old Man Lake and our campsite. Jacob was moving even slower on the descent. It was pretty late in the day, and he said it was probably the most elevation change he’d ever carried a pack over in a single day. Basically, he’d just used up all his calories.
The campground was beautiful. We only had to stop at food prep long enough to brush our teeth before we could find a campsite. I couldn’t resist running down to check out the lake first though. Then I had to figure out which of the four campsites had soft enough ground to get stakes into. We had the whole campground to ourselves, so we had our pick of the bunch.
One thing that had started around the time of our stop at Pitamakan Lake and continued until this point was some intense wind gusts. Everywhere across the valley floor, there were frequent gusts through the tops of the trees that made them sound like passing cars. This kept up all night and kept Jacob from getting a decent night’s sleep. I got used to it eventually, but there was a brief heavy rain an hour or two into the night that woke me up. The drops on my tent were unignorably loud. And I was worried it would get worse and that I had left something out to get wet or my rainfly would leak. You know, the normal things that keep you awake at night. But it stopped after a few minutes and I slept well after that.
Trail miles: 17.8
The Jacob version:
Today provided me both the best experience of the hike so far and some of my biggest struggles. We got up earlier today and were out of camp by 6:30. Despite that early start we wouldn’t arrive at our camp until around 8 pm.
Part of what took us so long is that we did around 18 miles, which is up there for one of my longest, if not the longest hike with a full pack I’ve ever done. The other reason is that we went over two passes. Both involved miles-long climbs and both from a distance looked like the trail was taking you up a wall. In both cases, the trail on that steepest section was switchbacked and contoured so that it was actually easier to hike that section than it was the less intimidating section before you got to the wall, but the time you spent climbing with that pack means it’s never really easy going up.
The second pass that we had to cross wasn’t anything special. Well, let me say that some people would pay money for that view, but it paled in comparison to the Triple Divide Pass that we crossed earlier in the day. This pass is next to the peak of Triple Pass Mountain where water from one side of the mountain flows to the Pacific, another side to the Gulf of Mexico and another side to the Hudson Bay. This pass is really rocky and devoid of any larger plants long before you get close to the pass. I think this is because of the rocky conditions and not elevation at the lower parts though. On the initial approach through the valley, we saw pale specks crossing a snow field and onto what looked like a sheer wall. I’m not sure if these were bighorn sheep or mountain goats since we never got close enough to see them clearly. That didn’t matter, though. Less than a mile later we’d start up the switchbacks and hear something charging down the rocks toward us. It turned out to be a small group of female bighorn sheep and their lambs. They weren’t very skittish and didn’t really move as we passed them on the trail. They seemed more curious than wary. They looked a little mangy, but only because they were shedding their winter coats.
Not long after we left the sheep, he hit the top of the divide. The views here we’re the best of the trip. Either side was just dramatic mountains and glacier-carved valleys. The marmot family was even less concerned about us than the sheep. Their whistle is also LOUD.
The only real downside to this day is that I’m just not fully physically prepared for it. I’m not saying I can’t do it, but I can’t do this terrain at this distance comfortably right now. At the end of the day I started having trouble getting food down. Part of it is that I was trying for a no-cook menu so I wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of getting a stove and fuel through TSA, and part was the fact that I always find it hard to eat when I’m really exerting myself. But I made it, and weirdly, I woke up this morning feeling totally refreshed and not even sore even though I was in a similar condition the night before, so I’m optimistic.
I decided to sleep through my watch alarm. I didn’t mind sleeping late. Our destination was not too far and the trail ahead looked pretty easy. So it was already 6am and the sun was starting to rise by the time I started packing up.
Jacob took a bit longer to eat breakfast than I would’ve and needed to filter some water before leaving, but we still got out of camp by 7:30.
We connected with the Virginia Falls trail within a mile, and with it came the hordes of day hikers. Families, people walking slowly. No problem. This was expected. And it was worth joining a popular trail to be able to see those falls. Virginia Falls in particular was impressive, though still not nearly so as Apikuni.
As soon as we crossed the bridge to continue on around St. Mary Lake, the crowds disappeared. The trail became overgrown with brush so that we couldn’t see our feet. It wasn’t surprising that this section of trail was less popular since there was nothing to see for miles ahead that couldn’t be seen just as easily from the road, but it was simultaneously annoying and relieving.
I won’t get into the detail of our conversations or the trail whose features are largely unremarkable, but I will say that Jacob likes to take pictures of things specifically to record on the iNaturalist app. For instance, a strange berry that resembled a tomato on the inside, or a flower cluster with a beetle sitting on every flower.
At the end of the section, we climbed over a hill to reach the creek, but instead of continuing up the creek to reach our destination, the trail took a two mile downstream detour over a bluff overlooking the creek to a bridge, then went up the other side of the creek. We stopped at that bridge for lunch. We also collected some water and wet ourselves in the creek because for two miles to either side of the creek we walked in the direct sun in the remains of a burned out forest. The bridge itself was our only source of shade on the whole section aside from a handful of trees that survived the fire. We ate lunch directly beneath it.
Jacob had flagged a great deal by the time we were hiking the last 3.5 miles to the lake and camp. He made very few remarks about anything and answered anything I said with only a single word. He seemed to be stumbling a bit more often too. He said he only wanted to lie down in the shade. Personally, there was enough of a breeze that I wasn’t too bothered. Since we weren’t climbing anymore, I wasn’t sweating too badly. And I had plenty of that I-slept-in-today afternoon energy.
We were both excited to finally see Red Eagle Lake come into view as we came over the last rise. We were soon walking through the campsite at the foot, and it was completely exposed. There were already some people set up there and playing in the water. They indicated the water was quite frigid. The water in the creek flowing out of it, though, had not seemed that bad.
We reached camp about 3:30. All the others had been there for hours already, so we got a slightly less shady campsite. After we stashed our food in the storage area and dropped our packs in the campsite, Jacob fell asleep under a tree and I joined the rest of the gang on a shady stone beach with a nice breeze. I tried wading out, but the soft, silty muck got too deep to walk through. I lay around on the beach for a few minutes, then went back to set up my tent in the direct sun until I was burning up again.
So instead of putting my mattress in my tent, I inflated it on the beach, waded out until the muck got deep, climbed on top, and went for a float. It worked just fine as a pool float, and the lake never got more than a few feet deep. It was cold, but only my arms were deep enough in it to feel it. I paddled out to the middle of the lake and back again. Coming back was upwind, so my arms were starting to feel worn out from paddling by the time I reached the shore.
I hung up the mattress next to the food prep area to dry and eat sat on a sunny log in hopes my shirt and shorts would dry too. Then I realized it was actually supper time, and it was not just that everyone else ate unreasonably early. So I went to fetch my water. By the time I got back, my mattress was on the ground. It had fallen when someone had taken their food bag down. I hung it back up and got all my food stuff out and by the time I had done that, it had finished drying. So I put it in my tent and went back to have supper.
Another couple had come in by then, Link and Smiles, and I warned them away from my wet sunny log. I needed that sunny spot so I could dry with what little sun remained.
I didn’t quite get dry, but right after I finished supper and got up to pack all my non-food things back to my tent, the shadow of the mountain finally swept across our campground. So I went to bed a little bit damp. But that was fine.
It was not even 9pm when Jacob and me hit the sack. We wanted to use as much of the daylight as possible the next day. We had a big day ahead. So every minute of sleep counted.
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.
The next morning we slept in pretty late. It was cool, the windows were wide open, we had two fans blowing. And we were in no hurry.
We decided that instead of parting ways in Many Glacier, I would go with Mama to East Glacier Park and stay at the historic Glacier Park Lodge, and then she would bring me back to Many Glacier in the morning. Otherwise, I would just have been staying in the Many Glacier campground with nothing in particular to do.
We packed up and left at checkout time and not a moment before, lying around in the cool morning air and eating breakfast in the room. We took the route to East Glacier Park that would take us past Two Medicine Road so we could go up to see Two Medicine.
It was about an hour’s drive down with only brief stops to look at the scenery and let the rangers at the gate know we weren’t carrying fireworks into the park.
Just inside the park, we stopped at Running Eagle Falls and did a short 0.3 mile hike to the falls. It was a very clever waterfall with separate stacked falls, one behind and below the other. I wouldn’t have even thought it was possible. But it was not nearly as impressive as Apikuni. Also, the story of the warrior-woman Running Eagle, who had been buried in a tall tree overlooking that falls, was perhaps more interesting than the falls itself.
We proceeded into the Two Medicine Campground and found a nice spot in the group campsite for a picnic. (It had been set aside for day use for the Fourth of July weekend.) We had a bit of shade and a view of the creek right next to where the CDT passed, so I technically walked on part of the CDT at one point. I’m not going to count it as trail miles though. We could also see families of ducks floating by. And some bighorn sheep.
After lunch, we swung by the camp store and I got some huckleberry cider and huckleberry flavor Wiley Wallaby’s for a snack. We talked with some other tourists from Indiana on the deck beside the store.
It was already well into afternoon, so it was time to get on down to East Glacier Village to check in to the lodge. It was only a few minutes away. After checking in, we went across the street to the Glacier Park Trading Post to drop off my resupply package and grab some drinks for the evening. We made it back to the hotel in time to move all our stuff up to our room and then take the hotel historic tour with the bellman. He was clearly interested in the history but didn’t have quite all the details straight yet. Still it was fun to banter with him and ask him things he didn’t know.
Later on, a bit of research indicated there was an inn for backpackers behind the Mexican restaurant across the street, and since none of the places I tried calling about accommodations when I came back through were answering, we decided to go ask the Mexican restaurant in person. We walked across the street, asked the bartender, found out the cabins behind the restaurant had been converted to employee housing when the restaurant had changed owners, and got on the list to eat there.
We got a table on the back patio sooner than expected given how busy they were, and the food was actually amazing. Great portion sizes. I had the “Plato El Jefe” (Boss’s Favorites), including a chile relleno, an enchilada, and a rare asada steak. Mama had an enormous taco salad. We split a quesadilla as an appetizer. Mama actually had a house margarita on the rocks since we weren’t driving. I tasted it. It was perfect.
As we walked back to the hotel into the setting sun, trying and failing to get pictures of the lodge because of the backlight, we could here the distant pops of fireworks getting started. Later on, in our room, with the sun fully set, we retired to our private balcony to see what fireworks we could see. (I also had to finish my last Huckleberry Blonde Ale and the last of my huckleberry pie.) We ended up staying up until 11pm with all the light and noise out there.
But that wasn’t going to prevent me from getting back on the trail as early as possible the next morning.
I woke up with my 5am alarm and started packing. Jolly and Emma were up and packing too. After packing up our tents and their contents, we all relocated to the food prep area to make breakfast and pack up our food and scented items.
Jolly and Emma made a last minute toilet stop while I made a last minute stop by the lake to grab some water for later. I don’t know if they left ahead of me or behind me, but I did not see them again. I ended up hiking solo all the way back.
I didn’t stop at all until I was over the ridge. Windy Creek was the perfect little spot for a break. I finished my breakfast, filtered the lake water, and made an immunity drink to hike out with. Before I left, I met a man hiking alone up to Poia Lake with three packs of camping and survey equipment to survey the mountain goats and the loons.
Just before reaching the trailhead, I was passed by a horseback day trip group heading up to Poia Lake to not even spend the night. After crossing the road at the trailhead, I soon passed the corral where the guide company kept their horses. I didn’t even realize there was such a company operating out of Many Glacier.
After a brief stop at the falls flowing out of Swiftcurrent Lake, I went to the Many Glacier Hotel and climbed the back stairs directly into the restaurant. I ordered a breakfast burger, a hash brown, and a Dr. Pepper. I got an employee to lend me his phone that was connected to the wifi so I could text Mama I was there. She came and found me some thirty minutes later after I had received and eaten my food.
She had learned from a Facebook post that it is possible to get pictures at the actual border monument if the border patrol lets you. So we decided to drive up there again and try. And we got lucky. There was a border patrol officer in a truck who was nice enough to wait while we walked down to the border and took pictures.
On our way back to Many Glacier, we stopped at a café Mama had breakfast at after she dropped me off the day before. We were some of the last to be allowed in for lunch. We were there until they closed at 2pm.
Finally, we returned to Many Glacier to check in to the hotel and then immediately head down to the dock to take a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake, hike over a hill, and take another ride to the end of Josephine Lake and back, hike over the hill again, and ride back to the hotel. It all took about 1.5 hours in total, and we got plenty of pictures.
Since there was still plenty of daylight left in the day, we prepared for a hike and drove up to the Apikuni Falls trailhead. This was an arduous 1 mile hike uphill. There were lots of bugs. But there were some nice views along the way and the falls were huge and incredible.
We were pretty ready to sleep after that. For me, it was just that it was late for me. We ate snacks for dinner on the balcony after the sun set, watching fishermen in the lake at dusk. We surely had one of the best views in the hotel from our balcony.
I set the alarm for four AM for the second day in a row and got up by it. This time I had the coffee maker already prepped and just had to press the button. I was ready to walk out the door by 4:45.
The drive up to Chief Mountain was very eventful. First, we saw a mama grizzly with cub walking down the side of the road, though it was dark and my picture taken backwards after passing her abs backing up came out blurry.
Immediately after, we saw a black bear on the other side of the road entirely nonplussed by all the attention it was getting from passersby.
We missed the turn for Chief Mountain and had to go back. My bad.
We were stopped by a lady moose in the middle of the road (that, facing us dead on, looked much like a tall, skinny man standing there upon first sight) who kept moving to block us until she ran off. We passed a small-antlered buck a moment later and then nearly ran into a swooping owl.
Finally, we arrived at the Chief Mountain trailhead for a photo session. I got as close to the border as I legally could and got some sign pictures and some trail pictures. I finally hiked out for good around 6:30.
Immediately, I came upon a bird running up the trail. It may have been a ptarmigan or a grouse. Right behind it fifty yards later I came upon a small herd of moose who went tearing out across the river as soon as they saw me.
The rest of the day, I encountered nothing but squirrels and ground squirrels. Maybe it was because I was playing podcasts out loud and clacking my poles together to ensure any bears could hear me coming.
I stopped twice along the way. The first time was fairly early on for a snack because my bagel and yogurt breakfast faded quickly. At this point, I applied tons of insect repellent to my legs because the flies and mosquitos were so thick, a total nightmare. They seemed to come with the territory: a wildflower-filled meadow all down the river valley. I had a horsefly bite my calf right through my calf sleeve. I swatted it instantly. It went down. I stepped on it. I won that exchange.
When I successfully arrived at Gable Creek, six miles in, by 9:30, I committed to reaching Elizabeth Lake by 11 for another snack break. And I achieved that. I knocked down the first nine miles in 4.5 hours, even with breaks included.
Leaving Elizabeth Lake, the trail begins a 4.4 mile climb up to Red Gap Pass. The average slope of the climb was exactly 600 feet per mile–enough to really feel your muscles straining by the end. Once it gets out of the trees, the views are just amazing. It took me four hours to climb those 2640 feet, so I took another snack break in the shadow of a tall red rock. (Come in under the shadow of this red rock…) Then I had a mere 5.5 mile descent to the valley floor and across it to Poia Lake and my designated campsite on the far side.
The man whose permit I was attached to, Boy MacGyver, was already there, as were a group of three others who actually lived just outside the park and had arranged a trip for a large group to come backpack and fish. Most of the group had canceled, freeing up several campsites for such as me. We chatted about the day’s activities and experiences as I cooked and ate.
Just as I was finishing up my dessert, another couple showed up, Jolly and Emma. Since Boy MacGyver had filled his entire campsite already, I pitched my tent with them after they ate. Jolly is about to start selling a line of button-down sun hood shirts for hikers and is reading testing one of the manufacturer samples as he hikes. Emma is testing the model for ladies. I am very impressed with the design and could see it selling very well.
Anyway, it was a pretty good first day for hiking the CDT in Glacier. I got all the way to my campsite in just 12 hours. It wasn’t ever too hot: cloudy in the morning, windy in the pass and by the lake. And I got to bed before sunset.
The next two days will basically be days of rest and fun. No big miles. There will be plenty of time for that at the other end of the week. At the very least, I’m looking for a week of beautiful scenery.
We didn’t really have to hurry to get out of the West Glacier RV Park. We only had a few miles to go to our next destination and could fill the hours between as we liked. Since I stayed up late, I slept as late as my body would let me, then cooked one of our microwave breakfast sandwiches and had a bagel and yogurt and fruit and coffee for breakfast.
Finally, just about checkout time at 11, we were packed up and ready to go. The first stop was the Mercantile for some butter. Or rather vegetable oil spread because I wanted it to be easily spreadable.
Then we stopped at the Backcountry Permit Office to discuss the trail conditions and the finer points of acquiring a backcountry permit the following morning. We also watched the required 15 minute video while we were there. We decided that a very early start the following morning to get into the office first would be called for.
Then we decided to go west out of Apgar and see what was that way. We stopped and ate ate the turkey sandwiches I had made at Fish Creek Picnic Area. While we were there, we had plenty of cell service, so we watched a docuvertisement about the “famous” Polebridge Mercantile. We decided we might as well go see it.
It was 30 miles up a dirt road just outside the park’s west side, and there it was, a cleared flat dirt lot filled with cars. And even just outside the door of the merc it smelled like sweet and cinnamon baked goods. I bought a loaf of fruit fritter, Mama got an apple danish, and they threw in a day-old pizza rollie.
We asked about the gas they had. They said 6.50/gal, 3 gal max. We decided we had enough to get back to West Glacier.
On the way back, we stopped at a restaurant and bar that was not nearly as popular as the merc. We decided to pass on eating there. I certainly wasn’t hungry.
We stopped at the Glacier sign on the way back in for a picture, then at the gas station in West Glacier before heading out to check into Lake Macdonald Lodge. Because we checked in fairly early, we got one of the better rooms on the second floor. No lake view, but a big window and a fan to put in it.
After we had brought in what we were going to bring in, I spent a couple of hours in the lobby trying to get some pictures uploaded for you readers. I was interrupted because Mama was hungry so we went down to the lake to eat supper. Then I left to continue my blogging project and even get a nice tepid shower to cool off before we returned to the lakeside to try to watch sunset. But there were clouds completely obscuring the sun and there wasn’t much to see.
And, given that I was going to have to get up really early in the morning, I got to bed as soon as I could after that. It was still hot in the room but the temperature was starting to drop and the fans helped. I’m sure I was asleep before 11.
Day 54: Rising Sun
My alarm went off at 4am and I started getting up and getting dressed and was ready to leave by 4:30. Destination? Backcountry Permit Office in Apgar Village. Mama dropped me off there just before 5 and I was the first in line.
What followed was three hours of sitting on the ground hoping my itinerary would be possible. At first there was enough wireless data that I could watch TV shows, but then more people showed up making meaning I couldn’t make so much sound. (I had left my headphones in the room on accident.) Then the whole village started waking up and the data speeds just evaporated.
Finally, I got inside and there was a mad rush all over the park as 8 group leaders in four locations were all putting together permits at the same time. The rangers were pretty surly compared to how friendly they had been the day before. My itinerary was almost finished being plugged in when the last day didn’t work out. And then a ranger suggested putting me on a permit that was being made at another location. It got me to most of the places I wanted to be on the days I wanted to be there. The only downsides were a very long day later in the week and the fact I would have to pay for a night I had no intention of using. I took it because it seemed likely to free up sites for other people and they said there was no problem adding Jacob to it.
I was done by 8:20 but no one else there was going past the lodge so I walked over to the visitor’s center while calling Mama at the lodge to come get me. She picked me up there and brought me back to the lodge, at which point we had a leisurely rest of the morning, not leaving until checkout time at 11. I had what amounted to a McDonald’s breakfast meal with sausage egg McMuffin and some wifi time in the lobby. Finally, we set out to drive the whole Going-To-The-Sun Road.
We stopped a few times along the way so that we took all day to finish it. We walked the Trail of the Cedars (a mile of hiking!), climbed up to a waterfall near the Weeping Wall, wandered around the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center, checked out the CDT crossing, had lunch overlooking St. Mary Lake, hiked out to Sun Point (separately–I also literally ran over to Baring Falls while Mama was at Sun Point), and got the famous photo overlooking Wild Goose Island before we made it to the Rising Sun Motor Lodge.
We checked into our cabin, put all our food inside, then left again immediately to check out the restaurants in St. Mary town.
We stopped at Johnson’s and heard it had an hour wait. We went up the road and everything else seemed closed, so we came back and signed in on the wait list. We were one of the last few seated and one of the last to leave after it closed. I had a huge spinach salad with chicken and huckleberry cream fizz, and Mama got the special, which turned out to be beef sliced and drenched in gravy with sides of bread, decent mashed potatoes and undesirable cole slaw, most of which she gave me. She also ordered huckleberry ice cream and ate most of it because I couldn’t find anything special about it.
And with that we returned to the cabin, opened the window and stuck the fan in front of it, and went straight to bed. Another early morning awaited.