Glacier National Park

NOTE 1: Some pictures are now up. Enjoy!

NOTE 2: Our next mail stop will be in Lincoln, MT. If you want to send us letters, etc., address them as follows:

Three Bears Motel, P.O. Box 816, Lincoln, MT 59639

Write on package: “Please hold for guests April Robinson or Dan Feldman, approximate date of arrival August 7th.”

Anything sent should get there no later than August 6th. Now, onto the blog…

Anyone backcountry camping in a national park like Glacier is required to obtain a permit. I had called a few days before our start date and spoken to a very friendly ranger at Apgar, a ranger station on the west side of the park. Working through an itinerary together, I told him we were thru-hiking the CDT and needed to get from the Canadian border to East Glacier on the southeast side of the park. He informed me that one of the “official” CDT route campgrounds was closed due to snow and that we were better off taking the CDT alternate route which started at a different border crossing called Chief Mountain. No problem, as long as we start at Canada. (I later found out that the campground was snow-free and that the more likely reason for the closure was sighting of a bear and her cubs.) We then worked out an itinerary, me looking at the map and picking out campgrounds and he letting me know if the campgrounds were open or if the route I chose gained too much elevation for one day. We ended up with six nights in the park.

The permit still needed to be picked up, so April and I drove up to Two Medicine ranger station on the 19th (I’m pre-dating my last blog entry here.) and met ranger Mark, a man who looked to be 30-something with a neatly kept beard and wearing the usual ranger garb. (By the way, these guys carry guns!) Permits at Glacier come with a long list of rules about camping in the backcountry: don’t cut switchbacks, don’t wash yourself, clothes, or cooking gear in lakes or streams, recreational firearm use is prohibited, etc. At the top of the permit is a series of warnings to alert backpackers about potential dangers on their itinerary. Ours were as follows: hypothermia, giardia, bear/lion, 25′ foot rope to hang food, early start recommended, distance/elevation. Mark circled “distance/elevation” with a pencil, gave us a stern do-you-know-what-you’re-doing look, and informed us that the days we chose were “huge” and did his best to sow the seeds of doubt. I told Mark that I was confident that we’d be able to complete our itinerary and that a 15 mile day with 2,640ft of elevation gain was completely within our abilities. Mark finally relinquished our permit, but not without a couple more “huge” warnings.

The next day we caught a shuttle bus from Glacier Park Lodge to the the border. After a 3-hour long ride over sub-par road following the eastern edge of the park, the bus dumped us off at the Chief Mountain border crossing, a small outpost on a hill in the forest with a Canadian and an American station. We walked over to the Canadian side, got our pictures taken, and April got her passport stamped. The border folks are a good group, but definitely take their job seriously. They laughed and were happy to see us walk over to the Canadian side, but you better believe we had to walk through the right lanes and we still had to answer the usual questions when we came back to the US side (are you carrying any citrus? Yeah, the lady on the Canadian side slipped me an orange…) They didn’t ask us what we did in Canada, though.

We had the rest of the day to get to our first campsite at Gable Creek, six miles of downhill and flat walking along the Belly River. It was a bit muddy in places with a few creeklet crossings and at these April soon showed her skill as an engineer. After soaking both feet at our first crossing, I proclaimed that getting across was impossible without taking off shoes and getting feet wet. April then proceeded to arrange a series of logs and got across with dry feet. We camped that night with a group of folks at Gable creek, our tent in a small clearing a few feet from the creek. We both slept soundly.

Our second day took us first through a cold, dewy meadow (so we both got our feet wet anyway) and then began climbing up to Ptarmigan Pass, first along the Belly River and then high above the shores of Elizabeth Lake. Hiking across a park like Glacier is very much like hiking through the Sierra Nevada in California. Trails climb steadily up through valleys and then make a final steep push over a pass, a gap in the moutains that ring the valley. The trail then usually descends through the valley on the other side before climbing up to another pass. Ptarmigan

Climbing towards Ptarmigan Pass
Climbing towards Ptarmigan Pass

was a long haul up to a highly unusual way to get through a pass on foot, a tunnel. As someone who enjoys climbing passes, arriving at a tunnel (probably 20 or so vertical feet from the actual pass) was a bit disappointing. I don’t know if the tunnel was planned ahead of time or if the builders blasted their way through rock all the way up to the top, only to realize they couldn’t get over and had to build the tunnel, but either way I think the park’s designers should have left the pass alone rather than build a tunnel through it. Nonetheless, the pass was quite scenic with views in all directions of the snow-capped jagged peaks of Glacier. We arrived that evening at the Many Glacier campground, a busy location with a mix of backpacker, RV, and drive in sites. Many Glacier also boasts a store and restaurant so we had pepperoni pizza for dinner that night, a fine reward for busting our butts over Ptarmigan. We finished all but two slices, packing the leftovers out the next morning to eat for lunch. We also bought food for the next three days at the store.

There are a few ways of doing resupply on a trip like this. You can package and mail yourself food ahead of time where you’re sure of what you’ll be eating, or you can just buy as you go,

Outside the Ptarmigan Tunnel
Outside the Ptarmigan Tunnel

which is logistically easier and allows more freedom, but as a consequence limits choices to whatever it is that the local store stocks. In bigger towns where there’s a supermarket, this isn’t usually a problem. In a tiny campstore in a national park, you could end up eating nothing but hot dogs and chips. We were able to buy plenty of pasta and lunch food for the next few days at Many Glacier, but for breakfast we were a bit stuck. We ended up buying a few microwave breakfast sandwiches, some shrink-wrapped danishes, and a dozen eggs. Yes, a dozen eggs.

We ate breakfast on the third day in the sun and mosquitoes of Grinnell Lake on our way up to Piegan Pass. April compiled a very tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs with sausage—delicious. The smoke from my stove kept the bugs off. After breakfast, we started the steep climb up to Piegan Pass and it was here that the bright Montana sun finally slipped away and in its place came gale force wind gusts and horizontal rains. We were well prepared and put on our rain gear and warm clothes, braving the gusts on the exposed climb and joking that it would be nice if the sun popped out just as we reached the pass. Our friend Pi would say that sometimes the trail listens and provides.

After braving the gale on the north side of the pass we reached the top and headed for a wall made of piles of stones that acted as a windbreak. Just as popped our heads over the pass, the clouds parted and the sun came back. We were delighted and peeled of our rain gear, enjoying lunch with a local trio from East Glacier who had braved the other side of the pass in the same weather. We ate our pizza slices and watched picas and a big furry marmot make its rounds about the pass. The sun didn’t last long and as we descended the pass to our campsite, a late day thunderstorm rolled in, accompanied by the worst mosquitoes of the trip so far. Combined with sore feet and muscles, this all made us both pretty cranky and ready to hit camp and relax in our tent. Camp didn’t come easy however, as when we got to the signed trail intersection

More glorious Glacier
More glorious Glacier

where Reynold’s Creek campground was supposed to be, there was no indication that the campground was anyplace nearby, just a trail junction with a bridge across a creek. I looked at the map, saw the that the campground was slightly down the trail that lead east, and decided that we should go that way. We walked for close to a half mile in the rain and thunder and at each corner I craned my next to see if I could see a sign for the campsite, but all I saw was more trail. We grew less and less confident with each empty turn, and finally April decided that we had certainly gone too far and should walk back to the intersection. Wet and annoyed, we walked 10 minutes back to where we had turned east.

Funny, as we grew more and more anxious about where to find our camp, adrenaline took over and for a short time our legs didn’t feel tired. We got back to the intersection and I walked over the bridge in the other direction. The sign for the campground was just on the other side. My mistake was not taking a peek over the bridge before. We pulled into camp and pitched our tent in the driest spot we could find, which was essentially a bed of hard mud with water quickly pooling above and running down towards us. We met a fellow southbound CDT hiker, a mercenary computer guy named Pi, who loaned us his “iceaxe” to dig a trench around our tent to channel the water. We stayed dry overnight, the rain changing to an occasional drizzle in the morning and eventually clearing out by noon.

I am realizing that this is turning into a very long post, so I’ll start being a little more summary-like with this post. April: “Are you still typing?” Me: “Yeah, there’s a lot to write about.” April: “Oh, good grief!” The highlight of our fourth day was realizing that the trail made some silly, unnecessary turns around a creek and thus we decided to take a cross country short cut, which

Grazing Goats on Triple Divide Pass
Grazing Goats on Triple Divide Pass

worked out great except April got her foot stuck in a log. But we had a nice, long suny lunch on a rocky beach all to ourselves. At camp we met a guy who caught a trout and gave us half. April: “You’re not telling about the delicious lemon-pepper seasoning with the trout en papillote, spelled p-a-p-i-l-l-o-t-e.” We had a fantastic night on Red Eagle Lake, although we were totally outclassed with our trail food. We slurped on pre-made teriaki noodles while others had homemade potatoe pancakes, a variety of fresh cheeses, tuna tetrazzini, and a thermos-bottle of wine. This will change (someday). We will not be outclassed anymore…possibly because once we leave the park we will have only ourselves for company.

On our fifth day on the south side of Triple Divide Pass we saw a large herd of mountain goats (babies included) and watched them prance and graze. A pine beetle followed us to our camp on Morning Star Lake. Day six took us up over comparatively easy Pitamakin Pass and down to Two Medicine, both of us feeling stronger than our second day chugging over Ptarmigan Pass. We were both salivating with thoughts of a cold coke and once we set up our tent upon arriving at the campground we made a beeline to the campstore. We spent the rest of a sunny Looking out of the parkafternoon enjoying a cold coke, chips, and ice cream on the store’s big porch, overlooking Upper Two Medicine lake. We got to bed late, party because a man with a monster truck took hours trying to park his behemoth camper in the small campsite. (Seriously, dude, if you’re gonna bring your house along, just stay home!) We also stayed up late chatting with a chemist from Brooklyn, who on a whim came way out here to check things out. Sound slike he had a good time, but he made it clear that he was tired of drinking “just water.”

We walked out of the park yesterday with views far to the east of Montana’s flat plains and to the south of the mountains yet to come. We arrived back here in East Glacier in the afternoon,

Backpacker's Hostel in East Glacier
Backpacker’s Hostel in East Glacier

crashing at the $12 per night hostel behind the Tex Mex joint that we later ate at. We did our laundry at the RV park then enjoyed a pile of nachos and some enchiladas before passing out for the night. Today we’re getting ready to head back out to the trail. We’re packing out 6 ½ days of food for a 120-mile stretch which winds up on a dirt road leading 30 miles to Augusta, MT. We’re hoping to get a lucky hitch! Hopefully my Peek will be getting better reception, as this was a very long entry and in the future I’d like to write some shorter ones. April will also be posting…hopefully soon! That’s all for now. Enjoy the pictures!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *