Wow. Probably all I need to say. Glacier National Park is simply stunning. The first 30 miles of the CDT was filled with fields of wild flowers, huge alpine lakes, massive jagged mountains and great trail. The adventure has finally began!
Canada (Chief Mountain TH) to Elizabeth Lake
It started at the Canadian border, Friday June 17 at about 2 p.m. DirtWolf was on the shuttle ride to the border too, it was great to be starting my adventure with another CDTer! After some obligatory border photos and a brief entrance into Canada, the adventure was on!
Strictly speaking, this route isn’t actually the CDT, it’s the alternate for when there’s too much snow on the route from Waterton Lake. This trailhead is also the start of the Pacific Northwest Trail, another walk I’d like to do someday. For the 10 miles to Elizabeth Lake, camp night 1, it meanders through lush forests, crystal clear streams, a waterfall, and meadows littered with wildflowers. It reminded me a little of the first 10 miles from Green River Lakes into the Wind River Range. Beautiful.
DirtWolf and I had a great time chatting, hiking and scaring off Glizzly Bears. He flipped up here from a NOBO (northbound) attempt that was halted by too much snow still in the Colorado high country. I enjoyed hearing stories of his adventures through New Mexico. I’m doing a SOBO attempt (southbound). We call what Dirt Wolf is doing a NOBOSOBO flip or going NOSOBO. Ha. Trail lingo at its finest.
We passed a ranger heading out who chatted with us a while and checked our permits. I hadn’t been able to get one for Elizabeth Lake as it was full, and was headed for a campground at the other end of the lake, 1.6 miles off-trail. Backcountry travel and camping is regulated here, so you can’t just camp wherever you want as I’m accustomed to. Seeing that DirtWolf was at Elizabeth and I was at the other one, he told us we could share a camp and save me the bonus miles. Thanks Ranger!!!
The day was easy and we arrived in camp with plenty of time to do the afternoon chores of setting up camp, eating dinner, cleaning teeth and securing food from bears. New for the first few weeks, jumping in an ice cold lake for 10 minutes, at least up to mid-thigh. It’s part of my plan to stay injury free.
Here’s some pics from Day 1:
Elizabeth Lake to Poia Lake via Red Gap Pass
I woke at 5:30 to birds chirping. I survived the night, Kate vs Grizzly Bear 1:0. There are Grizzlies on this trail for about the first 1100 miles, so we’ll see how that goes, I’m hoping for a perfect score. DirtWolf had been in a coma since 7 p.m. the evening prior, so I left him a note that I’d see him up ahead; with his trail conditioned legs he’d catch me in no time.
Today was grand. Huge vistas around every turn kinda grand. Climbing up from Elizabeth Lake at 4900ft to Red Gap Pass at 7500ft was a series of switchbacks at first through forest and then above tree line. The view just got better and better.
I was lucky to catch a herd of Big Horn sheep grazing near the pass. They scattered as I got up there, but if you look closely in these pics you’ll see them.
The descent went quickly even though it crossed some small snowfields. DirtWolf caught me right as I hit tree line. Perfect timing as when I’m hiking with him we make enough noise that I don’t need to be singing songs to the bears.
Here’s some pics from Day 2:
We arrived at Poia Lake early, probably 2ish and said our ‘happy trails’ as DirtWolf was continuing another 10 miles to Many Glacier. I set up camp, had my ice bath and ate an early dinner. Just as I was hanging my food bag in the designated food hanging area, another solo hiker came along. Company! He was an experienced backpacker and a business-man turned professor hiking from Many Glacier to Chief Mountain. We chatted about adventures and career paths until we were interrupted by the arrival of a storm.
Having already done my evening chores, I jumped into the warmth of my sleeping bag. Then the heavens opened up and i was treated to heavy rain and gale force winds until about 6 the next morning.
Poia Lake to Many Glacier
The rain had subsided but boy was it windy! I broke camp and was on my way to my first trail town, Many Glacier aka cold beer, burger and fries. But the wind made it slow going until I got into a forest, it kept knocking me off balance, like literally pushing me off the trail, and I was worried about rolling an ankle on the rocky trail. Seriously windy!
The hike today was mostly forested without views. I hiked solo and got lots of practice singing songs to the bears. Stupid little rhyme songs like:
Hey Bear, Somewhere out there
Here I come, So you better run
Mr bear, Somewhere out there
I’m coming down the trail, So you better bail
…. and so it continues until I run out of things that rhyme, crack up laughing or get bored with it.
I sang the Aussie anthem, some Rolling Stones songs and even tried to remember my High School song (any St Hilda’s readers, Kel, how does it go? Could only remember the part we used to get in trouble for singing like we were in a German beer hall- ha). If you have a bear jingle I can sing, feel free to leave it in a comment below and I’ll let you know how these Montana bears like it.
The view opened up as I got down towards the valley floor near Many Glacier. The trail took me right to the Many Glacier Lodge and then it was a short one mile road-walk to the Swiftcurrent Motel where I had a cabin reserved.
As I imagined, there was barely a minute that went by these three days that I wasn’t feeling incredibly grateful and very happy to be here! The past two years I’ve been plagued by injury and I’m hopeful that all the hard work I’ve done in PT will pay off with an injury free hike. Whether it turns out to be 9 days like last year, 8 weeks or 5 mths… I have no idea yet. I’m hoping for 5 mths, c’mon legs!!! One thing I do know: there won’t be a day that passes that I won’t be feeling incredibly thankful to be out hiking again with my backpack!
Pics from today:
I spent a lazy morning today walking along the lake and eating at the all you can eat breakfast buffet of the Many Glacier Hotel, about a mile from where I’m staying. It’s a historic Swiss Alps inspired hotel built at the inception of tourism in the Park. They have a museum of the Park’s glaciers. In 1850 there were approx 150 glaciers in the Park, by 1968 around 50 and today only about 25 remain. By 2030 they will likely all be gone. Climate change is having a very tangible effect in this Park, and its effects are only accelerating. I wish our world leaders were brave enough to mandate real changes to human activity before it’s too late, I don’t think I’d want to be around in another couple of hundred years, the world will be hot, water-starved and depressing.
I’m taking a couple of rest days in Many Glacier and the plan then is to hike 70 miles to East Glacier. Although right now there are 2 closures on the trail ahead, one because of an aggressive Grizzly incident and another because an Elk is dead on-trail thanks to a hungry mountain lion. They may not open again for a week or longer. Hmmm. I’m planning to visit the Ranger in the morning to assess the options. There is an option to walk half of that stretch, but permits aren’t available in the campground I need until Wednesday. I guess I’ll have to suffer another day in the paradise of Many Glacier!
Thanks for reading!