Well, I’ve hiked the length of Glacier National Park! The 70 miles from Many Glacier to East Glacier were certainly adventure packed: mountain passes with dramatic views, two super scary Grizzly encounters, getting stuck in a rain/wind storm on Triple Divide Pass and crossing snow on Pitamakan Pass.
Many Glacier to Reynolds Creek via Piegan Pass
15 miles + 3 bonus miles
Some days don’t go according to plan, because the universe just has better plans for you. Today was one of those days. I’d planned to wake at 5 a.m. and be on-trail by 6 a.m. Those of you that know me well, know that the fact I was up at 6 a.m. and walking out of town at 7 a.m. means I fared pretty well with Kate vs morning.
I ran into Kimchi and we hiked out together. About a mile and a half in, Kimchi mentioned how good it was that the Red Eagle part of the trail had re-opened and we could stay on-trail instead of exiting at St Mary to re-permit when trail closures lifted or road-walk 30 miles south to Two Medicine. I stopped in my tracks, actually I think I simultaneously stopped in my tracks and belted out ‘mother f$#ker’; I’d been in and out of the Ranger’s office the past couple of days trying to secure permits and check-in on closures. Last I checked the afternoon before, the Red Eagle trail was still shut due to an elk carcass on-trail and mountain lion activity, and the trail into Two Medicine Lake was closed because of an aggressive Grizzly incident, so my permit had me exiting at St Mary to re-permit as conditions allowed. The St Mary detour would have added a day to my itinerary so I turned around and walked back into town to visit a very patient Ranger Jessica who had re-issued my permit now 3 times.
So, because I slept in an extra hour I got the permits I needed to camp at sites all the way through to the end of the park, although the Grizzly closure north of Two Medicine was still in effect. Good thing I got that extra hour of sleep!
After a bonus 3 miles and an extra hour, I was on my way out of town for the second time. The walk out of Many Glacier was really beautiful, it skirted around Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine before climbing up into the valley approaching Piegan Pass. I was singing to the bears most of the morning as the trail meandered through forest. I had to take my shoes off to ford a stream at one point, I was thankful to have my Zero Trail sandals to slip on because my feet aren’t the toughest and the stream had lots of sharp pebbles in it. Fording was no problem, the current was a bit stronger than it appeared, but nothing to worry about.
The trail up to Piegan Pass was truly stunning, especially after it climbed above tree line and opened up into great views of the valley. I stopped for a bit of lunch just below the pass, the views were epic, it was warm and sunny and I wanted to stay there forever. As you know by now from reading my blog, my favorite part of backpacking is the surprise of what’s around the next corner or over the next pass. The view over Piegan Pass was totally different to what I’d just left but no less stunning, I was looking across at Going to the Sun Mountain and down over Going to the Sun Road. Breathtaking!
Descending from the pass went quickly and the universe had another surprise in-store for me. I exited the trailhead at the Going to the Sun Road and was standing on the side of the road wondering where the trailhead for the next trail started. I looked down the road 50 yards and thought I saw Onno from Alta Ski Area, but decided that couldn’t be right. While he does live near Glacier during the summer months, it couldn’t be him because I’d just texted him from my GPS an hour or so ago to tell him I was in Glacier and how lucky he was to live up here. I must be seeing things! I started walking across the road and it sure did look like Onno about to jump in a truck so I shouted out his name and to my surprise he stopped and turned around, it was him! He had just come off a different trailhead with his family and some friends. I was 20 minutes too late for a beer, but he did give me a nice can of chilled sparkling water that went down nicely. What a small small world!
Again, had I not slept that extra hour I would have missed him completely. So great to run into the only person I know in Montana by complete coincidence like that! Love that sort of random occurrence!
I continued another 1.3 miles down from the Sun Road and set up camp at Reynolds Creek. There was only 1 other site and the couple staying there were in their site the whole time, so I hung out by myself for the evening. I set up camp, sat in the creek and gave myself an ice-bath to mid-waist, cooked dinner in the designed food prep area, hung my food bag, visited the camp toilet (and interesting one here) and settled into my sleeping bag early. It’s hard to get a big night’s sleep here at the moment because it is light from about 5 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. I fiddled with maps and looked at the route to Red Eagle Lake the next day and fell asleep by about 11 p.m.
Reynolds Creek to Red Eagle Lake
I had 15 miles to go today, but the topography looked pretty level and so I slept in a bit and didn’t hit the trail until 9 a.m. I like to say that all miles aren’t equal, take for instance the difference between an uphill mountain mile vs a downhill mountain mile vs a flat trail; the topography today looked very straight forward as it wound around a lake for about 10 miles. NOT the case. The trail was incredibly overgrown and I found myself swimming through waist to head high undergrowth most of the day. Argh.
Happily, for the last 5 or so miles the trail left the lake and headed up a new valley through a burn area, there were a few blow-downs to climb over but it was a welcome change to the morning’s brush battle! It was also kind of cool that when the wind blew it made an eerie sound as it came through the trees, like the sound you hear in a haunted house movie when the character wakes in the middle of the night to scary noises. Cool! A few miles out of camp I crossed the Red Eagle Creek, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful warm afternoon so I took my shoes off, aired my socks and sat with my feet in the water for a while.
Arriving in camp I was greeting by another solo hiker. She looked really familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She introduced herself as Coyote and told me of her plans to hike the PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail- the one that started at the same trailhead I did up on the Canadian border at Chief Mountain). She was here in Glacier to hike north from Cut Bank Pass area to the border before starting the PNT; she’d hiked the CDT a few years ago with some friends but they came through Glacier late October right as winter arrived and were forced to road-walk through Glacier to Canada. Bummer! The whole time she was telling me I had the feeling that I’d seen what she was telling me, which was really an odd feeling. Then it hit me! She was one of the girls in the Embrace the Brutality movie about the CDT that Jester did a few years ago. Ha.
We sat on a log by Red Eagle Lake, ate dinner and talked about hiking and life and tactics for hiking solo through Grizzly country. Was great hanging out with her for the evening. Two other backpackers turned up a little later and joined us, they were out here celebrating graduating from college- what a great way to celebrate! A couple of large moose were eating pond scum from the bottom of the lake nearby and forced us away from the lake and back up to the food prep area as they were getting a little close for comfort!
Here’s some pics from today:
Red Eagle Lake to Atlantic Creek via Triple Divide Pass
I woke at 5:30 a.m. and was on-trail by 6:30. I ate breakfast on the log at the edge of the lake again and watched the sun slowly filter over the lake.
The first few miles of the trail were really slow going with lots of dead-fall trees to climb over, under or around. Then the trail spent a few miles in really lush dense forest crisscrossing streams. There were a couple of stream crossings I had to take my shoes off for and wade through, but only to shin deep. It was really creepy in there, I followed huge Griz tracks most of that way… and boy was I singing loudly! I’m really freaked out by the prospect of running into a bear, so I was literally spewing whatever came to mind at the top of my lungs for many miles today. A fact many of you probably aren’t aware of, I was house mascot in year 11 and school cheer squad captain in year 12, it’s different to in the US, it’s not the athletic kind of thing it is here, in Australia you just need to be loud, full of school spirit, able to jump up and down and cheer for hours… and a little on the hyperactive side… that was me back in High School. Anyway, I found myself spewing school war-crys that I haven’t thought of since 1997, ha!
The trail then climbed up and over Triple Divide Pass. Triple Divide Peak, which sits next to the pass, is a very cool peak. Water falling at the peak drains to 1 of 3 oceans depending on which side it routes to: the Pacific to the west, the Atlantic to the East and the Arctic Ocean via Hudson Bay to the north. Cool! Unfortunately that peak was about to get a good opportunity to route it’s water.
About an hour from the pass I got stuck in a raging wind and rain storm, raging. It moved in pretty quickly and then the temperature dropped too. I’d thrown on some rain gear over my hiking shirt and skirt, but no additional warming layers, stupid call. Once the rain kicked in I couldn’t take off my rain layer to put on some warm layers or everything would get wet, and the last thing you want when you’re stuck in a raging storm is to be wet.
I was pretty cold and wind battered when I hit the pass, at times the wind tried to knock me off the trail and the rain was driving sideways. I snapped a couple of quick selfies and then moved down into the other valley as quickly as I could. I was in a bit of dilemma though, I needed to move quickly to keep as warm as possible (or less cold as possible), but my knees were really cold and I was worried about hurting myself by moving too quickly downhill with cold muscles. Hmm. Anyway, I found a happy medium. It was a shame that the weather was so crummy because that stretch of trail from Triple Divide Pass to Atlantic Creek is supposed to be really incredible. What I saw of it certainly was.
Arriving in camp around 2 p.m. I was really cold, too cold. The rain was still bucketing down when I got to camp. I unpacked my food bag and hung it as quickly as possible (it’s a requirement of Glacier National Park that you don’t take food into the tent sites) then set up my tent. I stripped off all my very wet clothes and crawled into my sleeping bag. I stayed curled up in there for a good couple of hours until my body temperature got back up to an acceptable level. I love being in my little dry tent and warm sleeping clothes and bag.
The rain broke for about 30 minutes at about 5 and I hung all my wet clothes out in the wind to dry and quickly cooked some dinner. Then all hell broke loose again and stayed that way until early the next morning. I was happy to sleep the rest of the day and night, between the big Griz prints and getting stuck in the storm crossing the pass, this wasn’t my favorite day on the CDT.
Atlantic Creek to Two Medicine Lake via Pitamakan Pass
I stayed in my tent until the rain slowed to a slow drizzle around 9 a.m. I packed up my very wet tent and was on my way. After the first few miles I hit snowline, it had snowed a few inches last night up high in the valleys and on the passes. There were huge Griz tracks in the snow, argh! Really unsettling. So I sang as loud as I could as I hiked through the forest and up over Pitamakan Pass. Aside from the Griz tracks, it was a really nice morning, I found it very peaceful hiking through the fresh snow in this very remote valley. After crossing Pitamakan the cloud lifted and I got some good views over Old Man Lake and Dry Fork. The hike down from the pass was really scenic as it switchbacked down the cliff face.
With only 6 or so downhill miles to Two Medicine Lake it should have been some easy miles. I cruised the first couple and kept up my singing to the bears as this is the stretch of trail that had been shut for over a week due to an aggressive Grizzly incident. The sun was starting to pop out and I was thinking happy thoughts about eating some camp-store food at Two Medicine, this is the first campsite since Many that isn’t remote and backcountry. The trail climbed up out of a forest and followed a ledge across some open grass and cliff bands, the view was great and life was feeling good.
Then a moment i’ll remember forever stopped me dead in my tracks and dumped every last drop of adrenaline into my system in a single step. I rounded a blind corner to find a mother and 2 cubs grazing on some grass just uphill of the trail. They were 15 yards away, and Grizzly bears. One thing you never want to get close to is a mother bear with cubs. I froze. I stared right at the bear and she stared right back at me. Shit! I remembered the National Park video telling me that you should never look directly at a bear as it’s considered threatening. I looked away, shit! I backed away slowly the way i’d come while speaking slowly and quietly to the bear, “it’s okay bear, nothing to see here bear, it’s okay bear…”. Two steps that seemed to take forever got me out of sight of the bear and behind the blind corner. But now i couldn’t see her, shit! I grabbed for my bear spray and fumbled to get the safety clip off, shit! My arms were trembling as I held it out in front of my for when the bear came around the corner. She didn’t. What was she doing? Was she still around the corner? Had she run off? Was she going to come to get me? Shit! Shit! Shit!
I stood around that corner, bear spray ready, shouting out “go on bear, go on, go on bear, go on….” and clanging my poles together. I don’t really know how long I was standing there for, shaking and talking to the bear. Then the really hard part arrived, moving forward back around that blind corner. I was on a ledge, so I couldn’t really re-route on a wider radius. I took very small steps as I inched around the corner, arms stretched and shaking with the bear spray taking the lead. Shiiiit!
I exhaled and could feel some blood rushing back to my head as I saw that she wasn’t around the corner anymore. Thank god! She had moved further up the slope and was headed away from me, now maybe 50 yards away, then she took a turn on a ledge that came back towards and above me bringing her to maybe 30 yards away. I stood perfectly still and kept talking to the bear “it’s okay bear, nothing to see here bear, it’s okay bear…” and trying not to look her in the eyes if she glanced up. The cubs were very cute and incredibly curious, they kept hopping up on rocks and looking at me quizzically, then they’d run to catch up to mother bear. I got a good look at her as she made this traverse, prominent hump, dished shaped face, no mistaking that I’d just come face to face with a Grizzly bear!
She stopped almost directly above me on the ledge she was on and so I started backing down the trail the direction i needed to go in very slowly continuing to say “it’s okay bear, nothing to see here bear…”. I made it around one corner out of her sight, then two, then three, still with arms outstretched and bear spray ready, then when I was sure she was far enough away and well out-of-sight, I turned down the trail and ran! I kept running until I ran into a day hiker who listened to my story and helped to calm me down as I fumbled to get the safety back on my bear spray. Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!
She looked something like the picture below, and no, I sure didn’t take a photo. I got this online to give you an idea what i’d come face-to-face with:
I arrived at Two Medicine a while later, drained of all energy and recounted my story to the Ranger. Apparently I did everything right, she’d heard me coming and just chose not to move. A far far worse scenario is if i’d made no noise and surprised her when I came around that corner, as that would have been threatening to her and she might have chosen to fight instead of just glance up at me. Why hadn’t she moved before I got to her? “Well, usually they do, but not always”. Hmm. So keep making noise? “Yes”. But the bear may choose not to move out of my way “Right”. Okay.
Happy to be in the relative civilization of a car camping campground, I headed to the camp store which had a big fire to dry all my wet clothes and shoes out and store food. I drank a beer, ate an elk dog (hot dog made from elk), then a bison dog, then a bottle of Gatorade, then a bag of peanut M&Ms, then a bag of salt n vinegar chips, then a strip of bison jerky, then some huckleberry chocolates… in that order. Full and completely exhausted I fell into my tent and slept a good night’s sleep.
Here’s some pics from today:
Two Medicine Lake to East Glacier
I slept late knowing it was a short day to East Glacier and wanting to get a latte and burrito at the camp store when it opened at 8 a.m. Coyote came off the trail when the storm hit a couple of days ago at the Going to the Sun Road and hitched a ride around to Two Medicine where she stayed with a friend of hers with a ranger cabin, so she came to find me to get the story on my bear encounter. It was great to see her again and get a hug!
The hike up out of Two Medicine to the ‘Scenic Point’ was really really pretty. If you come to Glacier this would be a great day hike to do! I sat up at the scenic point for about an hour enjoying the sun and reflecting on having hiked 110 miles through Glacier National Park. I was feeling a little sad to be leaving the Park because it’s been totally incredible, but at the same time feeling excited to start a new part of the journey. From the scenic overlook I could see into the grandeur of Glacier Park to the north, across the plains that flattened out around it to the east, and then the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the south that I would be heading to after a few days in the town of East Glacier.
Funnily enough, the day hiker that I’d run into after my bear encounter arrived at the scenic overlook while I was up there. He gave me another hug and checked to see how I was doing. Nice fellow. Thanks, Nice Fellow
The rest of the hike was going to be easy miles, or so I thought, because it was all downhill and cruising to the town of East Glacier. The sun was shining and I was feeling a lot better about the whole bear encounter. Life was good.
I called my parents on video chat a couple of miles out of town as I walked along old forest service roads. It was really fun because they got to see the view, some close ups of wild flowers and of-course my smiling face, ha. I was 90% of my way through telling them my bear story when I entered a beautiful meadow and for the second time in 24 hours stopped in my tracks with a bear ahead of me. Luckily this one was across the meadow but near the trail I had to walk by. I started making noises and clanging my poles together and the bear turned in my direction and stuck it’s head up to see what the noise was all about. But he wasn’t running away, this was his meadow. Dad thought I was joking but realized pretty quickly as I was backing up the trail that it was no joke. I told them I’d call back because I needed to focus on the situation I was in.
Maybe I can go back and walk down a different forest road and still find my way to town? I walked backwards back the way i’d come on the trail, bear spray out and safety latch off for a few minutes. Then to my wonderful surprise, delight and about 1000 other adjectives i could list, a group came down the trail on horseback with a cowboy in the lead.
“Come with us, Sweetheart,” said the cowboy, and so back down the trail I went in the middle of his horse pack. The cowboy up front told all of us to stay at the beginning of the meadow. The bear hadn’t moved. He cantered down the road at the bear waving his arms and shouting out loud and threatening noises. The horses can smell bears and were all dancing around a little skittish while this was going on. The cowboy, my hero, chased the bear away and it ran down the trail we were heading. He came back to get us and told me to stay close. I asked him if he got a good look at the bear, as i’d thought, perhaps hopefully so, that it was a black bear, “Yep, that was a healthy sized adult Grizzly”. Okay. Shit!
That very nice cowboy, my hero, and his group walked me all the way into town. He thought it was odd that a little girl with two braids and a skirt on was out wandering around the woods on her own in Grizzly country. For a couple of hours, until right about the time I was into my first beer, I had to agree.
Here’s some pics from today, and no, I didn’t get a photo of the bear:
I’ve been happily stuck in what’s called a ‘vortex’, the inability to leave town. I think I’ve had 2 zero’s here in town. Zero’s are days where you walk no miles. Nero’s are days you walk only a short amount of miles, like 8 or less. I’ve had time to sleep in a bed, eat lots of town food and beer, and re-group from the 2 Grizzly encounters. Been hanging out with WiseMan, Burrito Grande and Gnome God and having a good time relaxing in town. I’m also waiting on a pair of shoes from Brooks, the Cascadia 11’s I’ve been wearing have an odd seam that’s irritating the top of my right foot near the base of my toe. Thanks Brooks for sending me a new pair next-day delivery to middle-of-no-where Montana!
Tomorrow i need to do a load of laundry, mail some stuff at the post office (like this laptop) and get my pack re-assembled. Assuming my shoes arrive on the 2 p.m. FedEx truck, i’ll be hitching out of town with WiseMan tomorrow evening up to Marias Pass to start off where I finished when I hiked the East Glacier to Marias Pass section before I started up in Canada. So, tomorrow will be a nero as we’ll probably only hike in a few miles before setting up camp. It’ll be good to have some company to start off this next stretch, but I’ll have to see how i’m pacing vs WiseMan. Thru-hiking is kind of like skiing on a powder day, you’re all friends but if you don’t pace the same then you hike on your own and catch up with everyone at the next bar you happen to find along the trail.
This next stretch through The Bob Marshall Wilderness will be really cool, because it’s extremely remote. My next town stop is 200 or so miles away in Lincoln where i’ll hitch in 20 miles from Rogers Pass to re-supply. There’s a rancher that’s holding a package for me at Benchmark Ranch about 115 miles in with some food for a mid-way re-supply, but there’s no services there aside from a bear box that my package will be in. Not sure when i’ll re-emerge yet, but it’ll probably be a couple of weeks or so.
Farewell, Glacier, you’ve been incredible!
Thanks for reading! If you have any feedback about ease of reading/loading these blog posts let me know. If the photos take too long to load I could always break the posts out into 1 per day. Also, don’t forget that you can click on the first image in a gallery and click through the album to see the photos in full size instead of the small thumbnail size they display in on a PC.