The CDT in Glacier National Park - 1998
Monday - August 3, Reynolds Creek to Red Eagle Lake (14.3 miles)
Ginny: We had a mostly peaceful night except for a group of kids running up the trail shouting to scare off the bears. It was just getting dark and we were already asleep, so that wasn't altogether a welcome sound. This morning we woke up early to sunshine and blue skies. We left camp about 8:15 and started by passing several beautiful waterfalls, including St. Maryís and Virginia Falls. There were several others along the way. St. Maryís River is aqua, the Lake is beautiful shades of blue and green. Going-to-the-Sun Mountain was a focal point, with jagged peaks and a high glacier. We had occasional views of the lake, but not many. The trail is badly overgrown, with at least three years of tree growth in the trail. Knee high seedlings were in the middle of the trail in places, and sometimes bigger. It wouldnít be passable by horses, thatís for sure. We stopped in an open spot around noon to dry off our gear and ourselves. Our feet are soaked from the wet ferns and weeds which are chest high. The trail is flat, but the going is very slow. Still - Iím happy. There is so much beauty.
Later: It was a long slog through the weeds, but the views across the lake were nice and the day ended with a nice swim in Red Eagle Lake followed by a long sit on the beach in the sun looking across the lake and up at the mountains weíll be climbing the next few days. We can hear and barely see another waterfall across the water. Aside from the flies, all is peaceful. Our only wildlife today was a blue heron and a couple of rabbits, though we saw deer, elk and wolf tracks. Only saw one backpacker, going the other way, until we reached Red Eagle Creek. There are a few groups heading for the campground at the other end of the lake (there are two designated campgrounds here - we have the better one at the foot of the lake.) Two guys were here when we arrived. In the sunshine, this is a very nice place to hang out. The water is very green. St. Maryís Lake has an interesting spit that looks like a barrier reef - just sand backed by a thin layer of bushes, maybe 25' wide. We heard traffic from the road across the lake occasionally, but mostly it was a peaceful day.
Iím a bit nervous about the next two days. This forest is really dense. Bushwhacking on overgrown trail is bad enough, off trail will be really rough. But it will be a bit like the early explorers found it. Then thereís the question of the "Norris Traverse" following the Divide itself. Iíve looked at the mountains the book called climbable. None is easy. Most involve a few thousand feet climb straight up from the valley floor, with a scree scramble at the top. Oh well, weíll see what happens.
Jim: Got to Red Eagle Lake a little early which, again, gave us a chance to dry out the tent and our clothes and get cleaned up. We started the day with a couple of really nice waterfalls but after Virginia Falls the trail deteriorated rapidly. It was really overgrown most of the way along St Mary's Lake. There were only a couple places where the view was even worth stopping for. It was almost a relief to turn away from the lake and cross over the ridge toward Red Eagle Creek. We took a break on the bluff above the creek and watched 2 separate groups headed up the trail toward Red Eagle Lake. We caught the first group within a mile but never saw the second group again - they must have gone to the second campground.
There was just one couple at the campground when we got there - Matt and Amy live in Minnesota and this was his introduction to backpacking. She had gone to school in Bozeman and had done some backpacking before. Other groups came in later including 2 guys who were going to Oldman Lake and then back out by way of Red Eagle Lake. And then there was the family group from Oklahoma - mother, father and son. The son wanted to go to Triple Divide Pass (and maybe climb Triple Divide Peak) the next day, but I don't think they really understood what was involved - Triple Divide Pass is an 8.5 mile, 2600' climb from Red Eagle Lake. That would make a 17-mile day. Adding the peak would add at least 3 miles to the day - each way. I don't think they're really up to a 23 mile day.
We sat on the beach and read for a while before dinner. It was good to be still for a little while. We could see part of the valley that we'll be in tomorrow so I took some pictures of it and we spent some time with the map and compass. We're both really nervous about the next couple days, but if we're gonna do the CDT next year then we might as well get used to being on our own bushwhacking through the mountains like this because we'll be doing a lot of it. Dinner was early. Again we had our nightly deer visitation - also have a resident ground squirrel. But they don't seem to be bothering our gear.
Tuesday - August 4, Red Eagle Lake to Red Eagle basin (7.5 miles)
Ginny: I am utterly exhausted and frustrated. Crevťe, ťnervťe, ťcrasťe and emerdťe. Our plan was simple - 3 miles on good trail, followed by six miles on old unmaintained trail, deer trail and no trail to the top of the valley, then four miles of walking the Divide followed by eight miles of good trail - a simple two day jaunt. The weather is beautiful - warm and clear and sunny. Unfortunately, things didnít work out as planned. We found the old trail, then lost it, then found it, then lost it - over and over again. We followed lots of elk trails up the valley, crossed the stream several times (once almost waist deep) finally stopped for lunch around 2:00 near a big waterfall on a side stream. We felt we were making progress, slowly but surely. There was some frustration because every time the trail forked (at every blowdown), we seemed to take the wrong fork and lost the trail again.
Anyhow, we finally reached the head of the valley (the lower valley) and found out why they probably abandoned the trail 50 years ago. Into the basin falls a beautiful big 1000' waterfall. At the bottom are beaver ponds, surrounded by willows. The willows extend across the basin and 2/3 of the way up the slope. We spent an hour trying to get through/around the beaver ponds and channels, crossing the dams, wading in mucky mud, jumping from willow to willow, then we tried to go up the hill and got caught in a wall of solid 10-15 foot high willows. We would go up and down and back and forth. Occasionally we would find clear trail, but never enough to get us up the hill. From below we could see the old trail switchbacking steeply up, but once in the bushes we could see nothing and our progress was non-existent. We were really lucky not to get seriously injured as we climbed under and over the web of branches.
Finally we gave up. We were exhausted, it was a steep climb if we did ever find the real trail, and once at the top it would be two more miles across the meadows, and who knows what kind of shape theyíre in! As tired as we are, it just wasnít possible. We kept trying, this way and that, over and over, but got nowhere. Jimís style and mine are different, and it shows with this kind of bushwhacking. I tend to just charge forward, figuring that as long as itís in the right direction, if I try hard enough and keep moving, Iíll eventually get where Iím going. Jim is an engineer - he likes to sit back, think things through, look at the maps again, reconsider the situation, and then move. We sometimes drive each other crazy, but we each got our turn to try to get through. Sometimes my way works, sometimes his does, sometimes neither does. Lesson for the day - sometimes stubbornness isnít enough.
Anyhow, we descended to the valley above the beaver ponds near the waterfall. We found a lumpy flat spot with some trees nearby to hang our food. We left most of it at the lake, lightening our load as much as possible by leaving behind stove, pot, fuel etc. (Letís just hope itís still there when we get back.) As we were setting up the tent, a huge bull elk with full velvety antlers came over the rise from the stream beyond. He was some put out to see us there in his bedding area. We made so much noise bushwhacking we saw no other animals, though there were elk tracks and bear sign in plenty.
Jim:And today started so well. We got up and ate breakfast, then packed for the next couple days - no stove or pots, only part of our clothes, took only cold food and dumped a lot of other gear. Packs probably weighed in at 15 pounds. The first 3 miles were a cakewalk - some ups and downs, but all on good trail and we were fresh and had light packs. Following the directions in the climbing book we thought we found the old trail right after the second bridge, but it was just the horse ford for the creek. Finally found the old trail a half mile up the hill and it led immediately down to one of the nastiest double fords that I've seen in a while. The stream wasn't fast but it was all mud. That was a boots-off ford. We followed the old trail for a while, then lost it, then found it again and followed it past a waterfall, then lost it again when we got to a meadow. Then we found the next ford, but lost the trail on the other side. And that's the way the day went.
Finally stopped for lunch at 1400 near a waterfall on the south side of the main stream. Pumped water, ate lunch, aired our feet and tried to figure out where we were. But we didn't really get confused until after we broke out of the forest about an hour later and got tangled up with the beaver dams. That was just after we passed the broken water filter in the middle of the trail. Some previous hiker had obviously given up their water filter to the grizzly so they could escape. We got into the beaver dams and then couldn't get out - those things covered most of the valley floor. When we finally did get out, we went up the north side of the valley - we could see some of the old switchbacks on the northern headwall. But trying to get there was a problem. The entire north side of the valley appeared to be covered by willows and we couldn't seem to get above them, nor could we find the old trail below them. By this time it was 1930 and the sun had set in the valley although it would still be light for another 2 hours. At that point, it was decision time - even if we found the old trail we didn't have time to make the 1000+'climb, cross the 2 or 3 miles of meadows in the upper basin and get to Red Eagle Pass before dark. So we went back down to the valley floor and lucked into a relatively flat spot between two streambeds.
By this time we were both exhausted, frustrated and disappointed. We were setting up the tent when I looked up and saw this huge rack of antlers rising out of one of the streambeds - and it was followed by the rest of a really magnificent bull elk. I managed to tell Ginny to turn around and look, but I didn't manage to get to the camera in time to capture that "Kodak moment". The look on that elk's face was priceless - we were in his territory and, we think, in his bed - and he was NOT happy about that. But at least I didn't have to fight him for it. I've lost a fight with a bear (he got the food) - I wouldn't be happy about losing one with an elk too. I did get one picture of him - after he went back across the stream he turned around and watched us for a couple seconds - I guess he wanted to make sure he wasn't hallucinating - but I got a picture that probably won't show anything worth taking a picture of. The rest of the night was quiet - no elk, no deer, no bears, no people, just a big almost-full moon. We slept well even though we were at greater risk than at any other time during our 11 days in the backcountry. We knew there were bears there - we'd found at least 2 dozen of their bedding areas in our wandering through the willows. We did get some really interesting and unique pictures - of the back side of some of the mountains (Split Mountain for one) and of the waterfall that comes off Red Eagle Glacier. Not many people get to see those.
Wednesday - August 5, Red Eagle Basin to Red Eagle Lake (7.5 miles)
Ginny: Back at the lake, sitting in the sun. Today was not a lot better than yesterday, though we avoided the hours of bushwhacking through the willows, mostly. We still had our share. We would follow good trail for a while, then lose it at a blowdown. Best part was when we decided to just follow the creek for a trail, following recent horse tracks. We walked in the water for about Ĺ mile - between ankle and thigh deep. The water was cool but not icy. We had so many crossings we were already soaked, so one more didnít hurt and it saved us some time and energy bushwhacking. We picked up the trail at a crossing we recognized from yesterday (a tree still had the original metal blaze) and had little trouble from there. We heard two waterfalls that we didnít see, saw lots of bear scat and some bear bedding areas, but no bears. Again lots of elk and deer tracks, but we are too noisy in this dense wood to see any wildlife.
Iím really disappointed that we werenít able to do what we had planned with the Norris Traverse, but as tired as I am, a shorter day is probably best. We still have a lot of miles to go in the next few days, and the two days of semi-bushwhacking took a lot out of me. Of course, it could be partly just that I missed my morning cup of coffee. Still, a nap and a swim both sound good - which shall I do first? The wind is really blowing this afternoon and the usually still, calm lake has some definite waves. I feel like Iím at the ocean. No other people here yet, but two days ago the other campers didnít arrive until pretty late. It is only 6 miles from the St. Maryís trailhead, where most people start this section - and a lot of them seem to start really late. This is a beautiful spot surrounded by interesting peaks - I am content.
Jim:We were out early, but it still took us until 1500 to get back to the main trail (Triple Divide Trail). We found the old trail in the valley almost immediately after breaking camp and we followed it right out of the valley with no problem whatever. Looking back on it, there were really 2 areas of willows, one in the valley and another up the hill below the north headwall. In between the two was an area which was only partly overgrown - and the old trail ran right through the valley in that zone. If we'd had another day to explore we'd have kept going - I think we could have found the switchbacks and done the traverse, but we were short on time and food and we were both frustrated with the results of yesterday. On the way out we picked up the broken water filter that we'd passed on the way in - proof of grizzly bear presence. That was obvious because of the tooth marks where he'd broken the carbon canister. The rest of the trip was long, but we managed to follow the old trail for about half of the way out. When we lost the trail, we just started walking downstream (IN the stream) until we found a trail crossing that we recognized, then we got back on the trail. The trail does NOT follow the route exactly as described in the Climbers Guide. There are more stream crossings than are indicated by the book.
Again we got to Red Eagle Lake early enough to swim, dry out our gear and spend some time reading and re-hydrating on the beach before dinner. Others started coming in about an hour after we got there, but we had already claimed our old campsite. There was a family group with mom and pop and 3 daughters whose main interest seemed to be fishing and there were a couple girls who work at Many Glacier for the summer and were out in the backcountry for their "weekend". One of the perks of working at the Park is the fantastic hiking available. Another early night.
Thursday - August 6, Red Eagle Lake to Atlantic Creek (11.6 miles)
Ginny: We ate lunch by Hudson Bay Stream next to three waterfalls. We passed another very nice one on the way up. We have a big climb up ahead (1600' in 1.6 miles!) and needed more water before the climb. This was such an inviting spot we couldnít resist a break. The trail is overgrown, but rather pretty with shoulder high wildflowers. It is a sunny clear day with a cool breeze - Oh frabjous day! Perfect! We keep our eyes open for wildlife, but have seen nothing so far. We just missed a moose in the trees, according to some people heading the other way. It is so beautiful!
Later: We didnít hike that far today, so we took our time looking at the views, taking pictures and sitting in the sun. We started late, took long breaks, drank a lot (the dryness here requires a lot more stops than we are used to) and looked above for mountain goats and below for bears. No luck today though. The climb to the pass was steep, but not quite as bad as expected. The views were spectacular of Split Mountain, Triple Divide Mountain, Norris Peak and little half frozen blue lakes below. The other side held a fantastically long waterfall into Medicine Grizzly Lake and another pretty little dark blue lake in a hanging valley above. The descent was continuous - not steep, but rocky and hard on toes and knees. Jim tripped on a rock and landed hard on the scree - at least it wasnít in the part with the 1000' drop. More scrapes to add to the bumps and bruises we got bushwhacking. At Triple Divide Pass we looked over at the peak that we would have descended if our plans to do the Norris Traverse had worked out. Even taking the "easy" route - it has a steep nasty little scree slope down to the bench below. Maybe it is just as well that we didnít do it. I love heights, but this loose shale is tricky. It was hot since we were slabbing the hillside above treeline, but a nice breeze made it bearable. Even Jim has a tan from all this sunshine. Our camp is above Atlantic Creek in the spruce. There are four sites - a family group is right next to us - kids about 8-10 years old. The sites are too close.
Jim:Up and over Triple Divide Pass - and we got a good look at the southern approach to Triple Divide Peak - a long traverse across a couple high benches followed by a couple hundred feet of climbing up a scree slope to the upper meadows ---- and then you get to start the climb up the southern ridge of Triple Divide. Looks a lot less inviting than we'd anticipated - doable, but not easy by any means.
All the way up to the pass we leapfrogged the two girls who work at Many Glacier and listened to them holler "Yo Bear" about every 15 seconds. They take this bear stuff seriously. As well they should - on the way up to the pass we passed several bear "diggings". One of them was 3 feet in diameter and about 3 feet deep. I had a brain cramp and didn't get a picture of that one, but I did get a picture of the next one which was about half as big. Lunch was at Hudsonís Bay Creek - so named because it really does feed the Hudson Bay drainage (Triple Divide Peak is aptly named - it feeds the Atlantic, Pacific and Hudson Bay drainages). There was a group of 4 guys there - not much conversation, but when they packed up and headed for Red Eagle Lake we almost choked at the weight of their packs. One of them must have been carrying 80 pounds - and another actually staggered under the load as he went down the trail.
Then there was the long, long downhill to Atlantic Creek and the campground. When we got to the campground there was a young couple asleep at one site and a family group at the site next to us. Never got to know the young couple - I think they were there for fun and games. The family group was from Massachusetts - mom and pop and 2 kids. They were headed for Morning Star Lake the next day and then out. Later - much later - a group came in and woke everyone up. Didn't sleep well - too much noise and I couldn't breathe right for some reason.
Friday - August 7, Atlantic Creek to Upper Two Medicine Lake (14.3 miles)
Ginny: A group of kids, employees of the park on their days off, came into camp late last night - they are doing the Norris Traverse, without the Red Eagle Valley walk. I am a bit jealous.
Lunch at Pitamakan Overlook - incredibly, outrageously beautiful. There are red, purple, yellow, blue and green mountains in all directions. The valley at our feet has two aquamarine lakes (Pitamakan and Lake of the Seven Winds - love that name!) The next valley over, Dry Fork, has a couple of lakes, the pyramid shape of Flinch Peak behind, a view of Two Medicine Lake 8 miles away, and the flat Plains. beyond. To our left is the Nyack Valley - narrow Cut Bank Pass, the glacier on Mt. Thompson, Triple Divide Peak, mountain after mountain and green valleys between. We can see valleys heading off in four different directions from here. For the next three miles we walk on or along the Continental Divide to Dawson Pass. Itís a longer route than the "official" CDT, but the views are spectacular. (They wonít let horses up here because the drop-off is a couple thousand feet and the trail is rather narrow.) The wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Happiness is. We saw 11 bighorn sheep at Pitamakan Pass - a group of six down by the lake, two on the other side of the pass, and three on the way up to the overlook. It was a steep climb to the overlook, but well worth it. I love this high country.
Later:Coming toward the campsite, we were tempted to go on to the main campground and try to get a reservation there so we could get a milkshake and hamburger (hiker hunger has settled in), but we decided to have a peaceful night by the lake here instead. Besides, this campsite is closer, and weíre tired. It makes tomorrow longer than we expected (15 miles instead of 10), but this site should be much quieter than a busy RV campground. At the trail junction there was a bright yellow sign warning us to watch out for a mountain lion that is active in this area. Thatís the third warning weíve seen - the one at Waterton regarding bears and berry bushes, a warning near Granite Park Chalet warning tourists about bears along the Highline Trail and this one. Evidently the bears have been coming a bit too close to the Highline Trail - probably the most popular trail in the park. We heard about a bear coming right up to the Visitor Center at Logan Pass, and another story about the ranger at Granite Park running out with his bear spray while a day hiker stopped to take a picture of the bear that was approaching him on the trail. After about 15 miles, over 3000' elevation gain and loss, we are pooped. Jim is feeling the effects of too much sun, I think. We walked along a narrow track 1000' above the Nyack Valley and then turned the corner to descend to the Two Medicine Valley. It was extremely beautiful. We saw 12 more Bighorn sheep, including several nursing kids. They were only about 50' from the trail - well camouflaged until one stood up as we passed by.
We are camped near Upper Two Medicine Lake in a narrow valley between Lone Hiker and Helen Mountains. We thought our reservations were for the main campground at Two Medicine, but we were wrong. (There are three Two Medicine Lakes - Upper, Lower and just Two Medicine.) A thunderstorm seems to be brewing. Wind and big gray cumulus clouds have cooled things off. I jumped in the lake anyhow. It felt wonderful, but too cold to stay in long. This lake is funny because it has tons of dead wood piled up at the end of the lake. Not rotted, just ghost trees lining the beach.
Today was a very good day - but a bit painful because of the prolonged downhill. My knees are saying unspeakable things to me, and so are my toes. (Jim lost two more toenails because of the downhill.)
I am not ready for this to end. Only one more day. Yes, I want a shower (need a shower!) and food, but this has been so good, so beautiful. The hike from Pitamakan to Dawson Pass was some of the most spectacular scenery Iíve ever seen - but it all is around here. As Jim said to someone, "Glacier is everything we expected, and more." I was worried that it would be a disappointment because of all the other people -- I donít like crowds -- but it is worth doing. A lot like Colorado last year, but without the rain and altitude sickness.
Jim: Another day to remember - the trail was the usual relatively flat approach to the pass along a stream followed by steep, steady uphill switchbacks. At the base of the pass were a couple lakes where we pumped as much water as we could carry. Halfway up the hill we saw a group of female bighorn sheep and I caught sight of the south end of a northbound male. We took a break when we got to Pitamakan Pass and spent some time with the awesome views back toward Morning Star Lake and off into the Oldman Lake drainage. Then we started the next 600' climb up to Pitamakan Overlook and saw another group of female sheep but these all had their young ones with them. Got some good pictures here. Lunch was at Pitamakan Overlook where the Nyack and Coal Creek drainages became visible. The trail then turned the corner and slabbed along a 12" wide goat path on the western side on Mt Morgan with a 2000+' drop into the Nyack Creek drainage just inches from our right boots. The trail then got to the southernmost end of the ridge and made a sharp left turn at a little platform where there were just unbelievable views back into the Nyack and Coal Creek on the right and into Oldman Lake and the Dry Fork drainage on the left. Then the trail slabbed along the western side of Mt Morgan and Flinsch Peak above the east side of the Nyack (still with that 2000+' drop only now it was fractions of an inch from our right boots rather than inches) for another 2 miles to Dawson Pass. At the saddle between Mt Morgan and Flinsch Peak we could also see back down into the Cut Bank valley and over to Pitamakan Overlook where we had just had lunch a little while ago. We met one group of guys going the other way and they looked a little worried. They asked us if they'd passed Dawson Pass yet - they had. But we didn't tell them how far they still had to go on that goat track - it wouldn't have made them happy. When we got to Dawson Pass I finally found a place to drop my pack and get out my hat - we'd been out in sunlight at 8000' for about 3 miles and I was fried - but I wasn't about to try to get the hat while we were on the goat track. Even Ginny wasn't comfortable with that one. But the scenery was absolutely fantastic. I've never seen anything to match it, but I'll keep on trying.
The trek from Dawson Pass to Upper Two Medicine Lake was a long tough downhill that got to both of us. There were a lot of dayhikers and then we met a group with backpacks who said they were headed into the Nyack. Hope they were carrying a lot of water cause they had a 3 mile climb to Dawson Pass, a 3.5 mile walk across the goat track that we'd just finished and then several miles down an extremely steep trail into the Nyack before they'd get to another water source. And they were starting this trek at 1600 (4 pm).
We were both ready to get to the campground tonight. We found a campsite practically right on the lake - and pretty much isolated from everyone else. Ginny went for a swim - I wasn't that ambitious. And I had a really bad sunburn on my head. There was a young married couple and another group of 2 couples at the campground when we got there. The young marrieds offered us a quesadilla at dinner - and it was delicious. The other couples offered us a ride from Two Medicine to East Glacier the next day (that's where they had parked their car) but we couldn't do that - can't be real "thruhikers" if we're yellow-blazing. They also offered to carry out our garbage, but since we're going to the same place - and our packs are lighter than theirs at this point, we couldn't in good conscience do that either - but it WAS a form of Trail Magic and we really did appreciate the offer. People really can be good if you give them a chance. Two more guys wandered into the campground while we were eating and promptly went off to see if they could catch some fish for dinner. They weren't successful. Another sleepless night for me - I've got a cold. That's something new - I've never gotten sick on a trip before (except for the altitude sickness in Colorado last year).
Saturday - August 8, Upper Two Medicine Lake to East Glacier Park (15.2 miles)
Ginny: Iím clean! Halleluiah! We're sitting in our room at the Whistling Swan. It is small, but the shower was hot and strong, so all is well. Today was a good day - but very hot and dry. We left camp at about 8:30 (canít seem to do those early starts anymore) and made the five miles to the campground by about 10:15. We passed one couple who said, "Thereís a cougar here," leaving unclear whether they meant they had just seen it, or if it was just generally known to be in the vicinity. We visited with the ranger at the ranger station for a few minutes (not one of the ones we met 12 days ago) then went on to the camp store for their famous "Worldís best huckleberry milkshake." They were good, really thick, but very expensive. I thought Markís were as good. We sat looking out over the lake at a scattering of boats and fishermen. Jim had a hamburger while I ate a bagel - 10:30 was just too early for me to be ready for lunch. I felt very grungy compared to all the nice neat tourists. Only 7 days since my last shower - but a lot of miles.
Then we hiked up the road to begin the climb to Scenic Point. It is a different Montana. That section of the trail is really in the rain shadow - utterly dry. We passed a lot of dead standing trees, ghostly white on the hillside, then a scattering of bristlecone pine as we switchbacked up the mountain. We passed a waterfall that was okay, but nothing compared to the dozens of othersí weíd seen. Weíve generally seen between three and six waterfalls a day - many of them big ones. The valley we climbed above was really dry, the top of the ridge even more so. There were a few scrubby alpine plants, and one lone marmot that tried to follow us home after Iíd sweet talked him a few minutes. I was waiting for Jim and scared this poor marmot who was trying to pass through the rock at his back. I couldnít leave him terrified, so I talked to him for a minute until Jim caught up. Then as we went on up the trail, I turned around to say something to Jim and noticed this funny little shape trotting up the trail behind us. The view to the east was of grassy plains, to the west the red and purple mountains of Glacier. We saw Dawson Pass where we were yesterday, and Two Medicine and Lower Two Medicine Lakes at our feet. It was a hazy day, so not good for pictures, but still it was nice.
The descent was as steep as the climb, at least for a while. Eventually the vegetation changed to scrubby pines and willows, then grassy meadows, then lodgepole and aspen forest. We met a group of day hikers from the East Glacier Lodge, filtering water, and three people on horseback. One girl said, "Youíve been out for 11 days! You must be hungry. Do you want some cheese?" Yesterday we were offered a cheese quesadilla at dinner from a couple that was just there overnight. That we did accept - delicious! Even out here, there is trail magic.
We were out in full sun for most of the day and ended up on the edge of dehydration. Our water lasted, but just barely. The first thing we did in town was stop at the store to buy coke, orange juice, two beers and bananas. We finally saw our first and only CDT trail marker at the park boundary. Nowhere else has there been the slightest indication that the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs through Glacier National Park. There have been occasional metal blazes on trees, and some yellow markers that I thought were blazes but that turn out to be bear tree markers. They put some strips of barbed wire along certain trees along the trail that are good scratching trees. From time to time they pick up the strands of hair and do DNA tests on them. The yellow squares mark the test trees. Anyhow, there is no blazing like Iíve gotten used to in the east, but there also isnít much need for it, at least this time of year. The trails are pretty obvious - except in certain overgrown meadows, and blazes arenít much help there. In the snow it may not be quite as obvious.
We saw lots of horse damage on the stretch between the park and town - really deep ruts. Evidently the ground really holds water - and the horses pass by every day. It was like trying to walk railroad tracks, hopping from rut to rut. In the park there are signs at the junctions, outside we had to rely on the guidebook. ("Turn right at the meadow with the lone aspen" - well, there are four small aspens there now, but we got the picture.) The guidebook directions were good despite the lack of blazes. They only seem to mark turns, and not always then.
Iím happy that we did what we set out to do out here, hike from one end of the park to the other, but Iím very sorry to see it end. Despite the aches and pains and smelly clothes, I am happy out here. I love the colors and textures of the rocks and mountains, the constant variety of the woods and wildflowers (mostly lupine, fleabane and paintbrush today), the constant search for wildlife or wild berries (we ate some really good huckleberries and thimbleberries along the way), the peace and beauty of sitting by a lake or pond watching the sparkles and the fish jumping, feeling cool breezes on a sun burned body, the aching aliveness of bathing in a cold lake, walking easily and lightly on smooth trail - so much happiness.
Jim: Another long - and in this case, dry - day. We had an easy 5 miles into Two Medicine where we dumped the garbage, left the broken, bear-chewed water filter with the ranger, then went over to get Coke, huckleberry milkshakes and a cheeseburger for me and a bagel for Ginny. That was a fast $15 - but worth it.
Then we got water and started the climb to Scenic Point - another 2200' climb along another goat track, although this one was a little wider than the Pitamakan-Dawson Pass route. This was also the area where Mark's friend died and was eaten by the bears. But there were no bears here today (at least none that we saw) --- just lots of tourists. It's only 3 miles to Scenic Point - but it's a tough 3 miles - all uphill. There were 2 groups up there when we got there - one headed back toward Two Medicine and the other headed toward East Glacier. We kept on toward East Glacier and caught the one group at the first stream crossing where they were pumping water. This was a very dry section - and a very dry day. I hadn't quite filled all the water bottles at Two Medicine and there came a time when I wished I hadn't neglected that little detail. We saw the only CDT marker of the entire hike - on the signpost as we left the Park. The rest of the trail was basically a gentle downhill, which contrasted greatly with the first very steep 3 miles after Scenic Point. The only problem was that about a mile of that was walking on the ruts made by the horses during the wet season - it was like walking on railroad ties with deep mud and horse piss in between (incentive to NOT miss one of those "railroad ties"). Yeah - I got pictures of that. Hope they show what I wanted them to.
Finally got to East Glacier, stopped to say hello to Mark, stopped to get some Coke, beer, and orange juice and headed for the motel to unpack, get a shower and some clean clothes and re-hydrate. Then to Serrano's for dinner and early to bed.
Sunday - August 9, East Glacier Park
Ginny: A lazy day, waiting for the train. The eastbound morning train was canceled. Last nightís 7:30 pm westbound train came in at 12:30 am - only 29 hours late (some bridges were washed out in Wisconsin). Tonightís is only supposed to be a little late - we hope. We spent the day wandering around town (doesnít take long, itís a small town), sat on the balcony at Glacier Lodge admiring the mountains, sat on the porch at the general store and watched the trains go by every half hour or so, and ate. The cars were all rented out or we would have driven back to the park, but we were too tired yesterday to make concrete plans or reservations.
The hills are showing their best face - blue skies, green hills, blue mountains, very clear air. Yesterday when we were hiking was hazy, today is crystal clear - naturally. I really hate to leave, even knowing that weíll be back. I contrast the peace and beauty of these past weeks with the insanity of living in the city, and I hate to get on the train. But discussions with Mark revealed the difficulty of living in a place where a 100 day season must provide the income for the next 8 months and the town closes up for the winter. Markís is about the only business still open after October. Some of the people here spend their summers in Montana and winters in Arizona. Not a bad life, but not much security either. Some do quite well though.
Jim: A long day of sitting, waiting and reading. We're not used to this inactivity but we probably need a day like this for our sore muscles and feet. And to give my cold a chance to die - although it looks like that's not gonna happen real soon. We packed and left our bags at Mark's place, then wandered around town and the East Glacier Lodge, bought a few things (i.e.- spent too much money), ate too much, read a little and finally caught the train to Whitefish (it was late again). Got to Whitefish, caught a ride to the motel and crashed. Waiting all day like that is really tiring.
Monday - August 10, Silver Spring, MD
Jim: Another day of waiting - breakfast at Denny's, a walk across the street to mail the stove back home, a taxi to the airport - and it was noon. But our flight didn't leave until 1355 - and it was late too. Late enough that I started to worry about making our connection in Minneapolis, but we did get there in time. They didn't feed us on the plane so we were hungry when we got to Minneapolis but we were too late to get something to eat - they were already boarding our flight to Dulles. So we got on the plane and then sat there for 45 minutes while they "shifted luggage to balance the aircraft". Should have gotten something to eat before we got on the aircraft. Seems Northwest wasn't on strike - but they were in a "slowdown" mode. Getting a shuttle out of Dulles was a trick, too. When we finally got one it took him 90 minutes to get us home - and we were the first stop. That's normally a 40 minute trip when I drive it - in traffic - and he was doing it at 0100 with no traffic. The upside is that we got to meet Bob Mason - he was returning from a week's climbing trip in British Columbia. Again, we got home and crashed - all those dirty clothes and equipment will wait until tomorrow.