July 4 –Drive to Augusta, MT
It’s amazing how chaotic it is getting organized for a long hike. We start the Great Divide Trail in a week, and there is still a lot to do to get ready. We spent the morning making calls, doing laundry and attempting to buy a new camera. We finally found one in Helena – but not the one we wanted. That camera was out of stock all over the state.
We drove through rolling hills, past farms and lakes, to Augusta, which is a small town used by some CDT hikers for resupply. It’s near the Bob Marshall Wilderness and is a small friendly ranch town. We resupplied at Benchmark on both our CDT hikes, so we were curious about what the town was like. Our motel room lacks phone, WIFI or TV, despite a sign outside claiming all of the above, but it’s quiet and affordable. Only one other room is occupied. We stopped at the Cowboy Bar for dinner and enjoyed seeing where the locals all hang out. They make a good burger too. Fireworks were intermittent outside. Happy July 4th.
We spent the rest of the evening getting our maildrops organized. We have too much of some things, too little of others, but we’ll survive. Some food we plan to buy en route, like bread, cheese and cookies, but we figure that Liptons or tuna in a pouch won’t be available in the small camp stores, so we bought all our breakfasts and dinners, plus things like vitamins, Advil, etc.
I’m excited about our trek on the GDT, but anxious too. It’s beautiful country, but rough hiking, and we’re not used to carrying 8-10 days food. Resupply options will be different, because inexpensive lodging is lacking along the trail. We attempted to book a room at the new hostel in Field and learned that it had been fully booked months ago. Lodging on the GDT is going to be scarce and expensive. We’ll have to decide whether to splurge or just live with being dirty. Some rest days may be spent camping on the trail, which means carrying even more food.
It also means no showers or laundry for long stretches. Yech. I get stinky after two days! Oh well, we’ll survive – and maybe we’ll learn something about real backcountry hiking. The American long distance trails can spoil you, since towns are usually fairly frequent, with affordable lodging, showers and laundry easily available. This hike will be very different from previous long distance hikes, with longer stretches in the backcountry, limited resupply stops, and long stretches between towns. In short, it will be a much more primitive experience than our previous hikes where we were able to take a day or two off in town every five or six days. As I said, we’ve been spoiled.
July 5 – East Glacier
We took our time leaving Augusta and enjoyed a leisurely drive through rolling hills to the Blackfeet Reservation and East Glacier. We spotted a few deer and several antelope scattered amid herds of cows and horses. Mark had an empty room at the Whistling Swan, so we settled in after enjoying our usual huckleberry shake at the store. It’s still a really good milkshake.
Our next door neighbor is a hiker we met on the PCT in 2000, Hawkeye. He is thruhiking the CDT for the second time. We met another old acquaintance, Merlin, who is section hiking the trail in large chunks – this year he’s tackling Montana. We ate dinner together at Serranos, where we met another thruhiker, Daybreak. He’s heading south, a bit later than most thruhikers start their hikes. Hawkeye flipped north from Colorado. It was fun to meet them all.
There are a couple more late-starting southbound hikers in Glacier as well. Meanwhile, to the south a large plume of smoke emanates from the Bob Marshall. Hopefully it is west of the CDT so won’t affect these hikers. (Note – there were several fires on the CDT that closed a large chunk of the trail for the rest of the summer.)
July 6 – 6.3 km in Waterton Lakes National Park
We unofficially began the Great Divide Trail (GDT) today. We’ll start it for real next week; today was just a prelude. But a nice one.
Our full Great Divide Trail Journal is on the Spiriteaglehome.com website.
Saturday, July 7 – 1 mile – motel in Lethbridge
A comment in an online CDT journal led us to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta. Thanks Kinch. It has the largest collection of Plains Indian petroglyphs in North America. I understand why. On the banks of the Milk River are sandstone cliffs that have been eroded into odd shapes and hoodoos. Beyond are the Sweetgrass hills – rare mountains rising above the flat grasslands. It feels like a special, spiritual place.
The Blackfeet, among others, carved images into the soft rock. Many of the images were more modern, with horses, but there were also some very old shield people. You can only visit a couple of panels on your own – a large battle scene being the most interesting--otherwise you have to go on a tour. So we did. It was very slow and leisurely, but Bonnie was a good guide. My only complaint is that we only saw a very small portion of the rock art there. Supposedly there are 50 sites, but we only saw a half dozen or so in our two-hour tour. Still, it was very interesting and the Park is very pretty with the river and the hills and lush green grass.
We saw a couple of deer and spent a few minutes watching tunnel wasps bringing caterpillars to their hidden tunnels. That was fascinating, watching them uncover their holes, drag in a green caterpillar, then hide the hole again. We were lucky to arrive when we did, since they only have two tours a day – at 10:00 and 2:00. We had to wait a bit, but that gave us time to go out to the battle scene petroglyph panel and eat a quick lunch before our tour.
July 8 – Avalanche CG in Glacier NP – 3 miles
We stayed in Shelby, Montana last night at an old, but decent, motel. We slept late and headed to Glacier NP where we drove the Going to the Sun Road for the first time across Logan Pass. We’ve been half-way up several times, but never had the chance to drive all the way over to the west side of the Park. It was cloudy and a bit hazy from smoke, but beautiful. Waterfalls were everywhere, falling from glaciers and snowfields high above.
At Logan Pass we stopped to do a very popular short hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. There was a lot of snow still on the trail, but it was very crowded. Logan Pass was a zoo! It was beautiful, with green grass covered in yellow glacier lilies, white Spring Beauty and orange paintbrush with snow banks and blue glacial tarns scattered about. I had fun slipping and sliding on the snow, but I thought the girls wearing flip flops were probably not having much fun. That snow was cold! Skiers and snowboarders were enjoying a few of the steeper snowy sections. We passed a small herd of mountain goats, three adults and two babies, and later saw another lone goat. I yelled at one idiot who was trying to feed the male goat potato chips so he could get a better picture. The goats were feeling crowded and kept moving off, but the idiot ignored the fact that they were getting upset. The goats didn’t mind being photographed, but they didn’t like being touched. I got really mad, and let him know it. We continued to a nice overlook, then turned around and walked back to the car.
We continued driving down the west side, passing another herd of goats next to the road and stopping to photograph a couple of waterfalls. Near MacDonald Creek a bull moose caught our eye. Fortunately, there was a pullout there, so we stopped to take his picture too. Soon afterwards, we spotted a campground which had some vacant spots, so we pulled in and made ourselves at home.
Monday, July 9 – 4 miles Glacier NP, Camp at Two Medicine
It was a fairly uneventful day. We drove from Avalanche CG past Lake MacDonald to West Glacier, then back to East Glacier where we looked, in vain, for the backcountry permits that were supposed to have been mailed there. Nada! We called and asked that they be faxed to us. Fortunately they agreed to do that. We ate a good lunch at Two Medicine Grill – chili and cheese fries. I love being a hiker! So nice to be able to eat anything and know I'll burn it off on the trail.
We ended up at Two Medicine Campground, about 10 miles from East Glacier. We did a dayhike past Aster Falls to an overlook. It was a nice walk on a cool day. Our only wildlife was a cow moose this morning and some ptarmigan this afternoon and an eagle midday. Last night a family came running up to the ranger giving the campfire talk, excited because they had just run into a mountain lion. Since they were hiking with kids at dusk, the danger was real.