Things were off to a rocky start. Before I boarded the train a man in blue dungarees stood on the ticket counter and spoke at the crowd assembled before the boarding gate. The refinery near the tracks had caught fire and was creating a hazard. “Fire is a hazard” he told us. After a brief eternity I boarded the train and waited some more. At least the views were nice and we had Ronda to keep us company.
“Make sure you’re flushing the toilets.” Ronda would say over the PA. “A young man just alerted me they are not being flushed!” Bless you Ronda.
I slept or something like it and late the next morning morning stepped off and into Glacier National Park. Hitched a ride to a permitting station and learned it’s hard to get backcountry permits the week of the 4th of July. Spent a couple nights waiting on those, but it wasn’t too bad. Met some cool people, ate some good pizza, and explored parts of the park I wouldn’t get a chance to see on the hike.
Woke up early on the 4th of July. Got picked up by a one-thumbed Canadian fellow. I think he was drunk. It was 7AM. Got out soon after and a lovely couple offered a ride to the trail head where I straddled the border. This was finally happening.
Glacier is gorgeous when you can see more than three feet in front of you. The thing is you can’t see that far for a lot of it. The brush is oppressive at times. Almost as if the forest itself is trying to suffocate the trail. They call it a forest but it feels like a jungle.
You don’t know what’s lurking in that brush and so you have to yell at the bear that’s maybe there. “Hey bear,” or “hey oh,” or “Kanye West!” They make you watch a little video before you can enter the backcountry. It says you should yell out so bears know you’re coming. If you surprise the bear you gotta sweet talk the bear and get off trail. “Hey boo boo, I’m just passing through.” Sometimes bears are dicks. When you run into a grumpy bear you gotta yell at them. “Hey jerk, get out of here” If this enrages the bear you gotta mace em. That’s usually gonna do the trick but sometimes it doesn’t and well then you gotta lay down and cover your neck. But “if the bear starts to eat you fight back” the video says.
Stoney Indian Pass was a little taste of things to come. It was a steep climb but rewarding. The pass afforded some excellent views for the first time and I realized why people come to this park.
It was over soon enough and the trail spilled back into the soupy green house that is the forest floor. At camp we met a stranger who offered us ape food. Like ape food they feed the chimps at the zoo. Turns out you can order it off Amazon. It tasted like a Trader Joe’s cracker.
The pit toilets in this park are sort of like cardboard closets you poop in. But at least the corrugated wooden walls afford some privacy. On this particular morning I heard a large beast roaming by and I knew it was a grizzly. I thought “this is how I die. Mauled on a toilet.” Then someone shouted “moose!” Sweet relief. Bonus, I got to see a moose.
A short hiking day. Much needed after the pass. Stopped at Goat Haunt/Waterton Ranger Station where tourists can sail into Glacier from Canada. A very cool spot. Talked to the rangers and border patrol. Emptied my trash and ate snacks by Waterton Lake.
The evening ended at a buggy creek where an armada of flies, mosquitos and other assorted insects had made their way into the tight spaces between the rain fly and the tent itself. A terrible chorus of buzzing and whirring. A symphony of trapped and hopeless bugs.
Bowman lake was glorious. It’s the last backcountry spot on the PNT that’s also in Glacier so there was a large congregation of PNT hikers. Some new faces and some old. It was all fun and games until the encounter…
My guess is that he picked up my scent and had been stalking me for a while. The beast didn’t know fear, only hunger. The straps of my trekking poles did little to satisfy his demonic urges. But my undershirt was saturated in the odors and funk of four days in the backcountry. Brimming with salt. So much tasty salt. A dear ate my shirt.
Not all indignities are equal.
The first town stop, if you can call it a town, is Polebridge, MT. Polebridge is something like an old West pit stop. There’s a mercantile, a saloon, and a hostel. The hostel and saloon don’t open until 5PM, so if you find your way into town sooner than that you can enjoy stinking up the fro
nt patio of the Mercantile. They sell amazing pastries and other assorted sundries, but not much in the way of hiking food. Mail takes a very long time to reach Polebridge and because of this the resupply package my partner and I were expecting never made it. We had to forward to Bonners Ferry. Fortunately we met some really amazing people in Glacier and they cobbled together some food for us. The saying goes that the trail provides, but I believe it’s the people on the trail.
The trail outside of Glacier is not a national park. It’s not even a trail sometimes. Hiking along dirt roads offers a chance to walk side by side with your adventuring buddies. The actual hiking trails were not maintained the way they were in Glacier. So there are blowdowns and other obstacles. This can make an 18 mile day feel like a 30.
Camped at Red Meadow Lake where the mosquitos were the worst yet. It’s important to take a moment to mention just how awful the mosquitos are out here. I had visions of a James Bond villain subjecting his victims to a torture chamber swarming with exactly X mosquitos. Whereby X = the exact numbers of mosquitos required to drain you to the point of heart failure.
It was a relatively easy 15 miles at first. With five down and several hours of daylight left I headed into a section of the forest that burned down last year. The trees were crusty burnt up husks. The ground was ash. It felt like the haunted forest right out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.
I’m very lucky I wasn’t alone. My partner and two other bad ass women were with me. None of us could locate the trail and so we moved forward. GPS systems, paper maps, and other tracking devices made their way out. It was slow goings. Up and down the ridge line. Surging into the brush and bushwacking all the way. Exhausting, grueling work.
We found water eventually and from there were able to extrapolate our position on a map. We got up high and were able to get a signal on the GPS. Eventually we found a trail and then it was a long cruel walk to camp where I collapsed into my tent and slept like the dead.
Day 8 & 9
Hiked out and caught a ride into Eureka where I’m eating lots of food and recovering. Will be hitting the road tomorrow and heading to Yaak, MT where the road literally ends and the only internet access is via dial up modem. Will update again in Bonners Ferry.