CDT Day 162 A Perfect Day

27th September 

15.5 miles

Reynolds campground (2623.5) to Many Glacier (2639)

It was warm last night. For the first time in many nights we were not wrapped up in sleeping bags like butterflies in cocoons. And the warmth stayed with us for the rest of the day. The skies were blue and the wind was slight. It was a good day to be hiking.

We had a problem. We were a bit low on food. With all the restaurants closed we had to come up with more creative ways to increase our larder of food. Only a mile from camp some day hikers asked us about our trip, we received fruit in return. 

The hike to the top of Piegan Pass came quickly. On route we came upon a flock of Bighorn Sheep. They grazed near the top of the pass as we hiked by. I think they are the least common of the grazing animals in the lower 48.

Piegan Pass did not disappoint. Distant glacial mountains in one direction, jagged peaks peaks in the other and a narrow hiking trail that is the CDT. No photo could capture the beauty of the area. In fact the whole of Glacier National Park has exceeded my expectation. 

On the decent to the park village of Many Glacier there was a lot of bear activity, scat and prints. We ran into a southbound hiker, Smiley. He has been hiking the CDT northbound but flipped up to Canada to walk southbound. Last week he was mauled by a grizzly in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. He bore large tooth marks on his butt. He described a look of anger that the grizzly had in its eyes. Bubbles and I saw his puncture wounds. They were nasty. He is lucky and grateful that he is still able to hike. That was two CDT thru hikers that have been mauled in the area between Wind River Range and Yellowstone National Park. Future hikers take note, be careful in that area.

We staggered into the campground at Many Glacier. Not before we walked past the closed Many Glacier hotel. Bubbles told me to wait while she entered the closed hotel. She walked out a minute later with a cheeseburger. Workers renovating the hotel felt sorry that the restaurant was closed.

We walked into the campground and several campers gave us fruit and other meals. We now had plenty of food. The kindness of strangers is alive and well.

CDT Day 161 Surprising a Grizzly Bear while hiking

26th September 

13.9 miles

Red Eagle Lake (2609.6) to Reynolds Campground (2623.5)

The campsite last night was rather exposed to the wind leaving us both lacking in sleep. Lucky for us the trail was rather easy today, no high passes to climb or strong cold wind to battle. 

The trail wound it’s way to the banks of St Mary Lake. On the other side of the lake was the famous Going to the Sun road. There was lots of evidence of bears in the area. Several loads of bear poo per mile littered the trail.

Bubbles and I were talking, as we do when hiking to let the bears know we are in the area. We rounded a bend, Bubbles was still talking. A Grizzly Bear, not 30 feet from us, ran off into the thick undergrowth. I only caught sight of the brown body with a blonde patch on its shoulder. Bubbles had her bear spray out with the safety off ready to spray like a gunfighter in a western movie. But the danger had ran away, the grizzly was more scared of us. Bubbles was a little shaken. She didn’t want to walk behind me for the first half mile or so. 

A short time later we started to see Day hikers on their way to one of the waterfalls. They smelled so nice and clean. They probably thought we smelled gross. Not long later we were in camp, nice and early. I took stock of our food. I think we might be a little low on food in the coming days. I hope I’m wrong.

CDT Day 160 Triple Divide Pass

25th September 

14.7 miles

Morning Star Lake (2594.9) to Red Eagle Lake (2609.6)

It was only about 6 miles to the top of a place known as Triple Divide Pass. The first 3 miles was either flat or downhill before the 2000 foot climb to the pass. The higher we climbed the stronger the wind. Near the top of the pass the winds were not only cold but Bubbles fought the wind to stay upright. 

This trail is doing its best to stop our forward progress. For the second day in a row I opened a packet of the chemical hand warmers. Unlike yesterday, these one seemed to work ok. Usually it’s me that suffers when it’s cold but today it was Bubbles.

Triple Divide Pass looks over a valley with steep walled cliffs, hanging lakes and grand mountains on one side and steep mountains with the last remnants of glaciers on the other. How the Mountain Goats cling to the sides of these impossibly steep mountains are beyond me. But they do. We saw maybe 20 of them in total.

Our very late start in the morning meant a late arrive at Red Eagle Lake, our camp for the night. Camp is perched at the end of the one mile long lake. Looking back from where we came the snow capped mountains and ominous dark grey clouds are almost outdone by the green, red and yellow foliage of the trees or the silhouettes of the fire struck trees. This trail is impressive.

CDT Day 159 Dangerous Snow covered Trail

24th September 

13.2 miles

Two Medicine (2581.7) to Morning Star Lake (2594.9)

Finally back on trail. Nothing like a few days of boredom and binge Game of Thones watching to crank up the enthusiasm for hiking. I’m going to Canada, its finally going to happen. The good weather window is here, so says the weather forecast.

It was 10am when Bubbles and I set off on the trail. We took the Dawson Pass alternate, slightly longer but more scenic section. The trail followed Two Medicine Lake for several miles before climbing to the pass. On route we sampled the last few Huckleberries of the season. Those most delicious of red berries.

As we approached the top of Dawson Pass a lone Bighorn Sheep hiked up the trail with us. Then light snow started to fall. It was cold and the trail was a whiteout. 

The trail traverses the slope. At first it was easy and scenic. Small patches of snow turned into big patches of snow which turned into, snow hiking. The further we went the harder the hiking became. Hiking on a 45 degree slope, covered in snow, with lots of exposure is not my idea of grand hiking. Bubbles was of the same opinion. She was genuinely scared. I did my best to allay her fears. I kicked steps into the snow when needed. I tried not to look down. It was a long way to fall. This was hard hiking in these conditions and I was taking Bubbles on this trail. Her first real overnight backcountry hiking trip.

We made it through the snow to lower and safer altitudes. Nerves were a little frayed but we were still quite positive about our journey. Had I known the trail would have been so dangerous I would not have taken it. I’d have planned another safer route. Even so, it was stunningly beautiful. This place is unique.

We descended past several bright blue lakes to our camp for the night at Morning Star Lake. We shared our camp with an off duty ranger and his partner. What do rangers do on their time off? Go hiking in the backcountry.

CST Day 155-158 Waiting Out the Bad Weather 

20th-23rd September 

0 miles

East Glacier 

Four days of waiting for the foul weather to pass. Rain, cold and wind. I would not like to be in the mountains now. Unfortunately Teflon decided to head home. Not before she took Thermometer, Bubbles and I on a scenic drive to the Going to the Sun road, one of the most scenic roads in North America.

A couple of years ago I met the granddaughter of the builder, hello Laura and Ron if you are reading, they told me about this road. I must admit that I never though I’d be on the road despite my strong desire to see it. Waterfalls fell into seemingly bottomless valleys. The road clung impossibly to the side of the mountain. It lived up to its reputation.

Several more days were spent in the town of East Glacier. Hikers came and went, all with horror stories of the bad weather they survived on route to Canada. Some hikers were lost when they returned to town after finishing their hike. The real world of jobs, careers and stress called some. Others were numb and distant, some were already making plans for yet another long distance hike. This thru hiking thing can ruin your life in the best possible way.

My old hiking buddy Spontanious arrived in East Glacier. He hitch hiked here with his girlfriend. He was about 400 miles further south on the trail. I convinced him that northern Montana is getting cold, better to be here now. Maybe one winter storm will close down the trail for the rest of the year. It would be safer for him to hike Glacier National Park now and hike south to finish the trail. Late September is a potentially dangerous time in these parts.

When not chatting with other hikers I was introduced to the phenomenon know as Game of Thrones. That TV series that has hooked the world. I spent hours watching it. Unfortunately now I am hooked. Although I must say I would rather be on the trail, I’m hooked about being on the trail.

Lucky for us there is a good weather window. Generally fine and sunny with little or no chance of rain. It’s finally time to hike to Canada.

CDT Day 154 Still the wind is too strong 

18th – 19th September 

6 miles 

Two Medicine (2575.7) to Two Medicine (2581.7)

Teflon, Bubbles and I hitch hiked from East Glacier to Two Medicine. The intention was to hike backwards to the point we got turned around yesterday, thus completing the section of trail. The weather had other ideas. The wind was still 60 mile per hour in gusts in the town of East Glacier, goodness knows what it is in the mountains.

Again it was not safe to hike. We set up camp at the campground and sat out the crazy weather. I just wanted to hike. We all just wanted to hike but it was just not safe. We’re not frustrated, we’re patient. The weather is forecast to change for the better tomorrow.

While sitting at camp I spied a dark shake moving on the side of the distant hill. A grizzly bear. Teflon and I walked a little closer to the hill fir a closer look. A black bear too. A grizzly bear and a black bear next to the campsite.

We all set off the following morning to hike to the top of the pass. It was cold and I made it to my turn around point. We reached the bottom with all the best intentions of setting off towards Canada. But the weather had other ideas again. The forecast for rain and snow prevented us from setting off. The hard decision was made to head back to East Glacier and stay a couple of days then head off during the good weather window in the next couple of days. It just seemed like the safe thing to do, live to hike another day. 

The forward forecast shows a good weather window next week. So for now my CDT hike is on hold again. That unfortunately means that Teflon is heading back home as her vacation time will not allow her to stay. I will make it to Canada, I will.

CDT Day 151-153 Retreat from the mountains 

16th-18th September 

16 miles

East Glacier (2559.7) to East Glacier (2575.7)

It was windy. I was blown off my feet. My hiking partners Teflon and Bubbles had been blown off their feet many times. The wind was over 100 miles per hour. At first it was fun to be in the strong winds, before long it was downright dangerous. I wonder if anybody reading this has experienced wind so strong that it is impossible to walk or been blown off their feet while hiking. 

Several hours earlier we left East Glacier on route to Two Medicine a small campground with a backcountry ranger station. It was there we planned to pick up our camping permits, we didn’t make it. We left town late morning. The weather was overcast, not a breath of wind. It would be an easy day of hiking.

We reached the top of the ridge when it was too windy and dangerous to continue. We had only 100 meters to traverse a tricky exposed ridge before the 2 mile downhill hike to Two Medicine. But we couldn’t make it. My better judgement and little voice in my head said, turn around. The bitter cold froze my face. I couldn’t speak properly as my mouth muscles started to freeze. It was like is been to the dentist. It was cold. On the descent the wind blew the beanie off my head, off a cliff into the abyss. For the first time in my life I made the decision to turn around and retreat back to the town of east glacier. There have been times when I’ve had to wait out weather and times I’ve had to bail off a trail due to the weather but never have I had to make a full retreat. Teflon is an experienced hiker and she had never been in wind that strong. She also thought a retreat was the best idea. Despite Bubbles being in a multi month hiking journey, this is her first overnight hiking trip into the mountains, what a start for her. She was cold. Her face was frozen and wiped constantly by her backpack straps. Her eyeballs were frozen. She later told me she was really scared but trusted our judgement. She also mentioned that despite the wind and cold she enjoyed the challenge. Earlier she was shivering, she was cold and struggling.

Several days earlier I arrived in East Glacier. I had several days to wait for my good friends to arrive. Teflon would be joining me to the Canadian border. We had planned to meet up for this trip many weeks and months earlier. For those that have read my PCT hike will remember Teflon, we hiked about 1000 miles together. My other hiking partner Bubbles is hiking across the country west to east. We met in Colorado and have been in contact ever since. We have become more than good friends during that time. Did I mention I have a girlfriend.

The night before the hike we went to the end of season hikers party put on by the CDT Montana. Many hikers were there, some I hadn’t seen in a long time, including Thermometer who finished the trail the day before, he is the first South Korean to hike the triple crown which is the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.

A big thank you to Ross who sent me Tim Tams all the way from New Zealand.