Backcountry in Glacier was no walk in the park

After a week long stint in Canada, we crossed the border into Montana and embarked upon a 4 day/3 night backcountry trip through Glacier National Park. As Ben and I sat at a crappy diner near the Two Medicine entrance, we were both filled with anxiety. Many of the people we’d spoken to about Glacier, whether it be a ranger or someone who lives in the area, had brought up the likelihood of us encountering a grizzly bear. When we picked up our Wilderness Permit from the Ranger Station we were asked to watch a 15 minute long video regarding grizzly bears.

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Day 1: 

We left our car parked at Two Medicine and caught a shuttle bus at 12:45 to St. Mary’s to begin our trip. We began on the easiest day of our trip on Red Eagle trailhead around 2pm, only 8.5 relatively flat miles to go to our camp spot for the night at the head of Red Eagle Lake ! The trail took us through a heavily wooded area, over several questionable suspension bridges, through burned forest, and finally through some very high grass and bush.

One hiker at a time

One hiker at a time

About 5 miles into the hike we were hit with a evening thunderstorm but continued on through the waist high scratchy grass and bush. This trailhead definitely wasn’t high on scenery compared to the rest of the park. There were some beautiful wildflowers but because of being soaked by the rain we hurried onto our destination for the night. Being only a 300 foot elevation gain we were able to power through the 8.5 miles in about 3.5 hours.

Over the river and through the woods

Over the river and through the woods

I learned the hard way that wearing shorts in wet tall grass isn’t the best idea. Not sure if it was poison oak/ivy, nettle, etc but something broke my legs out in welts and made it’s way into my left eye. As we arrived at Red Eagle Lake my eye was nearly swollen shut. After we set up the tent around 6pm the itching got the best of me, and I took a Benadryl.

This isn't fun to hike through for 8 miles

This isn’t fun to hike through for 8 miles

Due to the prevalence of Grizzly Bears in Glacier NP all backpackers are required to stay in a designated backcountry campsite, in our three nights they averaged between 3-4 camp spots. The sites are nice in that they provide a nice flat spot for camping, a pole to hang food, as well as a designated food preparation area.

Having only done backcountry in areas where you can camp anywhere, we learned just how awkward camping in close proximity to strangers in the backcountry can be. As I sat in a Benadryl-induced dream like zombie state, Ben prepared red beans and rice for dinner. A family of four and two girls were also in the kitchen and everyone whispered to themselves and stared at “the poor girl with the swollen-shut eye”. After several failed attempts to at least start a friendly dialogue with the family sitting a foot from us, Ben gave up and I just ignored the sad stares. After an uncomfortable dinner I passed out in my sleeping bag around 7:30 pm.

Highlight of the day: Encountering a moose along the trail, sadly my picture of the big bull didn’t turn out well (as you will see below).

This guy was huge! Wish I had gotten a better

This guy was huge! Wish I had gotten a better

Stats: 8.50 miles, 300 ft elevation gain, 1 allergic reaction

Bears seen: 0

Day 2:

After getting off to a crappy start, I was determined to ignore my still awkwardly swollen itchy eye and push on. Even though it was our big day, we got a late start around 10am. Only 13.8 miles to go!

Much to my dismay, the beginning of the day took us through more burned forest and high grass. But this time I was prepared and wore pants. As we began to climb we began noticing fresh bear scat, holes, and disturbed bushes meaning a bear was nearby.

This is the part where we began making a lot of noise, as to not surprise a grizzly bear. It began with shouting words like “Hello” and repeating the word “Bear”, but later morphed into silly songs and vulgar phrases. We were in the middle of a very immature middle school game which involve shouting anatomy parts when we ran into several older ladies, who were surprisingly not impressed.

Going up!

Going up!

Finally around 1pm or 6 miles in we crossed the Continental Divide on the Triple Divide Pass and began to get the views we were hoping for.

Gorgeous views from the top of the pass

Gorgeous views from the top of the pass

From the top of Triple Divide Pass

From the top of Triple Divide Pass

Up until this point I was feeling good, minus the eye of course. We ate lunch on the pass and then continued onto the 2,000 foot elevation drop.

The hard part is over.. well sorta

The hard part is over.. well sorta

Gorgeous view of Grizzly Medicine Lake on the way down

Gorgeous view of Grizzly Medicine Lake on the way down

At this point we hoped to have some easy downhill, which turned out not to be the case. The narrow rocky trail down the pass required a slow careful pace of me, as suffering another ankle injury on a downhill in the middle of nowhere just didn’t sound appealing.

The trail down

The trail down

It’s about at this point that I developed a dull headache and began to drink more water. As we arrived at the bottom of the pass, my head was throbbing and I was feeling dizzy. But at least we’re almost there, right?

Wrong! At this point we encountered a trail marker and learned we had ~4ish odd miles to go. The longest 4 miles of my life! At this point I was wishing I could exchange the pounding headache and horrible fatigue for poison oak. At we arrived exhausted at Morningstar Lake campground, I was feeling absolutely horrible. I’ve never been severely dehydrated/exhausted like this before, and hope to never feel that way again. Thankfully Ben set up the tent and forced me to chug a massive amount of water. After a meal of backpackers pantries, I fell asleep around 7:45 and after about an hour woke up feeling much better.

What would I do without Ben?! 🙂

Beaver at Morningstar Lake

Beaver at Morningstar Lake

Highlight of the day: We hiked over the Continental Divide!

Stats: 13.8 miles, 3080 ft elevation gain, 2080 foot elevation loss, 1 case of dehydration, 4 blisters

Bears seen: 0

Day 3:

Needless to say at this point I’d accepted that this just wasn’t my trip. Having had such a great backcountry experience in Yosemite, Glacier was giving me some trouble. Today I woke up feeling great– no headache, no stomach issues (had I mentioned this before?), and my eye was almost 100%. I was going to have a good day, DAMMIT!

We immediately began hiking up from Morningstar Lake, and I finished my 3 liter bladder in ~3 hours.. no more dehydration for me. This was the day that was touted as “one of the top hikes in Glacier National Park”, and I’m proud to say it did not disappoint. Although this day wasn’t easy by any means, it was definitely easier than Day 2’s 3k ft up and 2k ft down.

View from Pt... pass

View from Pitamakan Pass

Knowing we’d already tackled the tough day, we enjoyed this day at a slower pace– which the 4 blisters on my feet thanked me for.

Momma bird

Momma bird

Highlight of the day: Hiking Pitamakan Pass and Dawson’s Pass go down as my #1 favorite/scariest hike of all times.

The pitamakan pass trail

The pitamakan pass trail

Stats: 8.6 miles, 1877 feet elevation gain, 2175 feet elevation loss, 6 blisters

Bears seen: 0

Day 4: 

It rained throughout the night and we awoke to water inside of our tent. After we packed up our wet sleeping pads, bags, and soaked tent we began the 5.5 mile hike out to Two Medicine. Eager to get into dry clothes and eat something that wasn’t dehydrated food, we powered through the 5.5 miles in ~2.5 hours. As we walked out of the Two Medicine campground and towards our car in the pouring rain, I couldn’t have been happier this trip was winding down.

Highlight of the day: Getting into the dry car

Stats: 5.5 miles, still 6 blisters

Still no bears

As I’m writing this almost 4 weeks have passed since this trip, and I’m glad we did it. I can’t say it was best backcountry experience I’ve had, but the Pitamakan pass & Dawson’s pass hike will definitely go down in the books as best hike I’ve ever done. Ben and I have both decided we’d love to go back to Glacier National Park, but next time car camp and do long day hikes. Getting into the backcountry is one of my favorite things, but having to camp at designated spots with strangers took some of the fun out of the experience.

Before we left Two Medicine I changed into a pair of dry jeans which I had packed but not worn all four days. As we drove towards WhiteFish to pick up our dog from the kennel, I felt the same familiar itching sensation on my right quad. As I quickly took off the jeans, I realized whatever allergen I encountered on Day 1 had somehow gotten inside of my jeans!

As we drove down the road towards WhiteFish I laughed giggled at my misfortunes of the trip, with no pants on.

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3 responses to “Backcountry in Glacier was no walk in the park

  1. Pingback: That’s a wrap folks, 22,000 miles later! | Ready, Set ....·

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