I think Glacier National Park is one of the grandest places in North American, certainly that I’ve been. My first ever solo trip out backpacking in the Rockies was at Glacier National Park, many years ago. I was scheduled to go with a friend of mine, and he bailed out right before the trip – I had to choose between going solo and canceling. Like there was an option! 🙂 I had no idea at the time, but that trip probably put me in Alaska right now, and on the road to being a backpacking guide.
I flew out to Kalispell, got off the plan and grabbed a shuttle straight to the park. I remember arriving in the park, in awe, trying to see it all in one breath – impossible! Trees towered over me as we travelled through the forests of the Western edge of the Rockies – huge, healthy, trees, tall as the sky. The mountain backdrop of Glacier National Park was too much – I fell in love. It was simply amazing. I camped that night in the first available space, and then was up before dawn to get to the permitting office when they opened to schedule my trip. It was a hassle, because they had a bunch of fires going on, which closed a lot of the park, and all the wildlife migrated to the places that weren’t on fire – which means a lot of those places were closed too, because of bears. I’d spent months pouring over maps, reading trail books and guides, talking to the NPS folks at Glacier National Park about hikes, etc – this, of course was back in the pre-internet days, when research took time. All of my research was for naught, as I wasn’t able to do the route I’d carefully picked out, from the north-western corner of the park, east toward the Continental Divide, and south, across Going to the Sun Road, and on down to East Glacier. It seemed like every trail was closed.
However, my research stood me in good stead, as I knew enough about the trails to pick from the available options with at least some semblance of an informed position. So I got my permits all done, watched the Video on traveling safely through bear country, and thumbed a ride to my first trail head. I got there, Kintla Lake, and it was closed, because a grizzly bear had killed a black bear about a mile down the trail, and was still in the area, feeding on the carcass. Now for someone who’d never seen a grizzly bear, but was eager to walk in the woods they lived in, this was a little more than I had planned on. Exciting, for sure, but a little too much reality for me. I headed down to the next trailhead, Bowman Lake, and headed up that trail. Fires had closed the east end of the trail, where I was headed, so I had to just make a day hike of it, and return to Bowman Lake come evening.
Next morning I had to head back to the Ranger’s Office, and re-schedule the rest of my trip. did so, and was lucky to get access to the Highline Trail, right on the Continental Divide, scheduled to head north along the ridge. By the time I got up there, it too was closed, and I had to re-examine my options. I headed east, down Going to the Sun Road, aiming for Two Medicine Campground, near East Glacier, on the south east corner of Glacier National Park.
All of the public transport closed for the season, I had to hitch-hike. Hitch-hiking is quite an experience – I waited a few hours for a ride, mid-September not being the best time to get a ride, the only folks in the area cruised by me in their RVs, always turning their heads to look at some view on the other side of the road as they drove by me. So, finally, I get a ride. During the course of our ride, we start talking, and it turns out the girl in the passenger seat had lived in Eugene, Oregon, for a little while. They both now lived in Portland, Oregon. I mentioned I was born in Eugene, and had actually spent a year there later, when I was 15. She asked me what school I’d gone to, and I said “South Eugene High School”. She’d apparently gone there for a year, too. What year, she asked?
“1983/1984”, I replied.
“I was there that year, I was a Freshman”, she said.
I’d been a sophomore, and it turns out we were on the Swim team together – she remembered me, that crazy Aussie who swam in Lane 4, and I remembered her, she used to train in lane 1. How wild is that? Here we were, riding along Going to the Sun Road, in Glacier National Park, Montana, and we used to train together on the same Swim Team, over 10 years earlier, before I returned back to Australia. So that was kinda cool.
Of course, we got to Two Medicine, they dropped me off, and I ain’t seen them since. 🙂
I backpacked a lot of Glacier National Park on that trip, including a a big loop down in the south-eastern region of the park, and also a trail called Gunsight Pass Trail, over the Continental Divide. Glacier remains my favorite of the Parks in the Lower 48, and my favorite area in the Rockies. I’ve not spent enough time there since, but every time I’ve been there it’s like coming home, in a way. I really enjoy it.
This last fall I stopped in with my parents in tow. The weather didn’t co-operate, it was cold, cloudy, drizzly, even snowed a little. We couldn’t drive over Going to the Sun Road, because they closed it due to weather, and also they wouldn’t let us cross the Divide in the huge over-sized RV dad rented, even when I explained to the ranger that I was probably one of the top 2 or 3 drives ever to tackle the traverse – I think I had her, until she balked at the word tackle. So I didn’t get to show my folks a lot of the park – which means they both have to come back and do it again, soon!
This photo is from fall, the previous year, on the west side of Glacier National Park on Going to the Sun Road.