8/5-9: 95 or 100 miles
Dan and I drove Skeeter to Missoula and stayed a couple nights so the E350 Ford van ’97 vintage could get a checkup at the mechanic’s. Verdict: healthy. Then we spent the next week camping, fishing, eating and visiting historic stuff. It was a very relaxing vacation from the trail. Dan’s birthday was in Salmon, Idaho, we found some underutilized campgrounds and secret fishing holes.
I got dropped off back in Missoula where Natasha met me August 2. We drove through Glacier NP the next day to St Mary’s Ranger Station to get our backcountry permits organized. Hoping to start 8/4, we needed to wait till 8/5 to get the campsites we wanted. It’s weird to me that just outside the Park are bunches of motels and restaurants, where it was very easy to find a couple of different affordable places to stay. Saturday we day hiked to Grinnell Glacier, a very popular destination for day hikers since it’s only about 11 miles round trip, the tread is good, and the views are unique. Some of the oldest fossils on the planet are here, stromatolites.
Natasha’s friend and car shuffler, Brian, took us to the Canada/US border and we started hiking SOBO. Our first day was just under 20 miles to Poia Lake, a crowded campground with 4 sites and the most disgusting pit toilet ever. You have to hang your food bags in the cooking area before setting up your tent in the tiny space allotted. I hope the next 3 nights will be better assigned, permitted, regulated, and designated spots. The hike in was great though, the best walking surface of the whole CDT, and included suspension bridges rather than wet foot fords and actual trail crews cutting away brush and blowdown away from the trail.
Monday was a big day, 23.9 miles according to our permit paperwork and we were stoked to get to Reynolds Creek camp to find dispersed sites and an open air pit toilet. Oh the simple joys of the hiking life. Along the way we saw a huge bull moose, the darkest one I’ve ever seen with full chocolate velvet on his rack. Since we’d stopped to make dinner after descending beautiful Piegan Pass, and it doesn’t get dark till 9:30, we had time to relax before passing out.
Our third day was a short recovery day of less than 16 miles but it was really hot and exposed, running through an old burn area, but the camp at Red Eagle Lake was great. I didn’t get in the muddy lake but Natasha waded out a ways with the ducks. I nearly made her gag though when I cooked my special dinner of Heather’s Choice Smoked Sockeye Chowder from my Anchorage hometown. I felt sluggish all day despite the short miles but the fish helped!
When we discussed and strategized getting our campsite permits, Natasha described an optional route that didn’t add miles but did take us on a traverse that she’d absolutely loved a few years before. So off we went with a not-too-bad 8 mile ascent to Triple Divide Pass. I saw moose # 2, not as large and chocolatey as moose #1 on the north side of Piegan, but handsome nonetheless. It took me longer than it should to get to the top and the marmot family at the top couldn’t believe we didn’t want their help lightening our packs of snacks. Dirty buggers. It looked to be a mama and 2 kids, Hoary Marmots. Descending the Pass, who’s coming up but Private Squares from PCT 2015! What a coincidence that Jackrabbit, who I camped with in Yellowstone, told me the story of how he gave her the trail name. She works at East Glacier Lodge now, we hope to stop in and see her.
Down for a few hours, then more uphill, steep, to Pitimakin Pass at 5 pm with 7 miles to camp after one last pass, Dawson. As promised, it was worth the effort and quite an easy traverse through rock formations I hadn’t seen in Glacier. Too bad about the smoky views. A long, perilous descent to No Name Lake where I stumbled in exhausted and starving after 14 hours. Of course, after setting up my tent, and going back to the eating/hanging area, life was good. We did it! 3 passes in a single day and my longest day on the CDT.
We beat feet to get to East Glacier our fifth day. Beer! Milkshakes! But oh no, there’s an alcohol ban during pow wow season. I was grumpy, super grumpy when I brought my can of beer to the counter and told I couldn’t buy it. I sulked in the porch until a hiker there turned to us and pulled out two cans of IPA and gave them to us. Magic! Thank you Hooks!