Friday, July 31, 2015

Day 51: Waterton River, Montana to Waterton Lakes, Alberta, CANADA!!!

The cold morning air hurt our fingers as we hiked along the trail. Through the trees, we watched the sunlight slowly creep down the mountains. Spotting a sunlight stretch of beach on Waterton Lake, we ducked through the brush to the beach to warm up and enjoy the views. 

Voices carried up the trail through the trees. Mike and Maggie!  We had missed them in camp the night before. The ranger had apparently directed them to the Goat Haunt Shelters, rather than the Waterton River Camp.  We were happy to see them, and the four of us began hiking together. 

A young black bear grazed near the trail. We were so engrossed in conversation, we almost missed him. He scampered away up the trail as we approached. 

Trail signs indicating the distance in kilometers were our first sign that we were approaching the border. Another sign provided immigration and customs information. And then we spotted the treeless strip that divides the Unites States from Canada. Two monuments, commemorating the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park and the United States/Canadian border marked the official end of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. 

Although we had reached the official end of the CDT, we had not yet reached end of our journey. After some time for photos and celebration, we continued another four miles to the trailhead in the Canadian town of Waterton, Alberta. There we said our goodbyes to our new friends, Mike and Maggie, hopeful our paths will cross again someday. 

Food was our first priority, as it is usually is when we reach town. But after refueling with lunch and, of course, ice cream, we had time to explore the town. We lounged by Waterton Lake, joining hordes of tourists as we cleaned up and played in the water. Then we were off to the Prince of Wales Hotel, enjoying the incredible view from a window- side table overlooking the lake and the surrounding mountains. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Day 50: Granite Park to Waterton River

The pale pink light on the mountains slowly changed to a soft golden glow. The CDT follows the Highline Trail, traversing the west side of a ridge, so we hiked for almost two hours before finally reaching a patch of sunlight.

We crossed a large snowfield, listening to the gurgle of the creek running underneath it as we crossed. The last few feet of the snowbridge were only inches thick, but they held our weight. 

The views were incredible!  Tall mountains capped with large snowfields and glaciers. Hillsides blanketed with wildflowers in every color of the rainbow. A cheeky silverback marmot edged up the trail toward us, then dashed by on the rocks. A ptarmigan also ran across our path. 

Two men rushed up during lunch, in their way to get help for a sick friend back at Fifty Mountain Camp. We stopped by to check on their friend when we passed by. Alex was indeed in bad shape, suffering from severe dehydration and possible altitude sickness, unable to keep down even a swallow of liquid. We talked with his friend Julian, who was taking care of him, to assess the situation and were relieved to hear that his breathing and heart rate were both normal. There was nothing more we could do, other than to try to find a ranger up the trail. 

We dropped into a deep valley, grazing on huckleberries, strawberries, and raspberries as we hiked. 

The first ranger patrol cabin we passed was unoccupied, but we found the Waterton Lake ranger near the boat dock.  Mike and Maggie had already reported the medical issue, and the ranger believed a helicopter had been dispatched to evacuate him. 

We laid down on Waterton Lake's rocky beach and enjoyed cherry Cutie Pies while gazing at the tall mountains across the placid water. We strained to see the treeless strip that marks the border between the Untied States and Canada, but it is still four miles away and we could not see it yet. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we will cross the border. Tomorrow we will reach the end of the trail. 

We hiked on to the swinging suspension bridge over Waterton River. Spotting a deep swimming hole below, we raced back across the bridge. Although it was too late to do much more than soak our feet, the cool water felt great. From there it was a short hike to the Waterton River Camp, where we stopped for the night. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day 49: Many Glacier to Granite Park

My father picked us up for a last meal at Many Glacier Lodge. Yesterday, a family had invited him to camp with them (the backcountry and hiker/biker sites are only for people without cars and the car campground was full), so he invited Bob, Mitch, and Annika to join us for breakfast. The view from the lodge was incredible, with the golden morning light warming the mountains across the lake. 

After a quick stop at the ranger station for Sierra to turn in her completed booklet and become a Glacier National Park Junior Ranger, we were back on the trail. Stunning views greeted us around every corner: golden red mountains rising from behind Redrock and Bullhead Lakes, fields of colorful wildflowers, ripe huckleberries, and waterfalls cascading over rocky cliffs. We reached the huge rock cairns of Swiftcurrent Pass, and quickly descended to our camp at Granite Park in time for lunch. 

We devised all sorts of ambitious plans over lunch, but were lulled into a relaxed stupor by the food and the sunshine and spent most of the afternoon reading instead. Two rangers stopped by to clean out the open air "room with a view" pit toilet. Maggie and Mike arrived by midafternoon, and we had fun talking, sharing stories, and discovering all the friends we have in common within the thru-hiking community. 

A doe casually munched on another hiker's blue hiking shirt, trying to extract the salt. Jim jumped up from the food prep area and dashed back to his camp, somehow extracting the shirt from the doe. Mike's pole straps were also wet and slobbery. Later, the doe walked through the food prep area with her two spotted fawns. 

After dinner, Sierra and I hiked up to the Glacier Park Chalet, a historic site listed on both the national and worldwide registers. We sipped hot chocolate and cider while listening to an interesting talk about the history of the chalet, the glaciation that formed the park, the 23 remaining glaciers, and the local plants and animals. The almost full moon rose over the mountains as we hiked back to camp, providing a perfect ending to a perfect day. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day 48: Two Sisters Cafe to Many Glacier

I watched the sunrise from the St. Mary's ranger station, waiting to be first in line when the doors opened for backcountry permits. Other hikers began arriving shortly after 6:30.   Maggie, in line behind me, was hoping for the same permit because she and her husband had just finished section hiking the CDT ending at the Chief Mountain terminus, and wanted to see the Waterton terminus as well. After securing the last permit, I offered to share it with Maggie and her husband, so we will be camping with them the next two days. 

Back on the road, we passed a sea of tents, the incident base for the Reynolds Fire. Helicopters soared back and forth from the heliport to the fire, hotshots dangling below the helicopters from long cords. Golden eagles hunted near the heliport, probably perplexed by all the commotion and activity. 

Our route took us right past the Bunk House Ice Creamery in Babb. We entered through the old-fashioned saloon doors and walked right up to the ice cream bar, where we were served a delicious mint chocolate chip shake and beachcomber waffle cone. Sierra continued munch her cone as we hiked on toward Many Glacier. Roadwalking around a fire closure might not be our first choice, but it definitely has its perks!

Our excitement mounted as we neared Many Glacier and the once-distant mountains now towered overhead.  Despite the incredible views, cars zipped past on the narrow two-lane road. We watched as a truck roared past a motorhome, almost running off the road when the motorhome shifted over to give us a wide berth. A ranger pulled over and kindly offered us a ride to the campground. We appreciated his thoughtfulness, although we continued to walk. 

We settled into the hiker/biker site at the campground. We were just finishing up when the campground hostess cruised past on her large trike. 

Many Glacier Lodge opened for business in 1915, exactly 100 years ago. Built in Swiss Chalet style by the railroad (a scheme to attract more tourists to the park), the lodge is beautiful, with huge logs from Oregon and Washington, full length windows overlooking the lake, and a dining room with high ceilings and a huge stone fireplace. My father took us there, and the three of us shared a delicious dinner. 

Back at the campground we enjoyed an evening ranger program by a local member of the Blackfeet tribe and the Blood people. He shared stories from his childhood growing up at a Native American boarding school, as well as a few legends passed down by his people. A light rain began just as the program was ending, and we scurried off to the tent. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 47: Cut Bank Creek Campground to Two Sisters Cafe (St. Mary's)

Roadwalking. Miles and miles of roadwalking. The Rocky Mountains tower over us to the west, and Aspen trees, thistles, and blanketflowers line the road. But trash mars the view. Empty cans and bottles hurled from moving vehicles: Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, Coke, Pepsi, Twisted Tea, RockStar, and many others. Within the short span of a few miles, we've counted over 100 cans. 

Highway 89 proved to be a busy highway, a major artery to carry tourists and supplies from one part of the park to another. Cars, trucks, trailers, motorcycles, motor homes, and semis whizzed past on the narrow, two-lane road. With no shoulder to speak of, we balanced on the white line, scampering off into the weeds every few minutes when larger vehicles roared past at 65 miles per hour. 

The rain began just after lunch, a light mist that evolved into a steady drizzle. We trudged on. Despite the fact that we were walking against traffic and did not have our thumbs out, several kind souls pulled over to offer us a ride anyway, including a man willing to drive in the opposite direction to take us to St. Mary and an off duty shuttle driver. We really appreciated the kindness, but hiked on anyway. 

We began smelling smoke from the fire about ten miles before we reached town. Numerous fire trucks and personnel drove past as we hiked, including a Chief Mountain Hotshots truck. Smoke rose from the hillside above the lake. 

"Ice Cream!" The first thing we noticed upon reaching town was a huge sign advertising ice cream. Of course we had to stop!  We also stopped in at the ranger station to ask about permit reservations. The news wasn't promising, but we will have to come back tomorrow because walk-in permits are only available 24 hours in advance. 

We hiked on past the Two Sisters Cafe, then went back to St. Mary's for the night so we will be as close as possible to the permit office in the morning. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Day 46: Two Medicine to Cut Bank Creek Camp

Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier is a 100 year old lodge with beautiful wood beams, high ceilings, and tall glass windows providing views of the mountains. We took a seat next to a wall of floor to ceiling windows, and enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice, hot coffee, and delicious eggs, potatoes, and huckleberry pancakes. 

Gloomy, gray clouds draped over the mountains as we made our way back to the trail at Two Medicine. Our dream of endless views of sunlit mountains set against a deep blue sky dappled with friendly, white, fluffy clouds was not to be. Instead of luxuriating in the beauty that surrounded us, we would dash over the pass, trying to get to lower elevation before the thunderstorms began. 

Occasionally, small shafts of sunlight would illuminate a portion of the mountains, transforming drab reddish, gray rock into rich  shades of reddish golds. And when we reached Pitamaken Pass, the clouds briefly opened, providing an incredible view below to sapphire lakes ringed with emerald trees set against ruby-encrusted mountains dusted with golden sunlight. Sierra laid on the rocky cliffs and stared over the edge to "soak it all in."  A silverback marmot waddled toward us, probably hoping to nibble on some salty hiking gear.  

The hillsides were blanketed with brightly colored wildflowers, including red paintbrush, purple lupine, magenta monkey flowers, yellow aster, lavender daisies, fluffy pasqueflower seed pods, and many more. 

We lounged next to Pitamaken Lake, then followed the outlet creek, which carved deep channels through the rich red rock.  Farther down, a beautiful waterfall tumbled over dark red rock into a large pool. Next to the pool, three small birds bobbed up and down at the knees, dancing to their own internal rhythms. 

At Triple Divide Pass, waters divide three ways into the Columbia (heading to the Pacific), the Mississippi (heading to the Gulf of Mexico), and the Saskatchewan (heading to the Hudson Bay). Continental Divide Trail hikers usually cross this pass, which is reminiscent of the Parting of the Waters. 

But Glacier National Park has closed a 40-mile stretch of the CDT due to wildfire, starting at the junction of the Triple Divide Pass Trail and the Cut Bank Creek Trail all the way to Many Glacier. The rangers suggested a reroute down the Cut Bank Creek Trail to Highway 89, then road walking to Many Glacier, where we can pick up the trail again. Although we are happy to have a continuous path to Canada, we have been looking forward to Glacier National Park for a long time and we know the road walk will not be as scenic.

The Cut BankCreek Trail was beautiful, with excellent views of the mountains and the creek. We stopped for the night at the Cut Bank Creek Campground, a car campground full of cars and tent campers. We listened to a nearby camper practicing his violin as we ate dinner, the haunting melodies of Phantom of the Opera and Amazing Grace, the formal march of Pomp and Circumstance, and many other familiar tunes. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day 45: Marias Pass to Two Medicine, Glacier National Park

Huckleberries. Sweet, juicy huckleberries. Heavily laden bushes of plump, flavorful huckleberries lined the trail. Grazing while we hiked slowed our pace, but the berries practically melted in our mouths, tempting us to stop for more. 

We passed by East Glacier quickly, trying not to think of the milkshakes and ice cream available at Brownies Cafe, less than a mile away. Not far out of town, we startled a young black bear who was busy foraging for berries. 

The trail passed through the Blackfeet Reservation and into Glacier National Park. Aspen leaves rustled in the wind as we hiked beneath them, but the trees provided scant protection from the afternoon squalls that periodically dumped buckets of rain. Even the large flock of Canadian geese we spotted near a swampy pond seemed to be hunkered down to avoid the strong winds and rain. 

We climbed through the storm into dry but stormy skies. A pika chirped a loud warning cry as we passed. High on a ridge we got our first glimpse of the rugged, rocky mountains of Glacier National Park. Simply breathtaking. 

A pair of brave crows hovered near the ground, then lifted off, soaring backward on powerful gusts of wind. Another strong gust of wind ripped the hat and sunglasses off my head. I scrambled after my glasses as they tumbled across the rocky ridge, but by the time I retrieved them they had already become another gear casualty of the CDT, with deep gouges in the lenses. 

We saw only one other person for most of the day, a runner between Marias Pass and East Glacier, but as we approached Two Medicine we met two large family groups out hiking.  Two Medicine is a developed area of the park, with a campground, ranger station, store, boat dock (on the lake), and more.  After a summer of solitude, we will likely be surrounded by people for the remainder of our hike.