Great Western Loop: Day 105 - 110 : Two Medicine to Polebridge
Day 105: Stuck! (11miles)
Entering Glacier National Park meant I would once again need a special backcountry permit. To get this I had to hike to Two Medicine, just 11miles from East Glacier.
The hike was short but beautiful. The trail quickly climbed some 2,500ft into the mountains and offered spectacular views.
On the way there, I had another black bear encounter with a cub and its mother. Close to the top of the mountain I saw a group of bighorn mountain goats.
As lovely and pleasant as the hike was, as unpleasant was my experience with the backcountry permit system.
To move north I had to have a permit for a designated campsite on a specific day. Free and dispersed camping is not allowed in the National Park. Permits for specific campsites can only be issued for the same day, or a maximum of 24 hours in advance. Unfortunately no permits for any of the campsites between Two Medicine and Many Glacier (56miles further north) were available. On the 15th I got told that a permit for one campsite for the 17th would become available, but to get that I would have to be the first person waiting in line at the Ranger Station on July 16th.
Thus, I had to stay at the Two Medicine campground that night. I spent most of my time walking around the campground and Two Medicine Lake and updating my blog, as well as talking to two groups of bike campers.
Day 106: Back to East Glacier (0miles)
The Ranger Station opened at 8am. I went there at 6:30am and already found two more hikers waiting there. Fortunately, they were looking for different campsites, than I was. The Ranger staff was very friendly and helpful and as soon as they opened, I was able to obtain my permit for the next day. After a short briefing on recent Grizzly and Mountain Lion activity, I hitched back to East Glacier, where I had WiFi and a few restaurants to spent the day.
Being stuck for 1.5 days is quite unfortunate, but I made the best use of that time and I had been fortunate to be around some awesome people.
At Two Medicine Campground I had some intense political discussions with Louis and Rebecca, who directly asked me about my opinion on the "state of the union". In East Glacier I, again, spent time with Robert and Karen. A lovely couple in their late 60's that also shared my political views and a lot of other interests.
We all stayed at the Looking Glass Basecamp and were joined by the lovely host Luna, who kept telling everyone about my journey. All of us and a few more hikers, enjoyed a tasty lasagne, made by Luna's husband Will.
Day 107: Glacier National Park (25miles)
After a quick breakfast at the local restaurant, I bought some blueberry muffins and said my goodbyes to Robert and Karen. The hitch from East Glacier to Two Medicine was harder than expected. I waited for more than an hour until I finally got a ride.
We arrived at Two Medicine at 10am and I immediately started hiking towards Red Eagle Head Campground, some 25miles away.
From Old Man Lake the trail quickly climbed over a pass and offered some spectacular views
From the pass I than quickly dropped down to the other side and yet another lake. I followed the valley in the above picture for a few hours and than climbed up to Tripple Divide Pass.
From here on, it was only a few more hours to my campsite. Even though I had to climb to mountain passes, the day was rather easy and I made it to camp by 6pm. Each of these campsites has designated areas for food preparation and storage, camping and a pit toilet. Each area is separated by some 100 ft. from any other area.
Following the National Park's guidelines I hung my food properly. My concern however wasn't necessarily Grizzly bears, but little critters who got way to used to these designated campsites and being around people. While I was preparing my food, several squirrels and marmots came very close and tried to steal my food.
(Food bag high up in the air...)
Day 108: Many Glacier and many bears (31miles)
Red Eagle Camp was located in a burn area and therefore the initial hours of day 108 were boring and quite a grind. Fortunately my spirits spiked, when the first bear of the day jumped into a nearby huckleberry field as soon as he heard me coming. I really wanted that guy to be a Grizzly and his brown colored fur initially made me believe so. However, after getting a closer look, I'm quite sure that it was a teenage-black bear. Colours can often be misleading and this bear didn't have the typical Grizzly "hump", size and rough fur and head. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful and peaceful animal.
I continued along the trail, enjoying some rare suspension bridges and than spent several hours on a totally overgrown stretch of trail. The trail was flat, and walking rather easy, but making it through all these bushes and berry plants was really annoying. I was constantly covered in spider webs and even ate some accidentally...yummy.
In addition to all of that, I didn't get any nice views. The sky was covered in dense smoke from wildfires in Washington and Canada.
(Smoky skies and a suspension bridge)
Around noon, the trail finally improved as I got to the more touristy places of the National Park. At St. Mary 's Falls I saw hundreds of day hikers and tourists that had stopped at the nearby trailhead for a short hike.
(Virginia Falls, pics above and below)
(Saint Mary's Falls)
At Saint Mary's Falls i stopped for lunch and had some Nutella Tortilla Wraps. A local squirrel came along and complained that I was eating its hazelnuts. Sorry...
After lunch I continued towards Piegan Pass and encountered another Black bear.
This little fellow didn't care about me at all and just stayed right next to the trail.
The bear was just a few feet away, but didn't show any signs of aggression and eventually moved away from the trail.
(No zoom in this picture, that guy was pretty close)
From here on, I climbed several thousand feet towards Piegan Pass and even though the sky was still very hazy, the pass provided some beautiful views.
(Incredibly massive and beautiful wall, picture doesn't really show the magnitude)
(Trail in barely visible in the middle of the picture, to get an idea of the dimensions)
From Piegan Pass, it was an easy 5-6mile hike to Many Glacier, a major campground with a store and a hotel and 2 small restaurants. I got to the campsite in the late afternoon, but due to the permit system, I had to stay here for the night.
(All employees in that Lodge were dressed in...Lederhosen)
After pitching my tent and making everything bear proof, I went straight to the camp store for a small resupply and some ice-cream. While I was sitting on the porch, I heard to other nearby hikers talking about "a crazy german, that is doing 30-40miles per day and who is about to finish most of the CDT in less than 100 days"...
I enjoyed eavesdropping for a few minutes, before I introduced myself as "crazy german" and ended up talking to a few guys and gal's who had just started the CDT going southbound. Another tourist joined the conversation and asked endless questions about my hike. At least, I got the leftovers of the Pizza these people had ordered and so I eventually went to bed with 2 full meals.
Day 109: Smoke (34miles)
Day 109 started with a short hike along a few lakes and a massive climb up to Swiftcurrent Pass. Unfortunately, the sky was even hazier than the day before and the sun had troubles making it through a dense layer of smoke, coming from the west.
(That tree tried to become an elephant...)
(Early morning, but the smoke was intense)
Once I made it to the top, I stopped briefly at a nearby Chalet. There were no services and so I only had a short snack, before I moved on.
From here on, the trail got easier for a few miles and even though I could only barely see the glaciers in the distance, I enjoyed the hike.
(Minutes earlier, I had to bypass that ice-field, while those deer were watching me from above. They were probably laughing about me being clumsy... 😞)
In the afternoon the wind turned and the sky cleared up a little bit, but than I left the higher elevations for a more bushwacky part of the trail.
(Green hell, you just can't see what you're stepping on, really annoying)
After 34 miles I arrived at the Waterton River Camp, just 3 miles south of the Canadian border. I was joined by Toothbrush, a 65 year old hiker, that had just started his thru-hike.
Reaching this campsite was a major milestone for me, as it marked the end of my CDT section. From now on, I would continue west on the Pacific Northwest Trail towards Idaho and Washington. One of the longest trail sections has been completed and I'm slightly ahead of my schedule.
Day 110: Pacific Northwest Trail! (40miles)
My first day on the PNT was supposed to be rather easy. I had to hike 21miles to leave the National Park and than another 6 to reach the sma "town" of Polebridge. Only a rather small climb was waiting for me in the morning and so I made overall good progress.
The trail was alright, not great, but hikeable and quite what I expected in a rather remote part of the park.
Some 10miles before leaving the park, I even met 2 Rangers, who asked for my permit. Their eyes widened, when they saw the mileages on my permit. We ended up talking for a while, before I pushed on.
I left the park at Bowman Lake around 1pm and got into Polebridge on a dirt road by 3pm. Polebridge wasn't much more than a small mercantile store with a famous bakery and a small grill. I stopped for a burger and a resupply for the next 2 days.
Resupply options were very limited and so I ended up buying a lot of pastries: huckleberry bear claws, fruit fritters, chocolate chip pastries, brownies and a huckleberry pie. A lot of sugar, but also quite some calories that would get me into Eureka. In the bakery, I immediately got recognized as a Thru-hiker and i got a free "fruit fritter pastry". I chatted a bit with the staff and had several customers joining the conversation - once again. People were congratulating me on my accomplishments so far and wished me all the best, for the rest of my trips. Some even honked later on, as they passed me on the road. Encounters like this really help moving forward.
There's so much support from random strangers, like rangers, tourists, or staff in small stores that is invaluable and extremely important for my overall motivation.
(That's...Polebridge, Internet picture)
With a full belly and a great spirit I left Polebridge around 4pm for another few hours along an old dirt road.