Glacier National Park--backpacking the northern traverse, August 2006.

26 August 2006, 9:00p. Apgar campground, Glacier NP.
     Staying at the hiker/biker campsite, A10, in the Apgar campground on the west side of the park. Camped east of Libby last night in the national forest; not a good site. It was a choice between tractor treads and slash. Should have just slept in the roadbed. Woke up early and drove in to Kalispell on route 2, had two sausage-egg biscuits from MacDonalds and continued up to Columbia Falls. Got gas and headed into the park, looking for the backcountry office. I didn't know what permits might be open, so I was hoping for either a northern traverse or a short loop on Dawson-Pitamakin. It's the right time to show up for a walk-in permit, though, because most of the summer visitors have left already and the early-fall backpackers usually come after Labor Day. So the northern traverse was, amazingly, completely open for the best sites. So I had to do it and here I am. It should be about sixty miles, a little less than 10,000' gain, and six days. At least in the United States, I might call this the crown of the Rockies. I won't actually get into Canada, but I won't be more than ten air miles from the border at any point in the hike. (I'll have to do a backpack in Big Bend at some point to balance this one out...) The exit point is at the Chief Mountain customs point.
     So I drove across Logan Pass and up to Chief Mountain. Made lunch of sausages I was afraid would spoil (I'm going to lose the packaged guacamole; I hope the film will be okay) and gave away an apple, carrots, and orange juice to exiting backpackers. Took two GPI shuttles down to Saint Mary's and then back across to Apgar. Five hours on shuttles. The whole day dedicated to logistics. No hiking, basically no photography. Except for the bighorn at Logan Pass.

Bighorn at Logan Pass

Sunset on the Lake MacDonald shoreline

27 August, 8:30p. Upper Kintla Lake.
     Tired. Up relatively early this morning to shoot sunrise over Lake MacDonald, to little avail. Breakfast at Eddie's in Apgar, then hitchhiked up to Kintla. Up to Polebridge and took a wrong turn up the North Fork road, backtracked, up to Lower Kintla. Heavy pack and a late start. Extensive burn areas on the south side of the lake. Not moving well; out of rhythm,
     It took a long time to trek up to Kintla, about three hours. We lost somewhere from one-half to one hour on the wrong turn. It didn't help that Ed, my driver, only wanted to do 20mph on the dirt roads. Granted, they were in rough shape, but c'mon! It was a rental car, even... I suspect you could drive it in 1.5 to 2 hours. Should have made an offer to the two backpackers I met yesterday at Chief Mountain. Still, Ed was extraordinarily generous. I don't think he was planning on going anywhere near Kintla. Pretty sure he was trying to pick me up, although in a non-pushy way...
     Got to Kintla at about 12:30, much later than I like to start hiking, Already warm. For one of the prime sought-after backpacks in the lower 48, this is both remote and undeveloped. Long slogging along the lakeshore(s). As I said, warm, and also hazy--possibly from nearby fires. The slopes along the south side of the river show evidence of a relatively recent fire. Under the right conditions, it would be a pleasant and pretty walk, but I'm afraid I ended up just trying to get the miles in. A full pack again, the Dana with 5D, tripod, and 6 days of food. It makes everything harder. I'll have to come up with something else for NZ.
     Finally came around a bend in the lakeshore to the campsite. Very pretty. Highly recommended. The lake runs almost east-west, but the sun is still setting relatively far to the north, so I was getting a nice raking light on the opposite shore. And it's 5500' vertical relief from the lake up to Kinnerly Peak.
     Light's still on the west horizon, but I'm having dinner. Forgot my headlamp in the car, so I only have two small LED button-lights. Don't want to use them too much. I have to get a complete kit to leave in the backpack.

Upper Kintla Lake

28 August, 2:00p. Boulder Pass campsite.
     Short day: 5.6 miles, 2900' gain. Backpacker magazine recommended this area a few years back, so that's a good-enough excuse to skimp on that day's mileage. Took just under three hours. It's a spectacular setting, but with larger peaks to the east I don't expect much for sunrise.
     Caught up with the journal. Will probably nap and read over the course of the afternoon, maneuvering to stay in the shade of the one stand of trees. It feels really good to get back in the alpine, with broad expanses of open sky. The Pacific Northwest was beautiful, but I was definitely feeling a little hemmed-in in the forests.
     There's already a half-battery warning on the 5D, after less than fifty pictures! What's up? I'm using a short review time, with no long exposures, and have the IS turned off. Is the battery cold? If I can find a way to manage the film, I'd be less worried without the battery and memory hassles for NZ tramping.

The campsite at Boulder Pass. Look for the blue tent.

29 August, 2:00p. Lake Francis.
     Another short day. A few hundred feet gain to the true Boulder Pass at 7100', then down-down-down to the beautiful (and big!) Lake Francis.
     I started in on Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" yesterday afternoon, getting almost halfway in. A gift from Anne-Marie. It's an interesting and unique world, but I don't feel like I know the main character that well yet. I'll likely finish it this afternoon.
     Winds picked up throughout the day yesterday and continued overnight. Heavy gusts at times. Woke up often. The tarp seemed to hold up well despite my worries for it. There must be a fairly major fire somewhere nearby; the skies are hazy and the smell of smoke permeates the air. Given the wind direction, it's likely off to the west. I could tell there were extra particulates in the air, too, at sunset. It was a very soft, warm light. Some beautiful clouds at the edge of Gardner Peak, and a crescent moonset behind Agassiz Glacier. We were visited by three mountain goats who munched their way around camp in the long twilight.

Mountain goat at Boulder Pass campsite

Sunset from Boulder Pass

     Pink clouds in the morning, leading me to remember the old weather-rhyme for sailors.
     I made it up to the pass under heavy gray clouds. Stunning. Much more impressive than the campsite. There's about 4500' of relief between upper Bowman Creek and Thunderbird Mountain to the south and Mount Custer to the north, with it all in view as you stay above timberline, circumnavigating a hanging cirque. Hard to see how you could photograph it well, but stunning. I really do need a panorama rig (grin)...

Boulder Pass Tryptich

Early color going over Brown's Pass

     Skies cleared and I walked down the switchbacks to have lunch at Thunderbird Pond, then another half-hour down to Lake Francis. A phenomenal spot; I can't believe my luck to get it as a campsite. Big, turquoise, backed on two sides by cliffs. A waterfall fed by Dixon Glacier. Even a small pebble beach. I'll have to get in some swimming and lizarding.
     Tough day tomorrow. Down to Goat Haunt, up the Waterton Valley, and then up to Stoney Indian campsite. 13.8 miles with a 2000' gain right at the end. I've felt good the last two short days but tomorrow will have almost the same mileage in one day.

Lake Francis

29 August, 3:30p. Lake Francis.
     Okay, so glacial-fed lake swimming = refreshing! (refreshing = cold. But you knew that already, right?) Actually, it really was refreshing. But basking in the sun afterwards was nicer.

29 August, 5:00p. Lake Francis.
     Rumble of distant thunder as clouds scud across the sky.

Late afternoon at Lake Francis

30 August, 8:30p. Stoney Indian campground, Glacier.
     In twenty-four hours we've gone from the end of summer into the beginnings of fall. Ominous, even threatening skies--cold, heavy winds, slight chance of snow tonight.
     A transfer from one range to the next today. I left Lake Francis and its beautiful open solitude (no one showed up for the other campsite) and went back into the trees and descended to Janet Lake. There were large (handspan) imprints at the lakeshore. No other markings inside the depressions, so I couldn't tell whether they were bear or moose. Megafauna either way. The lake levels were visibly down, with new shoreline exposed in the last strains of August. I hoofed it down to Goat Haunt, passing a party of three Border Patrol agents, and was hit by the dissonance of front-country day-hikers in from the ferry. Strange to see in the middle of a six-day hike. Thankfully, the boat had left just before I got in (I heard the diesel engine fire up while walking through the outbuildings), so I loafed on the beach, boots off, for a while before starting back in.

Early morning on Lake Francis

Footprints at Janet Lake

     Hiked about five miles up the Waterton Valley to the turnoff for Stoney Indian. Most of the undergrowth has dried out already, but the trees are still leafed out, where deciduous. Overcast, cool, and windy. Had a late lunch of tuna with sunflower seeds over triscuits and cranked the ascent in about 1.5 hours (2.5 miles, ~1800' gain).
     I was evidently the last to get into camp and got the most scenic but most exposed site. Thankfully, there was a bear pole to hang food from and so I could use the rope to guy out the tarp to nearby scrub aspens. It looked pretty strong, at least, once everything was rigged.
     Tired from the climb, I broke out the down jacket and fixed udon and miso for dinner. The campsite was full, so hanging food became a challenge to balance everything... We had a backcountry ranger with us, Kim, whom I talked with briefly--she's on break from working for the Yosemite Institute (Association?) and knew about Desert Sun in Idyllwild, so we compared storied of teaching in the field.
     The ranger at Goat Haunt hinted that we might get snow tonight, and he might not be wrong. At the least, it's going to be harder weather than I've seen this season.

Hanging food at the Stoney Indian campsite

31 August, 8:30p. Lower Glenn Lake campground, Glacier.
     Cold. Tired. I'd say hungry, but I had lunch at 3:00 and am fixing dinner now, so I think I've got that part taken care of.
     Despite the month you'd read on a calendar if you happened to have one at hand, it snowed last night. Not flurries, not trace amounts. Snow. There was about two inches on the pine boughs this morning at the pass. Mostly rain at the campsite, lower, but I still woke up a few times last night to hear the faint hissing characteristic of snow. It's closer to brushes on snare than the patter of rain. Woke numerous times last night either from the cold or from the noise of the wind. Other campers, clustered more closely together, were trading jibes about snoring; farther away, I couldn't hear anything over the wind. I finally had to pull on the down jacket inside the bag at around two-ish -- not a time to be awake under good circumstances, much less an early-season storm. I slept fitfully the rest of the night until the alarm at 5:45 for sunrise call. Never welcome, but at least it meant I could get moving.
     I hiked up to the pass in the thinning darkness. I saw the white from below, but the amount at the top was still surprising. Most of the sky was thick with clouds, but there were shades of grey to keep it interesting. Open sky was flirting with the eastern horizon, so there was intermittent light on the surrounding peaks. More than once I was rushing to move around and switch foregrounds when the clouds closed back up before I got there. It was particularly beautiful looking down towards the upper Mokowanis River drainages.

Looking back to Stoney Indian Pass (the right-hand notch)

Pyramid Peak in August Snow

The upper Mokowanis drainage

Life in the alpine

     I walked back down to camp and had hot chocolate, a Cliff Bar and two granola bars; I'm still avoiding oatmeal since the John Muir hike last summer. Packed up the wettish camp (thankfully the bag was almost dry, only damp by the hood and wet at the foot). Wet boots. I kept the tights, shell pants, and gaiters on to walk through the wet foliage. Stopped often to photograph while coming down from the pass. It was beautiful and primal and slightly forbidding, and since everyone else from Stoney Indian had descended towards Waterton Valley, I had the place to myself. Not to be greedy, but it added immensely to the immersion in the experience. Some huge waterfalls down the cliff faces.

Fresh snow over Waterton Valley

Looking back down on Stoney Indian camp (at the lake's outlet)

The lower Mokowanis country. The long lake in the distance is Glenn Lake.

Waterfalls from the upper Mokowanis

     Problem is, I was at least slightly cold, sometimes drizzled or flurried on, and hadn't had enough to eat. By the time I got down to Mokowanis Junction camp, I was shot. I had felt fine on the way down, not even cold but rather energized and happy, but this was like hitting the wall in the marathon. I kept moving in order to generate heat, but wasn't doing well. I finally hit a spot of sun at Upper Glenn Lake and so I made miso soup and had lunch and yard-saled the gear. That helped a lot, but it still took almost an hour to make it down to Lower Glenn Lake. I was scheduled to go down to Cosley Lake tonight, but there's no one here, so I think I'm done for the day. I head out along the Belly River tomorrow.

Late afternoon, lower Glenn Lake

1 September 2006, 8:00p. (September!) The Park Cafe, St. Mary's, MT.
     Out. Down the Mokowanis to the junction with the Belly River, then down the Belly to Chief Mountain. Ten or twelve miles. Some nice open country below the Belly River ranger station, but mostly I was ready to be done. I have some good strength from the summer of hiking, but I feel like I have no reserves left at this point.

Mist rising off Glenn Lake

     Frost this morning. Not a hard frost, but there nonetheless. Not much for sunrise. Cold, wet feet for the first hour and subsequently felt a bit clumsy, but they at least warmed up after walking a while. Still wet but at least I had dry socks overnight.

Morning frost

     Cranked the last climb up from the river and back to the car. Washed up. Walked over the border to Canada--I figured I wanted to go, being this close, but didn't want to risk having the car searched. There's nothing to find, but it would have been five or six hours of looking to go through everything... True to stereotype, the Canadian customs guard was friendly if a little puzzled while the Americans just seemed slightly annoyed as if pedestrians didn't fit their expectations. Did I have ID? Fine, thank you.
     Back into the park to camp at Rising Sun. Talked to Mom and Dad on the campground pay phone before they leave for Norway. Shower, back into town for dinner. More food and I'll be halfway back to human.


Sabbatical notes
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