A Travellerspoint blog

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 5

The Bear's Hump: Harder Than Milking a Grizzly, and Half as Fun.

Day 5: The Bear’s Hump – Harder Than Milking a Grizzly, and Half as Fun.

We woke up to the smell of freshly baking muffins and yawned deeply between crisp sheets that had been lined dried and pressed with lavender. The Northland Lodge was just what my aching body needed.

So was a day off.

Our original plan had been to get up at 0-dark-thirty and drive back to Montana in time to catch an 8:30 a.m. boat to the Grinnell Glacier hike in the Many Glacier are of Glacier National Park. When I mentioned this plan, the rest of the group started plotting a coup that involved ropes, a gag, and burying me beneath all those suitcases.

Screw hiking. I wanted muffins.

We slept in and spent the morning doing nothing more strenuous than slathering butter on hot muffins.

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With no real plans for the day, we decided to drive around Waterton Village. It was small and quaint and literally overrun with deer.

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After that, we decided to drive out Red Rock Canyon Parkway before leaving Waterton because I had read that you were likely to see bears there.

We only saw one bear.

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The views were worth the drive, though.

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We did a short, two mile stroll that took us to a waterfall and ran along the side of the Red Rock Canyon.

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Because I simply couldn't bear the thought of giving up a complete day of hiking, I convinced everyone to do the Bear’s Hump, telling them it was only 1 mile each way.

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What I didn’t tell them was that you gained 750 vertical feet in that one mile, on 18 switchbacks. Some of the switchbacks were so steep that I’m pretty sure I could kiss my own butt as I walked by.

And it was HOT.

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We climbed. Then we paused. Then we climbed. Then we heaved. Then we climbed. Then we lay in the dirt crying. Then we climbed some more. I think Teresa was devising ways to kill us all in our sleep as we went up.

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But the views when we reached the top…..all I could say was, “Wow.”

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We had a 360 degree view that included Waterton Village, the lake, and the mountains beyond.

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We even saw a bear. Sort of. Really. I think that’s a bear. Or a big fuzzy black pig. I really can’t be sure.

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The one thing I’ll say about the Bear’s Hump: going down sure is more fun than going up.

Before we left Waterton, we had a picnic lunch by the lake: tuna salad sandwiches, grape tomatoes, and cheese-its.

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We made the drive back down to Montana and re-entered Glacier National Park at the Many Glacier entrance. This has always been, and will always be, my favorite area of the park. The mountains are giants. The lakes are blue and still. And the Many Glacier Hotel is majestic.

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We headed to the lounge for drinks to take the edge of the sore muscles. Yes, Matt got another pink Martini. He just can’t help himself.

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As we sat out on the expansive deck, looking over Swiftcurrent Lake, we got to watch a moose frolic in the water. Mostly, she just ate. And ate. And ate. I guess it takes a lot to fill up a moose.

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It was time for Matt’s favorite dinner of the trip: the Cattle Baron Supper Club.

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What looks like a dive from the outside, is actually an oasis of steak awesomeness on the inside.

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The bathroom, however, leaves something to be desired.

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A bottle of red wine, a salad, a filet cooked perfectly rare with their house potato covered in god-knows-what-creamy-deliciousness, a loaf of freshly baked bread, and a slab of coconut cream pie and all was right with the world.

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Okay, almost right. Sometimes you need an authentic Indian headdress to really complete the meal.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:19 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (3)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 4

Walk faster. I hear banjos.

Day Four: Walk faster. I hear banjos.

Matt and I had a boat to catch, so it was “up and at ‘em” very early. After a breakfast of oatmeal with nuts, brown sugar, and dried fruit and some bacon, we said “goodbye” to Crandall Lake and hiked back to the car.

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Matt and I dropped John and Teresa off at the Carthew Alderson trailhead so that they could do that amazing hike and then drove to Waterton Marina to catch the early morning boat to the Crypt Lake trailhead.

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I had been intrigued by the Cyrpt Lake hike ever since seeing it described as, “a test of nerves,” “one of the most unique hikes you will ever do,” and “the Indiana Jones adventure of the Canadian Rockies.” It was featured by National Geographic as one of the world’s most thrilling hikes.

It is a 5.5 mile mile hike back to the lake with a 2300 foot elevation gain, with a round trip return making it 11 miles. And it includes a boat, a cliff, a ladder, a tunnel, a cable, maybe some snow, and an icy lake. Twice.

Sign me up.

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One reason Matt and I hike is for the solitude, so we knew that getting off of a boat with 50 other people starting the same hike was going to mean we had to go really fast to break free of the majority of the pack. Given that the first part of the hike consists of a seemingly never-ending series of uphill switchbacks through the forest, this fact pretty much SUCKED.

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Most people dawdled at the dock, but we set off with the ambitious few that charged right in. Only 2 small groups managed to out-hike us and I am pleased to report that it was a group of 20-ish boys and 3 teenage girls.

We may be pushing 50, but we can still hang.

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The initial series of switchbacks was brutal, but goat-boy Matt ran up them like it was a stroll in the park, so I did my best to keep up.

At some point, Matt spotted another couple in the distance gaining on us.

“Hike faster,” he said. “I don’t want to get passed.”

Matt has road rage even on a hiking trail in Montana.

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I did my best. I hiked faster. Uphill. My legs were SCREAMING. I couldn’t breathe. I was getting dizzy from the lack of oxygen and the vertigo from the steep slope below me. Every time Matt looked behind him, I was farther behind.

“Faster.”

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No matter how fast I go, I can never keep up with Matt. He has the internal speedometer of a cheetah and has two speeds in Montana: 1) Sitting by the fire drinking hot cocoa and 2) Running uphill with a full pack.

It became a forced death march. Hiking was supposed to be FUN. This was not fun.

I scrambled to catch up, repeating a mantra to help me keep going forward:

Ice.

Cream.

Ice.

Cream.

I started dreaming of a dripping ice cream cone, the one I would get when we got off this God-forsaken trail and would eat like a woman on death row.

When all else fails, ice cream works.

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We managed to stay ahead of the other couple, much to Matt’s delight, but part of my soul died in the process.

The trail continued high up a cliff until we reached a section covered with loose scree. This gave way to a narrow ledge. The trail was only about a foot wide and the drop was a long one. If I fell off this trail, I would not end up in Mexico, I would be swollowed by center of the earth.

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This is where Matt got his payback. Matt HATES heights. And ledges. So a high ledge was his idea of torture.

“You didn’t tell me about this,” he said.

I told him just to keep thinking about ice cream and he’d be fine.

The exposed ledge leads to a ladder drilled into the rock face. The ladder goes up about 10 feet, leaving you dangling over the vast expanse of the valley. When you reach the top, you have to carefully hoist yourself onto another ledge and crawl through a 100 foot tunnel. A surprisingly tight tunnel.

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Acrophobia was replaced by claustrophobia.

I passive-aggressively hoped he would start to hyperventilate.

And it just kept getting better.

After the tunnel climb, there was another steep, narrow ledge. This one was so bad they had installed steel cables to hang onto. You had to use the cables to climb about 100 feet straight UP the cliff on the ledge.

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Awesomeness.

I like to think Matt was crying on the inside.

After the cables, it was a quick hike back to Crypt Lake.

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There were still some snowfields hanging over the edges of the lake, so we knew the water was frigid. That didn’t stop the crazy few from stripping down and jumping in.

It’s a tradition.

Screw tradition.

I kept my butt parked firmly on a warm rock. Like a lizard.

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We spent a good hour at the lake. My legs needed a break and Matt’s nerves needed one. We enjoyed the sunshine as we ate our lunch: smoked trout, spinach, and cream cheese pitas with cookies and an apple.

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Then we got to do that whole mess again. In reverse.

I loved it.

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We got back to the boat dock with about an hour to spare, so we soaked our aching feet in the ice cold water of Waterton Lake.

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The boat ride back was a mixture of satisfaction, relief, and downright jubilation. We had all survived! Yay! I celebrated with an ice cream.

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We met John and Teresa at the Northland Lodge. No camping tonight – it was time for a hot shower and a real bed! Or three real beds, as the case may be.

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We headed to the Bayshore Inn’s Lakeside Chophouse for dinner.

The outstanding views were almost as good as the platter of nachos so big you could hide in it.

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We shared a local bison tasting platter and I finished off with a giant plate of carbs and fat: fish n’ chips.

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Hey, I had earned it.

Posted by vicki_h 05:51 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (3)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 3

Canada. Like America, but with bigger beers.

Day Three: Canada. Like America, but with bigger beers.

It was breakfast in the car because we had an ambitious day planned. First, we had to make an hour drive from St. Mary to Waterton Park in Canada. Then, we needed to stop at the visitors’ center to pick up our backcountry camping permit for that night. Finally, we had to make a 30 minute drive to Cameron Lake where John and Teresa would drop us off at the Carthew Alderson trailhead before heading back to Waterton Village to do their own hike at Bertha Lake.

The rain and gray skies had cleared out and we were treated to a bright blue sky day.

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Matt and I had tried to hike Carthew Alderson 4 years earlier, but had actually been snowed out. SNOWED OUT. IN AUGUST. We had a perfect day to do the hike this time. The mirror-like views from Cameron Lake were outstanding. I knew we were in for a fantastic day.

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Carthew Alderson is a one way hike, stretching 12 miles from Cameron Lake and ending in Waterton Village. Gaining just over 2000 vertical feet in the first 5 miles, I knew the first half of this hike would have my gluteus maximi screaming with rage.

The first mile took us through a deep, quiet forest. It was early morning and the dew was still thick on the leaves. As we went up, up, and up the endless switchbacks, there was no sound except the soft padding of our feet on the trail.

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That, and my heaving breath.

Matt leapt up the mountain like a gazelle.

At just over a mile, we reached Summit Lake, an absolutely stunning spot to stop for some water and beef jerky.

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And an oxygen break for those of us who hadn’t just leapt up the mountain like a gazelle.

Gazelle, my ass. I was breathing like a 3 legged elephant in labor.

With twins.

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When Matt asked me why in God’s name I was wearing blue pants, I responded that I was going for a “cute outdoorsy lumberjack” look. He said I had achieved a “deranged elf” look.

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From the lake, the trail turned steeply uphill, climbing the exposed face of Mount Carthew. As the trail broke free of the trees, I saw the thin zig-zagging line that showed me where I was headed.

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Dear Lord. Why do I do these things to myself?

At this point I was hoping my tights were Superman tights and would give me superhuman powers. Like the power to keep walking uphill until I died. And then keep walking.

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We climbed for what seemed like DAYS when we reached a loose scree slope. One wrong move and I would slide down that mountain. Forever. I’d end up in Mexico.

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Eventually, we reached the windy summit. It was simply magnificent.

THIS is why I do these things to myself.

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We spun in a circle, taking in the very enormity of it.

The views stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see.

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When I started getting dizzy from all that spinning (very Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music like), Matt decided we needed to head down the other side before I ended up falling and sliding to Mexico. At least they would be able to find the body thanks to my superblue pants.

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As we descended toward the Carthew Lakes, the views simply got more surreal. It was hard to take in so much beauty.

It was just so BIG.

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We stopped between the lakes for a trail lunch of a turkey club wrap, fig bars, and baby carrots with hummus. With a view of the lake below us and a waterfall above us, it was simply awesome.

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We continued our way down, down, down, past lakes, past waterfalls, through the valley…and then it was all over. Despite the grunt factor, the hike had been amazing. It’s hard to put into words how I feel when I am out there, staring up at that enormous sky, surrounded by towering mountains, looking ahead for miles and not seeing another soul.

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When John and Teresa dropped us off, none of us had any idea what time we would finish. We were all meeting at Cameron Falls in Waterton Village, where our trail ended. Taking a wild guess, I had suggested they meet us there at 4:00. Guess what time we walked out at Cameron Falls?

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(It was the Superman tights. I told you they had super powers).

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We rewarded ourselves with ice-cream and set off for another hike.

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No. I am not kidding.

Sure, my legs felt like spaghetti noodles made out of jello, but that was no reason not to throw on a 25 lb. pack and hike back to a campsite, now was it?

Dear Lord. Why do I do these things to myself?

I managed to do the hike back to Crandall Lake campground by doing it with a giant 16 oz can of Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider. We all need a little help sometimes.

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The trail to Crandall Lake had more uphill than I remembered, but the hike was still relatively short and easy. It would have been easier if I hadn’t been belching up apple flavored beer.

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Crandall Lake is an idyllic spot. The small lake is surrounded by mountains. The tent sites are nestled on one end of the lake in the woods.

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The best part? You can have a fire.

Most backcountry campsites don’t allow fires, but I made it a point on this trip to find those that did. There is nothing like sitting by a crackling fire after a long day of hiking. Sure, it makes you go to bed smelling like a hobo, but camping doesn’t exactly make you smell like a rose anyway.

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I made dinner while the guys got us a fire going: Rice topped with chicken and a spicy chipotle sauce, green beans and roasted potatoes, and herbed cheese rolls from the Polebridge Mercantile. While we ate, I had a surprise hidden in the fire: orange fudge cakes (hollowed out oranges filled with devil’s food cake batter, wrapped in foil, and left in the fire to cook to a delightfully gooey consistency).

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De-licious!

We enjoyed the warmth of the crackling fire until it started to get dark, then it was time to head to the tents for a good night’s sleep.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:46 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (5)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 2

Two Bears and Counting.

Day Two: Two Bears and Counting.

We woke up to a misty morning at the Lake McDonald campground.

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It was a chilly morning so we warmed up with coffee and cocoa by the fire while I whipped up some peanut butter and banana waffles.

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Our plan was to spend the day getting from the west side of the park to the east side of the park. We thought we’d stop somewhere in between and do a light hike to get us warmed up for the big hikes that would start the following day.

First, we had to hike 2.5 miles back to the car. As we walked, we took in the landscape around us. The Robert Fire of 2003 came during the biggest fire season in Glacier National Park’s history. Due to a combination of draught, high winds, lightning strikes, and human carelessness, 136,000 acres burned that summer. The Robert Fire alone burned almost 60,000 acres.

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Despite the fact that this area had been severely burned only 10 years before, there was beauty everywhere. Life was coming back. A sea of charred, black trees was filled in with endless wildflowers, green grasses, and fresh new saplings.

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When we reached the car, we shoved our overstuffed backpacks into our overstuffed SUV and made the short drive to the Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

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Avalanche Lake is a short, but incredibly scenic, hike. It seemed like a perfect warm-up to get our legs ready for something more challenging.

The trail begins with a pleasant stroll through the Trail of the Cedars, an easy, level loop through cedar giants.

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Rather than looping back to the parking lot, we opted to head up the short, but steep, climb toward Avalanche Lake. After the initial climb, the trail was fairly easy. The entire hike was about 5 miles and only gained 500 feet in elevation.

The views, however, were outstanding. The trail took us through an old growth cedar and hemlock forest.

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Avalanche Gorge, a fiercely rushing cascade of ice blue glacial water running through red rock worn smooth by time and force, offered amazing views on our left.

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Eventually, the trail peeled away from the creek and the deafening crash of the rushing water faded, leaving only the sound of our feet on soft pine needles and the small twitter of distant birds. We were walking through a deep, dark quiet forest. Sunlight filtered through the cedar grove, casting dapples of brightness on the mossy ground, looking like a plush velvet carpet through a fairytale forest.

I was lost in my own, dreamy thoughts, picturing elves hiding behind these wooden giants or imagining fairies, light as air, flitting through the dappled sunlight.

It’s amazing how one word, spoken calmly and quietly, can change everything so quickly.

“BEAR.”

“BEAR. AHEAD. BIG GRIZZLY BEAR CROSSED THE TRAIL RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU,” the people hiking toward us said.

My pucker factor instantly went from a 0 to a 12 on a 10 point scale.

Fairies be damned. I spent the rest of the hike looking for bears.

We never saw the bear and eventually reached the clearing that meant we had reached Avalanche Lake.

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The trail dead-ended into the shores of Avalanche Lake. The lake was surrounded on three sides by towering peaks with streaming waterfalls that formed a bowl shape. The lake sat below them like a mirror.

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We took some time to simply sit and take in the peace of the place before hiking back to the car.

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The parking lot sat next to a nice picnic area with tables along the edge of the creek, so we decided to eat lunch picnic style before driving to St. Mary on the east end of the park.

I made pork burritos with black bean and corn salsa. It’s amazing what you can cook out of the back of an SUV.

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It was about 3:00 when we reached the St. Mary Lodge. We got checked in an grabbed some showers and some naps. We’d only been in Montana for a little over 24 hours and we had already hiked 10 miles. Not used to so much activity, our bodies needed a break!

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Matt and I grabbed some cocktails at St. Mary’s lounge while we waited for John and Teresa to get ready for dinner.

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Our favorite restaurant on the east side, the Park Café, had seen a change of ownership since our last visit and the reviews were not favorable. We decided to try something new: Two Sisters.

As we walked from the car to the door, we saw a big grizzly bear running across the field next door. Two bears in one day? I hoped this wasn't an omen.

Two Sisters was funky. Two Sisters was fun. Two Sisters was purple.

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We all ordered cocktails. Here they are. I am going to let you guess which person belongs to which drink.

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If you guessed mine was the girly pink one, you were wrong.

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It takes a real man to drink a pink martini in Montana.

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I ordered the famous “Red Burger,” aptly named for the spicy Creole sauce that was slathered on top of the giant burger topped with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and onions.

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John and Teresa both got the “Open Faced Chili Burger.” All I could say was, “Thank goodness you two aren’t sleeping in a tent tonight.” They could have blown that tent into the stratosphere.

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Seriously, that was enough beans to fuel the next launch of the space shuttle. And after burritos for lunch. I didn’t even want to ride in the car with them the next day.

There is one rule in Montana that always stands: No matter how much you eat for dinner, there is always room for PIE!

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As we lay in our rooms at the St. Mary lodge that night, I’m pretty sure I could hear John and Teresa’s beans in the next room.

"Beans, beans, good for your heart....."

Posted by vicki_h 06:55 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (2)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 1

Let the journey begin.

Ahhhh….Montana. Home of big skies and bigger mountains. The state of open roads, endless valleys, and a river running through it. A place where the soup of the day is whiskey and there are more plaid flannel shirts than a 1991 Pearl Jam concert.

Without really meaning to, we seem to wander back to Montana every couple of years. The call of the mountains is more than we can resist. We can only stay away for so long before we yearn for the crunch of the gravel under our boots on a hiking trail, the chirp of a chubby marmot, and a breath of fresh air.

It was the last week of August and temperatures in the deep south were soaring.

It was time to head to Montana and get lost.

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Day One: Let the journey begin.

While we have flown to Montana under our own power on our most recent trips, we decided to fly commercial thanks to an unbeatable fare. Instead of it taking us 2 full days to get to Kalispell, we left early one Saturday morning and were in Montana by lunch, local time.

The first, very miserable, order of business was to buy groceries and then figure out how to fit 4 adults; 2 oversized suitcases; 2 small suitcases; 4 large backpacks; 3 daypacks; 2 tents; a week’s worth of camping gear, hiking gear, and clothing; and 4 coolers filled with groceries into one standard size SUV with no luggage rack.

There was an inordinate amount of cussing, stomping, and gnashing of teeth, but we finally got it all in there.

Sweet Heavenly Moses.

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By the time we were finished, we looked like a Chinese delivery truck.

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Instead of lunch, we decided on a drive to Polebridge for a 4:00 dinner at the Northern Lights Saloon.

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For us, there is simply no other way to kick off a Glacier National Park vacation than with a long drive up a dirt road for a fistful of pastries, a jar of beer, and a giant slab of homemade huckleberry pie.

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Not wanting to waste a minute, we decided to start our hiking that night. What? Who wouldn’t want to do a 2.5 mile hike at 7:00 p.m. in bear country in an outfit that smelled like huckleberry pie? Just to sweeten the deal, the temps dropped into the high 30s even though it was late August.

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The hike to McDonald Lake campground was a perfect, short jaunt to stretch our legs and help our bodies readjust to our backpacks, which had been in storage for 2 years.

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The sparsely visited campsite was positioned on the western shore of Lake McDonald in an area that had been ravaged by the Roberts Fire of 2003. It doesn’t get many visitors, but we chose it specifically because it was a backcountry campsite that we knew we could make it to in about an hour.

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Despite the remains of the burned trees, the view from the lake was spectacular. It was a cold, cloudy evening, so we didn’t get to enjoy much of a sunset, but it was quiet, peaceful....beautiful.

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The best part of the McDonald Lake campground? You can have a fire!

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Do you know what goes perfectly with a campfire?

Wine and cookies from the Polebridge Merc, of course! Nothing says "glamping" like a paper cup of wine and a greasy, brown paper sack full of cookies.

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The sun completely faded from the sky and it was time to retire to our tents. The two hour time difference meant that we were exhausted even though it was only 9:00 in Montana. As I snuggled down into the warmth of my sleeping bag, I wondered what this trip had in store for us.

Bears? Blisters? Blizzards?

We’d seen it all in our trips to Montana.

I couldn’t wait to wake up and find out what was next.

Posted by vicki_h 12:23 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (4)

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