A Travellerspoint blog

September 2010

Montana: It's not a vacation...it's an adventure.

Part I

Some trips are about leisure……some are about sightseeing…..some are about visiting with family and friends…..some are about going to new and different places…and then there are the “other trips.”

The ones that are about brute survival. About endurance. About overcoming suffering. About finding out just what you are made of.

You don’t take those kind of vacations? Oh, well, fasten your seatbelt….you’re with Vicki now. You’re in for a ride.

I saw a quote framed in a small airport in Iowa that said, “A venturesome minority will always be eager to get off on their own…let them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches – that is the right and privilege of any free American.” 16 Idaho Law Review 407, 420-1980

I am that venturesome minority. Welcome, friends, to my adventure in Montana……

Saturday, September 4

Saturday dawned bright and clear. The sky was as blue as a robin’s egg and not a cloud was in sight. This was a good day for flying.

Matt and I had made a bold decision for our annual September hiking trip. We would fly our own plane to Northwest Montana this year instead of flying commercial. This was twice the farthest distance we had ever traveled under our own power and was something we’d been itching to try.

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To make the flight less tiresome, we decided to break the trip into 2 days each way. Saturday we would fly to some Midwestern city about halfway between TN and MT and make the remainder of the flight on Sunday. We’d spend Monday – Friday in Glacier National Park, hiking about 60 miles and doing 2 nights in backcountry campgrounds and the rest in the park’s lodges, and then would repeat the flight home the following Saturday and Sunday.

This wasn’t going to be a vacation. This was going to be an adventure.

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On this fine Saturday we were bound for Sioux Falls, SD and the weather was perfect. Flying cross country was an amazing thing. Leaving Tennessee…with her rolling green hills….I noticed that everything suddenly became ……very……flat. Flatty flat flat. Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa are very flat, my friends.

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After a few hours of flying, we made a quick fuel stop in Washington, Iowa. They have a lot of corn in Iowa. A lot of corn and a lot of sky.

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After 6.5 hours of flight time, we landed in Sioux Falls. We checked into a downtown hotel and stepped out to see what Sioux Falls had to offer. Turns out, it had a lot to offer.

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I can’t say enough good things about Sioux Falls. We only saw the downtown area, but it was squeaky clean and filled with neat shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, and patio bars. First things first: Dinner. We went to Mama Ladas Enchilada Shop and Wine Bar.

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HOLY ENCHILADA!! This place was awesome. They only have about 5 tables and they only serve enchiladas. Enchiladas to DIE FOR. They were so good, we ordered a second plate after we ate the first.

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With bellies full of enchiladas, we needed a good walk, so we walked down to the Falls Park and saw the waterfalls. How cool to have this downtown:

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After the falls, we strolled the downtown streets, lined with happy awnings and cute patio bars and stopped at Stogeez for some wine and live acoustic music. This is where I met “Too Tall Don” (his name, not mine) in the line for the bathroom. He was indeed, too tall, and was from Great Falls, MT. He was very enthusiastic about Montana when he found out we were headed there. Here’s to you, Too Tall. Hope you eventually made it to the restroom because you’d apparently had a lot of beer.

Sunday, September 5

We flew out early. The strong headwind the day before really slowed us down and we knew we could expect more of the same today. We wanted to get an early start. After leaving Sioux Falls, it was an uneventful flight all the way to Miles City, MT where we made a pit stop for fuel. Miles City is a tiny spot in the middle of Nowhere, MT where there are hay bales along the tarmac and the airport greeter is a big dog that looks part chow, part coyote, and part muppet.

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As I was petting Airport Dog, oblivious to anything but his big furry head, Matt was looking at this:

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That is a storm. A big one. Moving right at us. We had to get a move on and we had to get it on FAST. We detoured a hair to the north and skirted the edge of that bad boy for a long time but eventually made it past, but not without some bumps, some ice, and some rain. We had made it to the Rockies and we spent the next hour flying at 17,000 feet over snow capped peaks and turquoise alpine lakes suspended at impossible heights.

Anyone who says the U.S. is overpopulated has obviously never flown over Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana.

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After 6 hours of flying time, we landed at the Kalispell City Airport shortly after lunch. This is the only airport I have ever landed at where there were deer on the runway and then we were asked to park the airplane in the grass.

I love Montana.

They delivered our rental car to us and we were on our way. We made the drive up to Glacier National Park and entered the West Entrance and headed over to Apgar Village, which sits on the west side of the park at the end of Lake McDonald. Our plan for the next 5 days was this:

Sunday night: Sleep at Village Inn at Apgar.
Monday: Hike into the backcountry, 12 miles, to Lake Ellen Wilson campground for the night.
Tuesday: Hike 10 miles back out of the backcountry to Lake McDonald Lodge for the night.
Wednesday: Hike 12 miles to Lake Francis and then another 3 miles to the backcountry campground at Kootenai Lake for the night.
Thursday: Hike back out of the backcountry and drive to Many Glacier Lodge for the night.
Friday: Do a 12 mile day hike to Grinnell Glacier and back to the Many Glacier Lodge for the night.

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We have always gone to Glacier the week of Labor Day and the temperatures have always been about 75 during the day and about 50 at night. This was the first time we would try our hand at camping, but based on the weather of the past, it should be a piece of cake. We were ready! Bring on the hiking! Bring on the camping!

You know what they say about the best laid plans.

When we arrived at Apgar….it was raining. And it was cold. I don’t mean like, 50’s cold….I mean like 30’s cold. And it was only early afternoon. We went into the backcountry station and picked up our first backcountry permit, but not before being forced to watch a 30 minute “backcountry how-to” video about how you must pee on rocks instead of dirt, how to go “ffffppphhhhtttt” and “spray” your toothpaste spit so that it doesn’t attract animals, and how to curl up in a fetal position properly so that when you die from a bear attack, you’ll be thinking of your mother.

More practical topics for that video would have been how to keep your feet dry when your non-waterproof boots become saturated and you still have 6 miles to go, how to survive gale force winds and driving snow at the top of a mountain pass when you don’t actually have a coat, and how to dodge a mountain goat that has decided he’s not getting off the trail, you are ….but they never cover the stuff you really need to know, now do they?

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And….wow…..this backcountry stuff was serious. How to pee so you don’t attract a bear? I had never camped a night in my life. No, not even in the backyard as a kid. And I chose to spend my first night camping in the middle of Backcountry, MT where I had to worry about hypothermia and bears. Brilliant. I knew I was in trouble when the recommended gear included 35’ of rope, bear repellant, and a water filter and the important things in my pack were lavender scented body wipes, plastic bottles of wine, and peppermint foot rub. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this.

Video over, we braved the weather and headed down the 25 mile dirt road to Polebridge.

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Polebridge is cool. Polebridge is funky. Polebridge is my kind of place. It’s part hippie commune, part hiker’s outpost, part gunfighter town. The first thing you see, after driving 25 miles down a rough dirt road, is a hand painted sign that reads, “Slow Down. People Breathing.” Not much more than a mercantile, a saloon, and about 15 dogs in varying stages of disrepair, Polebridge is a must stop for us on every trip to Glacier.

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The big, red Merc building doesn’t look like it has changed much since 1914. We said “hello” to Sasha, the 3-legged Merc dog, and went inside. You see, this old fashioned building houses some of the most phenomenal baked goods you’ll ever put your hands on. A dozen cookies, a huckleberry turnover, and 3 cheese Danishes later and we dodged the rain over to the Northern Lights Saloon for dinner.

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It had changed hands since we had eaten here last, but it was still good. Nothing says, “You’re in Montana” like a plastic red cola glass filled with wine and a hamburger soaked in chili. Aaaaah……it felt like coming home.

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It rained on us all the way back to Apgar and when we pulled back in the park and passed the ranger station there was a big sign that read, “LOGAN PASS CLOSED DUE TO SNOW.”

What the????

Logan Pass is the high point in the road that runs from West to East across Glacier National Park. It’s where we had to pass through to get to our trailhead the following day.
Not only was I now stressing about bears and camping and not having enough rope, I had to worry about the road being closed and the snow. SNOW???? Seriously? Snow?

Sigh…..

Monday, September 6

Happy Labor Day.

We woke up to thick gray clouds and rain. And cold. This would become a pattern.

I was stressing about trying to get the hikers shuttle across Logan Pass, which was still closed for snow. We had a 12 mile hike up a steep pass with full packs to do by day’s end and needed all the time we could get.

“Don’t stress about it,” Matt said. “We have plenty of time.”

I looked down at the backcountry permit in my hands which read, “NOTES: ADVISE EARLY START.”

Oh…I was stressing.

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Late in the morning the road opened up so we grabbed the first shuttle from Lake McDonald to Avalanche Lake, where we would catch a second shuttle to Logan Pass. We got off the shuttle just as the other was pulling around when Matt looked at me and said, “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh,” were not really the words of reassurance I was looking for at that particular moment.

“I forgot my jacket.”

I tried to convince him that a jacket wasn’t really that important in the snow and high winds at high altitudes, but apparently, I was not convincing.

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Back on the shuttle. Back to Lake McDonald. Got the jacket. Back on the shuttle. Back to Avalanche Lake.

By this time it was about 11:00 and we still had about an hour of shuttling to do. Early start my aunt fanny.

We finally pulled up to Logan Pass and it looked like Santa’s Freakin’ Workshop. I looked out the window and waited for elves and reindeer to frolic across the field in front of the bus. Today was Labor Day!

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I gave Matt a pathetic stare as I shivered outside waiting for the shuttle. Were we really going to do this? He assured me that it was only this bad because this was a high point. Things would be fine on the trail.

We finally reached the trailhead at noon. We had over 11 hard miles to cover and really needed to get there by about 6 p.m. so that we had plenty of time to set up camp and cook dinner before dark. Folks, 11 steep miles with a full pack in bad weather in 6 hours is not an ideal scenario.

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I believe I experienced every type of weather possible in those 11 miles. I started off with a heavy jacket and gloves as the thick gray clouds blotted out the sun. Then the sun popped out and it got hot as we climbed the switchbacks so the jackets came off. Then it started to rain. Hard. Jackets had to go back on along with rain shells. Unfortunately, I didn’t have waterproof pants or boots. I just wasn’t thinking of rain when I packed. Within minutes, my pants were soaked from thigh to ankle and my boots and socks were so saturated that they squished when I took a step.

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Step. Squish. Step. Squish. Step. Squish.

And then we hit the hurricane force winds and driving snow.

Wet.

Going straight up a steep mountain pass.

For 2 hours.

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I spent the next 2 hours trying not to cry. I really wanted to cry. I kept thinking about stuff like my warm cozy den, my pink fuzzy blanket, and my mom. I wanted my mother. I would not cry. I would not cry. I am not a sissy. I would not cry. It was, quite honestly, a test of my emotional and physical endurance. And somehow I won.

We reached the top of the pass without a tear shed. There may have been a few choice words….but no tears. We were greeted at the top by a fearless goat who looked at me like, “What? You don’t like the snow?” I wanted to punch him.

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We sat in the shelter at the top of Gunsight Pass to get dry for a brief moment before heading down the switchbacks that led to Lake Ellen Wilson.

I know it’s hard to believe, but my spirits soared as we climbed over the pass and the beautiful blue lake opened up before me, mountains rising on all sides, snow perched on their steep slopes. On this side of the pass, there was no snow or rain and the brisk pace was keeping me warm.

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Hoary marmots sat perched on the tops of rocks on either side of us and whistled to one another. It was wonderful ….like funny music in the dim light of the early evening. I could see the sun setting in the distance as the clouds broke far below Lake Ellen Wilson. I could also see our campground on a tiny piece of land jutting out into the lake. I saw the famous “cooking rock” and new we weren’t far now.

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The campground took my breath away. I forgot all about the snow and the cold and the wet as I looked at this perfect spot nestled beside this perfect lake in these perfect mountains. The sun at last made an appearance as we set up camp. We hung our food up on the bear pole and set up the tent next to the lake. There are only 4 tent sites and only 3 were occupied. There were only 6 of us at the campground.

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Because we only had one set of dry clothes (for the next day), we opted to leave our wet ones on while we made dinner. Our other camp mates were also in the cooking area – four logs in a square under a big slanted rock. One of them told us that a big grizzly with 2 cubs had been in the camp that morning. I knew they were telling the truth because I saw the scat on the trail between the pit toilet sign and the cooking area. It was fresh. This was not a happy bedtime story for Vicki. I didn’t want to hear about the 3 bears.

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Because we only had to camp one night, we were able to carry a little heavier food than most other campers. They turned green with envy, eating their dehydrated carrots out of a foil baggie, as we pulled out pre-cooked gnocchi and I made a quick tomato sauce and added some cheese. Italian bread and brownies rounded out the meal. I felt a little sorry for them, but not enough to share. They hadn’t hiked in wet socks for 7 miles, now had they?

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No fires allowed, so we cooked over a little propane burner and it took maybe 5 minutes….as we shivered. It might have been my tired, wet feet…it might have been the stunning surroundings….it might have been the sound of the marmots whistling in the night…but that might have been the best food I had ever eaten.

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By the time dinner was over, the sun had set and we were shivering uncontrollably with the cold. We climbed into the tent, got dry, and burrowed into our sleeping bags. Lavendar scented body wipes be damned. I would have traded a million of them for an extra pair of socks, a sweatshirt, and a ski mask.

It was cold. Bitter cold. About 28 degrees. WHAT was I thinking? WHY was I out here? Sleeping in my down coat and burrowed inside my bag, I wasn’t actually cold, but I wasn’t exactly warm either. I had to literally close the drawstring on my bag because if even my nose stuck out, it instantly turned to ice. So, there I was. Wadded inside my sleeping bag, breathing my own hot, recycled air, wondering if a person could suffocate in a sleeping bag while trying to decide which would be worse, dying of suffocation in one’s sleep or dying of hypothermia in one’s sleep?

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And then of course, every woman’s nightmare. I had to pee. Damn. The pit toilet was a long way from the tent. It was 28 degrees. My feet were in dry socks but my boots were soaking wet and frozen. I was mummified in my sleeping bag and didn’t know if I could get out without losing an arm to the zipper. It was darker than dark outside. And then there was that bear. Well, crap. I did what any self preserving woman would do. Modesty went out the window and I hung my happy ass out the tent door.

And then I remembered that video about the pee on dirt attracting bears. Double crap.

It didn’t actually matter, however, because after that bear story, I wasn’t sleeping anyway. I lay there ALL NIGHT….listening. Yes. I listened for approximately 8 hours. To every sigh of the wind. Every creak of a tree. Every hoot of an owl. Everyone in that camp should have slept like a baby that night because Vicki the Bear Guard was ON and she had an all night shift. Had so much as a twig snapped, I was jumping up with an air horn.

And then there was the problem with the gnocchi. That gnocchi gave me gas. There aren’t many feelings worse than being cocooned inside a small sleeping bag that’s drawn over your face, breathing about 1% of the oxygen your body really needs through the thick down layer over your nose and realizing that you have gas. I spent the next few hours trying not to let any of it escape while wondering if one could die of asphyxiation from one’s own gas if trapped with it inside a sleeping bag.

Blessedly….I finally dozed off around 3 a.m. but I immediately had a bear dream and woke up about 20 minutes later. Giving up on sleep completely, I spent the rest of the night listening for bears, talking to God, wondering what time it was, and trying not to fart inside my sleeping bag.

It was the longest night of my life.

Tuesday, September 7

Eight extremely long hours later…morning came. Praise the Lord…I had made it through the night. Unfrozen and fart free.

It was cold and gray. I dressed inside my sleeping bag and headed for the pit toilet. What I expected was an outhouse. That’s what most pit toilets are.

What I saw was this:

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Not very private, but it sure had a helluva view.

We made breakfast over our tiny burner under the big rock. I had oatmeal, blueberry Clif bars, and pre-cooked bacon. Shivering in my down coat….this was the moment that I learned to love Starbucks Instant Coffee. God bless Starbucks.

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We set out after breakfast. We had a 10 mile hike that included a climb to Lincoln Pass and then a steep 7 mile descent down to Lake McDonald. Descents hurt me worse than climbs, so I wasn’t looking forward to it. Besides, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and I had 25 lbs. sitting on my back. And my boots were wet.

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Despite it all, the hike along Lake Ellen Wilson was inspiring. I felt lucky (yes, I said lucky) to be able to be here and see this when so few ever got that privilege. God’s world is so big and so beautiful and his creation was all around me, painted in bold colors and striking textures.

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As we walked the narrow trail we saw a mountain goat and her baby coming toward us on the trail. She made it clear that she was staying on the trail. Not sure where to go, we just stepped a few inches off the trail and waited. She sauntered right on by. The kid gave us a funny stare that said, “You aren’t gonna’ grab me, are you?” and then sauntered right on by himself.

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After the climb to Lincoln Pass, we had a descent of about a mile before reaching Sperry Chalet, a hike in only lodge where hikers can grab a hot lunch. Oh how I wanted a hot lunch. When you’ve been backcountry hiking an $8 fried egg or a $5 peanut butter sandwich sounds like foie gras and caviar.

With knees that felt like someone was driving screwdrivers through them and no Advil….I was easing down pretty slow. Matt finally pulled out the leftover wine from the previous night’s dinner.

“Drink it,” he said.

“It’s 10:30 a.m. I’m not drinking that.”

“Drink it,” he said.

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I drank it. In that moment, that little plastic bottle of screw cap wine was like nectar from the gods. It eased the ragged edge a bit and warmed my insides and I made it the rest of the way down to the Chalet.

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A pitcher of lemonade, hot tea and hot chocolate, and soup with grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches made up for a lot of wrong. It was warm inside the chalet as the wood stove cranked up and I could smell the fresh pies baking. Sperry is known for their pie. Don’t think I didn’t know that.

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The first pie had just come out so we put in our order for the first 2 pieces. “Two pieces of that boysenberry pie, please.” It was hot and delicious. Within 3 minutes, all 6 pieces of pie had been claimed. The next pie wouldn’t be ready for 35 minutes and people kept streaming in.

People looking for pie.

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It was a fight to the death as we witnessed what I now call the Great Pie war of Sperry Chalet.

Then it was 6.5 steep long miles down. Down, down, down. We finally made it to the bottom when I literally felt that I couldn’t take another step. Thank you, God, for the end of the trail.

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We checked into Lake McDonald Lodge and cleaned up. Nothing feels better than a hot shower after 48 hours with nothing but handi-wipes and hand sanitizer. We grabbed spicy bloody marys at Luke’s Lounge and a late, exhausted dinner in the dining room.

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And, in the safety of a lodge room where no bear could make me a midnight snack and I didn’t have to breathe my own recycled breath….I found blessed sleep.

Wednesday, September 8

Guess what. We woke up to rainy, gray, cloudy skies. Big surprise. We had to drive to Canada, so we headed out.

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Our original plan had been a hike to a backcountry campground in Canada on Wednesday and back out on Thursday, but the campground was unavailable, so we had switched to Plan B: the Carthew-Alderson Trail with a night mid-trail at Alderson Lake.

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When we got there, we found that our hike was snowed out, so we managed a last minute change to a campground that was not at a high elevation so we didn’t have to worry about snow. The only suitable and available campground was only a 2 mile hike, and the other hikes were weathered in, so we drove up to Cameron Lake and took a lake stroll instead.

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It was foggy and gray, but we did see a deer and a bear swimming across the lake. I guess he was too lazy to walk around. We had a picnic lunch by the lake and then loaded up our packs and drove to the Crandall Lake trailhead.

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At about 3 p.m. we made the quick hike back to Crandall. The walk was reasonably easy and the weather, while gray, was holding. It wasn’t too cool and it wasn’t raining.

Matt was actually surprised I was willing to try camping again, after the first night. I was actually looking forward to it. I wanted to try again.

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We couldn’t have made a better choice. Crandall Lake was a perfect camping oasis. We broke out of the trees to a small, round lake, surrounded by small mountains and with a sloping pebble beach. There was absolutely NO ONE there. Just us and one duck. The Lone Duck of Crandall Lake. We had our choice of sites and we set up our tent in the trees. There was an unbelievable clean pit toilet (complete with walls! Yes!) that was so new it only smelled like pine. There was a covered cooking area and several small fire pits where fires were allowed.

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We gathered firewood as our one lone duck paddled back and forth across his lake. Matt built us a perfect fire and we just sat and enjoyed the great outdoors for a while.

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I was trying to read, but I kept closing my eyes and listening to the wonderful sound of the crackling fire.

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I made another of Vicki’s Fabulous Camping Dinners: rice and chicken with a southwestern cream sauce. For dessert, we had chocolate shortbread cookies that we held over the fire until the chocolate ran all warm and oozy down our fingers. We sat there, listening to the fire and watching our duck until it was too dark to see anymore, licking chocolate from the corners of our mouths.

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It was only about 8:00 so we climbed in the tent and got cozied down in our sleeping bags and Matt pulled out his iPad and we watched a movie. Just as the movie was ending, the rain began. It rained almost all night. The sound of that rain on the tent as I lay warm and soft in my bag was one of the most peaceful and relaxing sounds I have ever heard.

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It was a perfect night.

I slept.

Posted by vicki_h 08:17 Archived in USA Comments (9)

Montana: It's not a vacation...it's an adventure.

Part II

Thursday, September 9

I LOVE CAMPING!!!!

We woke up to mist on the lake and hot coffee. The rain had stopped and it was quiet and perfect. It was still dark, but we had to head out because we were still going to try to do our Canada hike, just as a day hike instead of an overnighter. We had to get a move on. We agreed that I would take a flashlight and go over to the cooking area and make coffee, hot cocoa, and oatmeal while Matt packed up the camp.

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I had to visit the pit toilet first. I made my way over with my flashlight and then flipped it off when I entered. It’s not like I needed to see in there. I knew where everything was.

That’s when I felt the tickle on my leg.

I flipped the flashlight that was hanging around my neck but unfortunately flipped it to STROBE so I could only scream while flailing pathetically at the 8 legged thing crawling up my thigh that I couldn’t really see. Between the strobe light and the screaming, it must have looked and sounded like Bee Gees night at Skatetown U.S.A.

I felt bad when I realized it was only a granddaddy longleg. Poor little thing only had one leg left by the time I was done.

We had our breakfast and hiked out without incident. We changed clothes in the car and drove over to Tamarack Outfitters to catch the 8 a.m. shuttle to the Carthew-Alderson trail. When we arrived, they told us that it was still covered in snow, visibility was bad, and the trail was just wet, wet, wet. They advised that we cancel. We did.

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Weathered out of hiking AGAIN, we decided to drive back down to Montana toward our lodge for the night, the Many Glacier Hotel to see if there was any chance of an early check-in. It was just as rainy in Montana, so there would be no hiking today. We spent the day reading in front of the fireplace at Many Glacier.

Depressed because 2 days of hiking had been cancelled and there had been no pretty weather photo ops…..I was in a funk. Matt knew what would cheer me up.

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PIE!

We headed to the Park Café for a late lunch of peanut butter milkshakes, cheeseburgers, fries, and pie.

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Pie makes everything better.

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The evening was spent reading, doing puzzles, taking naps, and eating cookies. It was like we were practicing to be 92 years old. But it was nice.

Friday, September 10

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We had planned the Grinnell Glacier hike for Friday, but the weather was not going to cooperate. The weather was not ideal, but it looked like it might be clearer south of us, so we drove along the east side of Glacier toward the Two Medicine entrance.

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The skies were blue and clear on the drive down. It was the Big Sky of Montana that I had been wanting to see all week.

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It’s a good thing we had views on the way down, because when we got into Two Medicine, inside the park, it was just as thick and gray as it had been at Many Glacier. We had decided to try the Cobalt Lake Hike, and it wasn’t raining, so we decided to go for it.

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The weather held out for most of the hike. I thought we were going to have a fine day as we walked past streaming waterfalls, along the side of flowing creeks, across swinging cable bridges.

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We picked the ripe huckleberries that were abundant along the trail that were still wet from the morning’s rain. It was so nice we decided to save our lunch and eat it at Cobalt Lake before making the hike back.

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We must have gotten about a mile from the lake when the icy hurricane hit. Fierce clouds blew in from NOWHERE and we were attacked by strong winds and gusting ice and rain. Within minutes we were soaked and shivering. We kept walking toward the lake in hopes that the campground might have a shelter of some sort where we could sit out the worst of it.

When we got to Cobalt Lake, the rain was so heavy, I couldn’t even see the lake. The wind was driving through my wet clothes and I was freezing. I started to shiver as we simply turned around and started walking back. No lake. No lunch.

Step. Squish. Step. Squish. Step. Squish.

When it finally stopped raining, I pulled a soggy bag of Cheeze-Its out of my backpack. Hello lunch.

We walked, wet, hungry and cold six miles back to Two Medicine.

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Now, I need to tell you about the moose. You see, I have never really seen a moose in Glacier National Park. There was one behind a tree once, and I knew it was there, but I couldn’t really SEE it so that doesn’t count. I had actually planned our hikes on the trip to increase my probability of seeing a moose. Our planned Canadian hikes practically came with a moose guarantee…but those got cancelled, now, didn’t they? So today was my last chance to see a moose. I stopped and scanned every beaver pond….every marshy pit….ever willow lined creek….no moose.

We were about 1/10 of a mile from the end of the trail when we passed a chatty couple. They were all happy and bright. Obviously, they had not just hiked through Hurricane Two Medicine and had to eat soggy Cheese-Its under a rain poncho for lunch.

“Did you see the moose?” they asked, chipper as chipmunks.

“No, no moose,” we replied flatly, exhausted as the mud dried thickly on our boots and our pants.

“Oh, yeah. There’s a moose right back there. You just walked right by him. Everybody’s seen him today.” Stupid people.

Stupid moose.

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We took off our muddy boots and made the long drive back to Many Glacier.

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We consoled ourselves by cleaning up and heading to our favorite eating place, the Cattle Baron Supper Club. The first time we saw it, with it’s dirty brown exterior, pick-up truck lined parking lot, and neon beer signs, I told Matt I wasn’t eating there. I told him it probably had more pool tables than waiters and likely featured a cigarette machine, juke box, and chips hanging on the wall. No way. I wasn’t going.

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Well, I finally relented years ago and it turned out to be amazing. We knew it as soon as we walked in. You expect a smoky dive with Shenandoah singing, “If Bubba Can Dance….” and the sound of a mechanical bull, but what you see is a warm interior of gleaming wood and candlelight, with a spiral staircase twirling to the second floor around a giant tree that stands sentinel on one end of the place. When you look upstairs you see white tablecloths and waiters dressed in white shirts and ties carrying silver trays laden with prehistoric sized steaks. Now, we return every time. It’s one of the highlights of the trip.

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It was time to get my Yee-Haw on.

I ordered the filet which was cooked to perfection and had to weigh in at about 14 ounces and Matt got some ridiculously huge ribeye that was so big it hung off his plate. Homemade bread and butter, potatoes slathered in their special dressing, salads with thick blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms and onions made us forget every wet, cold, muddy step of the trip.

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Despite our bulging bellies, we stopped by the Park Café for one more slice of pie before heading back to the lodge. The coconut cream and the peach pie were to die for.

Fat and happy, we fell asleep to the sound of fierce winds whistling through the mountains.

Saturday, September 11

It was time to leave the park, and I was okay with that. It was another wet, cold and gray morning. The wind was blowing ferociously as we drove the Going to the Sun Road back to West Glacier and then headed out of the park down to Columbia Falls for a “Goodbye Breakfast.”

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We always stop at Montana Coffee Traders for coffee to take home and a giant breakfast of eggs scrambled with onions and cheese, crispy bacon, and fried potatoes. Before we knew it, we were at the airport saying goodbye to Kalispell from the air.

We were on our way to KRAP.

The airport identifier for Rapid City, SD may not have been well thought out, but the town itself was pretty alright.

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After only 3 hours of flying, we landed in the early afternoon and took our rental car down a long, straight highway toward Interior, SD. We kept looking for a speed limit sign and finally figured out there wasn’t a speed limit. None.

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Matt said, “I can’t believe I finally get to drive a straight highway with no speed limit…and I am in a Kia.”

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We drove past fields of gold and skies of blue until we reached Interior, SD…population 67 and gateway to the Badlands National Park. Interior has 4 streets, one 5x10 jail, a church for every 30 residents, and a blue painted horse at the Cowboy Corner.

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We didn’t have lots of time, so we did the Badlands Loop Drive. The Badlands were amazing. Steep peaks rose and dramatic gorges fell. Hills of gold and green and rose mounded above the prairies and then fell below the earth. Antelope and prairie dogs ran and buffalo stood guard in the distance.

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We exited near Wall, SD and decided to stop in to see the famous Wall Drug Store. Like any good kid would, I rode the jackelope and the fake bucking bronco and gorged myself on homemade doughnuts and hot dogs. We drove back to Rapid City as the sun set golden over fields of hay.

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For dinner, I found what was reputed to be one of the best restaurants in all of South Dakota…the modest little Corn Exchange Bistro in Rapid City. When we arrived, I knew we were in good hands when they seated us at the bar while they readied our table and gave us a glass of their “wine of the night” and it was called Viviacious Vicki.

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They brought fresh bread with a garlic butter as we drooled over the menu. The restaurant prides itself on using the best local foods and the menu was a thing of beauty. We started off with the cheese plate, a platter of fresh, local artisanal cheeses, dates, apricots, grapes, house marinated olives, and water crackers. I then had an heirloom tomato salad with house made blue cheese dressing and fresh bacon. For dinner, I tried the Buffalo Bolognese and followed it with a flourless chocolate torte.

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I do believe it might be the best restaurant in South Dakota.

Sunday, September 12

After All You Can Eat 99 Cent Cowboy Pancakes at the Dances With Wolves movie set along with 2 busloads of AARP tourists, it was time to head home.

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We had a 5.5 hour flight ahead with a pit stop in Hannibal, Missouri and the weather was fine and clear. But first….a Mount Rushmore fly by!! Who else gets to see it from this perspective?

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As we flew toward home, I reflected on the previous week. It wasn’t what I expected, for sure, and I will admit there were more than a few moments when I just broke down and said, “This sucks,” but it had been all of the adventure that I had hoped for and had some shining moments. I guess you could say it was the best of times…it was the worst of times.

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We endured snow, sleet, rain, mud, gusty winds, near hypothermia, sore bodies, wet feet, hunger pains, windburned faces, outdoor toilets, ice, and wild animals. I had significantly less skin on my feet, my legs felt they would never recover, and one big toenail had already turned purple. But it was a small price to pay to pay to see the untouched and dramatic beauty of the backcountry…a land of spontaneous waterfalls and alpine lakes, of carpets of wildflowers and snow covered peaks. I could still hear the patter of the rain on the tent and could smell the crisp smoke of the campfire. I could taste the melted chocolate oozing from a toasted cookie dripping down my fingertips. I imagined the solitary ripple of a lone duck on a remote lake in the morning fog and the curious stare of a baby mountain goat as it walked 6 inches from my side. Imprinted on my soul were God’s handiwork of towering mountains and glacial lakes in swirls of cobalt and turquoise.

I took home with me something special. Something I had seen. Something I had experienced. Something I had endured. For a brief moment, I had been one with nature. I had slept in her arms and woken to her soft misty breath.

She would return with me, a small still voice inside reminding me of the quiet of the night when the dark is impenetrable and the only sound is the sigh of the waterfall as the marmots whistle good night.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:14 Archived in USA Tagged hiking montana glacier_national_park Comments (2)

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