A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about hiking

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.




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.






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.


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.






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


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.



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.


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.










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.



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.


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.




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






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.


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!


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



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.





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


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


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


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.



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.



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!


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.


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.


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


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








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.










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.


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.





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.




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.


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


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.



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)

The Last Best Place - Day 8

A Cruise Through the Badlands

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” ― John Muir

It was our final morning Montana. Leaving is always so bittersweet. Every trip to those mountains cleans my spirit, fills my soul, and leaves me renewed in a way that nothing else can. We enjoyed one final morning by the fire, one final trip to the shores of a pristine lake, filled with the mountain runoff and so cold and pure that you can't help but marvel that there are still places like this.




Before heading back to the airport, we made a final stop at Montana Coffee Traders for my favorite breakfast.


And then it was time to lift off.


We decided on Wall, SD as a stopping point for the trip home, wanting to do another drive through the Badlands. We didn't realize that Wall doesn't even have a rental car agency, so imagine our surprise when we contacted the small Wall airport to inquire about transportation and the airport manager offered us use of his personal vehicle for our overnight stay.

The airport manager is also the Mayor of Wall. I joked that he is probably also the sherriff, the postman, and the City Judge, given the size of Wall. Seriously...who just lets a stranger use their truck for free? Wall is small town hospitality at its best.


He did warn us that all he had was a Ford Ranger pickup, but as my Grandaddy used to say, "A free ride is better than a proud walk," we we crammed ourselves into the mini seats in the back and were on our way! Classy.

Yee-Haw! We were doing it South Dakota style, y'all!


We checked in to the Frontier Cabins, and were pleasantly surprised at the cozy, clean cabins that waited for us. It was a great place to stay, although, there were an inordinate number of fake animals on the premises, some in better shape than others. It was sort of like staying in a giant putt putt golf course.



My favorite was this quadriplegic squirrel. He has seen better days and lended an element of creepy to an otherwise charming place to stay.

Note to self: yard ornaments are not always cute.


We paid an obligatory visit to the Wall Drug Store, where I scored an awesome $10 pair of spa sandals, which were exactly what my tortured feet were begging for.


Then it was off to drive the Badlands Loop in our super slick Ford Ranger Pick up.

With a storm rolling in the distance, the Badlands were simply awesome. We saw bighorn sheep, bison, coyotes, a double rainbow and prairie dogs before finding some dinner nearby.













There isn't a lot to choose from in the Badlands, so we grabbed some dinner at the Wagon Wheel in Interior. This was literally a hole-in-the-wall bar, but the pizza was hot and delicious.



As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the canyons were illuminated. It was a magic moment, one of those few that life offers up to you as a gift. I sat mesmerized as everything turned golden and the world was ablaze with the dying rays of the sun. I realized how big this world that God had created is and what a small piece of it I am. I felt blessed to be lucky enough to enjoy another special moment in God's creation and I was reminded that this is what matters, this is what is eternal, and I vowed to carry that remembrance home with me to help me keep sight of what is truly important in life.


Life is not about paychecks and 8 hour days. Life is not about worrying what to wear tomorrow or where you are going to eat tonight. Life is not about the car you drive or the house you live in. It's not about who likes you and who doesn't. Life is about the gifts that God has given us. God gave us so much and asks us for so little in return. And I am thankful for this great, big beautiful world and for my part in it, no matter how small or fleeting.

Truly, God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful.


Posted by vicki_h 09:12 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (5)

The Last Best Place - Day 7

Taking it easy at Hidden Lake

“Everybody needs beauty...places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” ― John Muir

We had originally planned to do the Grinnell Glacier hike, but my feet were done. I was stuck with whatever I could manage to do in flip flops. Today was a day to take it easy and let those heels start to heal.

We decided to stay at the Many Glacier Hotel until check out. The lodge has a large, warm lobby with a giant circular fireplace surrounded by cozy sofas that makes a perfect place to read.



It also has decks overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake, and on that particular morning, it also had the most spectacular sunrise in the entire world.






It was around noon when we headed down the road. Do you know what time that is in Montana? It's PIE TIME!


We stopped for lunch at the Park Cafe. Not only do they have the world's best pies, they have amazing cheeseburgers and peanut butter milkshakes.


With plenty of carbs to burn, we stopped at Logan Pass to walk back to the Hidden Lake Overlook.

This is a great walk for anyone with limited physical capabilities, which certainly described me at this point, as I limped slowly along. It is a gradual ascent that anyone can do and most of the trail is covered by a flat wooden boardwalk.

This short 3 mile walk affords some of the most spectacular views in the park, views you would normally have to do a long backcountry hike to see. It allows anyone to experience the sweeping alpine views.




The best part however, is that you are pretty much guaranteed an up-close-and-personal with at least one mountain goat on this trail.

I love me some mountain goats.


We ended the day uneventfully at the Lake McDonald Lodge, back on the west side of the park. We love the small cabins that sit at the edge of Lake McDonald and usually choose them over the Lodge itself. It's a perfect way to end our stay.




Our first trip to Glacier started at the Lake McDonald Lodge. Let me tell you about that day.

We didn't know anything about hiking. We didn't know anything about Glacier National Park. We had seen a photo in a book that we bought on a ski trip that had a gorgeous shot of a glacial lake surrounded by mountains. "Glacier National Park," the caption read. That was all it took to get us there.

With no hiking experience, we made a lot of mistakes on that first trip. One of which was our very first day of hiking. The park is about 60 miles across from east to west. We had some fool idea that we would enter at the west gate and hike all the way across going from lodge to lodge on the hiking trails and using the hikers' shuttle to get us from one trailhead to the next. We would end up on the east side.

It was a great plan. In theory.

Mistake #1: Getting dropped off at the west gate was just beyond stupid. We walked about 2 hours along a paved road before we even got to the first trailhead. So we were tired before we really even got started and we lost some valuable time.

Mistake #2: We didn't have a car or a hotel room, so we had a week's worth of crap in a backpack on our backs. I have no idea what made us think we could hike with all that stuff.

Mistake #3: Not really knowing how to read a trail map, I didn't realize that what I had chosen to hike wasn't a well used or maintained trail.

The Snyder Ridge Trail starts near the end of Lake McDonald with a humble trailhead and runs along the eastern shore parallel to Lake McDonald. The trail crosses the Lincoln Lake trail and eventually intersects the Sperry/Gunsight trail and empties at Lake McDonald Lodge. Trail starts out gaining elevation where you’ll end up gaining somewhere around 2500 feet throughout the day as you wander through a mixture of cedar rainforest stands to more lodgepole type forests. It was mostly a walk in the trees with limited views. The trail isn’t maintained as much as others due to its lack of use, so about halfway through our hike, we lost it.

The trail, that is.

So here we are, two inexperienced hikers on their first day in Glacier National Park with ungodly heavy packs who had been walking WAAAAY too long and now were literally lost in the freaking woods as the sun began to set.

We did the only thing we could think to do. We scrambled over piles of downed trees and blazed our own trail through bear infested woods that were getting darker by the minute. After what seemed an eternity, we reached the road again, having no idea how far we were from our lodge. It was pitch black dark as we trudged along the road, feet aching, backs breaking, unable to see where we were going, and having no idea how much longer it would take to get us there.

We'd had no cell phone reception since we'd entered the park, so when we got the cell phones out, it was to use them as weak flashlights, not in hopes of making a phone call.

But that's when we saw it.....one weak little bar.....one tiny ray of hope.

"Try to make a call!!!!" I shouted, excited that we might be saved.

We actually got a call through to the lodge and help was on its way. A worker agreed to come pick us up in the lodge van because we were still about 4 miles away.

Believe it or not, we never saw another bar on those phones for the rest of the trip. It was a gift from God, that little bar.

When we were dropped off at the lodge that night, tired and aching after about 10 hours of walking, we went straight to the bar and ordered their bloody mary. Made with a secret house mix, the Lake McDonald Lodge Bloody Mary is super spicy and so thick you can almost chew it. It was a perfect way to celebrate our survival and after that, it became one "must do" on every trip to Glacier.

And so, on our last night in the park, having survived my abused heels, we had our celebratory Super Spicy, Always Chewy, Lake McDonald Lodge Bloody Mary.


We finished the evening with some dinner at the Lodge: elk sausage and spicy slaw, artichoke dip, and a vege flatbread.




At long last, we crawled into bed, pulling the curtains on another hiking adventure in Glacier.


Posted by vicki_h 08:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

The Last Best Place - Day 6

Got Flip Flops?

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir


What do you do when you wake up and find that you are almost unable to walk, that there is absolutely NO WAY you can pull shoes on, and you are about 8 miles from the nearest road….your path there a rugged and uneven trail littered with rocks and roots?

Matt had been watching me quietly as I tried to stand. Overnight, my heels had scabbed over and they were so tight that standing upright was difficult and painful. Each step was awkward as I tottered across the floor, unable to fully set my heel on the floor, and finding that I had to basically walk on my tiptoes. I could tell by his silence that he finally realized how bad my feet were.


"Why did you keep hiking?" he asked me quietly. "You should have told me. We didn't have to do this hike."

I really didn't have to explain to him. He knew why.

Because being in Glacier brings me a peace that nothing else can. Because the joy that hiking those trails fills me with far outweighed the pain that those blisters caused me. And because I wasn’t willing to miss a moment of it.

I could tell he was angry that I hadn't let him know how bad they were. His face looked sick. I knew he was worried. But I also knew that he understood how much I wanted to be there. And so, he just sat quietly while I carefully taped my feet up again. As I taped, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was quietly removing nearly everything from my pack and putting it in his own.

I guess he figured he could carry my stuff….or he could carry me.

We had 8 miles to hike. The first mile would be up a steep pass. Then we would hike several steep miles down the other side, ending with about 4 miles through a valley until we reached the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where our friends would pick us up.


I actually tried to pull my boots on. Can you believe it? I don't know what I was thinking. It simply wasn’t possible. What was I going to do? The rugged terrain of the trails necessitates a sturdy boot. Even light hiking shoes are ill advised.

All I had were flip flops.

So I did the best I could. I wrapped my feet up, put on socks, and taped my flip flops to my feet.


Don’t ever accuse me of being a sissy.

We made our breakfast in the kitchen and enjoyed toasted PB&J waffles with maple syrup before hitting the trail….not even knowing if my crazy flip flop scheme was going to work.


It worked. I had to be careful not to roll my ankles, since I had no ankle support, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad. Other than every hiker we passed that day looking at me like I was a madwoman, it wasn’t so bad.




As we reached the pass, we noticed that passing hikers had built two large cairns at the top of the pass. Originally used to indicate trail direction when the path is not clear, many hiking cairns today are simply and expression of accomplishment, a way of belonging to the unique group of individuals who have passed through a place before you. Some hikers don’t like cairns. They see them as a violation of the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, but I find an appeal in them.

And so Matt and I added our stones. My stone said, “I have been in this place, on this mountain. I existed. I passed through. I am now a part of this place like those before me and those who will come after me. I was here.”


The trip down the other side of the pass was tricky in flip flops. I slid, I rolled on gravel, I turned my feet on rocks. It was a challenge.
But I was easily distracted by the distant view of the valley and the lakes, by the mountain goats that perched themselves so easily on the side of the mountain and watched us pass, by the young bull moose that we saw walking below us.










This is why I was here. This was worth everything.


We decided to have lunch at a small lake once we reached the end of our decent into the valley. In that moment, it was the most perfect spot in all the universe.





We thought we were alone.

But we weren’t.

Do you ever get that weird feeling that you are being watched?


He came scrambling over and sat a few inches away. I know you aren’t supposed to feed the animals. I also know you are supposed to break in your boots before wearing them. If you haven’t figured out by now, I don’t always adhere to what you are “supposed to do.”




Our little ground squirrel kept us entertained through lunch as we lay back and enjoyed the solitude of a mountain lake in the early hours of the day. Life doesn’t get much more perfect than that.


The last few miles of the hike were uneventful, taking us through the beautiful landscape and past Red Rock Falls.




We found ourselves at the Swiftcurrent Inn before we knew it. We grabbed some huckleberry soft serve ice cream and sat on a bench to wait.

And wait….and wait……and wait.


After 2 hours, we figured out that our friends were….detained. We were able to hitch a free ride on a shuttle to the Many Glacier Hotel.

When we checked into our room, I thought I would die from happiness when I walked into our room and saw that we had a large, old clawfoot tub. Only a few rooms have a tub, and a long hot soak was exactly what I wanted. I was able to soak the dirt out of my skin and the bandages off my feet.

When it was time to dress for dinner, I wasn’t even thinking as I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans.

When our friends finally made it back from their own hike, we all headed for a celebratory meal at the Cattle Baron Supper Club. This place looks like a total dive from the outside…complete with neon beer signs and a parking lot full of pick-up trucks.


Inside, it’s an entirely different experience. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.


The steaks are huge and the food is good.


I think our friend John ordered his steak from the Fred Flintstone menu.


Remember the skinny jeans?

Well, they were fine until I got back to the hotel room. Matt was with our friends going over plans for the next day so I was in the room alone.

I could not get my pants off.

There was no way to pull those jeans over my now raw, scabbed, aching heels. I had hiked with those blisters for 4 days and hadn’t broken once. I had been tough, determined, and I had powered through, never showing a moment of weakness.

But after days of endurance…I finally broke.

I can only imagine what it looked like to Matt when he walked in the room to see me sitting on the bed crying like there was no tomorrow. I just looked up at him tearfully and whispered, “I can’t get my pants off.”

Then I started sobbing again.

It was rather pathetic. I am not proud. But a person can only take so much. I could handle the cold, the bears, the miles of walking with a heavy pack on my back. I could handle the blisters, the pain, the hours of walking on feet rubbed raw. I could handle drinking water from a stream, eating food cooked on a 3 inch stove, and sleeping on the ground.

What I could not handle, however, were the skinny jeans.

We finally managed to carefully wriggle the narrow opening over my ragged heels and stuffed my poor feet inside some newly purchased fluffy house shoes and, once again, everything was right with the world.


Posted by vicki_h 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged hiking west camping backpacking outdoors montana glacier_national_park Comments (2)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 21) Previous « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 » Next