Glacier NP Permits Easier than Hitchhiking
Glacier was stunning especially in comparison to a 30 hour Amtrak ride. Nothing like being cramped in coach to get you in the hiking mood. We disembarked at East Glacier and spent the night at Looking Glass Basecamp which is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It is an old restaurant turned hostel that is ran by Luna who is attempting to teach the local crow population to say hello by enticing them with cat food (in a good way).
We threw our thumbs out the next morning and almost immediately got a hitch to St. Mary’s Visitor Center where we had to roll the dice with the permitting system. We got really lucky and got permits for our preferred route, the Kintla Lake Alternate. The highlight of the process was being forced to watch a backcountry safety video where we saw how we would be attacked from the bear’s POV. Now we were Bear Aware and the most difficult part of the day became getting a hitch up to our trailhead by the Chief Mountain border crossing. We tried for over 2 hours with no takers. We eventually asked the guy working the counter at the gas station if he had any off duty friends who wanted to make $50 and drive us up there. And that worked! We made it to the trailhead by 1PM and had 12.7 miles to our first campsite to start our PNT adventure.
It took us 5 days to get through the park which was pretty slow but we were limited by our permits, we did have one 3 mile day which felt ridiculous. The low mileage days turned out to be a blessing though, it was a good way to ease into a thru hike by not immediately obliterating our feet and taking long long breaks to eat huckleberries and thimbleberries. Thus we dubbed ourselves the Berry Bois. Oh yeah, it’s myself and two others hiking the trail – Smudge and Polaris.
The most impressive part of trail was easily the Hole-in-the-Rock section. It was so severe and massive that the only thing I could compare it to was the Grand Canyon. The scale was too much to comprehend, it didn’t even seem real. It actually became exhausting trying to fully appreciate that much beauty. We took our sweet ass time going through that section and ended the day with a mountain goat viewing and a sidequest up to Boulder Peak which is around 8500 feet. The peak offered endless mountains every direction we looked, worth the screaming calves to hike up there.
Coming out of the park our first town was the bustling metropolis of Polebridge. It has a general store with fire huckleberry bear claws, a food truck, hostel and a saloon. After 2 miles of road walking we tried to hitch and quickly got a ride. It was from a couple from Tennessee, she was hilarious and he was glad that she had a new audience. We spent the afternoon at the saloon eating burgers, drinking PBR and organizing our resupply. Then sadly it was time to go hike again.
Trail Magic and No Catholes
We tried hitching for about 45 minutes with no luck. We were walking back into Polebridge to get more beers when a local pulled over and offered us a ride. He asked what our backup plan was if we couldn’t get a ride and our plan was to eventually wander into the national forest land and camp for free and then try hitching again in the morning. He suggested an alternative; that we stay in his baller yurt for the night and then he’ll drive us up in the morning. We obviously took him up on that offer. We slept on the floor and couch because we felt too dirty for the bed.
The trail the next day couldn’t have been more different than Glacier. The trails in Glacier are so well maintained and graded, this next section was straight ups and straight downs. It was a real blow to how strong I thought I was. The first summit we came to had an actively staffed fire lookout tower. We met Leif who had been doing this for over 30 years. When we showed up he was sitting outside barefoot with his dog just reading a book, the epitome of peace. We offered him a White Claw but that wasn’t his cup of tea so don’t bring that up as a gift. We chatted for awhile and he offered us the parting words of “Enjoy the walk”.
We continued on to the highest point of the PNT, Tuchuck Mountain. I would be lying if I said the approach was enjoyable. It was probably 100 degrees and I didn’t have near enough water. The switchbacks up were in full sunlight and I couldn’t even walk a straight line, easily would have failed a sobriety test. But hey, we made it and it was a weirdly disappointing summit. Super buggy, so hot and less than a liter of water between the three of us. We scrambled off the back of the mountain in search of water. After some scrambling down we came to a critical point in the day: follow the ridge line with a 1.3 mile descent through scree fields OR take this “pack trail” we found on Gaia that had the potential to get to water quicker. We chose the pack trail and to say that backfired would be an understatement. Just god awful bushwhacking down the side of this mountain, who’s to say if we ever found the pack trail. To save some rambling we found water and then stayed at a cabin with a 10/10 pit toilet. I’ll save what makes a pit toilet a 10/10 for a later post.
The following night we stayed at a decommissioned fire lookout tower with you guessed it, a pit toilet. The day after we cruised into Eureka with a blistering 10 mile road walk and that is how you compete 135 miles of hiking without ever taking out your trowel.
The Purcell Mountains are next!
Beard growth: minimal and scarce, not creepy yet
Times I’ve Fallen on my ass: 8
Bears seen: 0
Huckleberries Consumed: pounds
Till next time,
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