Total Miles: 2493.7
A person could get used to this, even in spite of the weather. The familiar pitter-patter on the roof of our tent at 4am sounded hesitant, almost apologetic, as though it knew that the clouds it brought with it would obscure nature’s masterpiece. The masterpiece we’d so looked forward to seeing.
But all was not lost. The clouds and the gray had come, but the rain would only last until mid-morning, not long after we’d had a luxurious cup of coffee and breakfast sandwich at the nearby store situated on the shore of Two Medicine Lake. And with only 10 miles of hiking, owing to the backcountry sites we were able to get a permit for, there was no rush to race out into the rain.
Like most places with the kind of stunning scenery and astronomical visitation that Glacier has, the park has a problem. A problem of being loved to death. To mitigate that problem, all backcountry trips in the park are permitted and hikers must stay at the designated backcountry sites that they have been permitted for on each night of their trip.
It’s a common system to concentrate the impact of hikers to specific sites and prevent backcountry users from impacting otherwise pristine, untrammeled areas. The challenging part for CDT hikers is not only the contrast to the previous 2,500 miles of trail, where they enjoy nearly limitless flexibility over where to camp each night, but that backcountry permits in Glacier National Park can only be requested in person, and even then, at only one location along the trail.
That location was Two Medicine Lake, where 24 hours ago, Beardoh, Sweet Pea and Mace woke at 5:30am to wait in line for a permit when the ranger station opened at 8am. All while we were having a leisurely morning in East Glacier. Yup, we owe those guys!
One thing you learn pretty quickly is that so much of having a successful, safe, and fun long distance hike is about embracing the challenge of logistics. How to travel to/from distant trailheads, how to resupply and where, anticipating gear changes to match changing climates, where to send that gear to, who will send it and when—the list goes on and on. And that’s before you get to the fun of navigating the regulations of specific places on the trail, like the backcountry permit system here in Glacier.
For a former engineer with a penchant for spreadsheets, they’re all just problems with a set of possible solutions, some more desirable than others, and some—like the permit system—that you have little control over. “Be prepared” meets “Be flexible.”
Permits in hand, we finally struck out into a drizzling rain, hoping that it would soon yield and lift the clouds to reveal what felt like a masterpiece hidden behind a curtain. Mercifully calm, we climbed up to Pitamakan Pass where icy gusts would swirl within the cloud. Lakes sat in the basins formed on each side of the pass like giant washbowls of deep blue water.
A patch of trees near the shore of one lake made a windbreak tempting enough to make it our lunch spot while little patches of blue above us seemed to herald a shift in the weather. While we sat amongst the stunted subalpine fir and chatted away, I suddenly heard a panting sound coming up the trail towards us. Obscured by the trees, I could only guess it to be a dog with a human shortly behind. But what appeared in the clearing before us was no dog.
Startled in a way that was almost endearing, the very small grizzly bear cub looking wide-eyed at us paused its gallop along the trail just 20 feet from where we sat, its grey-brown fur matted in a way that gave it the look of being the world’s largest porcupine. As we stood with bear spray in hand, the frightened cub had already turned to sprint away in the direction from which it had come. Behind it, the sudden about-face had taken a larger adult bear, with its distinctive grizzly bear shoulder hump, by surprise. Taking its cues from the little one, the pair bolted down the trail to a safe distance before making a wide arc around us and continuing on up the trail. If that was the reward for a day of dreariness obscuring the scenery, it was a fantastic one.