Chief Mountain to East Glacier – The Animal Trail That is Shared with Humans

Day 1

We shuttled from East Glacier to Ninaistako or Chief Mountain, just steps away from the Canadian border crossing. We take pictures with the northern terminus monument in every layer of clothes we currently own. The clear sunny skies make it feel warmer than it is. I am thankful for such a beautiful day to start on. I need all the extra morale boosts today as I try to keep my nerves at bay. We’ve warmed up just a couple miles into the hike and shed layers. It stays sunny and relatively warm into the afternoon. At lunchtime, we take a short side trail to sit by a waterfall. It’s gushing and the wind periodically carries mist into our faces. Just as we are packing up to leave, Uncle Bob spots a bird he was dying to see. The American Dipper. We award him with the trail name, Uncle Dipper. We met a friendly ranger checking permits and passed a string of pack mules with the station’s resupply on their backs. With fairly easy terrain and a short mile day, we get to camp in the midafternoon, steps away from Lake Elizabeth. Its waves are choppy, pushed by the cold winds coming from the south. We rest warmly in our tents, enjoying the sound of wind and water, until we’re ready for dinner. Our heaviest dinner gets eaten first. Warm tortellini heats our bodies. In perfect timing, just as we finish cleaning up dinner, it starts to rain. It stays light until about 10:30 p.m., but we are snug in our tent ready to sleep at 6:00 p.m.

Day 2 

Despite having another short day ahead, we woke up early to ensure we get over the pass before the predicted thunderstorm this afternoon. It’s cold, but hot coffee and hash browns make me feel ready to shed a layer. The ascent to Reds Gap Pass was not terrible. It stayed mostly cloudy. Above tree line, the wind was cold, but our constant climb uphill made my body feel warmer. We kept our head on a swivel and periodically called out “hey bear” to make our presence known. We saw no bears, just some birds, one ground squirrel, and two rabbits. On the other side of the pass, we were protected from the wind. We enjoyed the remainder of our hike under trees, through an open field, around Poia Lake, and eventually landed at our next campground. We ate lunch around 1:00 p.m. and set up our tents. If I’m not eating or hiking, I have to be inside my tent. It feels so cold to me. Uncle Dipper was birding and alerted us of a moose swimming across the lake, probably 300 yards away. With the binoculars, we got a spectacular view of the big, goofy mammal.

Day 3

Spring in Glacier is lovely. The stillness of the park is broken by thunderous rivers and sweet bird songs. To the untrained ear, it is all just birdsong, but to Uncle Dipper it is identification. He is listening for unfamiliar cadence and calls in order to spot new birds. Empty berry bushes make my mouth water thinking of what hikers and bears will surely enjoy in a few months. The trail is overgrown, as to be expected since we are amongst the earliest of backcountry visitors. We walk through frosty plants that have yet to be touched by the morning sun. We step over various animal scat. A reminder that the human trail is shared with animals. Or the animal trail is shared with humans. Each day I feel more confident. My knee joints are a bit sore on the downhills. But with our daily stretching/mobility routine, KT tape, and occasional ibuprofen, it is very manageable. We reach Many Glacier today. A hub with a campground, hotel, restaurant, and trailheads. Outnumbered by day hikers, we pitch our tent and head to the restaurant for lunch. I don’t feel dirty enough to warrant a shower or laundry, but it is offered for a fee. Again, our permits are checked by rangers (a total of three times today). We hang out for the rest of the day. While eating some mountain huckleberry ice cream in the hotel lobby, I do some sleuthing so I can log on to the guest only WiFi. We eat dinner and talk until hiker midnight with Classic and TIE. Their permit has been identical to ours so far.

Day 4 

Surprisingly, I feel a bit of leaving-town-blues when we pack up in the morning. A few miles in, the blues fade away and I’m excited to be back on trail. It’s a clear, sunny day and warms up quickly. Swiftcurrent Lake looked like a mirror perfectly reflecting Mount Grinnell and other surrounding mountains. We went over Piegan Pass today. It was spectacular. What felt like a never-ending climb was diminished with the perfect weather, incredible views, and spotting two mountain goats and two marmots. We ran into some small snowfields, but they were easily traversed, or we were able to walk around them. After descending from the pass, it started to rain the last mile into Reynolds Creek Campground. We set up camp in the rain. We sat down to cook in the rain. Mosquitoes were rampant. We made a small fire in the fire ring and the mosquitoes and rain both eventually disappeared. It actually felt like summer today. What started out looking like a crumby end to the day, ended up being a lovely evening. Sitting around the fire eating dinner while talking and laughing with TIE, classic, and true grits.

Day 5 

This morning is the first that I don’t have to put on all layers before exiting the tent. Our hike is mostly flat as we walk the perimeter of St. Mary Lake. It warms up quickly, but I leave my leggings on because of the overgrown trail. In some parts, we were pushing through overgrown plants as tall as I was. We walked through a burn section. It was sunny and exposed, but I didn’t mind the heat. The wind made a unique whistle as it blew through hollow dead trees. Bird action picked up in the burn section and Uncle Dipper slowed to take it in. Our campground borders Red Eagle Lake. The lake is full of life. Several different ducks and geese float on its surface. An endless chorus of birds surround its shores. The lake was tempting me to go for a swim. But the water was too chilly to lure even me in this time. Some pine trees that survived the previous fire provided shade as we rested on the rocky bank of the lake. A very peaceful end to the day.

Day 6 

As the birds woke up, so did I. And I’m glad I did because I caught the first amazing sunrise of the hike so far. I enjoy it for a few moments but drift back to sleep to catch another hour of sleep. The trail is ascending as we traverse Triple Divide Pass. We’re thankful for the plentiful water sources. We don’t have to carry more than a liter at a time. We eat lunch at the top and enjoy the view on both sides of the pass. It’s partly cloudy and only slightly windy. The descent down is quick and steep. The contrast between red rock and green forest floor is stark. We end the hike through lush fields surrounded by towering mountain on all sides. Our campground is next to Morning Star Lake. Nestled into the flat valley sandwiched between two cliffs.

Each day is the same when we get to camp. At the campgrounds in Glacier/grizzly country, we must immediately go to the food area to hang our food bags. Then we go set up camp. Then we go back to the food area (when it’s warm enough) to hang out with the other hikers. We’re all hungry, but 3:00 p.m. is too early to eat dinner. So we talk about trail, food, life, food, hiking, food, town, food… until about 5:00 p.m. when we decide it is now NOT too early to eat. We hangout until about 8:00 p.m. when we all decide it’s bedtime. Tonight was no different.

Day 7 

Not even a mile into our hike, we run into True Grits stopped on trail waiting for a moose to move. We get to watch the moose aggressively chomp through vegetation. As it slowly moves away, we try to creep down the trail behind it. It turns its head and makes eye contact with us, letting us know we should back up. It slowly moves even further away which makes it safe for us to continue on. On our way up the pass, we see a family of five mountain goats traversing a steep mountain with ease. It’s all downhill from there to Two Mountain campground. Another hub with a campground and store. We race there with the thought of mountain huckleberry ice cream in the fore front of our minds. We pass the ranger station we originally got our permits at several days ago. It’s much warmer today and I’m thankful for that. After lunch, we decide to push on the last ten miles to get to East Glacier, instead of camping at Two Medicine tonight. As we hike out it starts to rain. The most consistent rain we’ve seen yet. The entire four-mile climb out of Two Medicine, bellies stuffed, it rained. The highlight was the two big horn sheep that came wondering down the trail towards us. As we reached the end of our climb, the clouds had moved on and it was sunny again. The weather changes quickly here. Possibly a good thing and bad thing. Luckily, we had plenty of time to dry out as we made our way to East Glacier. Six miles of downhill terrain. Even without a compass, it was obvious we were heading East. The mountains melted into flat land. I recalled seeing the same scene as we approached East Glacier by car last week. Once in town, we secured the last room at a motel, ate a large pizza, washed away a week’s worth of dirt in the warm shower, aired out our tent and quilt, and plugged in all our devices. This was our biggest day yet, including two big climbs. Subsequently, we have no problems quickly falling asleep in a bed.

Day 8 

A typical zero day consists of laundry, restaurant food, and resupplying for the next stretch. We unexpectedly ran into Schrödinger, a friend from the PCT, at the hostel. The hiking community seems so big and so small at the same time. Out of all the hikers we have met so far, I believe only one of them has not done any other long trails prior to the CDT. It’s fun meeting so many people who have hiked the same trails we have, exchanging stories and experiences. For diner, Uncle Dipper takes us to a steak restaurant highly recommended by our shuttle driver earlier in the week. By both thru-hiker and regular person standards, it was phenomenal. I will definitely be dreaming of this meal when I’m deep in the Bob Marshal Wilderness in a few days.

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