PNT Section 1 – Am I Back in New Zealand?

I grew up spending lots of time in the outdoors but I credit the two-plus years I lived in New Zealand for cultivating my love for backpacking.

Ever since moving back stateside I’ve been looking and longing for places that could match. The Pacific Northwest is the closest I’ve found in the Lower 48, a big part of the reason I chose to thru-hike the Pacific Northwest Trail.

I was expecting the NZ nostalgia to kick in during the Olympics, possibly the Cascades, but not right away in Glacier National Park. Steep mountains, wet misty weather and lush valleys took me back to the land of the long white cloud.

Getting to the start of the PNT at the Chief Mountain trailhead is a bit of an adventure in and of itself. There are many ways to get to Chief Mountain but they boil down to either hiring an expensive private shuttle or a series of free shuttles and hitches that can take the better part of a day. Then I got a lead on a former AT hiker, Turtle Man, giving rides to hikers in his turtle van for a very reasonable rate.

We crammed in four PNT hikers and one CDT hiker and set off on the two-hour journey. About halfway through on the Going-to-the-Sun road Turtle Man told us to slide open the door to “enjoy the epic views.” Epic indeed.

It was overcast when we set out, the best weather we’d have for the better part of the next week. Certainly the driest we’d be. I wish we had more of the views in Glacier but there is a special moody feeling to walking through mountains shrouded in mist and cloud (those NZ feels kicking in again).

The trail runs right through the town of Polebridge at mile 55. Consisting of a hostel, a bar, and a general store, it has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The perfect place for hungry and wet hikers.

The second half of section one runs 80 miles through national forest, features more ridge walking, more up and down, and we’re no longer permit limited so we can hike as far as we please each day.

The weather also improves; it still rains each day but for shorter and shorter amounts of time. The highlight of the four days to Eureka is the night we spent atop Stahl Peak in an old hut. The sunset was out of this world and the weather was perfect. The pictures do a better job describing it than I ever could.

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