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Archive for June, 2015

The Darkness: “It’s just before 7am… I’m going to the ranger station to see if we can get repermitted so we don’t have to do two more twenties in a row. Wanna come?”Me: “I’ll get there…I woke up around midnight and thought my head was downhill, so I flipped and didn’t flip the sleeping pad and now my stuff is confusing.”

The Darkness: “I heard…so your head was at the short end?”

Me: “…yeah… I’ll get there, go ahead”
No such luck on getting repermitted. Although, The Darkness did report that the ranger’s eyes bugged out of his head when he heard we made it through the Highline trail.
In that case, we went to get breakfast and the boxes of food we had sent. I did manage to get on the restaurant/hotel Wi-Fi during breakfast, but it was slower than dial up. I had odd visions of the AOL slow signing on process while I tried to load a few pages.
After going back to the campground, we packed up our stuff and food bags. It was also a slow process despite having a pass and twenty miles to do.

 

We did manage to leave around 10:30 and stumble our way out of RV land. We worked our way up Piegan Pass slowly but surely with heavy food bags. We took the trail around the north side of the lake per Jonathan Ley’s map’s advice. The weather was beautiful, every water source flowed, and the grade eased up at a steady rate…life was good. We meandered up the u-shaped valley until a beautiful spot on top. Two others we had met at the campground, Sarah and Jo, leap frogged us to the pass. Breathtaking views broke away on either side.


We came down the pass through a thick forest and plunged down to cross the park’s one road. Cars were everywhere and we left promptly back into the woods. The Darkness and I stopped in Reynolds Campground to cook dinner because it was almost 7 pm and we still had five miles to go.
Instead of doing a 30 mile day out of Many Glacier, we opted to hike five miles off the CDT to Gunsight campsite thereby doing two twenties instead of a thirty.
After a thorough debate on breaking the permit and staying at Reynolds instead, we decided it was too close to the road and therefore too large a chance of getting caught, so we hiked onward and upward.
Gunsight campsite was beautiful and the five miles would have been fine if we had energy. We barely had enough energy to hang our food, pitch tents, and pass out.
Clink. Clink. Clink. “Shit, it’s a bear! Heeeey bear…” “Damn, I don’t have my bear spray…”
I look at my watch. 2:04 am. Fuck. I don’t hear anything but these idiots. I roll over and fall back to sleep.
In the morning, I went to eat breakfast and talked to a cool dude from Utah who said the “bear” was actually a deer and the Portland guys were freaked out over nothing.
I had no energy that morning. I should have drank a liter of water and had a snack before bed after those last five miles but didn’t, so I sat and pounded well over a liter in the morning with my expertly packed granola and probiotic powder (thanks Mom!!). Two others came to eat as well and also wanted to know what the Portland guys were yammering on about the previous night.
We all got to talking and the usual thru hiker stuff of “what have you hiked” and “what year” and “Do you know ____” kinda stuff when something interesting happened.
Dude: “I hiked the AT in 07.”

Me: “oh, do you know Hop-a-long?”

Dude: Cracks up hysterically…”Yes, I hiked with her!”

Me: “Were you part of the ‘swat’ team then?!”

Chick: “oh no, the famous swat team!”

Dude: “Yeah!!! I’m Misplaced!”

Me: “I’ve heard so many stories about you after hiking with Hop-a-long on the PCT in 2012!”

Misplaced: “Oh no, now that’s a small world!”
After a lengthy breakfast, I headed out a bit before The Darkness. Trotting down the trail, I looked for the brilliant swimming hole I had spotted the previous evening. It was the summer solstice, i.e. International Hike Naked Day, however, I thought the park service might give me a ticket for that, so I thought I’d settle for jumping in some glacial melt water naked instead.
I found the spot, and like I remembered, it had no trail to it, so I bushwhacked about 25 feet down to it, bringing my bright orange pack with me. Within a few minutes, I managed to wade waist deep into the stream. Then I looked up. A person was walking the trail up toward Gunsight. A person with a walkie-talkie. A person in a drab green uniform. Park ranger. Shit Shit Shit. I froze…literally and figuratively. The ranger either didn’t see me or was choosing not to bother. I waited. My legs were beginning to numb. I ducked under and shot straight back up again after the cold surrounded me. I got back to the creek bank and dried off and threw my hiking dress back on. Safe.
I bushwhacked back up to the trail soaking wet banging my calf hard on a fallen log and jumped into the trail right before The Darkness who gave me an interesting look as blood ran down my leg. Luckily, she had the permit and the ranger checked it. I patched up my leg, got the rest of my stuff on, and said I’d meet her at the junction back with the CDT.

 

The swimming hole.

We had an “easy” 20 mile day on the schedule, five miles of which we had already completed. The rest of the day’s agenda included: waking ten miles around Mary Lake through incredibly brushy trail which varied between waist high and over my head high as well as five nukes through a burn.
The ten miles around the lake was easy enough but the bear scat kept getting more fresh with more flies as we walked. I began singing random 90s songs that came into my head when a musky, mothball smell entered my nose. Sure enough, around the next two bends, a dark mass of bear began running away from me. Great. Now I get to follow it.
I proceed with caution hoping my tone deaf 90s songs will scare it away. Into the burn I went, where I could at least see further. The fire ecology going on there was great. Fresh batches of thick lodgepole grew in some parts and fields of purple lupines grew in others. And then I got the sense that I wasn’t alone. A bit later, I saw a bear mass moving away from me again. They appeared to be different colors and the second was definitely bigger, but I didn’t get a good glimpse at either to see what kind of bears they were.
That evening, The Darkness and I camped at Red Eagle Lake and had the campground to ourselves. We picked the campsite with the least widow makers near it in the burn.

 

The friendly marmots

In the morning, we had a mere 15 miles and one pass, so we were excited. We passed and leap frogged Sarah and Jo. We slogged up Triple Divide Pass and took a nice long break on top with some very friendly marmots. So friendly that they were trying to lick all our stuff and ourselves. Except, then they felt the need to try and steal a trekking pole and an ice axe. They didn’t get very far, but it was still surprising. They wanted that salt. We are salty beings!

The Darkness: “You lick me, can I lick you marmot? Can this be a two way relationship?”

Sarah: “Take what you can get!”

Then Canadian Ken came.

Canadian Ken: “You all are the prettiest ladies I’ve seen all day!”

The Darkness: “Are we the only ladies you’ve seen today?”

Canadian Ken: “Yeah, how’d you know that?!”
We headed down the pass and up to Morning Star Lake to camp. In the morning we ate breakfast with some South Texas folks who had some very distinct views on Obama. They were also wearing blue jeans and flannels while warming theirs hands over a Coleman stove they carried up still in the cardboard box.
I busted out of there pretty quickly and followed the snow upward following some sort of canine tracks. This pass seemed considerably easier, but we only had to go up 2,000 feet or so and had only 12 miles.
There was one drift near the top of Pitamakan Pass (which I decided to call pita makin) which could have been sketchy, but it was really soft so it went fine in sandals.
We took a long break at the top. Jonathan Ley’s map suggests that for more adventure, we should traverse Mt Morgan above Cut Bank Pass and the normal trail down by Old Man Lake was only fine if we were old men. Well, my knee felt like an old man.
While we sat and enjoyed the pass, an older guy named Bruce from Missoula came sauntering down from the other side of Mt Morgan with a spectacular wood handle ice axe and a great white mustache.
The Darkness: “Where’d you get that ice axe?”

Bruce: “I made it”
And that was that.
Ten minutes later an Italian man named Mateo trotted up from Two Medicine with a shit eating grin on his face.
We said hi and he paused, leaves in his trekking poles and unknowingly showed off his gigantic quads.

Mateo: “I am from the Italian Alps and I work as a park ranger there. This feels like home!!”
And he trotted away, bouncing quickly down the trail in the opposite direction.
At Two Medicine, we went to the store and found the “backcountry” site with help from a friendly dude who was missing some teeth, wearing a Yeti t-shirt.
Dude: “Well, I was fishing over yonder (points to a point by the large creek) and saw a moose the first day. Then I was fishing over yonder (points to a different spot) by the bushes and there’s a beaver pond. I just about needed more fishing line! Oh right, the backcountry site is yonder (points in the opposite direction into RV land).”

Me: “Thanks dude, I like your shirt!”

Dude: “Thanks, it’s my cousin’s! I’ve been looking for him!”
On our way out the next day we ran into him again.
Me: “Good luck finding your cousin!”

Dude: “Thanks! I offered him a beer and a hot dog last time, but haven’t seen him!”

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Tamar came with us on the Highline trail and it was great to have her along. We went up steeply from Fifty Mountain Campsite and traversed several steep snow drifts. Since we had ice axes and microspikes, we used them. The snow was still fairly hard in the morning, so it was harder kicking steps. It was nice to alternate between drifts of who had to kick. It was a lot of on again off again with the microspikes.

The Darkness kicking steps over a snow drift.

The two parts we had been warned about were a drift called Cattle Queen and one called Ahern. Cattle Queen was a piece of cake compared to the other steep stuff we had already done that morning. It was still solid and not steep. We couldn’t hear water under it yet.
We found a meadow that looked over to Ahern Drift and ate lunch there examining the short, but very steep section. Since we were some of the first few to be permitted for the Highline trail, we had no idea what to expect.
In the way between the meadow and the first, we crossed a few other drifts and found one gigantic Cascadia footprint in the mud. Someone had been here and it was most likely a thru hiker.
We stopped before the drift. Some very melted and refrozen colossal steps went across the drift. They were very obviously made by someone well over six feet tall.
The Darkness: “Who wants to kick steps?”

Me: “I’m game, but if you’re super excited to, I’d be fine with that, too.”

The Darkness: “I’ll put you a beer if you kick the steps.”

Me: “Done.”
She speaks my language!
The first few steps were softish. The “steps” already there were so big that those of us in the 5’2″ realm needed two extra steps between the somewhat existing ones. Then the second somewhat existing one would be for the wrong foot. That meant that we could rekick only every other already somewhat existing step.
I begin being able to kick ten hard kicks per step.
The Darkness: “Make that two beers.”
I asked her to keep an eye on our progress so I could have a more narrow focus of making solid steps. I’d rather not use my WFR skills if one of us fell and had trouble self arresting.
The Darkness: “About 40%”
The wind started picking up.
The Darkness: “There’s a small storm brewing over there coming toward us, but it’s super isolated. What do you think?”

Me: “I haven’t heard thunder…I say keep going, you?”

The Darkness: “Yup”
Ten minutes later it sprinkles. Then hails.
Me: “Remember how we stopped early yesterday so it didn’t do something like hail on us?”

The Darkness: “Yeah. 50%.”

Me: “I think it jinxed us.”
A large gust of wind came through and I had to back step for balance. The middle of the slope was very icy. Once the gust stopped, I began trying to kick steps again. Fifteen kicks and I barely have a step. I make sure I’m stable and use the ice axe to hack out a step. Much nicer. Foot placed. Ice axe moved forward. Next step is the same. Hack hack hack. Then the snow goes back to too hard but not icy.
The Darkness: “60%”

Me: “We should probably have helmets on for this.”

The Darkness: “These epiphanies you’re having are fantastic.”
The hail stops. Slow but steady. The slope gets steeper. A foot sized rock is in my way.
Me: “I’m going to knock this rock down.”

The Darkness: “Do it. 70%”
I knock the rock and all three of us watch the rock tumble for over a minute past the snow and continue tumbling down the rocks.
We’re almost to a small moat.
Me: “My body wants to stake the most, but my brain says that’s a dumb idea.”

The Darkness: “My body’s saying go but my heart is saying no…”

Me: “… If you wanna be with me, baby there’s a price to pay…”

The Darkness: “… I’m a genie in a bottle…”

Me: “…gotta rub me the right way…”

The Darkness: “90%”
The snow got softer. The steps got easier. Then solid ground! I sat down shaking with hunger and ate. Tamar was cold so she hiked uphill a bit to warm up. A new storm was brewing with some powerful wind and we were glad to be over the hardest part.

The rest off the Highline trail was fairly smooth with one nasty patch of blowdowns. We parted ways with Tamar at the junction where she could get to the road and we could go to Many Glacier.
The Darkness and I ate dinner before hiking over Swiftcurrent Pass. For me, that was breakfast cookies. Tasted delicious.
I was slow up Swiftcurrent Pass, but coming down over the other side was spectacular. There were some snow patches, but it was easy to find the trail again. Cut into the side of the cliff, the trail wound down switchback after switchback trading glimpses between a wall of waterfalls and beautiful sky blue lakes which reflected the mountains.
As soon as the snow drifts stopped, I switched back to my sandals and my feet breathed a sigh of relief. Dry socks and sandals felt so great. It even made my knee scream a little less.
We stumbled into the Many Glacier car camping campground to find our “backcountry” site which was labeled as such despite the plethora of RVs in close proximity. This was also different, I learned, than the hiker/biker site. However, flush toilets were great!
We managed to set up our tents and pass out.

 

Ahern Drift on the right.

 

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“Don’t say we’re hiking to Mexico at the border crossing, Yogi says they won’t believe you,” I reminded the car.”We’re just hiking through Glacier National Park, right,” The Darkness agreed.
As we approached the Canadian border, border patrol asked us the usual questions and we answered.
Border Patrol: “Where are you going today?”

Me: “We’re going to hike through Glacier National Park”

Border Patrol: “So, you’re driving another six hours then?”

Me: “Um, no the Glacier National Park right there…I can throw a rock into it.”

Border Patrol: “Ah, Canada has a Glacier National Park, too eh”
After we get through with a minor misunderstanding about bear spray, we made it to Waterton Lakes National Park (in Canada) and find a parking lot near Waterton Lake. The Darkness and I reorganize our packs and eat a bit. My amazing Mom, who offered to drive my car back to Seattle, helped and watched.
Right as we started to leave, it began to rain. Mom did manage to take a picture of us before we set about trying to find the trail. The first park was actually paved, which we got a kick out of.
We walked along the west side of Waterton Lake up and down over the cliff sides for several miles talking and being lightly rained upon.

Border monument

Then, out of nowhere I saw a privy! How convenient! And just a little bit further was the border monument. The rain had stopped for a bit and we took the opportunity to take a bunch of photos.
After another few miles, we came to the campsite that we were supposed to stay at according to our permit. The border patrol station we had to check in at was a mile further. I was hungry and wanted a snack, so we took a twenty minute break at the campsite and set up tents.
As we walked toward the border patrol station chatting, two bulky dudes came toward us, the bigger one treading lightly in five fingers.
Border Patrol”Can you both read?”

Us: “Yes…”

Border Patrol: “The sign at the border says come immediately to the border patrol station”

Us: “That’s where we’re heading now.”
There’s never any point in arguing with border patrol.
Border Patrol: “Can we see identification?”
We hand them our passports.
When he flips open the passport The Darkness hands him, he says,
Border Patrol: “Have you really been to the south pole?”
I knew immediately then that something was wrong and that one of us had my Mom’s passport and she had one of ours. We went with them to the actual station.  At that point other agents proceeded to use other methods of verifying The Darkness’s identification with her driver’s license while another agent told me where I could get a singular bar of cell service. I went to make sure that my Mom could get into the US and we didn’t have to hike the 9 miles back and switch passports. One of the border patrol agents said we should just keep hiking because they couldn’t actually deny entry to US citizens. I did not know that fact. Finally I managed to get through on roaming and after hearing mom got in, we continued back to the campsite, convinced they had cameras there. I suspected a pair of boots hanging in a snag near the food hanging pole.
On day two, we left the campsite with cameras and motion detectors and hiked over toward the highline trail. We had a steep climb ahead of us. The Darkness was ahead as we checked a sign for a trail junction and walked past it.
The Darkness: “Bear!”

Me: “Shoulder hump… It’s a grizzly…”
We both started talking to it, bear spray extended and it paused to look at us. A long moment passed and the bear seemed to decide that we weren’t moving (even though we were slowly backing up) and it turned around and went down the trail in the direction we wanted to go. And that’s the closest I’ve ever been to a grizzly…about 40 feet. Too close.
After seeing a griz that soon in the day, we felt more focused as we proceeded. The trail read quite brushy, but easily identifiable. After crossing a short stream, we heard something moving. As we rounded a bend we saw a backpack…just a human. So we didn’t startle him too much, we approached and said,
Me: “How are you doing?”

Guy: pauses to think. “I’m old.”

Me: “That’s a good response. I’m Veggie.”

The Darkness: “I’m The Darkness.”

Guy: “I’m Wayne, where are you two heading?”

The Darkness: “Granite campsite, you?”

Wayne: ” That’s a huge day! I’m just heading to Fifty Mountain Campsite. It’s always full of grizzlies!”

Me: “We’ve already seen one by the ranger station today.”
Wayne let us pass him and we discovered that I tend to move uphill a bit faster and she moves downhill a bit faster, so I led uphill when,
Me: “Bear!” It didn’t see us. A very distinct shoulder hump on an extent large mass lumbered in our direction. ” Hey bear…” I wanted it to realize we were there.

The Darkness: “That’s a big bear…hey bear…”
The larger griz looked at us for a moment, opened its mouth then ran straight uphill into willow looking bushes. That one was about fifty feet away…still too close.
When we got up higher, the trail started playing “now-you-see-now-you-don’t” with the snow in the trees and I put the damn trail runners on instead of my sandals to kick a few steps. I figured that if I was carrying them, I should use them. My feet rebelled…it felt wrong.

 

Bear prints!

We got to a large snowy meadow and crossed it toward Fifty Mountain Campsite. The meadow turned back to grass and yellow wildflowers toward the end filled with small boulders scattered about. I kept staring across at the rocks when one moved. Not a rock. Bear.
This one is about 200 feet away. It’s lumbering around eating some plants. We stop. It smells us and climbs on top of a rock to watch us. We sit and watch it. We decide that we should eat lunch and watch the bear across the meadow. We can’t tell what type of bear it is from that distance without binoculars. The bear leaves and heads toward the campsite. A few minutes later, another larger bear, with a very clear shoulder hump lumbers across the meadow toward the first meadow bear. Four bears in one day!
After lunch, we walk toward the campsite and where the last two bears went. As we peak at the campsite, the sky behind is looks like it’s going to explode. The entire horizon where the clouds moved from looked dark and had filled with thunderheads. We had a discussion. It was already 2:30pm and we still had another 12 miles to our campsite over Cattle Queen and Ahern Drift.
We decide to stay put despite what our permit says because we didn’t know how much more snow we would have to cross since no reports had been made about the Highline Trail when we got permitted for it. We set up only one tent in the back and hid under the trees for only a brief amount of rain.
After a bit, we went down near the “food prep area” and found Wayne. He thought we made a good decision. A woman named Tamar comes and the four of us have the campsite all to ourselves.
Right before we go to bed, Tamar says, “I think I’ll come with you two in the morning over the highline.”

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Finally, the countdown has reached single digits.  I’ve been scurrying around making last minute preparations, getting the first three mail drops together, and generally eating as much non-trail food as possible.  Basically: pies, pizzas, chocolate chip muffins, lemon poppyseed scones, beer in glass bottles, and the like.

The other day, I laid out all my gear that I plan to take to make sure I had everything.  Of course, I was missing a thing or two.  I did realize that my swiss army knife was so caked with muck that I needed a pair of pliers to get the knife and scissors out.  It’s currently on day four of soaking in a solo cup full of CLR.  I may have accidentally and inadvertently killed some potato/roly-poly bugs in the process of ignoring the toxic smelling cup of CLR outside by the porch.  I’m getting to be a bad vegan…damn.

Another plus of laying all the gear out, packing it up, then laying it back out is that it gives me the opportunity to take out the stuff I think I need, but don’t really need.  Like that extra shirt.  It looks cool, but I don’t need it.

As per usual, I’m trying a few new pieces of gear out for this hike.  The big one being my new ULA Epic pack.  I’m sick of my stuff not being fully waterproofed because those rain covers that REI sells for $30-40 suck or my trash bag liner got in a fight with my spoon.  The ULA Epic uses a river dry bag as the pack.  You can see it here…expect I dislike the color yellow, so it’s bright orange…like my alma mater, SYRACUSE.  Woot.  Bring it on rain and large river fords.

 

Gear

 

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