Glacier to Polebridge
We're writing to you from Eureka, MT, our first true resupply on the trail. Seeing as we didn't have the chance to update things before we really started off, I thought we'd play catch-up and recount the first few days on the trail.
Our last night before starting out was spent south of Glacier National Park (GNP) at Stanton Creek Lodge, a log cabin affair with a tiny bar and a menu consisting of frozen pizza at the late hour when we arrived. Thankfully that's all it takes to keep us more than happy, so Liz, Kate, and I whiled away the evening talking with Brenda, the innkeeper, and a couple named Joel and Sherry on a journey of their own, albeit on motorcycle. We were sure to turn in early before the big day, but the sound of rain outside did little to ease our minds.
In the morning, we drove to west Glacier for breakfast, then Apgar Village to pick up our camping permits for our stay in GNP... but not before I realized I had somehow booked them for the wrong nights. Given how hard it can be to get such permits, I freaked out a little and we booked it to the back country office. Luckily, it was early enough in the season, and our route far enough off the beaten track, that we had no problem updating our reservation. Crisis averted! With that last details out of the way, we drove east across the park on the aptly named Going to the Sun Road. Once again, there are no words to describe the drive; its probably the single most beautiful stretch of asphalt anywhere in the country, with towering peaks, hanging glaciers, waterfalls, and a meandering river below. We ultimately ended up at St. Marys lodge, before heading north towards the border.
As we approached, we once again drove through rain, sullying our mood. Once at the trailhead, located just south of the Chief Mountain border crossing (and in the shadow of the eponymous peak), the precipitation let up. There were several other people starting hikes at the same time, but no other PNTers. We said our final goodbyes to Liz as she went to finish her westward journey to Oregon, and set of in to the woods with clearing skies. The trail started off muddy and well-traveled as we passed groups of day hikers and we descended to the Belly River. With wildflowers everywhere and thoughts of imminent bear encounters in our minds, we walked while shouting randomly like crazy people (a familiar occurance to anyone who has hiked in grizzly country.
Our first Campsite was at Mokowanis Junction, which we thankfully had to ourselves. When we woke in the morning, however, a fellow PNTer named Troy (or Roadie -- it seems like trail names are a thing out here again) was stopping for a break. We set out ahead of him, climbing over the snow-covered Stony Indian Pass. Outside of one small area in NZ, this was Kate's first experience with snow hiking. The weather was great, so our crossing went well, and we promptly dropped elevation and made our way towards Waterton Lake.
At this juncture, the PNT runs congruent with the CDT for several miles, so I was reminiscing about my passing this way in 2012. The trail was overgrown with beargrass (and the pollen all over me, wherever it encroached on the path), but we were happy to spend some time on the shore of the lake. Waterton straddles the US-Canadian border, and people can take a ferry from the town on the north end into the States, so a border patrol station is set up there where we stopped and talked to some fellow travelers before heading out to our nearby campsite.
As we set out in the morning, a couple of day hikers informed us of a grizzly that had blocked their path. Thankfully we were going the opposite direction, and we started our day mauling-free. We climbed over the wide and snow-free Brown's Pass, then down to Bowman Lake for our last night in the park. A couple name Irena and Peter were camped there, and we had a lovely afternoon around the fire with them, trading tales from our hiking journeys with their time spent traveling in South Asia. We shoved off in the morning, heading for Polebridge, a tiny stop with a cafe and a mercantile, passing the crowded GNP ranger station on the way out; apparently every campsite was now fully booked, and many disheartened campers were being turned away at the gates.
Polebridge was a much larger and well-stocked store than we anticipated, having undergone much expansion in the past year, apparently. The resupply box we had sent ourselves was comically huge for the next stretch, but we packed up as much as we could and hit the road. After some small confusion as to which forest service road would be our trial (seriously, there are a million of these things, and they are never marked or on the maps properly), we made our way up into the Whitefish Range before making our first real back country camp on an abandoned logging road.
Our first day out
Crossing a river near Waterton Lake
Our first snow patch
Coming down from Stony Indian Pass
A local Wal-Mart... I mean, the Polebridge Merc.