Monday, April 22, 2019

Glacier National Park!

I've grown to like camping a bit since I've moved to Utah, but I usually have a few conditions that must be met. Life changed for the better when we got a camping stove and a good cooler - that means pretty great food while camping. No more trying to figure out food that doesn't need to be refrigerated - we can have bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of a granola bar.

Also critical is a flushing toilet. I need some running water. And a shower if it's going to be more than a couple days. Anthony could live in the middle of the woods and just eat MREs and be just fine. Nope. Car camping for me so we can have all the stuff.

I really wanted to get to Glacier National Park and since it's about 11 hours away via car, we planned to make it a several day trip. Anthony had a 3-day work week at the hospital, but he took an extra day off so we could have almost 5 full days away. Five days camping would be my longest stretch ever, and I reserved the right to get a room at a lodge if needed. Or drive into a town to find some showers. Anthony had to agree to this. He did agree, and I did a LOT of research.

A couple things to know if you're going late in the season, like we did. We planned our trip for late September, right as the park starts to close up for the winter. Granted, the park is still open all winter, but facilities are winterized, water is turned off, and some campsites and lodges close. You're pretty much on your own after that. And since the weather can be unpredictable in September, you don't know exactly what dates they're going to covert campgrounds to primitive status until pretty close to that date. We somehow got lucky and timed things exactly right! Also, the east side of the park is usually around ten degrees colder than the west side, so we went east first until those campsites closed, then drove west to those campsites which still had another week before they turned off the running water/closed up the flushing toilets. Hooray!

Also the Going to the Sun Road is a huge attraction to drive - it cuts through the park and is the main east/west road. Portions of that road are closed a lot, and somehow it managed to be all the way open the day we drove it. It can take 10-12 weeks to plow the road in the spring, and it usually opens sometime in June. Last summer the park had lots of wildfires, so the road was also closed for most of the summer. The day we drove it had snow at the peak, and it closed the next day due to weather. So lucky that we got to drive the whole entire thing!

Glacier National Park is more than 1 million acres, so there's lots and lots to see and do. I got many recommendations from friends on where to camp and where to hike, but with only a few days, it's hard to get to it all. There's also so much backcountry (get some permits and set out on your own) that someday I hope to see beyond the civilized sections.

Alright, off to our adventures. Anthony got off work Thursday night at 730pm but we decided to try and drive halfway up to break up the drive. Off to Dillion, Mt! I think we arrived around 1am. We originally aimed for Idaho Falls, but felt good enough to keep going. Granted, there's not much beyond Idaho Falls for a couple hours, so you've gotta be committed! We took the cheapest room in town. Whatever.
Lovely sites of Dillon - we didn't stay at this fancy looking place though.
Friday morning driving through Helena, to Browning. Also my first time in Montana! That makes state number 40 for me.

Traffic stop for construction. This lady was super nice, and this RV is sure getting around.

Starting to see pretty! We stopped in Browning to load up on water on firewood. It's the headquarters for the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

First stop - Two Medicine Campground. We set up camp in the early afternoon and then went to explore. There were a few people around, but not too many. I hear this is a quieter campground, even in the summer.

I actually don't mind these dehydrated meals every now and again. But not all the time!

We picked a trail that goes around the closest lake.
Fall colors were coming out. Seriously, I love that we picked this time of year to go. I thought it was perfect, even though we'd get rained on a lot starting the next day.

Definitely bear season this time of year - they're fattening up! The park does a good job of closing off trails and sections of the park to let them eat in peace, but you still have to be really vigilant. We had bear spray and tried to make lots of noise while hiking. Groups of three or more people are best, but there were only two of us and not always a lot of other people around. I sang lots of loud songs and made up nonsense. Anthony made fun of me sometimes, but I don't want to get eaten by a bear! Though I did really, really wanted to see one. That's the one animal I didn't get to see at Grand Teton a couple years earlier.
Look at all our awesome gear. We super love our North Face tent.

We also got a campfire popcorn maker. It was a little messy and burned a bit, but I still love it.
When the sun goes down, the headlamp and books come out...
Morning! We packed up and hurried towards Many Glacier campground, also on the east side. Campgrounds are usually first come, first serve, and this is a popular one. I figured we'd get a spot since it was the end of season, but we went early-ish just to make sure.

Rain started coming down and didn't really stop until our last day.

We got a camp spot! Anthony set up tents while I scoped out our hiking options for the day.

Getting rained on, and don't really have all the right gear, but we're happy to be here.

We set off towards Grinnell Lake - there's a glacier up above it, but I didn't want to do a ton of elevation, plus as we set off, we heard the top part of that trail was closed because bears.

That little white field up there is Grinnell Glacier. Pretty small these days.

Rocks here are stunning.
Mountain goats up top!

We were pretty wet, but not much we could do about it. We stopped to eat some lunch and got cold, so we kept moving back towards home.

You can see more of the glacier here. I kinda wish we'd gone to the top, but maybe another day. But sooner rather than later, because climate change.

Found a friend.

We went back to the campground to try and get dry. Around dusk we went for a little drive and found some other creatures - mostly fuzzy black bears close to the road. I like seeing them from the car :)

The next morning we drove down to the Apikuni Falls trail. Everything to the north of the road and west of the falls was closed to let the bears roam. We saw mama grizzly and two cubs hanging out up on the hillside.
I'm glad they were just little dots up there. But I was super loud on the trail to make them stay away!

Apikuni Falls

Big gray clouds would bring snow the next day.

While driving back to the campsite for lunch we saw another black bear friend - he's hard to see here, but he's the black mass at the top of the rocks. Just right there on the side of the road.

As we walked back into camp we ran into one of Anthony's friends - it was a nice surprise. They'd been hiking in a certain area and had seen a lot of bighorn sheep, so we decided to try our luck there in the afternoon. We headed west from the campsite towards Bullhead Lake. Mostly still raining on us.

There's a bunch of lakes. This one is not Bullhead.

Redrock Falls here.

This is where I had a meltdown. The day before I wore my only waterproof shoes - big old snow boats, not great for hiking. My feet hurt. So this day I wore sneakers. I was standing on a rock and had Anthony take my photo. But he told me to move a step over, and as I did, I slipped and my feet went totally into the water, soaking my shoes and socks all the way through. I lost it. He was super great and patient - he may have had extra socks in his bag and we got my shoes as dry as we could. And when we got home, I bought myself a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots. About the only mishap of the trip though!
There's some goats on the hill - sadly none too close.

And here's bighorn sheep. I wish I could've seen one a little closer.
These colors are so great. 
This is Bullhead Lake.

One of my favorite photos ever. Rain wasn't so bad after this!

More goats.

Resting my weary wet feet.

We were pretty soaked still and we need more firewood, so we decided to drive into St Mary's for supplies.

Bear friends!

We pulled over for a bit to watch them.

We got to St Mary's just after the one store closed up, so no firewood for us. Thankfully, Anthony's friend that we had seen earlier left us their extra since they were leaving that day. And while we were in town, we decided to just have dinner at the lodge since it was easy and we were ready for a full meal. Slightly expensive, but worth it. And it was their last night open for the season! Our waiter was headed out the next day for Germany, to teach English. And then he'll come back to Montana in the summer.

We packed up Monday morning to head west - we'd drive the Going to the Sun road and find a spot to camp on the other side. I used the bathroom in the morning, and right as I walked out, the park service drove through to lock the doors and close it up for the winter. Talk about timing.

The GTSR is about 50 miles long, but we wanted to make stops along the way and hike around. If you don't want to drive it (there are some vehicle size restrictions since it's narrow and winding) there is a shuttle system as well. The whole drive was just stunning.

A little hiking here.

Up at Logan Pass - crossing the Continental Divide. The visitors center there wasn't great, and huge lines for the bathroom. Some good hikes around it though.

We got to Apgar campground and set up a spot. At this time of year there aren't really park rangers around to assign spots and take your payment, so you just drop your money in the slot and hang the receipt on your clipboard thing near your campsite. We did use credit cards for most nights, and they were charged pretty quickly, except maybe one night wasn't at all....oh well, we tried.

We still had some good daylight, so we decided to drive north up to Bowman Lake. Anthony had wanted to camp up there since his friend said it's pretty much deserted, but it's also a primitive site with barebones camping and no running water, so I made us stay at Apgar.

You're pretty much in Canada at this point. And if it was earlier in the season and we had passports, you can take a ferry at Waterton Lakes into Canada.

We saw a lone wolf hanging around near the road.

Found a couple people to take our photo, then everyone pretty much disappeared.

The light kept changing on the hills and it was so cool.

We hiked a little ways, but also saw more bear activity signs. I sorta freaked out because it was getting dark, and I didn't want to go too far. It also was raining and we needed dinner.  Not a good combo.

Back to the lake.

Anthony had to get in. The water was probably around 58 degrees. He's crazy.

I just stayed bundled on the shore.

This place is crazy magical.

Back to our campsite. I definitely don't mind tent camping, but we saw lots of people with little trailers, and I sorta want one now.

Tuesday morning - time to pack up and head home. We popped out to Lake McDonald for a last view.

And miracle - I didn't shower the whole time!! I made a list of local places to shower, but I never bothered. Look at me being low maintenance.

See ya next time, restaurant we didn't try cause you were already closed up.

We drove home through Kalispell - this is somewhere along there. A little drive through billboard church.

I'm ready to buy property in Montana and spend the summers there.

See ya later, Big Sky Country!

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