I arrived in Montana around noontime on Saturday and was almost immediately smitten. I have long believed that I would love Montana, and it turns out, I was right. A stunningly beautiful mix of mountains, farmland, wetlands and small towns. I headed north from I-90 at St Regis, following State Route 135 along the Clark Fork River. I continued northward on State Route 200 passing through Paradise and connecting with State Route 28 near Plains and heading towards the resort-town surrounded Flathead Lake. US Route 93 took me around the northwest edge of the lake, heading towards Kalispell, an adorable town I could see myself living in some day. US Route 2 (which I could've taken all the way from the Seattle area, with a few extra hours -- next time) took me from Kalispell to West Glacier, and the Park entrance.
Since I was meeting Jana and Mike on the eastern side of the Park, I had to drive the Going to the Sun Road, not that I was complaining. The sunniest of what would be three trips for me on this road, it was gorgeous. Near The Loop, about halfway across the Park, traffic was held up by two men who were flagging down a Park Ranger to tell them that they'd seen a bear about a mile away. I shuddered as I noticed that they were both sporting handguns on their belts. I am much more afraid of them than I am of the Park's bears.
the view from Going to the Sun Road
I arrived at St Mary Campground shortly after Jana and Mike. They'd already checked in with the nearby Backcountry Permit Office and found that no permits were available for our preferred hike, the North Circle. Mike had a printout of the permits that were available as of permit office close of business, so we poured over maps and guidebooks to build a new preferred hike and some alternates. Mike is great at this -- I may hire him to plan all my backcountry hikes for me!
My first night with my red canister of bear spray at my side was a little unnerving and I didn't sleep as well as I might have if I hadn't been downright expecting bears to walk through our camp. They didn't.
Up at 6am, Mike shuffled over to the Backcountry Permit Office and was still the fourth person in line. Jana stayed in camp to make breakfast (blueberry pancakes and bacon), and I brought Mike a cup of coffee (note: Starbucks' single redeeming feature may be Via, their instant coffee -- perfect for backpacking). When we got our turn at the permit counter, I was reminded of how I used to register for classes at Humboldt: planning out my class schedule on graph paper, watching a pair of TV monitors at the commons building that listed the number of seats available in each and every class, then going to the registration office at my appointed time and hoping the classes hadn't filled up while I was standing in line. Mike pointed at a map and named campsites as the ranger entered our choices into a database and would say yea or nay to getting a permit for each. We ended up with a dramatized version of our new preferred hike:
(edited to correct mileages)
Kintla Lake Trailhead to Lower Kintla Lake: 6.3 miles
Lower Kintla Lake to Brown Pass: 16.5 miles (!)
Brown Pass to Goat Haunt: 8.6 miles
Goat Haunt to Mokowanis Lake: 14.3 miles
Layover at Mokowanis Lake: 0 miles
Mokowanis Lake to Chief Mountain: 14.4 miles
TOTAL: 60.1 miles
(The original had the miles spread out a little more evenly)
We divided up the communal gear, food and got my car situated at the ending trailhead, Chief Mountain (right at the US/Canada border). We then hauled across the Park in Jana and Mike's trusty Volvo stationwagon and up to the Kintla Lake Trailhead About four hours to do all that had us setting out onto the trail at about 5:15pm. Fortunately, our first 8 miles were essentially lakeside, so there wasn't much elevation, just mostly flat miles. We heard a pair of loons on the lake -- a lovely, eerie call. Quite a bit of bear sign -- mostly torn up tree bark, where the bears look for insects. Gorgeous mountains surround the lake: the Boundary Mountains to the north and Kintla Peak to the southeast.
scenery around Lower Kintla Lake
We got into camp just as the evening light was dwindling. This was the largest backcountry campground we stayed at, with about seven campsites. The campsites in Glacier's backcountry were unlike any I'd seen before: each designated campsite is just large enough to sleep four (two small tents or one larger one). There's a communal food preparation area, like one of the campsites, but surrounded by benches, and near to that is a constructed bear bagging pole or frame (no searching for a tree branch that was just right!). All food, food-or-otherwise-scented items, and water were to be bagged every night. They even stipulate that sweat-soaked clothing should be "secured", lest some salt-seeking marmot or mountain goat find it while you're not looking. Each campground had a pit toilet (some with walls, some without). Our first dinner was miso soup and chicken curry. The curry was pretty decent -- it was one of the dinners I was charged with preparing back home, so I was pleased to find out that it went over OK.
We saw several mice at this campsite and not an any of the others. They scratched at my tent a few times in the night -- I flicked them away from the inside. Bear spray at my side, I slept well.