Glacially Challenged

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Thursday, July 19, 2012

Howdy folks,

Steffie and I woke up on the floor, not quite but good enough. The problem with sleeping on an air mattress is that they eventually spring a slow leak. As a result, we were awake at 5am and couldn't get back to sleep. We had planned to get up at 6am anyway because we wanted to arrive in Glacier National Park nice and early to get a tent site. We had been checking the website for availability and the Apgar Campground had been filling up early, so we didn’t want to miss our spot.

We drove about an hour into Missoula and filled up on fuel, internet and food at a Super Walmart. That’s right folks, even if you thought Walmart was big before, they have these super store versions which even have fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition there is a café in the front with the usual photo shop or post office. These things are mega and a sight of capitalism gone crazy. We managed to get everything done by 9:30am so we backtracked a few miles to the turn north to Highway 93.

The highway runs right through the Flathead Indian Reservation and as such there a few of the towns we drove through were full of the native population. There was even an overhead walkway shaped by two giant teepees on either side! Our first stop was the National Bison Range in the heart of the reservation which is a giant paddock set up a century ago to help restore the bison population. Apparently one of the policies of the US Government in the mid 19th Century was to try and exterminate the bison population so that the native Indians would sign treaties and stop waging war. The policy worked but at a huge expense with only a few hundred of the bison remaining from a population of several million. The breeding program was very successful, but unfortunately the two smaller loops that we drove resulted in no sightings of anything! Thankfully, we have two more opportunities to see them in Yellowstone and near Mt Rushmore.

Steffie took over the driving and we came to Flathead Lake which is 28 miles long and quite pretty. We drove along the eastern lakeshore instead of taking the more popular western loop because it seemed to be more direct. Pretty soon we made the turn east to Hungry Horse where there is a giant dam used for hydroelectricity. Not long afterwards we arrived in West Glacier which is the gateway village to Glacier National Park. It’s not as commercial as Whistler, but has the usual mix of tourist shops, cafes and adventure stores. We drove straight through and in the park gate to Apgar Village where we set up our tent. Thankfully there were still quite a few sites left.

We walked back and checked out the shops before going for a swim in Lake McDonald. The water was pretty cold past 2 feet, but it was 30 degrees so it was refreshing nonetheless. There were plenty of people doing the same thing. I guess lake swimming is more common in the States than swimming in the ocean. I really like doing it for two reasons: no salt and no current. At 8pm there was a campground lecture on geology which was somewhat interesting, but not enough to hold our attention for a full hour.

Overnight we didn’t even bother trying to make the air mattress work. Instead we tried to sleep on our blankets and sleeping bags which weren’t exactly comfortable. Eventually we got up at 6am after tossing and turning most of the night and waking up a bit stiff. Still tired we packed the tent and sat in the car deciding what to do. We had planned to drive the Going To The Sun Road through the middle of the park through to St Mary on the other side, but there had been some heavy rain and a heavy rockslide had blocked the road for 2 days. The road was still open to Avalanche Creek so that is where we drove.

Before driving the whole way, we stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge at the other end of the lake. We saw a dozen Red Buses which are called Jammers parked in the car park. They are refurbished 1930s stretch sightseeing cars and they really look great. You see them driving everywhere in the park and they are a real tourist attraction. I guess they are called Jammers because they jam/block the road. Instead of traffic jams here, they have bear jams. The lodge is quite old and past its prime although the wooden lobby is quite a marvel with its stuffed animal heads.

There is a campground and two hikes from Avalanche Creek, so it was a good thing we got there early. We started the hike at 8am and continued past the campground and up through the dense forest. There weren’t many people on the trail yet, so we had a nice peaceful hike up to Avalanche Lake. The lake was very pretty with the morning light streaming through the mountain ridge, but unfortunately that made it bad for photos. We decided to hike along the side of the lake to the end and Steffie pointed out a shy marmot in the scrub. There was some old bear scat on the trail, but we didn’t see any recent activity.

By the time we got back to the beach, there were a million people there and a million more on the hike back. We stopped briefly at the canyon bridge to watch the water pour through the narrow crevasse before jumping back into the car. The Going To The Sun Road was still closed so we had to make a detour. Driving back to West Glacier, we detoured south along Highway 2 which wasn’t that interesting and we got stuck in roadworks for 30 minutes just out of East Glacier. We did stop at the Continental Divide along Marias Pass, but there wasn’t much to see apart from a huge obelisk.

The plan was to camp at Two Medicine Lake campground, but when we got there we found it to be full at 1pm! All the other major campgrounds were also full in the park so we had to find an alternative. Luckily there was a primitive campground at Cut Banks which was 5 miles down a dirt road. It was only 3pm after we set up the tent, so we decided to drive into Saint Mary to go on the other side of the road that wasn’t closed. We drove along Saint Mary Lake and up to Logan Pass Visitor Centre where the Continental Divide dissected the Going To The Sun Road. There was a giant alpine meadow with many flowers, sandpapered trees and quite a few tourists. It was 22 degrees which was really warm given that we were at 2025m elevation.

Steffie left for an hour to drive down to the Weeping Wall which had opened up, while I took a short walk along the Hidden Lake Trail. I only got halfway up, but I managed to see two marmots lying about in the sun which is a nice change from all the ground squirrels. Steffie drove back to the campsite where we had dinner and an early night. Unfortunately the mattress still wasn’t working so we had another hard sleep on the sleeping bags.

Looking forward to returning to civilisation!
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