Trip Start Aug 12, 2013
34Trip End Ongoing
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After I had passed Soap Lake the Grand Coulee Canyon flattened out and then disappeared all together (I suppose being ground zero for the biggest flood in the history of mankind might do that...). The surrounding remained pretty much featureless until the Idaho border, as I cruised along the I90. You then hit pine forests which continue into western Montana. I wasn't in Montana long before I decided that I liked it. The people were friendly, the sky really did seem big, and there seems to be the right balance of mountains, rivers and lakes. Although, to be fair, I've found American's to be amazingly friendly pretty much everywhere so far.
After I lost an hour at the Montana state line (adjusting for Mountain Time), and another hour when I found a cafe with wifi and a power point, I was stretching it a bit thin to try and enter Glacier NP that evening. It was not not for lack of daylight, as the Summer sun lingers in the sky until well after 8pm, but more that I wanted to get into the park with time to find a good campsite. As each afternoon draws to a close, the campsites of the major parks play host to a vehicular version of musical chairs as everyone jostles to snag one of the first-come-first-served campsites. I was planning to spend two nights in Glacier, so I thought I'd pull up short and try to sneak in early the next day instead
The next day I was up early to give myself a full day inside, but even this did not seem early enough. To my dismay there was a lineup of about 20 vehicles at the park gate. It had been open for hours, but the hordes were already descending. As I pulled up at the information centre the carpark resembled a shopping centre at peak hour. Sadly, despite its (relatively) out of the way location, Glacier felt a bit like an outdoor Disneyland. The ranger initially suggested that I set up camp amidst the RV's in one of the large popular sites, but when I told him that I was self sufficient (didn't need water etc) he recommended that I head for an isolated campsite in East Glacier known as Cut Bank. His badge read "500hrs service" so I figured he ought to know what he was on about...and thankfully he did.
So I set off into the depths of the park, up the famous Going to the Sun Road. While the road itself was pretty impressive, it certainly didn't compare with some of the heart stopping cliff huggers in South America. But you certainly couldn't short-change the scenery. As you ascend, making switchback after switchback the back drop just seems to get more and more dramatic. Eventually you drive clean over the continental divide at Logan Pass (6,646ft)
The Cut Bank campground was at the end of a dirt road, nestled in a valley, on the far side of the park, without an RV in site. That afternoon I took the Ranger's other advice and hiked up the valley to Medicine Grizzly Lake. It was about a 20km round trip, but I just managed to squeeze it in before night fall (and rainfall). The hike culminated in a glacial lake tucked into the valley, being fed by a 300m high waterfall.
The next day I kicked it up another gear and did the 23km hike up to Iceberg Lake and the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Apparently this is one of the Glacier classics, and it didn't take long to see why (and to realise that it still was a classic...it was crowded). At the end of the first leg you emerge at the top of a valley to a stunning lake with icebergs bobbing around in it. Thankfully the ascent had been quite gradual, but that changed with the next leg up to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. You double back and then ascend a different valley where you come to...you guessed it...yet another beautiful glacial lake
Glacier was also very productive on the animal front. I managed to see the usual assortment of critters, but also a black bear and a mother grizzly with her cub!
Glacier had been stunning, but I think I prefer the giant old growth forests of the North Cascades to the more open pine forests here. But both of these were likely to pale in comparison with my next destination, the mother of all US Parks: Yellowstone!
[970 miles on the road]