(the basic conversation)
"Where would you like to stay, sir?"
"Tonight, at Poia Lake."
"Sir, you realize that that's all the way on the other side of the park?"
"That'll take you about two, two and a half hours to get to."
"So I gather."
"We don't recommend being on the trail near dusk or when it's dark."
"Yes, I know."
"See, it's fall, and the bears are gearing up for winter hibernation, so not only are they naturally more active at those times, but now they're getting pretty hungry."
"And you know that the site is six miles from the trailhead?"
. It was the shortest three-day loop I could find."
"Okay. And then where would you like to stay?"
"Tomorrow night at Elizabeth Lake and then the following night at Many Glacier."
"Okay, how many in your party, sir?"
"You realize that we don't recommend hiking alone, sir? Bears are much more likely to approach a individual rather than a party."
"Yes, it just happened that no one else was really available."
"Ah, yes... Well, here are your permits."
So, I think I leave there around two or so and proceed along the Going-to-the-Sun highway, which cuts east-west across the park and was absolutely gorgeous. Plenty of slow traffic and temp changes and awesome views. Nice ride. I roll into Many Glacier around four or so, ask the gift shop if I can stash my extra gear there for a few days (thanks guys!), and proceed to basically unload most of my gear to switch from riding mode to backpacking mode
. Holy crap I've never put this much gear in a pack before, nor have I carried such a load for an extended period. The winter tent and fuel and water and cookware and trowel and food and bear rope etc. etc. really appear to add up. Should be a nice little challenge. I start walking towards the trailhead about two miles down the road and get picked up by a nice older couple from Florida who give me a lift to the trailhead, and with a slight rain in tow I'm on the trail just around five. Mmmkay. Six miles to go with a little bit of gain. Really heavy pack. Use the rest step, use the rest step. As I move away from the road I start a ridiculous monologue to taunt any unseen bears around the various bends, alternately singing and doing a standup routine for the trees and rocks. The sky begins to clear and I'm also practicing a smooth quickdraw with my meager four-second bearspray cannister, seeing how quickly I can go from the can on the caribiner (no holster available) to fully armed and ready to rock and roll. I find a sequence that I can pull off in about two seconds and am satisfied, though I keep practicing. At one point I see a great beast that I initially think is a pretty decent sized female moose, only to discover that it's a large black cow (one of two) grazing about 40 feet off the trail. I think, "I''m betting there aren't any bears really close by right now.." I cruise into camp at a decent clip around eight, and it's pretty posh. I had no idea how nice these backcountry sites were
. I was thinking, backcountry -> undeveloped. Not so much. Sweet cooking area, bear cable to launch the rope over, outhouse, great tent sites. It's a niice. I liike it. Make a yellow rice and cheese and summer sausage and broccoli dinner, figuring out that with this super fuel that I happen to have that's hot enough to make the stove turn dull to bright red, I can simmer the rice if I make the windscreen a smaller diameter and carefully balance the pot on the top of the windscreen. Voila! No breezes, please. And potgrip at the ready. It doesn't fall, and dinner is yummy. Cleanup the cooksite, hang the bag, and then refilling water down by the lake, sitting in the crazy creek checking out the fantastic starfield and listening to the breeze lap the water against the shore. Great shooting stars, comparable to the Perseids (for those in the pre-emptive know) in magnitude though not numbers. Eleven o'clock, nestled in this small valley-canyon, warm in down jacket and fleece. Totally alone. Headlamp and mace within reach, but no need. Kind of amazing.
Up earlyish and breaking down camp, waving to a few passerbys that nod or wave in morning hello. Swinging through West Glacier (a town), I notice an outdoor gear shop and pull in to see if I can find a better hat. Find a great one, a balaclava that fits wonderfully under my helmet (why have I not thought of this before? it seems so essential!), and some spare line for guying out my tent fly against winds if need be. I roll into the backcountry ranger station in Apgar at about one or 1:30, watch the mandatory video about bear saftey and LNT, and proceed to seek my backcountry camping permits: