Monday, October 28, 2019

Day 1: The Pacific Northwest Trail

July 16: Amanda pulled into the parking lot on the left side of the road. The noontime sun blazed overhead. A few hundred feet ahead lay the Canadian border. We wouldn't be entering Canada--not today, at least--but we could see the checkpoint ahead. After a few days of driving from Seattle (which included a little sightseeing along the way)--about 11 hours by car according to Google--it was time to walk home. It would definitely take a lot longer than 11 hours to walk home, though! According to Google, it would take 204 hours, but their suggested route does not follow the PNT for almost the entire distance.

The PNT begins a stone's throw from the Canadian border. (Don't throw stones at the border patrol, though. They might arrest you.)

We were at the northeast corner of Glacier National Park, the Chief Mountain Trailhead. It marked the eastern terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail, or the PNT. Not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada. It seemed like most of the time I told people I was planning to thru-hike the Pacific Northwest Trail, they ask questions like if I planned to start at the Mexican border.

No, the PNT runs about 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park never veering very far away from the Canadian border. From the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean! It is a national scenic trail, one of only nine in the United States and the fifth one I would be attempting. Many who have done it have said it is the wildest, hardest and most scenic route of them all. We'll see....

I was starting fairly late in the hiking season and my biggest concern was if I could make it over the Olympics before the first winter storms struck. Worrying about snow in July... *shaking head*

The trailhead was packed with vehicles and a few other hikers who were coming and going, but none of them appeared to be out for the long haul. I didn't expect to see many other thru-hikers on this trek. From what I learned online, it seemed that maybe--in a good year--a hundred hikers might attempt a thru-hike of this trail, and most of them probably started hiking 2 to 4 weeks before me.

The weather was nice. It had rained earlier in the morning but now there were mostly blue skies. Rain, however, was still in the forecast later in the afternoon.

Amanda took photos of me getting my gear together and at the first sign marking the trail. I was disappointed to see it listed as the endpoint of the Continental Divide Trail--which it is, but it's an alternate ending point rather than the primary one--and nothing at all was mentioned of the PNT which was the actual endpoint. That sign needed updating!

Amanda and I said our goodbyes, and I turned around to take my first few steps on the trail. I only made it about 20 seconds down the trail where I found a large signboard which included a giant symbol marking the Pacific Northwest Trail. Now that's what I'm talking about! Amanda was already heading back to her car for the long drive home so I took a selfie with the first PNT marker.

The first PNT marker! Most of this trail is unmarked so these were always a nice surprise whenever I found them. =)

The trail was mostly in the trees, but flowers abounded everywhere and whenever I entered a clearing, they spread out into thick carpets of color. The Rocky Mountains soared high in the distance. It was nice. It was comfortable. A little humid, perhaps, but not overwhelming.

I carried some new gear with me for this trip. I was in grizzly country and the rules here were different than everywhere else I had hiked. Bear spray was highly recommended, so I carried a canister of it on my belt. I also purchased an Ursack, a lightweight, bear-proof container. Those were my defenses against grizzlies.

In Glacier NP, I expected to see plenty of people along the trail, but once I left the park, I knew the trail became a lot more empty, remote, difficult... and dangerous. So I carried a couple of new pieces of gear for that as well. I bought a SPOT device which could send my location to a satellite overhead and included an emergency button that would allow me to call for help if I suffered from a life-threatening situation. In Glacier NP, it wasn't necessary, but I knew on the more remote regions on the trail, it would be the only way I could ever get help. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that, but it was still a useful device since it allowed friends and family to follow my progress in near real time over the course of the trail. There was no way for them to contact me, but they could check up on me and make sure I was still moving along the trail.

And my last new piece of gear for this hike was a GPS. I still had the trusty map and compass which I intended to use as my primary form of navigation, but for this trip, I would carry a GPS to help with navigation. I could also use it to track the exact route I walked which I would later be able to import into Walking 4 Fun.

The Rocky Mountains are gorgeous!

It didn't take long for that to come in handy, either. I had been hiking for barely a half hour when I passed a group of several hikers going out in the opposite direction and one of them, exhausted, asked how far they had left to get to the trailhead--not believing her companions that said they were "close." I pulled out my GPS and told her, "I have traveled 1.63 miles from the trailhead."

This excited the woman greatly. I wasn't just guessing the distance to the trailhead, or even estimating it. It was calculated by a high-tech device listening to billion dollar satellites in the sky! The trailhead really wasn't very far!

The trail today was pretty easy. It went downhill a little from the trailhead then stayed mostly level the rest of the day. My goal for the day was 8.7 miles to Cosley Lake--not a mile more, not a miles less--a requirement set by the permit I carried. That distance wasn't difficult, especially over this almost flat terrain--even with the 10 or so days of food I carried on my back--so I took my time. I stopped frequently for breaks, chatted with other hikers along the trail, and enjoyed the scenery.

Late in the day, I reached a suspension bridge across the Belly River. The suspension bridge looked like something built decades ago and could fall apart at any moment, but for the time being it was still holding up. It was a rickety bridge, though, bouncing wildly with every step. The walkway didn't just bounce up and down, either. It also rotated from side to side like it wanted to push you off! The only thing to prevent someone from falling was a thin, metal wire on each side of the bridge to grab onto.

Part way across I had to stop and wait for the bouncing to go down before continuing on. It was awesome!

Rickety bridge across the Belly River.

I took a break on the far side of the river, eating a snack and admiring the river when a ranger hiked across and checked my permit. I asked her if she had seen any PNT thru-hikers lately, and she had seen some, but nobody recently. She also reminded me that no food or other smelly items were allowed in the campsite. Ever. There was a place to hang food bags at the front of the campsite, and a place to cook meals--and those were the only two places where food was allowed. No food was to ever enter the sleeping areas. She asked if I carried a bear canister. I didn't--a bear canister wasn't required except in the Olympics and was far too heavy for me to carry voluntarily! But I did tell her that I had an Ursack--not that it was necessary in Glacier NP since they always provided a place to hang food at each campsite. She said the Ursack didn't have to be hung up since it was bearproof, but that I should explain to the other hikers why it was okay for me to tie my food bag at ground level but they could not. =) Which makes sense... if someone didn't know what an Ursack was, they might think I was flouting the national park rules or worse, copy my example with a bag that wasn't bearproof.

I continued hiking as the clouds blowing in grew bigger and darker and I hoped I would reach camp before any rain started.

But I hoped in vain. It started sprinkling before pouring buckets for about 15 minutes. I pulled out my umbrella which helped, but from the waist down, I was completely and totally soaked.

Then the rain stopped as quickly as it started. The sun even peaked out again at times.

By the time I reached camp, I was mostly dry. I hung my food bag over a cable strung between two trees for that purpose then entered the campsite proper. I was surprised to discover that none of the sites had been occupied as of yet. As late as I arrived in the afternoon, I was sure I'd be the last person showing up. So I selected a campsite near the middle near the shore of Cosley Lake. It was a beautiful location with a scenic lake surrounded by dramatic mountains.

View from my campsite over Cosley Lake.

I set up my tarp--rain was still in the forecast and it felt like it could rain at any time--then sat down on the shore of Cosley Lake just admiring the views. And that's when I saw it. A black dot, on the other side of the lake. And it moved! It was an animal! A bear, perhaps!

I jumped up and grabbed my fancy camera--the one with a 300mm zoom lens--and focused on the moving dot far across the lake. It was still hard to see clearly despite the magnification. I took a photo, as far as I could optically zoom it--but I still couldn't tell what I was looking at until I digitally zoomed into the photo. And it wasn't a bear at all--it was a moose! A bull moose!

Even with my 300mm zoom lens, I still had trouble identifying the animal across the lake. If it hadn't been moving, I wouldn't have noticed it all it!

I took photos, but they were terrible photos. The moose was just too far away. I sat back down and watched the moose moving slowly along the shoreline. It appeared to be walking in my direction along the far shore, so every 5 or 10 minutes I would check it out with my camera and could start seeing more and more details as it drew closer.

After a half hour or so, the moose was located almost precisely across the lake from me and, I assumed, was the closest point it would get to me before it followed the shoreline away from me again. Except... it appeared to be entering into the lake. Well okay, I thought, it's probably trying to swim around the sheer cliffs it was about to reach. I could barely see the moose now--mostly just his antlers poking above the water level.

Is that moose getting into the water? He looks like he's entering the water!

And... he appeared to be swimming quite far into the lake. More in my direction than around the cliff. Surely he's not swimming across the lake?!

The moose probably made it about halfway across the lake before I finally realized that yes, the moose was crossing the lake. And, a little concerning to me, appeared to be swimming directly towards me! Moose are large creatures and can certainly hurt a person if they wanted to, and I found it concerning that the moose appeared to be heading directly toward me. I rushed back to my tarp and grabbed my bear spray. It probably wasn't necessary, but I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. I had never used bear spray bear and fumbled around a little trying to get the safety off. Just in case....

Yes, he did enter the water... and he's heading right for me!

By the time I was ready, the moose was approaching close to camp. I could see the gleam in his eye. He wasn't a very elegant swimmer, but he was effective and moving a lot faster than I realized.

As the moose approached the shore, he stopped swimming when his hooves reached the bottom of the lake and walked the rest of the way in toward the shore. Waves of water spilled off his back as he rose out of lake. It was majestic to watch and I was lucky to witness it! I wondered where all the other hikers at this campsite were. They were missing quite the show!

The moose was definitely not an elegant swimmer! He kind of looked like he was struggling not to drown!

The moose rose out of the lake maybe 20 feet away from my campsite and I must have snapped a hundred photos. He was so close, I had to zoom OUT just to fit his head in the camera frame. Wow!

The moose stood there for a couple of minutes, and we just looked at each other--sizing each other up. He didn't seem too concerned or surprised about my presence, but he didn't appear eager to get any closer either for which I was thankful.


Then he trotted off, staying a few feet off shore in about a foot of water, continuing to follow the shoreline westward. I followed his progress for 3 or 4 minutes before he rounded a curve and was out of view.

WOW! WOW! WOW! Best moose sighting EVER!!!! And on my first day on the trail! What other amazing sights would I see out here?!

I'm going to call him Wassa. I call all moose Wassa. Big and majestic! =)

It started sprinkling lightly while the moose and I were eyeing each other and now the light sprinkle was beginning to grow in intensity so I retired back to my tarp. I spent about two hours there, listening to the rain. I started getting hungry for dinner, but I didn't even have any food to snack on. It was in my food bags, hanging on the cables at the front of the campsite. I didn't want to go out into the rain, but I did want to eat. It was a little frustrating. Normally, I'd just pull out my food and cook dinner under the tarp, but I couldn't do that here and cooking out in the open in the rain didn't appeal to me at all.

So I read my Kindle and relaxed... but stayed hungry. I'd eat when it stopped raining. If it stopped raining....

It did stop raining after a couple of hours, and it was even still light out. Sunset came late in this part of the world! So I got up and retrieved a food bag, which I carried to the cooking area and cooked up dinner. Mac 'n' cheese!

By now it was about 8:00 in the evening and still no other hikers had arrived in camp. Where was everybody?! Getting a permit through Glacier NP was kind of a hassle because the park is so popular, but there were still two or three empty campsites here! They should be full! I passed all sorts of people throughout the day, but where did they all go?

After dinner, I returned my food bag back to the cables before returning to camp for the night. No other hikers ever arrived. I had the whole campsite and lake to myself!

Flowers! Flowers! Everywhere!

Gros Ventre Falls
Rainbow over Cosley Lake


GG said...

I'm guessing you didn't _try_ to bounce this particular bridge.

You and Wassa eyeing each other, wow, great pictures.

Is it only the first campsite that you're required to stop at or is this a more controlled area where you must stop where told to stop?

I expect the answer will come with future missives, but just in case you don't make it home we'll need to know where to begin our search for you.

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

Since he started on July 16th I am assuming that Ryan is already home.

Ryan said...

I had to get a permit that requires me to stop at the campsite specified on my permit. It's not necessarily the first campsite or my preferred campsite, though!

And yes, I'm home. I didn't want to start this blog until after I already finished the trail. =)

BinoBoxer said...

Your writings are well done. Do you write in a daily journal in order to keep details in order?

Ryan said...

Yes, I keep a daily journal! =)

GG said...

Come on folks, I get it.
I just want to add a bit of suspense.
(Thinking back to the ropes, leap of faith, and hoping not to fall in the water when you were doing that trail in Canada several years ago. You left us in suspense as to your success.)

JDrake said...

Being on the trail for a longer period of time required you to carry more stuff. How heavy was your backpack at the start? And how much water or water bottles did you have? Did you take your alcohol stove with you to cook your food? With everything wet, I imagine having an open fire was out of the question. It would be interesting to know what the other hikers used to cook their meals. Do you have a list of items that you took with you, such as a purification water system, stove, tent, etc.

Ryan said...

I didn't weigh my pack when I started, but it was absurdly heavy with about 10 days of food. I didn't have to carry much water in Glacier NP--plenty of water all along the route there--but other parts of the trail required carrying several liters of water. I did take my soda can stove. Fires are allowed at some campsites in Glacier NP but I don't think any of the ones I stayed at allowed them. Even if they did, I was definitely too lazy to make any! And no, I don't have a list of items I took with me.

Mary said...

What a great beginning! My first thought about the moose you named Wassa was Bullwinkle's alma mater, Wassa Mater U, from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons (I'm 66 - they're from my cartoon era!). I then Googled it: "Wossamotta U — a mondegreen of "what's the matter [with] you" — is the ninth story arc from the fifth season of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, originally titled The Bullwinkle Show. It was broadcast on the NBC network during the 1963–1964 television season." I know you're not that old but there are reruns! Is that where the name came from?

Ryan said...

Wassamatta U.... yes and no. It was more in honor of Wassamatta U, a letterboxer extraordinaire that helps keep my websites running when I'm off in the woods hiking. He does have a W4F account that he doesn't really use anymore, but he's very active on with his Atlas Quest account.

And that is, indeed, the origin of where HE got his name. So that is the origin of the name I used, but indirectly....

Winnie R said...

Great bllog you have