Friday, September 30, 2022

Day 152: The East Glacier Zero!

September 19: Today would be my first zero day since Debois, WY--36 days ago and two states back. For over a month, I've been hiking the CDT without a break. Some days were shorter than others, but every single day required some amount of hiking. My shortest day of hiking in the last 36 days was a little over 8 miles during one of my days in Yellowstone.

But today, I would take a zero day. For a couple of reasons. The main one was wanting to pick up my packages at the post office tomorrow, but perhaps a better reason was that the forecast for today was expected to be terrible. Rain, wind and possibly even snow at higher elevations. Not a great day for hiking, and I was perfectly happy to sit it out. However, after today, the weather forecast called for pretty decent weather the rest of the week. Not to mention that hanging out at the hostel only cost me $15/night--this zero day was very affordable.

All the CDT hikers going through East Glacier signed this page. (PNT hikers coming through also had a small portion in the lower-right corner they could sign, but their numbers are pretty small compared to the number of CDT hikers passing through.

I did, however, still have chores to do and the most important of them was getting myself a permit so I could legally hike through Glacier National Park. Just Awesome had a friend he had met on a previous trail, Granite, who had just finished his CDT thru-hike and Granite and Lady Granite planned to catch up with Just Awesome--who also happened to need a permit and arranged things so he could get a ride with them to the permitting office, and further arranged things so I could get a ride as well.

Which meant I needed to wake up early since Granite, Lady Granite and Just Awesome planned to meet up at 7:00am in time to be first in line for permits when the permitting office opened at 8:00am.

Just Awesome introduced me to Granite and Lady Granite, and we hopped in the car and were soon on the way to the backcountry ranger office.

We arrived before they opened, and kicked around waiting. The rain had stopped momentarily, so we waited outside for the doors to open at 8:00am.

There were two rangers to handle the permits, so Just Awesome and I each got our own ranger. Just Awesome wanted to follow the same path and schedule that Granite just completed, but the pace was a bit slower than I preferred so we arranged separate permits.

We both were required to watch a video about backcountry safety and the rules of the trail. I had seen it before--or at least something similar to it two years earlier when I hiked through the park when I started the Pacific Northwest Trail so there wasn't anything new or surprising for me.

That's Just Awesome, watching the video that we were required to watch before we'd be issued our permits.

We paid for our permits, then the rangers printed them and handed them over.

I liked my schedule for the most part. It wasn't totally want what I wanted. Tomorrow I'd do a pretty short 11-mile day, but that just meant I could take my time leaving town. And my last full day of hiking would require a long 26-mile stretch. Given how short the days were now, that would be a sunrise-to-sunset hike. I'd have preferred breaking it up into two days, but there weren't any nearby campsites available to do that. I'd live, though.

On the permit, they had written that the itinerary was not recommended--probably because of that 26-mile day. But the rangers knew were were thru-hikers and 26 miles wasn't a bit deal for us. =)

In any case, I officially had my permit, and I now knew the precise day I would finish: Friday--five days away. In five days, I'd reach the Canadian border and call it done. In five days, I could finally go home. Just Awesome, with his slower-paced schedule, would finish a couple of days after I did.

Afterwards, the other three wanted to get breakfast in St. Marys. I wasn't particularly excited about the idea because I had already eaten some cereal before we left East Glacier and wasn't hungry at all--not to mention that the town was in the wrong direction--but I joined along anyhow.

Upon arriving, however, we learned that the restaurant that they had wanted to go to wouldn't be open for another 1.5 hours. Argh! We looked through the gift shop nearby (which was open) before driving back to East Glacier. The drive was pretty, but it seemed like a huge waste of time overall.

After making it back to East Glacier, I rushed over to the laundromat to do some laundry. I never quite seemed to have enough time to do it yesterday while they were open, but I had time now. Timing was critical here. The laundromat was next door to Brownie's, and both were scheduled to close for the season today. They were owned by the same people, and the town was shutting down. Neither business would open their doors again until next year.

And, in fact, they were scheduled to close at 4:00pm. The last load of laundry was allowed an hour before at 3:00pm. If I didn't get my laundry started by 3:00pm, I'd have to wait until next year to do it here!

Brownies was scheduled to close for the season at 4:00pm, so anything you wanted to buy, you had to do it now or never! (Or at least not until next year.)

Anyhow, I got my laundry started with plenty of time to spare. I wandered back to Brownie's at 3:30pm to order a late lunch and early dinner. Since it closed at 4:00pm, I really couldn't come back any later!

I ordered a pizza and a Coke. With only a half-hour left before the store closed for the season, the shelves were mostly empty and a lot of food options were no longer available. Everything must go! Well, the non-perishable items seemed to mostly be in stock, but the perishable items were very limited.

While paying for my pizza and Coke, the lady behind the counter asked if I wanted one of the pastries for free. Anything they didn't sell in the next half hour was going to get thrown out anyhow. I was happy to help clear the store for her, and offered to take one of the cookies.

"Sure you don't want two of them?" she asked me.

"Well... okay..." I replied. "You twisted my arm." =)

Just Awesome shows off all the empty shelves at Brownies.

I went outside to wait for the pizza to be ready where Just Awesome was also waiting for his own pizza, and he looked longingly at my cookies. When I told him that I got them for free, he was a bit jealous. He went back into the store hoping to score a cookie for himself.

He came back out a few minutes with a cookie, but told me that he had to pay for it. I laughed.

"The trick," I told him, "was that you had to pretend not to be interested. When I didn't ask for or show any interest in the cookies, she tried to foist them off onto me. But you walk in asking about them, and she thinks she can sell them instead."

At least he enjoyed the cookie, even if he paid for his.

A short while later, our pizzas were ready and we sat at an outside table to eat them. At 4:00pm, the store closed for the season, and I took a photo of the sign in the window saying as such. There would be no more Brownie's visits while I was in town.

It's official, Brownies was now closed for the season. It happened right before my very eyes!

The whole town seemed like it was shutting down or soon would be. Many of the businesses already had signs up saying that they were closed for the season, and many of the others that were still operating I heard would be closing within the week. The place was starting to feel like a ghost town.

Later in the evening, I wandered over to the Glacier Park Lodge, a magnificent and historic building in its own right. I bought a postcard, a patch and a pin for my hat.

The interior of the Glacier Park Lodge was magnificent!

The rest of the evening I mostly spent with all the other hikers in the hostel, chatting away and having a great time. Life was good!

Although Brownies closed, the one store that was still open and would be all winter is the general store. So no worries, we won't be starving in town! Just that our options were becoming more limited.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Day 151: The Two Medicine Slackpack

September 18: While looking at maps the evening before and planning out the next section of my hike, I realized that I had an unexpected slackpacking opportunity. From East Glacier to Two Medicine, it was about 10 miles, and permits for Glacier NP could be acquired at Two Medicine. And I realized--I could therefore hike from here to Two Medicine, pick up a permit, then hitch a ride back to town until I could pick up my packages on Monday. It meant I'd only need one zero day instead of two!


Even better, tomorrow, Sunday, the weather was expected to be bad. Definitely a good day to take off! Which meant I should slackpack today.

The one kink in my plan, as I looked up permit information for Glacier, was that permits would be issued only a maximum of one day in advance of starting a trip. Since I didn't plan to start for two days, I couldn't get a permit today. I'd have to wait until tomorrow.

Well, at least that would give me something to do on Sunday, I suppose. I could hitch a ride to Two Medicine, then hitch a ride back into town. At least I wouldn't be hiking in the bad weather tomorrow.

I really liked the idea of not taking a zero day today when the weather was... well, the weather had problems, for sure, but rain and snow were not in the forecast. "Dangerously" strong winds, however, were most definitely in the forecast. As well as a heck of a lot of smoke from wildfires burning who-knows-where. But I could live with that.

So that's why, at about 8:30 in the morning, I found myself back on the trail and hiking. But my pack was very light--I would be returning to town at the end of the day and therefore didn't need much more than snacks to eat and some water. Perhaps a jacket if I got cold.

As I got above tree line, the wind was bad--perhaps the strongest wind gusts of any day on the trail so far. It knocked me over several times. The smoke was quite thick as well, thick enough to smell it in the air, and definitely enough to obscure otherwise phenomenal views along the way.

From this photo, you can't see that the wind was strong enough to knock a grown man over, but you can see a lot of the smoke in the sky that just seemed to get worse and worse throughout the morning.

It was also a fairly rugged day of hiking. Although I covered barely 10 miles for the day, my GPS recorded over 3,000 feet of elevation climb as well as another 3000 feet down. In total amounts, it wasn't much, but given the relatively short distance I covered, it was some of the steepest terrain of the trail. A perfect place to slackpack! =)

Near the top of one of the ridge lines, I found a credit card laying in the middle of the trail. It was an Amazon card, and surprisingly heavy, as if it were made out of metal instead of the usual plastic that my credit cards were made out of. It seemed like a weird choice for a thru-hiker--I'd imagine that a thru-hiker would prefer a lightweight credit card!

I didn't recognize the name on the card, but I didn't know the real names of most of the hikers on the trail. It looked like the card had only been out since that afternoon, and I knew Jazz Hands had left shortly ahead of me. Maybe it was his card? I wasn't sure how to contact him, though. In any case, I decided to pick it up and perhaps back at the hostel, someone might recognize the real name. Luna and Will might even recognize the name on the card if they had a record of the payment there. Additionally, almost all thru-hikers return to East Glacier after finishing the trail since it's pretty much required to go through on the way to anywhere else after getting off at the end of the trail. If it belonged to a thru-hiker, they'd probably wind up back in East Glacier within the week. I might be able to get this card back to the owner.

The first half of the hike, I saw absolutely nobody on the trail, but after passing a side trail to a scenic viewpoint a few miles from the end, I started passing a large number of day hikers from the park. They were climbing up a steep mountain and most of them looked exhausted and out of breath, but I often stopped to chat with them when they stopped to catch their breath as I was passing by.

One group said they could give me a ride back to East Glacier if I were still trying to hitch when they got back to the trailhead. That made me happy--there was a limit to how long I might have to hitch to get back to town! Probably not more than an hour or two. I hoped to find a ride sooner than that, but it was nice that I had this as a Plan B.

Eventually I made it down to the trailhead, and it only took me about 15 minutes to get a ride from two women who just finished finished their own hikes.

Back in town, I finally took a shower. I had arrived late enough the evening before that I never got around to it, but now in the middle of the day, most of the other hikers at the hostel were gone so I made use of the shower while I could.

Then I headed to Brownie's for lunch, where I ordered a sandwich, potato chips and a Coke.

Back at the hostel, I met a few of the other hikers there. The place was surprisingly busy with probably 10 or so hikers in all loitering around. Some of them had just finished the trail, reached the end, and were passing through East Glacier a second time, this time as a stopping point on their way home. The others were like me, still hiking toward the Canadian border.

One of the hikers fresh back from finishing the trail turned out to be from San Luis Obispo--my hometown in California. Wow! Way cool! His name was StormMocker, and he told me about first trying to thru-hike the CDT back in 1977. I couldn't imagine what the planning for something like that must have been like so long ago. Without Guthook, without GPSes, without decent guidebooks and resources to learn about thru-hiking. Of course, the operative word was tried. He didn't actually succeed, but it had been burning a hole in him ever since and he really wanted to finish the trail while he still had the health to do it, and by golly, he finally finished. He finished today! Congrats!

Later in the evening, I headed out with four hikers to Serranos Mexican Restaurant for dinner: Reality Check, Just Awesome, Click and StormMocker. We got there just as the restaurant opened for the evening and spent the next hour or two eating and chatting and laughing and having a good old time. I really missed people on the trail and was thoroughly enjoying my time with all the other hikers in town! It seemed odd that the trail could feel so empty but the trail towns so busy with other hikers.

Reality Check and Just Awesome couldn't sit still long enough for me to get a decent photo in the dark interior of Serranos!

I had already inquired among the other hikers if they recognized the name on the credit card they found, and when we sat down, I joked that they could order anything they wanted--that he hiker who lost their credit card was paying for our meal. I was totally joking--I had no intention of really using it, and they all knew that but laughed anyhow. =)

Then we headed back to the hostel where we eventually headed off to sleep for the night. Living the good life!

I did get a lead on the credit card I found, though. Someone said they thought it was a certain hiker with a given trailname, and he was actually hiking with his friend--both of whom were trying to hike the Triple Crown this year. I'm not talking about finishing a Triple Crown this year, but hiking the entire thing in one calendar year. That's the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail--all in a single year. Most people only do one of those trails in a single year, but a precious few want a bigger challenge and attempt to do all three in a single year. It's insane. Even by thru-hiker standards, it's totally insane.

Anyhow, I hadn't realized that's what he was doing. I met him briefly at my last campsite on the trail when they hiked by me in the dark, and the rumor was that they were planning to finish the CDT within a few days then hop over to the PCT and finish the Washington section of that trail. The rest of the Triple Crown they had already done.

In any case, I was finally able to find his account on Instagram, and the name on the account matched the one on the credit card. I found him! So I sent him a message to let me know that I found it and asked if he wanted me to throw it away or send it to him. I didn't expect a response quickly--he was in the backcountry probably without a signal. He might not even have realized he was missing his credit card yet, and wouldn't notice it was missing until he finished the trail and tried to pull it out to pay for something.

So I sent him a message, but I didn't expect an immediate response. I was a bit surprised when he finally did send me a message back a couple of weeks later. I figured he'd finish the trail in a few days and reply then, but it was two or three weeks later when I sent a second follow up message that I planned to throw it away unless I heard back otherwise, and a few days later he finally replied. He was already back on the PCT and had canceled the card and had a replacement sent after realizing he had lost it. So after carrying the card myself for two or three weeks, I finally just threw it away. At least he learned what had happened to it. =)

The views were awesome, but I imagined they would have been even more awesome if not for all the smoke in the air!

My ending point for the day was somewhere near the bottom of that lake in the distance.

These guys walked up to me like they expected me to feed them. They had definitely picked up some bad habits from earlier hikers!

This is the Two Medicine ranger station where I could get a permit to hike through Glacier NP, but since I didn't plan to camp until two nights later, I couldn't pick up a permit until tomorrow. I will return!!!!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Day 150: The East Glacier Run

September 17: It was another bitterly cold morning. My water bottles partially froze and frost covered everything. I so did not want to get up this morning! Or rather, I very much did not want to leave the confines of my sleeping bag.

The sunrise, however, turned out gorgeous. I eventually pulled myself up and ate breakfast and brushed my teeth afterwards, but I skipped flossing them like I usually did. My fingers were so cold and numb, I just couldn't work the floss. My fingers just didn't have the necessary dexterity. Argh! Stupid cold. I really needed to get this trail done.

The sunrise was gorgeous! Cold, but gorgeous!

I managed to get on the trail and hiking at 7:47am according to my clock. A quick and steady walk helped warm me up a bit, but it was still a cold morning and I wore my fleece jacket for the first part of the day.

The trail largely followed parallel to a creek, but it crossed the creek about a dozen times in total. I didn't count them all, but none of them had bridges and comments on Guthook reported some fairly harrowing crossings at times by the southbound hikers. However, a few of the northbound thru-hikers with more recent reports said that the water level was low enough that it was possible to rock hop across every single crossing without getting one's feet wet. Given how cold it was, that sounded like a swell idea to me!

Some of the crossings were a bit of a challenge or required navigating up or downstream to find a suitable place to cross, the I did manage to cross them all without ever getting my feet wet. Sweet!

So many water crossings, but I managed to keep my feet dry! Whew! =)

Early in the afternoon, I reached a campground at Highway 2. Originally, my plan had been to stop here, or at least somewhere nearby, and camp for the night. Just across the highway on the other side of Marias Pass lay the promised land: Glacier National Park. I did not, however, have a permit that allowed me to legally camp in the park. Not yet, at least.

The trail, on its way to East Glacier, eventually leaves the park and enters the Blackfoot reservation--which one also needs a permit to camp in. (I'll make a note here that I thought you needed a permit to camp in the reservation, but I later learned that you actually need a permit to hike through their reservation as well. I didn't know about that at the time, though. So while I refer to needing a permit to camp, I completely ignore the fact that I needed a permit to hike through--but only because I didn't realize it at the time.)

Which meant.... the next legal place where I knew I could camp was actually in the town of East Glacier itself. That was quite a distance away, however, and it was only Friday in any case. If I made it into town today, I'd have to take a double-zero to wait for the post office to open on Monday.

On the other hand, I really didn't really feel like stopping so early in the day. Eventually, I decided to push onward and hoped I'd reach town before dark and hope I could find cheap accommodations. If I didn't make it before dark, I guess I'd have to stealth camp illegally. Somewhere to be determined. I hoped it wouldn't come to that, however.

I did stop for a lunch break at the Summit Campground, however, used the outhouses and checked out the impressive obelisk marking the pass. Then I crossed Highway 2 and a railroad--the railroad actually predates the highway over this pass. The pass was discovered by the white men when explorers were looking for a route to get the railroad through the Rocky Mountains in this area.

The obelisk at Marias Pass

And just passed the railroad, I officially entered Glacier National Park. I couldn't help but smile at finally being in the park. The CDT ends in Glacier National Park! This was the last stretch of trail! I still had the entire park to go through before I reached the end, but still... the end never felt so close. I had sewed a patch of Glacier National Park on my hat--it was my destination the entire time. And finally, I was here! It was a sweet, sweet feeling of success. =)

I had only been in the park for about 3 minutes when I came across a moose standing on the trail. Wow! How cool! It's like he came out especially to greet me for my grand arrival!

I watched him for a bit, and he watched me, but eventually I grew bored of the watching and shooed him off and continued the hike.

This moose greeted me on my entrance to Glacier NP.

The weather forecast for the afternoon included an advisory about "dangerously high winds." The wind did, indeed, pick up strongly about the time I entered the park. I wouldn't say that they seemed especially dangerous, although even a light wind could blow down an occasional tree. That's always a risk. The bigger problem I had with the wind was the wind chill. Even in the sun, the air felt cold and the wind chill even worse! The entire day was just plain cold.

A couple of hours in, I took a short snack break during which Reality Check rounded the curve and caught up with me. I last saw her way back in Rawlins, WY, which seemed like a lifetime ago. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up with each other's adventures. She mentioned having reserved a cabin in East Glacier for $50/night or something, and I asked if I could sleep on the floor or something if I couldn't find my own accommodations in town and split the cost. She didn't have a problem with this, and I felt much better having a definite place where I could stay for the night without breaking any laws. =) But my plan was to find other accommodation and let Reality Check have her cabin all to herself.

She pushed onward, and I finished my snacks and followed a short time later. Reality Check hiked a lot faster than I did so I had no expectation that I'd see her again until after arriving in East Glacier.

I passed a couple of weekend backpackers heading in the other direction, but otherwise the trail was empty. Late in the day, I crossed into the Blackfoot reservation--at this point hiking illegally since I didn't have a permit but still oblivious to the fact thinking that I only needed a permit if I camped there.

In the reservation, I noticed a lot of bear poop. Not just a big pile of it, but it seemed like bear poop was everywhere! I must have passed dozens of separate poops the last couple of miles into town. I definitely did not want to camp anywhere near this area. My gut feeling was that the bears were particularly thick here because they'd try to go into town and score food in trash cans or on the street. I suspected these bears weren't especially fearful of people given the close proximity to town. And there were likely grizzly bears included in the bunch. Nope, I definitely had no intention of camping in this area after seeing all that bear poop.

So much bear poop on the way into East Glacier. It was everywhere!

I reached town very close to sunset and headed out to the Looking Glass. It used to be a restaurant but turned into a hostel this hiking season and hikers could camp inside the old restaurant for a mere $15/night. It was easy enough to fit a dozen or more hikers as well. Plenty of room for everyone!

So that's what I wound up doing. And since the post office didn't open until Monday and I therefore had two more nights that I wanted to stay in town, the low-low price of $15/night was absolutely awesome. Safe from the elements! Safe from the cold! An enormous, industrial kitchen to cook! It was a pretty nice setup.

The owners, Luna and Will, were incredibly friendly and welcoming and shared all sorts of interesting stories about the hikers who came through behind us. They seemed to really enjoy their hiker clientele as well. I had arrived so late, however, that I didn't spend much time chatting with them this evening. I'd definitely get to know them better over the next few days, though! =)

In hindsight, I realized that if I hitched a ride from Marias Pass into town, I could have arrived in time to pick up my laptop from the post office. Argh! That would have been an awesome choice as well! I could have hitched a ride back tomorrow then slackpacked the distance from Marias Pass into East Glacier. Now I was stuck in town for two zeros days without a laptop. *sigh* So I was a little disappointed for not thinking of that alternative option earlier.

My home for the night... actually, the next few nights.

I took a short lunch break at a campsite at Summit Campground, just off Highway 2.

Crossing the last railroad tracks of the trail....

I guess you don't have to register here unless you come in the winter?

Hello, Glacier NP!

I left a few leaf people faces on the trail for those behind me to enjoy. =)

Yes, I suppose it is an open range....

Friday, September 23, 2022

Day 149: Music on the Trail

September 16: The wind finally died down during the night, and except for the lightest of sprinkles that lasted a few minutes, rain turned out not to be an issue either.

But the morning was bitterly, bitterly cold. I was surprised, however, when I looked out from under my tarp and saw actual snowflakes falling! It was snowing! It was very light and short in duration, but they were honest-to-goodness snowflakes! Absolutely none of it stuck so it wouldn't be a problem, but it was definitely a reminder that the seasons were changing and I really needed to get this trail done--and the sooner, the better.

Knowing all the hunters prowling around the area, I decided to play music on my smartphone out loud for most of the day. Let them know I'm coming and hopefully none of them would mistake me for an elk and start shooting. If it warned a grizzly bear that I was rounding a corner, that was a perk too. No reason to scare a bear by accident! But mostly, I wanted to make sure the hunters nearby knew it was a person walking down the trail. My pack was bright with colors--which, in fact, was the main reason I always sewed my packs with bright colors--but that was the only gear I really had that stuck out to say, "Hey, don't shoot! I'm a hiker!"

But I wound up never seeing any hunters at all on the trail the entire day. In fact, I saw absolutely nobody the entire day. Since hunting season started yesterday, I theorized that I saw so many hunters because they were all heading into the backcountry all at once, but now they were already in the backcountry and probably hiding, waiting for their shot at an elk.

I did pass one campsite with a few horses nearby which I assumed belonged to a hunting party, but the campsite was empty of people. They were definitely around somewhere....

The day was a largely easy day of hiking. The burn areas were ugly, but at least they provided nice views. Not much to report, really--so I played my music aloud all day long and enjoyed the walk.

By the end of the day, I decided to set up camp need Woods Creek--away from burned trees. There was a single living tree nearby, and the ground was flat (albeit a little rocky for someone without a pad to sleep on), and--much to my surprise--I wound up getting a cell phone signal from the location as well! It was the first hint of a signal I had gotten since leaving Augustus several days before.

My campsite for the night was on this rocky patch that let me camp somewhere without a lot of dead, standing trees nearby. (There are quite a few live trees in the background of this photo, but there are dead trees just behind them that could easily fall and hit me if I tried camping closer to those.)

So much of the rest of the evening I spent catching up on emails and messages. My campsite was located in plain view of the setting sun which allowed me to soak up its warmth until the very last minute before sunset. And I needed the warmth. The day never really warmed up. Even in the middle of the afternoon at the hottest time of the day, it was still quite cold in the shady areas so all my rest breaks were in the sun.

Once the sun set, however, the temperature plummeted and I stopped using my phone. My hands were just too cold to make effective use of it, so I went to watching Netflix videos and reading my Kindle for the rest of the evening.

Remember these guys from the PNT? No, whoever did those on the PNT isn't ahead of me on the CDT, but I remembered them from the PNT and thought I'd plant my own leaf-people on the trail for the hikers behind me to enjoy. =)