Accept brutality. A phrase often used to describe the Continental Divide Trail, the longest and most remote of the United States’ long-distance trails from Canada to Mexico. And, finally, my turn has come to embrace the brutality of this trail.
Or at least mosquitoes. It’s buggy, hot and humid when I leave the Canadian border for Glacier National Park in northern Montana. And incredibly beautiful. Here is the Rockies in all their glory. After a hitch from East Glacier Park Village that took me and Al, my Pacific Crest Trail hiking partner, down a dirt road in the wrong direction, it resulted in a Native American offering ceremony wishing us a safe journey. . We finally arrive and are ready to go.
Glacier National Park
It doesn’t take long before this park completely hit me. Jagged mountains loom all around me and waterfalls from melting snow from snow-capped peaks fall from the huge mountain walls. Calm lakes and roaring rivers with clear blue waters invite me to both bathe and soak my feet and legs in the icy water after a day of hiking. I find myself taking photo after photo and marveling at this magnificent landscape.
Glacier National was established in 1910 and at the time had more than 100 glaciers. Since then, the glaciers have shrunk and by 2015 there were only 26 active glaciers left. And although we walk in a park called Glacier, the trail does not take us through real glaciers.
Our permit and route for the majority of our days in the park has short mileage days, averaging around 15 miles / 25 km, and we’re assigned to specific campgrounds where we need to stay overnight. Our first night in the park, we spend alone at the campsite. And although we had to go four miles off trail the first day (only to go back that four miles the next morning), bushwack and deal with a ton of mosquitoes, the view of the lake is pure magic. . With an easy 15 mile hike and great views at the end of the day, the trail is off to a good start.
Although we are late beginners heading south, it doesn’t take long to find good company with other hikers; Darwin on the Trail, Geared Up, Bopit, Punisher, Heaven, and Scoops all stay at the same campgrounds we do and we meet them on our hike. On my train ride from Chicago to Montana I spotted Bopit and Punisher and it turns out they’ve been on the trail for over a year hiking PCT, AT, ECT, Arizona, and Florida before heading out. do the CDT (that’s some serious track legs and tan lines right there !!). We were also fortunate to have the same start date as Darwin on the trail, known to most in the backpacking community, and his hiking buddy Geared Up who is only a small part of the CDT only to leave and climb Kilimanjaro in a few weeks. All in all, it feels good to be back in the company of other hikers and a brief part of their big adventures.
Grizzly bear country
The trail itself is good for most parts but like Croatia some stretches have a lot of vegetation and overgrowth. Other parts like the Piegan Pass are absolutely fabulous and I enjoy every step. But it is also grizzly bear country and encounters with bears are a serious concern. Hanging up food and other smelly items, wearing bear spray at all times, and making noise as you go are all precautions we take to reduce the risk of encounters. And so I find myself walking around clapping my hands and constantly shouting “Deeeoooo” (apparently that’s the magic word used in the Yukon, Canada to scare away grizzly bears). Hiking here definitely keeps me on my toes and I try to make sure I am aware of my surroundings at all times.
Grizzly bears will be a concern throughout Wyoming and so in the end I’m sure my hands will be sore from all the clapping and my voice will almost be gone after yelling “Deeeooo” the whole time. But so far it’s been fine, and to complete the Glacier experience, we’re ending it with an absolutely amazing dinner at Turtleman in East Glacier. And while I’m sure this trail will bring me to my knees somehow, right now I’m feeling good about my mind and body – and ready to tackle the next section.
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