Lower Two Medicine Lake and Rising Wolf Mountain in Glacier National Park

But 'til you get there yourself, you never really know

Day 153, Two Medicine Campground to East Glacier Park

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Until two days ago, I had never been to Glacier National Park. Even then, I didn't see much of the park. We drove to Two Medicine Campground, learned we were too early to reserve campsites, and left.

Except for the little I saw of the park on that trip, all that I knew of the area was based only on a few pictures and videos I'd seen. These weren't enough to prepare me for what was to come.

Weather Varialble cloudiness; temperatures from the mid-40s to upper-60s
Trail Conditions Long climb and descent; start and finish with short road walks
Today's Miles 10.7 miles
Trip Miles 2,281.8 miles

Top O' and I worked out an efficient way to get started with our hike in the park. Once again, Polecat was there to help. He drove us to Two Medicine Campground to get our camping permit this morning. We then slackpacked ten miles of the trail back to East Glacier Park before returning to Two Medicine for the night.

Today started early and foggy. We had to get up at 4:30 a.m. for an hour-long drive. We wanted to arrive at Two Medicine an hour before the backcountry office opened to get near the front of the line. Reservations were made on a first-come first-served basis, and several hikers were usually there each morning before the office opened.

Hikers wait for the backcountry camping office to open

After stopping by Looking Glass Basecamp to pick up Thirteen and El Dorado, we continued to Two Medicine Campground and arrived at 7 a.m.

Butters and Beer Goddess were already there when we pulled up to the backcountry office. They were first in line. Guy Number 5 and Fraggles, plus a few others also got in line.

It was a cold morning. Butters and Beer Goddess pulled out their sleeping bags to stay warm while waiting for the office to open at 8 a.m.

Orange sunlight on Spot Mountain

Spot Mountain stood nearby. As the sun rose, the mountain's massive rock exposure took on an orange glow from the rising sun.

Hikers stare at a mountain to watch goats

If this view wasn't spectacular enough, we soon realized we could see tiny white dots moving around. Mountain goats were clinging to the mountainside, grazing for breakfast as only they can do.

Beer Goddess and Butters make their camping reservations

When park rangers opened the office, the reservation process was slow. They limited the number of people inside because of COVID-19 protocols. Their antiquated computer system also caused delays.

After Butters and Beer Goddess had their permit in hand, they shared their schedule with us. It matched what we hoped to reserve.

By the time it was our turn, Top O' and I couldn't reserve all of the same sites. Still, it was a good route that didn't have any long, difficult days. The distances are between 13 and 15 miles each day, and we will finish with Butters and Beer Goddess. Lone Wolf will also be hiking with them.

In the meantime, Polecat won't be hiking with us. He wanted to hike a few days on a shorter route through the park before he headed home.

Top O' watches a bear safety video

Everyone making backcountry camping reservations in Glacier National Park was required to watch a 15-minute video on bear safety. Although we already knew most of the information presented, it was a good reminder about taking the dangers seriously.

I had not heard before one tip the video discussed for using bear spray when a bear charges you. The video explained you should spray it toward the ground in front of the bear. You don't want to aim at the bear's face because there's a chance the pepper spray will blow back into your face.

Top O' leaves Two Medicine Campground

We were finally ready to begin hiking at 9 a.m. With some of our gear left behind in Polecat's truck, we started from the campground with lightened packs.

The road out of Two Medicine Campground

The route going southbound started with a road walk. This surprised me because it seemed like a trail could have been constructed here without trouble. There wasn't much of a shoulder to walk on either.

Then again, I've become used to road walking on this hike. At least there was almost no traffic, and the distance was only two-tenths of a mile.

Top O' walks among lodgepole pine trees

After turning at a trailhead, the trail began to climb. At first, it was a gentle ascent through a lodgepole pine forest. There weren't any views for the first hour.

Lower Two Medicine Lake and Rising Wolf Mountain

The trail veered on the way up to begin following Appistoki Creek toward Mount Henry. The route for the CDT didn't go to the mountain's top, however.

There was a side trail to Appistoki Falls along the way. I turned to see the waterfall but soon realized getting a view of it was a lot of trouble. It didn't seem worth the effort, so I returned to the trail.

Lower Two Medicine Lake and the land around the campground were now coming into view.

The trail makes a switchback up a mountain slope

The trail left the creek soon after passing the side trail to the falls. From there, the climb became much steeper and began a series of switchbacks. A half-mile farther, I was above the treeline where the views were unobstructed.

The wind was gusty and colder by this time.

Lower Two Medicine Lake and Rising Wolf Mountain

I began to meet some northbound thru-hikers on the section above the trees. Surprisingly, I had not met most of them before. We didn't stop for idle chit-chat because of the frigid wind.

At the last of the switchbacks, the trail provided a magnificent view of Lower Two Medicine Lake and Rising Wolf Mountain (9,513 feet), which rose from the lake's north shore. It is the highest mountain in this part of the national park.

Blackfeet Indians called this area Na-too-too-kase, which means Place of Two Medicine Lodges. This was sacred land to them.

The Blackfeet described the mountains that include Glacier National Park as the "Backbone of the World." It was easy to wonder if that sentiment came from standing where I was as I crossed the open, wind-swept trail.

Barren slopes above the treeline

After the switchbacks, the trail crossed a barren ridge, and a mountain peak came into view. It was called Scenic Point.

I was grateful for a ridge to my right, which made the wind less gusty than it had been on the climb.

Raven and Freebird

Halfway across the barren mountaintop, I came upon Raven and Freebird. They were going northbound.

We stopped to talk because conditions weren't as blustery here. They told me they were heading to a finish at Waterton Lakes. That's one of two spots on the Canadian border where CDT thru-hikers traditionally end their hike.

Top O' and I planned to end our hike at a border station called Chief Mountain. We chose that terminus when we made our camping reservations this morning because it was the only one where Kim could meet us. Getting to Waterton Lakes by car would require her to drive into Canada, but we can't walk across the border because COVID-19 restrictions are still in place.

Freebird, Raven, and I knew we wouldn't see each other again before reaching Canada because of our different destinations, and we wished each other well for a successful finish. I also congratulated Freebird on the completion of his third Triple Crown. It's a remarkable feat.

Alpine table

The trail rose to the top of the ridge, which was a broad alpine table. Without a slope to my right now, the wind was stronger, but the temperature wasn't as chilly.

Scenic Point was at the end of the table, but instead of heading that way, the trail went around the south side.

The sky was ever-changing this morning. It was nearly clear at first, then a light overcast moved in. By the time I got to the top of the ridge, a thick, dark band of clouds was overhead.

Seeing this, I didn't expect any rainfall, however. I could also see lighter clouds heading in my direction.

Descending from Scenic Point

After rounding Scenic Point at an elevation of 7,400 feet, the trail turned to start a long descent. Stretching before me was the front range, where most of the land is owned by the Blackfeet Nation. Their reservation spreads across 3,000 square miles, making it twice the size of Glacier National Park and larger than the state of Delaware.

The land that is now the Two Medicine area of the park once belonged to the Blackfeet. But in the late 1800s, they were impoverished, and many suffered from malnutrition. The bison they relied on for food were being slaughtered for sport by tourists.

In desperation, the Blackfeet agreed to sell to the U.S. government a large part of its reservation. Much like other treaties and transactions Native Americans have made, the government reneged on the agreed-upon price of $3 million and paid $1.5 million.

The land was thought to have rich veins of copper ore, and that's why the government agreed to buy it from the Blackfeet. After prospectors determined the amount of copper in the mountains was not as great as first hoped, the land was included in a plan to create a national park.

President William Howard Taft signed a bill to establish Glacier National Park on May 11, 1910.

Doggone sits in his chair

Top O' stopped for lunch at Fortymile Creek, which was 1,350 feet down and 1.8 miles from the top. I caught up to him there, and soon afterward, Doggone arrived.

Today was Doggone's last day of hiking, so naturally he was in a celebratory mood. He would be done when he got back to Looking Glass Basecamp.

I laughed when he pulled out his chair from his backpack. It was the same chair he sat in when we hiked together on Day 1 out of Crazy Cook.

A steep climb out of Fortymile Creek

To leave the creek, we had a short but steep climb. I quickly fell behind Top O' and Doggone while going up and didn't see them again until I arrived in East Glacier Park.

Looking back to Scenic Point

A much gentler descent began after the short climb, which crossed a grassy slope down to the park's boundary. Just before leaving the park, I turned back to take another look at Scenic Point and the ridge I crossed earlier.

East Glacier Park, Montana

From the boundary, another 3.2 miles remained to walk before I reached the outskirts of East Glacier Park. I arrived at Looking Glass Basecamp at 3 p.m.

Polecat met Top O' and me there. We said hello to more hikers who arrived recently, then drove back to Two Medicine Campground. Polecat wasn't able to camp with us because our site was only for cyclists and walk-in hikers. He camped in a spot in another section of the large campground.

Top O' and I were at the site a long time by ourselves and wondered if we would be the only ones there tonight. Then Pressure Drop arrived at 8:30 p.m. Cheeto Jackson, Tobey, Spench, Spamcake, and Loverboi trickled in after sunset. They had hiked northbound from East Glacier Park.

The expectations I had about Glacier National Park's scenery were exceeded on my first day of hiking. I already understood why people describe it so effusively. Now I can't think of a better place to finish my hike.

With camping reservations set for the rest of my time in the park, I know where I will be each day and when I will finish. I will reach the Canadian border in six more days.

Eighty more miles of gorgeous scenery and treasured memories are yet to come.

People will tell you where they've gone
They'll tell you where to go
But 'til you get there yourself, you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia, it was just a false alarm

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