Yesterday's hike was short but was filled with eye-popping views of mountains, valleys, and lakes. Would Glacier National Park be capable of a repeat performance today?
Of course it would. There wasn't any doubt.
|Date||Wednesday, September 13, 2023|
|Weather||Variable cloudiness with a brief rain/snow shower; temperatures from the mid-40s to mid-60s|
|Trail Conditions||Well-maintained footpath with one long climb and descent|
If anything, the scenery was more astounding today. There were many more beautiful views because the entire day was spent in the park. About three miles of yesterday's ten-mile hike were outside the park's boundary, and those weren't nearly as scenic.
Top O' and I were able to sleep in today. We knew today's mileage was shorter than most of the days we've hiked lately. We tried to walk around 20 miles per day when we entered Montana. That plan worked well, and we got to Glacier in the time we hoped.
Those long mileage days are over now, however. Our hiking schedule was set when we made our camping reservations. The longest day for the rest of the way will only be 15 miles long.
Top O' and I weren't the only ones to sleep in. Everyone else at our campsite did too. We didn't see anyone when we packed our gear and prepared to leave.
Polecat stopped by our campsite just before we left. He was planning to hike a loop of his own choosing in the park. We thanked him for joining us and for all of the help he provided. Still, there was no way to adequately thank him for what he had done for us in the last month.
What's more, he was fun to have around. I will miss him, and I know Top O' will, too.
After Polecat left, Top O' and I began walking, but we didn't go north in the direction of the CDT. First, we headed to the backcountry office. That's where we started when we hiked to East Glacier Park yesterday after picking up our camping reservations.
When we returned last night, we didn't walk the distance between the office and our campsite. Now that we were heading in the other direction, we needed to first walk that gap to keep our footsteps connected. The distance to the office was only a half-mile, but it was important for us to walk it. We've kept an unbroken path for nearly 2,300 miles and weren't about to break it now with just 80 more to go.
We ran into Fraggles on the way. He was with a friend who planned to hike with him in the park. We also saw a couple we talked to yesterday while waiting to make our camping reservations. They hadn't been able to reserve the route they wanted, but they tried again today and succeeded.
As soon as we arrived at the backcountry office, we turned around to walk back through the campground. The route took us past Pray Lake, which is connected to Lower Two Medicine Lake by a short stream.
After the CDT left the campground, it crossed a bridge over Two Medicine Creek and turned to go up the Ptamakan Pass Trail. Top O' and I decided instead to follow the Dawson Pass Alternate.
Unlike many of the alternates we've chosen in the past, this one added miles instead of reducing them. It was also said to be the more difficult of the two routes because it included a longer climb on an exposed trail.
We opted for the alternate for two reasons. One was because of the comments we found in the Guthook app. Many hikers remarked on the beauty of this section.
The other reason for taking the Dawson Pass Alternate was we had the time. Even with the extra miles, we were hiking a shorter distance than we were used to.
The alternate took us along Lower Two Medicine Lake. Near the end, the trail began to climb away from the lake and up the shoulder of Rising Wolf Mountain. This was the start of a long climb that would lead to Dawson Pass.
Rising Wolf Mountain was named after Hugh Monroe, a Canadian trapper and guide. The Blackfeet Indians called him Rising Wolf when he became the first white man to live among them. He was given the name by Chief Lone Walker. It is said Monroe was called Rising Wolf because he got out of bed by crawling on his hands and knees.
Rising Wolf married Chief Lone Walker's daughter, Sinopah. Soon after their marriage, Rising Wolf ended his employment with the Hudson Bay Company and worked independently as a "free trapper."
The morning began with plenty of sunshine. By 10:30 a.m., thick clouds began to form. Still, the sky didn't become completely overcast. It was a constant flow of different formations, which were sometimes low enough to scrape across the tops of surrounding mountains.
A cone-shaped peak came into view on the climb. It looked like a church spire and was called Pumpelly Pillar. It was named after Raphael Pumpelly, a geologist who led a railroad survey team through this area in 1883.
Because of the trail's continuous ascent, there were several places to turn around and still see Lower Two Medicine Lake, which was now two miles behind me. I slowed down for occasional stops to enjoy the view and take photos.
Half lost in the surrounding beauty and half trying to stay aware of being in grizzly country, I was suddenly startled by a crunching noise on the side of the trail. Whipping my head around to the sound, I discovered it came from Top O'. He had stopped for a break and was eating a bag of chips.
Pressure Drop, Loverboi, and Cheeto Jackson passed us while we were stopped. Spamcake and Tobey stopped briefly to join us.
The trail took us near No Name Lake, where the terrain briefly eased from its continuous steep climb. The total ascent from Two Medicine Campground to Dawson Pass was 2,700 feet. The steepest part came in the last four miles of the 7.4 total miles to the top.
On the way up, I passed large escarpments that reminded me of the Chinese Wall. They were impressive, even if they weren't as long as the 12-mile-long wall in Bob Marshall Wilderness.
In the last mile before Dawson Pass, I looked back again when I had an expansive view of the Two Medicine area. Rising Wolf Mountain was on my left. Jutting out in the middle of the right side was Sinopah Mountain (8,271 feet), which was named after Rising Wolf's wife.
The final approach to the pass turned rugged. Rocks were scattered on the trail, and they slowed me down because they were sometimes loose. I tried to keep a steady pace, and for the time being, didn't fall far behind Top O'.
The pass's name comes from Thomas Dawson, who was a hunting guide for wealthy easterners during the early days of the park. He was half-Blackfeet Indian and was known to them as Inuxina, which is translated to mean Little Chief.
Top O' was nearly out of sight by the time I crossed the top of the pass. I made several more stops along the way, again not to catch my breath but to take photos and soak in the views.
I've hiked across many high mountain ranges, from the Smokies to the Whites, from the Sierras to the Cascades, and of course, the length of the Rocky Mountains. To my untrained eye, the mountains in Glacier are unique. They were formed and shaped in every way possible: by volcanoes, ancient oceans, geologic uplifts, and obviously glaciers.
Most of the mountains have well-defined strata of sedimentary rocks exposed by the grinding action of glaciers. They aren't smooth from erosion like the Appalachian Mountains.
I saw evidence of glacial carving everywhere I looked. The U-shaped valleys were wide, deep, and occasionally pockmarked by cirque basins and lakes. Most of the peaks jutted sharply to the sky.
The trail followed the top of a ridge that spanned from Finsch Peak to Mount Morgan. It would go to the left around Mount Morgan's peak, but before getting there, I looked over the right edge of the ridge. Oldman Lake was below in a large cirque at the end of one of those glacial valleys.
Across the cirque on an opposite ridge was Pitamakan Pass. If Top O' and I had followed the official CDT, we would have climbed to that pass from the valley on the right.
Pitamakan is a man's name in the Blackfeet Nation and translates to mean Running Eagle. But the namesake of the pass was a woman. She was a warrior in the early 1700s who led several successful war parties and was the only woman in the tribe's history to do that.
Rounding the other side of Mount Morgan, more impressive mountains came into view. The closest was Tinkham Mountain (8,442 feet). Oddly, the mountain's name honors a man who was lost when he crossed Pitamakan and Cut Bank passes. Lieutenant Abiel W. Tinkham was instructed to go to Marias Pass but made a wrong turn.
Nevertheless, Tinkham is recognized as the first white man to cross the Continental Divide in what is now Glacier National Park.
Darker, lower clouds were moving into the area as I continued around Mount Morgan.
As the trail approached the junction where I would rejoin the CDT, I met a solo hiker named Abigail. She told me she was a student at Smith College, and was making a quick trip in the park before returning to school.
Abigail asked me to take her photo while she stood on a rock jutting from the ridge. Then she asked if I wanted one, and I obliged, even though I was keeping one eye on the clouds. They continued to get darker, with fewer pockets of blue sky in between. There wasn't any lightning, but I still felt like a lightning rod while standing on the rock pedestal.
As I reached the trail junction, rainfall on me seemed certain. It was already falling nearby on Red Mountain (9,377 feet), which was on the other side of the valley I was about to enter. This sight didn't cause much alarm because there wasn't any thunder or lightning with the rain.
Moments later, I saw another downpour farther into the valley, and this storm appeared to be much larger. It looked white to me, not gray. I wondered if it included snow or ice, or if it looked that way because sunlight was hitting the falling precipitation.
It didn't take long before I was pelted by a light mix of rain and snow. That told me my first guess was correct.
I stopped to put on my rain gear, but almost as quickly as the storms appeared, the one over me disappeared. I didn't stop right away to take off my rain gear, however. The weather had turned breezy and chilly when the storm clouds came through.
As I turned to rejoin the CDT and make my way down from Pitamakan Pass, the clouds began to clear away, and bright sunshine appeared for the first time since early this morning. I stopped to remove my rain gear just before dropping below the treeline.
The trail went between two glacial lakes in the wide valley. The one on the left was called Seven Winds of the Lake. The right one was Pitamakan Lake. I was heading to Morning Star Lake, but couldn't see it yet.
On the way down the valley and beyond the two lakes, I caught a view of a cirque that was off to the side. Katoya Lake filled the basin below two un-named peaks.
There were numerous places like this where the National Park Service could have placed a campsite but didn't. I was grateful the park was managed conservatively to preserve its natural beauty, even if that policy made it harder to secure campsite reservations.
The lake was the source of North Fork Cut Bank Creek, and the trail led me to that stream about five minutes later. I then followed the trail along the creek, which was flowing into Morning Star Lake.
The trail crossed the creek once, and I stopped there to collect water. A comment in the Guthook app suggested doing this because collecting water from the lake wasn't as convenient.
The lake was just under a mile downstream from where I stopped to fill my water bottles. I arrived at the campsite near the shore of the lake at 5 p.m. Mountain goats were grazing on the steepest slope of the mountain on the other side of the lake.
Top O' had already scouted the available tenting areas at the campsite. Because he was the first hiker there, he was able to claim the best one for us.
The campsite was arranged like most backcountry sites in Glacier. Three spaces were set aside from the tenting areas. One was for cooking and eating, which was adjacent to an area for hanging food. The third space was where a privy stood. Trails connected each of these areas and were designed to discourage campers from trampling their own shortcuts between areas.
A couple arrived later and joined us when we ate dinner. His name was Paul, and she had the trail name T-bird. She got the name when she thru-hiked the AT in 2003. She also hiked most of the PCT in 2006 and 2007.
The day was as enjoyable as I expected. But after all the gorgeous scenery, changing weather, and the biggest climb and descent I'd made in weeks, I was ready to go to bed early.
Regretfully, my attempt to fall asleep right away was soon thwarted by loud banging noises coming from nearby. Some hikers arrived at camp after dark, and when each one went in and out of the privy, they slammed the door shut.
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, California sunlight
Sweet Calcutta rain
The song remains the same
Ooh, ooh, oh, oh