CDT 2021: Day 156, Red Eagle Lake Head Campsite to Reynolds Creek Campsite

And the wind, it cries "Mary"

St. Mary Lake

Except for cold, gusty winds at Triple Divide Pass, yesterday's weather was pleasant. There was plenty of sunshine.

When I looked at the forecast, I knew there was a chance of rain today, though it was said to be under 50 percent. The high and low temperatures were expected to be the same as yesterday.

DateThursday, September 16, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy with occasional light rain; temperatures from mid-40s to mid-50s
Trail ConditionsSometimes overgrown with a few blowdowns
Today's Miles12.6
Trip Miles2320.9

A noticeable shift in the weather happened just before midnight. The wind picked up and stayed gusty all night. Rain started to fall and continued off and on until early morning.

I was glad for the wind because it dried my tent by morning. Top O' had a less positive opinion of it. A wind gust pulled out one of his tent stakes at 3 a.m., and the whole tent blew over on top of him.

Sunrise at Red Eagle Lake

That put him in an understandably foul mood, and he was already preparing to leave when I woke up. I didn't leave the campsite until 8 a.m.

Red Eagle Mountain

Last night's rain and most of the clouds that came with it were gone by then, but the wind remained. It was whipping up waves on Red Eagle Lake, which stretched along the first mile of the trail.

The sun was only high enough to hit the top half of Red Eagle Mountain (8,881 feet) as I walked by.

North end of Red Eagle Lake

I didn't see anyone when I walked past the Red Eagle Lake Foot Campsite. That's where Thirteen, El Dorado, Guy Number 5, Fraggles, Beer Goddess, Lone Wolf, and Butters had camped last night.

There were fewer trees on the north end of the lake than where we camped on the south end. They must have had a rougher time with the wind than Top O' and I did.

Fallen tree across the trail

The trail went through another stand of dead trees after it turned away from the lake. One tree lying across the trail was snapped off at the base and looked as if it toppled over last night or this morning. With the way the wind was blowing, this seemed likely.

Sticks laid across the trail to look like an arrow

After walking a couple of miles, I came upon some sticks lying on the trail. They appeared to be intentionally arranged to point like an arrow.

Some comments posted in the Guthook app suggested going cross-country to avoid a section of trail that continued north and crossed Red Eagle Creek on a bridge, then hooked back. The shortcut saved more than a mile but required fording the creek.

Top O' has left me so many directional messages on our hike that I figured the arrow was another message from him. It was placed about where the shortcut would start, and I guessed he went that way.

I didn't want to fall too far behind him, so I decided to go that way too.

Red Eagle Creek

Bushwhacking across to rejoin the trail wasn't difficult. However, tall grass kept me from walking as fast as I could on the trail.

When I arrived at the creek, I searched for a way to cross it without getting my feet wet. There wasn't one, so I had to ford across in water up to my knees.

On the trail again

Using the GPS on the app, I found the trail on the other side without much trouble. It took me 15 minutes to get there.

The shortcut saved me about 30 minutes of walking. Was this cheating? Not on the make-your-own-adventure CDT. So long as I kept connected footsteps, it was all good.

Overgrown trail

Back on the trail, I climbed a short rise where St. Mary Lake should have come into view near the top. That was impossible, however, because the trail was overgrown. I could barely see the trail, let alone any distant views.

A view of St. Mary Lake

I had to keep walking for a couple more minutes before I made it through the thick vegetation. Once I was back in an area of dead trees, I could see the lake.

I couldn't see the small village of St. Mary, but I knew it was on the east end of the lake. Because I already figured out yesterday that cell service was available from that direction, I decided to look up the weather forecast again. I guessed this would be the last time I could do that until after I finished on Saturday.

What I was most concerned about now was the forecast for that day, and it wasn't looking as favorable as I saw yesterday. Rain was expected late Saturday morning or early afternoon.

Seeing the forecast, I called Kim and asked her to move the time she picked us up at Chief Mountain to 11 a.m. Top O' and I might need to get an earlier start, but I figured we could get to the border by then. The distance there from our last campsite was just nine miles.

Kim said she could be there. She was flying into Kalispell on Friday, and the drive from her hotel in West Glacier to Chief Mountain was about two hours.

Talking to her about these details was exciting. The end of this hike felt closer than ever.

Lone Wolf and Top O'

Moments after I got off the phone, I was surprised to see Top O' and Lone Wolf walk up. I still thought I was behind him.

They told me they decided against taking the shortcut because they didn’t want to get their feet wet.

St. Mary Lake

We didn't walk far before the trail began to follow along the lakeshore. The wind was blowing hard across St. Mary Lake in a west-to-east direction.

St. Mary is 9.9 miles long and the second-largest lake in Glacier National Park. It is up to 300 feet deep.

St. Mary Lake

Even if you haven't been to Glacier National Park, you might have seen the lake. It is featured in the long opening credits of the film The Shining.

Coincidentally, this is the second location I've walked near that was used in Stanley Kubrick's classic film. During my thru-hike of the PCT in 2019, I ate breakfast at Timberline Lodge, which was also used in the film.

White caps on St. Mary Lake

I was walking against the wind, but it was only noticeable where the trail was closest to the lake or went through dead trees. White caps on the lake left no doubt the wind was blowing hard.

We stopped for a break at 10:30 a.m. and lunch at noon. After that, I didn't see Top O' and Lone Wolf until I arrived at the campsite. I never saw Beer Goddess and Butters, but they were also scheduled to camp with us at Reynolds Creek Campsite.

Deep blue water on St. Mary Lake

By 1 p.m., the threat of rain seemed to be gone. Wide swaths of the sky were clear, and the sun was shining brightly. As I walked toward the west end of the lake, the water took a bright, tropical hue.

My view of the sky was deceptive, however. I couldn't yet see dark clouds that were about to move in.

Virginia Falls

The trail left the lakeshore and entered an area that hadn't been burnt in a fire. Even with the green trees, I could see enough of the sky to tell that rain was on the way. I stopped to put on my rain gear just in time before the rain started to fall. It wasn’t heavy and didn't last long.

The rain had mostly stopped by the time I arrived at Virginia Falls. The tallest part of the falls was about 50 feet high, with some smaller cascades nearby.

The falls were less than two miles from Going-to-the-Sun Road. That made getting here easy for day hikers. I saw many tourists when I arrived at the falls. Some stopped me to ask questions about my hike.

St. Mary Falls

About a mile farther, I came to another set of falls visited by many tourists. It was called St. Mary Falls. There were three drops here, though one couldn't be seen well from the trail.

The water pouring into the bottom pool had the same deep blue tint as the west end of St. Mary Lake, which is where this water was going.

An area burned in the Reynolds Fire

I successfully ran the gauntlet of tourists and found where the CDT made a turn to follow the Piegan Trail. The last mile of the day was on this trail, which went through another burn area.

The Reynolds Creek Fire started in July 2015. It spread to burn more than 4,800 acres, including the north side of Going-to-the-Sun Road. The wildfire threatened several park facilities before firefighters got it under control.

A footbridge across Reynolds Creek

A footbridge crossed Reynolds Creek a short distance before our campsite. It was constructed like the two I walked over yesterday. The suspension style of these bridges is common in Glacier National Park. Park service crews dismantle and store them each winter.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the area surrounding the campsite had been spared from the fire. Fire investigators say it started near here.

When I arrived at 4:15 p.m., I didn't waste much time setting up my tent and getting water from the creek. I was hungry and wanted to eat dinner soon. I also didn't trust the sky. It had remained overcast after the afternoon rain shower. I guessed more rain was on the way.

I was in my tent by 6:15, and rain started falling soon after that.

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces
Of yesterday's life
Somewhere, a queen is weeping
Somewhere, a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries "Mary"


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.