CDT 2021: Day 159, Cosley Lake Campsite to Chief Mountain Border Station

There is a road, no simple highway

Gravity standing at the Canadian border

The campsite where Top O', Lone Wolf, Beer Goddess, Butters, and I stayed last night was situated not quite halfway across the length of beautiful Cosley Lake. I could not have wished for a nicer spot for my last night on the CDT. I will admit, however, I would have preferred to have a little less wind.

Top O' and I pitched our tents as close to some trees and shrubs as possible, hoping they would fence off some of the wind. They didn't seem to help much. My tent flapped and shook all night.

DateSaturday, September 18, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy and smoke with gusty winds; temperatures from mid-40s to mid-50s
Trail ConditionsMostly flat and easy with a modest climb in the last two miles
Today's Miles9.1
Trip Miles2359.9

I didn't sleep well, and the wind was certainly at fault for that. The excitement of knowing my hike was coming to an end this morning didn't help. Top O' said he also didn't get much sleep.

When it seemed like no more sleep was possible, I started packing. Top O' soon did as well. We wanted to get started early anyway because rain was in the forecast for later today.

Butters, Lone Wolf, and Beer Goddess weren't ready to go by the time we left, but they told us they wouldn't be far behind.

The sky at dawn

Top O' and I left shortly before dawn. The sky wasn't pitch black, but it was dark enough that we needed our headlamps to see the trail.

We started by going back in the direction we arrived yesterday, along the north shore of Cosley Lake. The first seven miles of the trail to Chief Mountain Border Station went over flat or gently rolling terrain.

After the first seven-tenths of a mile, which put us near the east end of the lake, Chief Mountain (9,080 feet) came into view. It stood silhouetted against the dawn sky, which by this time was starting to take on hues of yellow, orange, and violet.

Sunrise at Chief Mountain

As the sun rose, it came up directly behind the mountain.

The Blackfeet Indians call it Nínaiistáko, which means "Great Chief." The mountain stands at the border between the park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It has been a sacred place to Native Americans for hundreds of years.

The trail to the border

As the sky became brighter, I could tell this was a smokier day than yesterday.

The trail we followed wasn't as wide as most in Glacier. It was smooth, however. We walked briskly in the chilly morning.

Crossing the Belly River

We had gone nearly three miles by 7:35 a.m. That's when we crossed the Belly River on a suspension bridge built like most of the ones we've seen in the park. In a few weeks, a crew will come here and roll up the bridge to store it for the winter.

A ranger station stood a short distance from the other side of the river. It was established here in the earliest days of the national park. One of the first park rangers assigned to work in the Belly River Valley was Joe Cosley. Cosley Lake was named after him.

Cosley seemed like an ideal candidate to be a ranger. He had been a fur trapper, hunter, and guide in Montana since late 1889.

He was hired by Maj. William R. Logan, the first park's superintendent. Logan wanted rangers who knew this rugged territory. One of a ranger's jobs then was to track and arrest poachers. That didn't stop Cosley from poaching wildlife inside the park while on the job.

Cosley was fired when he was caught poaching in 1914 and was ordered to never return to the park. After a stint as a sharpshooter during World War I, he returned to the area and attempted to get hired at the tourist camp on Cosley Lake. Eventually, he returned to his old poaching ways and was arrested for it in 1929.

This time, he managed to skip bail with the help of friends and never returned to the Glacier area.

The meandering Belly River with a view of Bear Mountain

A trail junction was near the ranger cabin. We rejoined the Chief Mountain Alternate here, which was the route that started on Many Glacier Road.

The next four miles were as flat as the first three, with much of the way going along the Belly River. We didn't always see it because the river meandered while the trail followed a nearly straight line.

Every now and then, where the trail made a slight climb or there was an opening between trees, I could see Bear Mountain (8,841 feet). Canada was a short distance on the other side, but that wasn't the direction we were going. Our route today didn't have any mountains to climb.

Bear scat on the trail

We had only one minor climb, and that came in the last two miles. It went up 750 feet, which could hardly be called a steep ascent.

I never saw a grizzly bear in Glacier. The closest I came to one happened in the last mile of my hike. I had to walk around large piles of scat on the trail.

The words So Close written with sitcks

Top O' had gotten ahead of me but stopped to wait when he was within a quarter mile of the end. He wanted to make sure we finished together.

We found surprises for us in the last 50 feet of the trail before the parking lot at Chief Mountain Border Station. There were little messages made in sticks. One said "So Close," and another said "Canada," with arrows pointing north.

Closer still were five cans of beer. Jenna had placed these there for us, and she wrote our names on them with congratulatory messages.

Kim and Jenna make last-minute repairs

When we got to the parking lot, Jenna and Kim were making some last-minute repairs on the paper crowns Kim brought for Top O' and me. I had asked her to make them because it's a tradition to wear a crown when a hiker finishes the Triple Crown. Some thru-hikers pick up a Burger King crown on the way to the end.

Kim put her heart into the project, as I knew she would. The crowns she made were wonderfully decorated with a variety of hiking and camping stickers, plus the emblems of the AT, PCT, and CDT. She also added plastic greenery and flowers. The number 8000 was attached to the top with popsicle sticks to represent the total mileage of our three hikes. Admittedly, we didn't quite reach that number because of the alternates we took on this hike.

The numbers on the top required repairs because the wind was gusty. Jenna had a handy pull-out table in the back of her car, which Kim and she used to fix the crowns before Top O' and I put them on.

Kim also brought with her the "EVERY DAMN MILE" t-shirt that I wore at the end of the AT and PCT, and I put it on again. Its message was now more meaningful than ever.

Butters, Jenna, Beer Goddess, and Lone Wolf celebrate

Butters, Beer Goddess, and Lone Wolf arrived five or six minutes after us. We were all in a celebratory mood, but it was too early to call ourselves done. We still had one-tenth of a mile more to walk. We weren't officially CDT thru-hikers until we touched the border monument.

Walking to the border station

The final distance to the border was on a highway, which seemed fitting for the CDT. There was always another road walk to do on this trail.

As I do nearly all the time, I let the other hikers walk ahead. This time, however, there was a different purpose for that. I wanted to walk the final distance alone with Kim. She supported me unconditionally in all of my hikes. We finished the AT and PCT together, and this one also had to end that way.

It was a short walk, yet it was the culmination of a journey thousands of miles in the making.

Gravity, Butters, Lone Wolf, Beer Goddess, and Top O'

Gates blocked passage into Canada. Because of COVID-19 precautions still in place, the Chief Mountain Border Station was closed. There were no officers posted here for either country.

The monument that marked the border was small. Unlike those at the end of the other trails, there wasn't any sign or markings about the trail. It only identified the location as part of the international boundary.

It was a joyous time, with many photos taken, individually and as a group. Butters, Beer Goddess, and Lone Wolf had brought bottles of champagne. Top O' and I knew we didn't want to add that much weight to our packs, and pulled out the airline-sized bottles of Crown Royal whisky we bought on Day 142 to toast our finish.

Kim and Gravity toast with whisky

Although Kim was with me when I finished the AT and the PCT, this one was even more special for both of us. Unlike the others, it happened at the trail's terminus. That didn't happen on the AT, when I finished a section after hiking up Mt. Katahdin. Nor did it happen on the PCT, when I had to piece together the trail because of heavy snowfall in the Sierra.

The experience today was also exceptional because I was finishing with two others completing their Triple Crowns. We had much to celebrate.

Just Awesome and Gravity

The party continued when we stopped for lunch in St. Mary before returning to East Glacier Park.

When we pulled up to Looking Glass Hostel to drop off Top O', I looked across the lawn and realized Just Awesome was there. He had arrived there that day and was hanging some gear to dry on a line.

JA hadn't yet walked through Glacier and to the border. Kim and I talked about him in the last few weeks because I knew he wasn't far behind me. We agreed we should look for an opportunity to help him or provide some trail magic, and now we had a way to do that. We told him we would pick him up early tomorrow morning and drive him to the Two Medicine Backcountry Office for his camping reservations.

I had been helped countless ways on my hike. Helping another hiker was now a perfect way to end my hike.

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone
Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow


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