Friday, July 23, 2010

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

There is no good route to get from Vancouver Canada to Glacier National Park. Well, what I mean is, there is no direct route that will not make me car sick. Okay, in truth, I don't throw up or anything like that. I just get very woozy and really tired of flying back and forth from one arm rest to the other as our ridiculously top-heavy van goes careening out of control (of course Jeremy thinks that we are traveling at perfectly normal speeds) down the mountain.

Our choices were to follow highway 3 along the southern border of Canada or highway 20 across Washington, both zig-zaggy mountain roads the whole way. In the end, we chose to cross the border back into Washington because it seemed as though gas, food, and lodging were a bit less pricey in the US. As it turned out, I was glad we did. The road was actually not too bad and we passed through the Cascade mountain range and Cascade National Park along the way, which were just beautiful. I don't think we technically went into the park because the road passes between the northern part of the park and the southern part. We did stay in a really nice (and cheap) national forest campsite that was right on a river with a nice and easy trail that we could mountain bike on. We also passed through the pan-handle of Idaho, a new state for both of us.

Our plan was that when we got to Glacier, we would try to secure a back-country permit and do some more backpacking in the park. The only stipulation was that it had to be the type of hiking that did not force me to climb a mountain for an entire day at a time. After our back-country experience in Yosemite, I had a new plan for successful backpacking. I would 1) wear water-proof shoes, 2) get hiking poles to protect my almost-thirty-year-old hips and knees 3) request a route that was both scenic and not too strenuous. Jeremy was convinced that if we are in the middle of these huge mountains, we would have to hike up them to go anywhere, but I was holding out hope that we could hike in a valley somewhere. I love the valleys. So, we headed into the back-country permit office and luckily, spoke with a friendly older gentleman who seemed to understand the situation. I told him what I was looking for and he had two suggestions for us that might fit our needs. We picked a hike that would follow a river a majority of the way and then pass by two different lakes. We were warned that the beginning of the trail has a 700 ft elevation change, but the rest should be fairly mild hiking. It seemed like a plan we could both deal with. Our trip was not supposed to start until the next morning, but we had entered the park from the west, and our trail head was at the very north-east corner of the park. That meant we had a ways to travel across the park and still needed to find a place to stay for the night.

There is only one main road that runs through Glacier. It is called "Going to the Sun Road." Just driving through the park, without ever leaving your car or the main road, you can see some of the most beautiful mountain scenery anywhere. You might also see some really interesting people if you're lucky. We had to stop several times for road construction and people would climb out of their cars to stretch, or take pictures, or whatever. There was one older couple (when I say older…I just mean older than maybe late fifties…I don't really know) who were particularly interesting to watch. Every time we stopped, the woman, who was driving (and had actually passed several cars along the steep curvy road, including us) kept getting out of the car to do all sorts of stretches and calisthenics. She even ran around her car about four times. I'm not even joking. Like a Chinese fire drill all by herself. I think that was about the time that her husband, who did not stretch and seemed to have very bad knees, walked about 15ft. down the hill from our van to relieve himself. He may have just needed a moment away from his high strung wife…who knows. Then, there was also this girl who seemed to be somewhere in her early adolescence and working hard to stand out in the world. She was literally hanging out the window of her car for the entire trip yelling at the top of her lungs and waving at every single car that passed by. All in all, a very entertaining road to drive.

By the time we actually made it across the park, all of the park camp grounds were full, so we found a KOA outside the park. Now, KOA is usually outside our budget, but we made an exception and lounged by their pool for a while and actually had real stand-up showers. It was kinda nice.

Our first day of hiking was supposed to be a 10 mile hike so I really wanted to be able to start early and take my time. Ten miles with a pack on is no walk in the park for me. Jeremy, on the other hand, has the longest legs that God ever created and has to walk a consciously slow pace for me to keep up. It's really a perpetual state of me breathing too hard and Jeremy standing around waiting and looking bored…you get the picture.

In the morning we got up early and set out for the north-east corner of the park. We were technically outside the park, and we were very surprised to see that basically as soon as you leave the park's eastern boundary the landscape changes from majestic snow/ice capped mountains to a rolling plain. The mountains literally just jut up out of nowhere if you are coming from the east. Along the way to the trail head we had to be a bit cautious as there were range cattle just grazing wherever they pleased. They were all over the road. It was funny, but a little hazardous.

When we found our trail-head, just a stones throw from the border crossing, we got all our gear ready and the bikes put away in the van. I put on my water-proof boots, got out my new hiking poles, used the bathroom one last time, and we were off. We walked about 100ft down the trail and the mosquitoes just kept getting thicker and thicker with every step. It was very quickly a swatting frenzy, my poles were doing me no good because they were flying everywhere as I tried to keep the bugs from eating me alive. Just when I thought I would go crazy, Jeremy said we were going to have to turn around and look for some bug spray. I was so relieved. I didn't want to be the one to turn back, but it was seriously out of control.

We asked around in the parking lot if anyone had any bug spray and we checked if there was some sort of duty free shop at the border, but no luck. So, we got back in the van and headed the 20 miles back to where we started to look for bug spray. By the time we actually got going on the trail it was already about 10:30, but the mosquito situation was a lot better.

Our first day of hiking was a long day. We were both pretty tired by the end, but it was beautiful the whole way. We were in a valley near a river for most of the trip and the landscape varied between pine forest and meadows that were covered in beautiful wildflowers. Our first night of camping we stayed at Glenn Lake. Glacier back country trails have designated camping areas which is kind of nice. Then you don't have to search out your own site and there are pit toilets available. It was a lake full of clear blue snow melt…gorgeous, but not really warm enough to swim in. We did jump in long enough to rinse off. Well, I did. I dove in and ran out as fast as I could while hyperventilating. After rinsing off a bit we went to the food preparation area (a bear precaution) to fix our dinner. We sat and chatted with the other hikers for a while and then headed to our tent to read for the rest of the evening.

The next day, our hike was much shorter. We hiked back the way we came, about a mile and a half, to Cosley Lake and set up our tent and hung our food bag. Then we took off for Bear Mountain overlook without our packs. We got about half-way up the trail and there was a really great little rock bench for me to sit on and I didn't really need to go any further, so I stayed and Jeremy went on the rest of the way. When he came back down we decided that it was our most significant "alone time" all summer (probably less than and hour) and it was kind of nice. That evening was about the same as the first, we rinsed off in the ridiculously cold lake for our shower (this time Jeremy dove all the way in because someone was watchingJ) and then made our dinner with the other campers. It was interesting to hear where other people were from and their stories about Glacier. That night it rained quite hard fairly soon after dinner and into the night so we were pretty much stuck in our tent. We read for a while then laid down to a restless night of hoping that our cheap little tent would hold out the water. It did alright. Everything was pretty well dry in the morning except our tent, but we had to just pack it up that way and planned to dry it out later.

Our hike back out of the valley was a bit shorter than our hike in because we had already cut off about a mile and a half the day before. Unfortunately, the rain made the entire eight and a half miles a muddy mess. The weather was nice and the scenery just as beautiful as before, it was just a bit harder trudging through the mud the whole way.

We were happy to arrive back at the van after the mile and half or so of slow climbing at the end of the trail. We decided to go back to the KOA to do some laundry and get our things cleaned up before leaving for our next adventure.


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