On the Crown of the Continent

Backpacking Glacier National Park, Montana - Aug 2007

Into the Wilderness
Our adventure began at the small Canadian resort town of Waterton Park on the northern edge of the Glacier-Waterton parks. We had to take an 80-year-old ferry boat - the CS International - south across Waterton Lake to the small dock at Goat Haunt on the USA side (shown above). Although it is only a ranger outpost and many miles from the nearest road (it is only reachable by boat or hiking), it is still an official US port of entry and we had to show our passports. From here, we started our trek up the Owen Valley and into the mountains.

View from above Brown Pass
After a night at spartan Hawksbill Camp, we made the steep climb up to Brown Pass on the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,255 feet. The views in both directions were spectacular. This view is looking west down Bowman Creek with Thunderbird Peak and a portion of the trail visible to the left.

Hole in the Wall
From Brown Pass, we climbed the north face of the ridge to Hole in the Wall. Long ago, a glacier working down the ridge had gouged a large mile-diameter pocket - or cirque - into the side of the mountain like a balcony high on the wall of a giant theater. Small streams and waterfall trickled down the sides of the basin to create a pretty meadow and pocket of trees. Here we spent our second night. This view is looking down at Hole in the Wall from above - the far edge of the basin ends in an abrupt thousand foot drop down to Bowman Creek.

Tarn at Boulder Pass
The pass itself has seen a glacier or two pass by in its day and thus the floor is scraped and polished rock broken by mounds of glacier-deposited rubble (called 'moraines') and small ponds of snow melt known as 'tarns'.

Throne on the Range
We made camp for two days on the far side of Boulder Pass. Whoever chose the location for the pit toilet had an eye for scenery as it was located at the very edge of the pass with sweeping views across Agassiz Glacier and Kintla Peak with the distant Kintla Valley stretched out far below. Tiny chipmunk-like pikas played in the rocks. Backpacker Magazine once rated this as the best view from a pit toilet in North America and I don't disagree. There has never been a better reason for a high fiber diet.

Wildflower Carpet
On the north side of Boulder Pass was another glacier-carved cirque overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north. Like Hole in the Wall, the basin was filled with many little streams and waterfalls that supported lush beds of wildflowers.

Cool Pool, Cold Bath
Near the bottom of the basin were a half dozen shallow ponds. Fed from the snow fields visible in the distance, these clear pools were literally as cold as ice. None the less after three days of sweat and toil, I simply could not resist hopping in for a quick bath. It lasted exactly 32.4 seconds.

Return through Boulder Pass
Our return trip would follow much the same route, but the views looked different traveling in the opposite direction and under mostly clear and sunny skies. We took a long mid-morning break at the mouth of Boulder Pass to take it all in one last time. It is hard to capture in images or words the full extent and impact of the sweeping views, the wind, the ice, the towering cliffs and the ancient carved rock - like standing on the top of the world at the start of creation - it is a place and feeling that I will never forget.

Critters Met Along the Trail
After seeing not so much as a mosquito during our first couple of cloudy days, the famous wildlife of Glacier finally started to appear along with the sun. At various points we saw (from left to right): marmots, ptarmigans, a moose and a grizzly bear. The bear was working his way through some huckleberry bushes on the side of Hole in the Wall about a hundred yards from the trail. To avoid surprising one on the trail (a surprised bear is not a friendly bear) the standard practice is to shout 'Hey Bear!' when going through brush or approaching a blind corner.

Waterfall at Lake Frances
We spent our final night in the wilderness at Lake Frances back in the Owen Valley. This was an incredible mountain lake fed by a glacier-born waterfall pouring down the side of a cliff. Near the small campsite, a ranger had posted a notice that read: 'Warning! The deer in this area will slobber, chew and/or urinate on packs, shoes, clothing, and hiking poles left unattended.' We had no problems with deer, but we did encounter an SUS (Spider of Unusual Size) diligently building a large web right at face level above the pit toilet (a rare enclosed 'outhouse' style one).

A Final Sunrise
We went to bed with the sound of the falls in our ears and woke to one of the most beautiful sunrises ever.

Backcountry Breakfast
We shared many of our campsites with Steve and Tenar from Idaho whose itinerary was nearly the same as our own. They impressed us with their amazing backcountry cooking skills - while we chowed down on dehydrated meals, they cooked up a variety of multi-course meals with 'real food', much of which I would be hard pressed to successfully make at home. To avoid bear problems, all camps had designated food preparation areas where all cooking was done and food hung from cables or poles. From left to right: Kim, Steph, Todd, Steve, Tenar.

Lake Janet
On our way back toward Goat Haunt, we stopped for lunch at Lake Janet. A long drought has lowered the water levels to little more than a muddy pool, but there was still enough to reflect the distant mountains.

A Return to Civilization
After six days in the backcountry, there is nothing quite like a hot shower and a real meal. We spent two nights in the historic 1913 East Glacier Lodge - one of several built in the early twentieth century by the Great Northern Railway to promote tourism (and thus rail travel) to the newly designated national park. Note the pillars in the lobby which are each made from a single giant fir tree log.

Hidden Lake
After feasting on homemade huckleberry french toast at the Whistle Stop cafe, we headed into the mountains on the famous 'Going to the Sun' road to Logan Pass and a short day hike down to beautiful Hidden Lake.

Goat in Passing
As we climbing back up the ridge from Hidden Lake, a family of three mountain goats were working their way down the trail. There was not much room for either of us to maneuver. We stood motionless as they cautiously passed between us the lake - so close I could hear their breathing. Then both parties continued on their ways. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

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