Glacier NP with my Pops
Last week I met up with my father, Brian, in East Glacier where he had arrived by train to see the park. At Two Medicine we were informed that the campgrounds on the east side of the park had were already full, so we drove over to West Glacier and set up camp in one of the last spots in Apgar campground. The whole park was full regarding frontcountry campgrounds during our four night stay so we were awfully fortunate to have such a convenient place to base camp. A drastically different scene than this spring when Julia and I spent time in the same area.
Apgar proved to be a great jumping-off point for us and we were soon on our way to take in the scenery. After a day’s wait for certain backcountry sites to open up, I woke up at daybreak to wait in line for our hoped-for permit (thanks for the heads up, Mr. Park Ranger). Somehow I was second in line and waited with my coffee until they opened the ranger station doors at 7am. I stood in the middle at the ranger counter as the first three of us gave our info and our respective requests, politely trying to eavesdrop on one another in hopes that we were each requesting different itineraries. And that we were!
I managed to secure an evening at Lake Ellen Lewis in the middle of a 20+ mile thru-hike from Gunsight TH on the Going-to-the-Sun road and back to the Sperry TH. This route starts at the Jackson Glacier overlook with about a mile on the CDT, before heading off along the St Mary River, past Gunsight Lake, over Gunsight Pass (6946′), and down to one of four NPS backcountry sites at Lake Ellen Lewis. Lake E-W is about a mile long and the trail traverses above the lake, over Lincoln Pass (7050′) and down to the backcountry Sperry Chalet before finally dropping 3500′ to the Belton Chalet alongside Lake McDonald. This route covers an absolutely stunning portion of the park and is made all the more convenient by the GTTS road’s free NPS shuttle service.
We managed to botch the aforementioned shuttle service’s schedule in the early morning shuffle and decided to stick our thumbs out in attempt at a ride to at least Logan Pass. A mere minutes later and we were picked up by a lovely woman from Billings, MT, by the name of Lisa. She was going out for a good long fifteen or more mile dayhike out from the pass and we hit it off immediately. She even decided to bring us all the way to our starting TH, despite the risk of losing a parking space at the incredibly undersized and overcrowded Logan Pass parking lot. I have hitchhiked enough times in my life to tell you that this was a one-in-a-kind experience. And for that, a huge thanks to Lisa! She began what was a great start to an absolutely incredible backcountry trip.
From the TH, we set off in forested terrain along the CDT until after a mile where Deadwood Falls pours from Reynolds Creek through the red argillite of the Grinnell formation. After some gradual elevation gain we were soon hiking above the St Mary River, overlooking the Jackson Glacier and its many surrounding peaks. The St. Mary River is wide and flat in this stretch, with an abundance of willows and an expanse of meadows at its flanks. After this we reached Gunsight Lake at the base of its namesake pass and mountain. Up and over we went.
We then dropped to our eventual camp site at Lake Ellen Wilson, passing a few goats along the way. These gentle beasts are definitely habituated and were not wary of us in the least. One of the Apgar rangers had warned us of these salt-starved goats and his words were not unwarranted. After some swimming, goat watching, spoon carving, and shelter pitching, Brian and I met a few of our neighbors over dinner at the food prep area. Single-malt was shared as the night set.
The next morning over coffee, we watched a big griz eat hucks a few hundred yards above camp – right on the trail we were soon to be hiking on. We never saw it again though, as it disappeared into the whitebark pine before our departure. The rest of the hike was mostly an easy downhill plod, and we were soon exiting to the truck and chips and salsa. A highly recommended way to see a lot of Glacier in a short amount of time.
Gear Notes: We both were near or under ten pound baseweights with the following main items as standouts.
(I forgot both my NEX6 camera and my spork at the trailhead. Shame on me. But thanks to Brian for the point & shoot loan!)
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Tarp (5×8′) and Six Moon Designs Meteor Bivy
- Western Mountaineering Highlite (35°F) sleeping bag
- Thermarest NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad
- Exped Air Pillow UL
- HMG 2400 Porter pack
- Sawyer Water Bottle with PointONE filter (dip and sip style)
- SMD Lunar Solo tarptent
- Montbell SS Down Hugger #3 (30°F) sleeping bag
- Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad
- Montbell UL Comfort System pillow
- Golite Quest 50L pack
- Sawyer Water Bottle with filter
- Jetboil Sol Ti with 1L Aluminum Companion Cup
- Good whisky
- Good times