Date- June 20, 2019
Location- Many Glacier Campground
Distance Traveled Today- 27.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 27.6 miles
Weather/Temp- Clear, rainy, snow, sleet, hail, 40s/50s/60s
Injuries- leg cramps
Pain level- medium
Spirits/Morale- Cold but cheery
Wildlife encounters- 2 bull moose
Days without shower- 7
Days without laundry- 7
After weeks of driving thousands of miles around the country in my new home (a converted van), visiting Poet (from the Florida Trail) and his family, and hiking the 100 mile wilderness in Maine with my friend Laura – Laura and I finally ended up in Montana.
After securing back country permits through Glacier National Park (where the trail starts in the north) and squaring away storage for the van in Kalispell, there was nothing left to do but start hiking.
And They’re Off
Originally, I wanted to start on June 21st, the summer solstice, but it just happened to work out that I got to start a day early. A combination of doing the 2,800 mile drive from Maine to Montana in 3 days, as well as figuring out permits and van storage on the same day moved things quicker than expected. What I thought was going to be a super tight schedule to navigate in order to start on the 21st, ended up leaving me with an extra day. So, I hiked.
Laura and I drove up to the Chief Mountain Trail Head at the Canadian/USA port of entry on the night of the 19th and camped overnight in the trailhead parking lot. We got up at 6:30 this morning, I got the last of my gear packed, cleaned up the van, Laura took my starting picture at the border, we said our goodbyes, I hit the trail and she drove the van back to Kalispell to park it in storage before catching her 1:30pm flight back to Florida. All in all, everything went off without a hitch.
It was a quarter after 7am on June 20, 2019 when I began my CDT southbound thru-hike. The day began beautifully, but eventually turned into a mixed bag of everything.
In Glacier National Park you’re not allowed to just hike and camp wherever you want. You have to tell the park where you’re hiking and apply for permits in the places you want to camp and hope there are openings at those back country campsites. If you don’t stick to your hiking/campsite itinerary (and you get caught), they’ll fine you.
Unfortunately, the only campsite within a days hiking range with any openings on my first day into the park was only 7 miles from the start. This was a bummer because I definitely wanted to hike further than 7 miles today, especially with such an early start and approximately 16 hours of daylight to work with. So I decided to do something else.
Rather than stealth camp or try to squeeze into an already full campsite further on, I decided I’d just go ahead and hike 28 miles into “Many Glacier” (a tourist hub/campground within the park) and just pay $5 for a “hiker/biker” campsite. I knew what terrain lay ahead of me and I was confident I could make the distance before it got dark at 11pm.
Starting out, I was surprised at how much of the trail I remembered – little bends and switchbacks, meadows, and creek crossings that I anticipated before reaching them. Things I’d forgotten came back to me before I even saw them as my memory jogged with each passing landmark.
By 9 am I had reached my scheduled 7 mile campsite and kept on trucking. I was off my itinerary and thus off the Park’s radar. I was an unaccounted-for phantom tumble weed just tumbling through Glacier with no official pre-planned destination and nowhere for them to put me… a bureaucratic nightmare.
I moved quickly through the meadows and the forests, crossing wooden suspension bridges over rivers, and rock hopping across creeks. The views of the surrounding snow splashed mountains were breathtaking and constant.
A heavy misting rain began in the late morning before quitting after 20 minutes. By 11 am I was rounding Elizabeth Lake and beginning the 3,000 foot ascent to Red Gap Pass.
I felt great all morning. So great in fact, that I forgot how quickly things can become “not so great.” When I was 12 miles into the day and halfway up Red Gap Pass it occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I hadn’t snacked, and I hadn’t taken but one swig of water all day. It was very cool and dry, so I’d never felt the sensation of pouring sweat since it was evaporating about as quickly as it could pour out.
Almost all at once I was hit with a heavy sluggish feeling in my legs, as well as intermittent foot and calf cramps. I quietly scolded myself for this rookie mistake and promised to rectify it once atop the pass. However, before I could reach the top it began snow flurrying for about 15 minutes before clearing back up. This was a first, for the first day of a thru-hike.
By 1 pm I was atop the pass eating a few Pringles and mixing a little electrolyte cocktail. I would like to have stayed longer, but it was about 50 degrees with an even cooler wind chill. With 14 miles down, I began my dehydrated hobble down from the pass, fighting cramps the whole way.
Luckily both sides of the pass had been mostly free and clear of snow pack, making the going down fairly easy. I did another 6 miles down the pass, into the valley and through conifer and aspen lined meadows as the trail tentatively followed along a river. To the southeast I could see dark clouds slowly moving over the ridges in my direction. “That’s going to be uncomfortable…” I thought to myself.
At the end of those 6 miles I stopped at Poia Lake for an hour to drink more electrolytes. I sipped a liter and a half down and gave it about 45 minutes to absorb. I felt a lot better and ready to tackle the last 8 miles into Many Glacier.
As I was gathering up my things it began to hail. A light hail isn’t so bad because it bounces off, rather than soaking you like rain, sleet, or snow flakes that melt on contact. Though hail really does tend to chill the air down fast. I donned my rain pants and rain jacket and popped open my umbrella.
Before all was said and done on those last 8 miles it managed to hail, rain, sleet, snow, and rain some more. I never saw any major wildlife until I reached the road into Many Glacier and passed by two bull moose sitting on the shore of a lake. There were about 50 other tourists pulled over taking pictures as well, and in my opinion presented a greater spectacle than the two moose. A classic Glacier “moose jam!”
I found a spot to hang my hammock in the hiker biker area, paid my fee, changed into some dry clothes and ate a pizza. This was an opening thru-hike day for the books. Firstly, because of all the weather; secondly, because this was the furthest I’ve ever hiked on my first day of a thru-hike: 28 miles. It sets an excellent precedence for the rest of the hike, because I can only get stronger and faster from here.
I’m not going to lie though… my body hurts, and mostly due to cramps in my legs, hips, and back. Every move I make triggers the onset of a cramp. Surprisingly, my feet feel fantastic despite not wearing any socks for the entire day. If you’ve read my blogs in the past then this is not news to you. If you are a new reader, then it is. But yes, 90% of the time that I hike, I don’t wear socks and I take the insoles out of my shoes. Don’t ask me how I do it, it’s just my super power and it feels great to do so. My other super power is being able to carry all the groceries inside in one trip. That’s it, I don’t have any others – just sockless hiking and single trip grocery carrying. I’m a common man’s hero.
I think I’ll take tomorrow off to properly hydrate and rest after this big push. By my itinerary I’m supposed to camp in Many Glacier tomorrow night anyway, so by spending the day and night here tomorrow, I will be back on schedule (and the bureaucrats can rest easy knowing everyone in the park is where they’re supposed to be). Everybody wins.
I hope this initial weather isn’t a sign of what’s to come for the entire summer…