Saturday, September 2, 2017

Backpacking in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks - August 2017

With 2016 and 2017 proving to be a little more challenging than I would have preferred, the choice of a one-and-only adventure planned for 2017 had to be strategic. Where to go, what to do, when to go... Much went into this very important decision!

For a number of reasons, I needed to limit risk on this adventure, so no epic bike trip, no mountain climbing, no crevasse-crossing, no exposed summits. Essentially, nothing scary. And considering my lack of fitness at the moment (ahem...), I was looking for something comparatively "easy". Like... a good solid backpacking trip amongst mountains and lakes and forests and wildflowers, and maybe the occasional wildlife sighting. The "Mountains 101" online course I took last winter (produced by the University of Alberta and available on Coursera) introduced me to Glacier National Park, and Waterton Lakes National Park. I got in touch with my favourite guide and friend Peter, and we started planning. 

After a bit of back and forth via email, trying to figure out a decent itinerary, we settled for a 3- to 4-day thru-hike "from Montana to Canada", starting in Glacier National Park and ending in Waterton, Alberta. The logistics proved a little challenging to organize, surprisingly. But in the end, we were able to plan as much as we needed before departure. The rest would be up to our adventurous spirits, and maybe a little bit of luck.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Peter picked me up at the airport in Bozeman, Montana, around 9:30pm. It was so great to see him! I was also joyfully reunited with Peter's girlfriend Becca soon after, and even got some puppy love from Sky Dog. Becca and Peter gave me a tour of the garden and the Bozeman Handyman's workshop, we briefly talked bikes, and then all three of us proceeded to pack gear and food. Becca was off on her own "solar eclipse adventure" the next day, so all three of us were getting ready to travel. We went to sleep at 11:30pm for a two-hour nap, before a very early wake-up call for Peter and me, ready for the 5-hour drive to St. Mary Visitor Center in Glacier National Park.

Sunday, August 20, 2017
We left Bozeman at 2:15am, and Peter drove all night. I'd say the scenery along the drive was beautiful, but there wasn't much to see until sunrise, at which point it really was breathtaking... Once the sun came up, I was able to appreciate just how beautiful and vast Montana is - Big Sky Country indeed. Wow... We got to St. Mary around 8am, tired and eager for some rest, as soon as we could fill the gaps in our plans.

Our intended itinerary had us starting our hike from The Loop (one of the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle stops), spending our first night at the Flattop backcountry campground (BCCG), ideally a second night at Fifty Mountain BCCG, and arriving at Waterton River BCCG, near Goat Haunt (southern end of Upper Waterton Lake), at the end of our third day's walk. However, thanks to the US National Park's somewhat complex reservation system online, we only had our first night at Flattop guaranteed.

We needed to book two extra nights in Glacier National Park: one campsite for our second night on the trail, and one for this very night after driving all the way from Bozeman. At St. Mary, we got the help of a NP Service employee who helped us figure out the possibilities.

We couldn't get a night at Fifty, which had no vacancies, but we were able to secure another night at Waterton River BCCG, which meant we would have to walk 17 miles (30km) on our second day. We would get to Waterton River a day early and decide what to do with that extra time. 
The view from Rising Sun Campground

We also booked a spot at the Rising Sun Campground (5 miles west of St. Mary on the Going-to-the-Sun Road) for that same Sunday night: one night of luxury car camping! We got there just after 9:30am, very tired. We made camp, and promptly took a 2-hour nap. In the afternoon, we drove to Logan Pass and did the Hidden Lake Trail hike. 

The Hidden Lake Trail Boardwalk
An "accessible hike", with the first mile or so on wooden boardwalks, Hidden Lake is still a gem of a hike, with beautiful rock bands of various colours, a landscape of faraway peaks, blue lakes, tall trees, and with a welcoming committee of ground squirrels, mountain goats and big-horn sheep. 

Hidden Lake nestled amongst the mountains
Overall, it proved to be a nice little 6-mile hike (10km) to wake up our tired legs. Pete tried his luck fishing in Hidden Lake, but his minimalist Tenkara line (a Japanese purist style of fly fishing which I could appreciate for its simplicity) was a little too short to reach the deeper parts of the lake where the fish were hiding. We had plenty of food to eat on that first night, so no worries, other than Pete's disappointment with not catching anything.

Monday, August 21, 2017
After a leisurely morning and a delicious pancake breakfast, we drove to St. Mary where we planned on leaving Peter's vehicle (Clifford by name) for the week. We watched the solar eclipse from there, using the free glasses handed out by the Park Service. With about 87% coverage at our latitude, we experienced a gradual "darkening" and temperature cool-off. A fascinating and beautiful phenomenon...

We caught the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle to The Loop, had lunch quickly, then officially started hiking to Canada, down the dry, dusty side trail that connected to the main Flattop Trail. As the afternoon wore on, it became a slow, steep climb for me, very hot and dry. I probably suffered from a touch of heat exhaustion... It was only 6 miles (10km) but it felt more challenging. We walked in a burn zone which had resulted from a devastating fire back in 2003. The views of blue skies and distant peaks were beautiful, since there were no trees to block our line of sight. The regrowth looked healthy and lush, but the stark contrast with burned-out tree trunks was a harsh reminder of the power of wildfires.

We (mainly Peter...) ate our fill of fresh berries: thimbleberries, huckleberries and currants. I'm not sure Peter left any for the bears! Fresh fruit, even tiny berries like those, were tasty and refreshing, even as the temperature was increasing and I was generally losing my appetite with the rising trail. 

We arrived at the Flattop BCCG around 5:30pm. Two other groups were already camped there so we took the last site farthest away from the food preparation area. It was dusty but flat with no rocks, and the tent went up in a couple of minutes. I dove in and was almost immediately asleep, while Peter went to hang the food out of bear reach, and meet our neighbors. 

There were two young German guys, and a young couple from Prague. They were all very nice, and the conversation over dinner was interesting and lively. All of them were carrying large heavy packs filled with canned and jarred food, and big plastic containers, while Peter pulled out little pouches of a most excellent beet and kale risotto he had made (and dehydrated) at home. It was delicious! Since I'd lost my appetite during the hike, I really needed to consume some calories at dinner. I ate very well (gourmet cooking at that!), and felt much better after dinner. We went to bed just around sundown, knowing we'd have a long 17-mile day (30km) the next day. 

I was about to fall asleep when I heard something outside our tent. I felt bad but still woke Peter up... I was a little paranoid about bears ("bear-anoid"?), and the darkness, and utter and complete silence all around magnified that paranoia. Peter woke up, we both listened then shooed away whatever was out there. Peter said, "that was the sound of hooves, that's just a deer", and promptly went back to sleep. I took a few more minutes while my heartbeat slowed down after the initial adrenaline rush, but fell asleep soundly as well. 

Not long after, we heard the Czech couple (male and female voices) loudly screaming and clapping their hands, to chase away what they obviously thought was a bear. The thing is, they kept doing that again... All... Bloody... Night... We heard the German guys chime in as well. So we had a fitful night of falling asleep briefly, only to be awakened again and again by panicked hand claps and shouts. Half-awake, I kept expecting shrieks of terror signaling some kind of attack, but fortunately, that never came. Eventually, one of the Germans yelled, "Guys! It's a deer, not a bear!", and things stayed quiet for a couple of hours. Our alarms were set for 5am, but we decided to snooze until 6am. We needed more rest before the long day ahead.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Up just after 6am, we struck camp quickly, ate breakfast then started up the trail at 7:35, aiming for the Fifty Mountain campsite as our first milestone. We saw signs of bears, but no actual bears, and met only a couple of other hikers. The landscape was stunning, as we gradually made our way up and out of the burn zone and entered a vast meadow filled with beautiful fireweed in bloom: blue skies, pink flowers, green sparse forest... Stunning. We reached Fifty in about 3 hours. The campsite was deserted and we decided to take a break and eat an early lunch, and take advantage of the available facilities. I wasn't very hungry again, but managed to nibble, while Peter devoured lots of food (still a growing boy...?). We got going again, knowing we had another 11 miles to hike to get to Waterton River.

I loved the hike. I realized at some point that I was not thinking about much more than what was immediately around me. I was looking at the trail in front of me, inhaling the fresh mountain air (not smoky that day, luckily), glancing at distant peaks, occasionally chatting with Peter, but not worrying about anything. Not thinking about work or home or "next week" or anything that got in the way of a nice long relaxing walk...

Were the Incas involved with this?

The scenery varied, with a gorgeous high plateau below a tall and very wide wall of colorful striated bands of rock. I threatened to break into song and serenade Peter with "The hilllllllls are aliiiiiiive with the sound of muuuuuuuusic...", but was warned that unless I knew ALL the words and could sing it WELL, I should probably abstain. I abstained. We walked past the ruins of a former ranger shelter (we think), which somehow evoked the masonry skills of the Incas: perfectly cut massive stones that all fit in like pieces of a puzzle. 

The hills were alive with the sound of birdsong and summer wind...

Eventually, we started descending toward the valley bottom, which we could glimpse once in a while. We could hear waterfalls intermittently, as we made our way down switchback after switchback, on a trail that was sometimes overgrown and narrow. Berries were abundant on both sides of the trail, leaving me wondering why the bears had missed so many of those spots. We made noise talking or clanging our walking poles periodically, wanting to avoid surprising a bear around a blind corner. But Yogi Bear and Boo-boo stayed out of sight.

After a few hot miles, with our feet starting to ache under the weight of our packs, we reached a great resting spot by the cascading river. The perfect place to soak our hot feet in cold flowing water... Ahhhhhh, did that ever feel great! After several minutes, we also refilled our bottles, put our shoes back on, and got moving again. 

The forest was lush, and we were walking down. I felt sorry for the few hikers we met who were headed uphill towards Fifty, under the increasingly hot sun. Thank goodness we were heading north!

Several miles later, we reached the trail junction to Stoney Indian, once more by the river. We took another long rest, both of us experiencing the pain of hot sore feet. It is amazing what a cold foot soak can do to relieve that pain, cool down core body temperature, and generally invigorate tired hikers. Peter was still scarfing down food, while I could barely eat anything. But I could drink lots and lots of cold fresh (filtered) water from a clear mountain stream. That water tasted of pure goodness...

Our break was longer than usual, but with 3 miles left to go, we didn't really care. We eventually got going again, and I took the lead for a while, with a second wind that I suspected wouldn't last very long. The forest trail was beautiful and we saw a few more hikers. My feet were getting more painful, but we knew we were close. We soon got to Goat Haunt, about half a mile from our destination at the Waterton River campsite. While Peter chatted briefly with a ranger who was checking permits, I was starting to fade quickly. My feet were on fire, and I wasn't sure how much longer I would last standing on them. We started walking again and hit a short patch of paved pathway. Both of us yelled at the same time! That rough, bumpy, rocky, hot pavement was the worst! My right foot felt like it was on fire, and very suddenly, I felt a huge blister materialize under the ball of my foot. Urghhhhh... thank goodness we were almost at camp but I didn't want a blister to wreck the rest of my week.

We could have forded the river right here...

We got to the Horse Ford. I took one look at the river, and too tired to bend down and remove my shoes, I said "let's keep walking along the trail, the ranger said it wasn't much farther". The ranger had also said the food preparation area for the campsite was just on the other side of the Horse Ford, but at that precise moment, that fact failed to register in my tired and heat-addled brain. So we kept walking, with Peter gaining a second wind, and me wilting completely. Feeling faintly nauseous and with feet melting, I plodded on, getting increasingly annoyed at every blade of grass that got in my way, and every insect and occasional mosquito that buzzed around me. What was "not much farther" turned into over half a mile, and I had a blowtorch setting my feet on fire with every step. 

We reached a suspension bridge that spanned the river upstream from the Horse Ford. Peter went across, telling me it was wobbly and to be mindful of that. By then, I didn't know if I was going to throw up or not, and all I could think about was getting to camp. I crossed, barely noticing or caring that the bridge wobbled. We did eventually reach camp, arriving at the food preparation area, and noting that if we'd crossed the Horse Ford, we would have arrived at least 15 minutes earlier, with fresh and cooled-off feet. Oh well, blame the lack of information processing on a tired and hot brain. Also on the fact that the ranger could have been a bit clearer in his explanation...

Looking at my watch, I observed that we arrived in camp *exactly* ten hours to the minute after setting out from Flattop in the morning. Not bad! We had estimated that it could take as much as 12 hours, depending on the terrain and the slow pace I might keep. But at 10 hours, both of us were at our feet's limit, and we were very glad to have reached camp.

To continue the tradition of all my trips with Peter, my stomach finally gave in to the nausea that had plagued it for a while, and I dry heaved for a few minutes. (Peter probably thinks I go through life nauseous every day, but that's only because every trip I've been on with him, he's had to witness some form of upset-stomach event. I swear, it really doesn't happen that often.). The stomach cramps subsided and I immediately felt better, ready to keep walk-- ...nah... I did feel better, but no more walking for the day! 

We pitched the tent, inflated our sleeping pads, crawled into our shelter, and woke up 1.5 hours later, hungry and somewhat rested, feet less sore (but still blistered).

Peter made a fantastic chicken vegetable ramen soup, and while I was hungry enough to eat a decent amount, I still wasn't starving. I ended up walking 17 miles on about 500-600 calories that day, and was barely able to refill the tank at the end of the day. But I still felt much much better, and just happy to have had such an amazingly beautiful, breathtaking day in the backcountry. Each section of the trail presented us with varied landscapes, from flowery meadows to wide open valleys far below us, to colourful rocky walls above us. The sun shone all day, and the multiple creek and river crossings allowed us to rest and soak our weary feet every time we needed it.

We chatted over dinner with a wonderful family from northern Michigan: the parents (Ken and Wendy) and their three college-age children. All were interesting, worldly, well-traveled, and nice company to share a meal with. Back into the tent as the sun set, I fell asleep quickly, hoping no one would shout at imaginary bears during the night.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

With nowhere to go fast that day, we slept in and took advantage of the nice morning to rest until 8:30. After breakfast, I went back and rested a bit more, trying to take care of the nasty blister under my foot that was making it a bit awkward to walk long distances in my shoes. My flip flops, fortunately, were more comfortable, so hanging out around camp was easy. Peter went scouting for a good fishing spot, and came back after a while to pick up a few more items, having identified where he wanted to go try his luck. He took off and we agreed to meet back at camp later in the afternoon. 

I rinsed some clothes in the river, had lunch by myself, then forded the river and walked over to Goat Haunt. By fording the river, it took 8 minutes, in flip flops, to get to Goat Haunt... all I could think of was, why hadn't we forded the river the night before, instead of walking an extra unpleasant half mile. I spent the afternoon lying on the boat dock at Goat Haunt, soaking in the sun, resting and admiring the view. Just plain chilling...
Sitting on the dock of the bay, total relaxation...

The 2pm ferry from Waterton came in, disgorged a bunch of tourists who were only allowed to walk near the ranger station for 15 minutes (since they hadn't officially been admitted into the US), and then returned to Canada. I checked the schedule, as we were planning on taking the ferry the next day.

Around 4pm, I returned to the campsite, met two new neighbors, then heard Peter whistling up the path. He strolled into camp like Little Opie on the Andy Griffith Show, carrying his fishing pole, and two whitefish for dinner! Success! 
Fixin' dinner

A disparate group of five hikers arrived with a "guide" who looked too young and inexperienced to be a guide, then a couple of other backpackers also showed up. Our quiet little camp was suddenly crowded! After my delicious dinner of couscous and whitefish, I retired a bit earlier than the others. The conversation wasn't that interesting and I preferred the quiet of our tent. Peter joined me a little while later and we chatted for a few minutes before quickly falling asleep. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

We woke up Thursday to leaden skies... We started breakfast in dry conditions but soon, a light rain started, a harbinger of worse things to come. Wrapping up breakfast quickly, we packed away food stuff and dove into the tent just as the skies opened up. Our plans to hike to Lake Janet were tossed out. Neither of us felt like getting soaked for the sake of a short walk and marginal views. The rain was heavy, and as we lay dry inside the tent, we started discussing our plans to get the ferry at Goat Haunt, to cross to Waterton, Alberta. Our choices were 11:25am, 2:25pm or 5:30pm. With not much to do on either side of the crossing save getting wet, we hesitated and eventually, I fell asleep. Peter woke me at 10:50am with, "It stopped raining! Come on, we're packing up and catching the 11:25!" 

Wait... WHAT...?!? I got up and packed my bag as Pete started dismantling the tent around me. We had to rush, but I knew from the day before that if we left camp by 11:10, we could make that ferry. We threw stuff into backpacks willy-nilly, and then, wearing flip flops, hurried for the last time across the river. We hustled down the short trail, and reached Goat Haunt with several minutes to spare, along with the tourists who were starting to board the ferry back to Canada. Introducing ourselves to the crew, we told them we were on a one-way cruise to Canada, and they instructed us on where to meet the Canadian Customs Officer who would officially let us into the country. 

The nine-mile cruise on Upper Waterton Lake, even with cloudy skies, was magnificent. The majestic views of near and distant peaks, the sight of a bald eagle perched up a tree, the stunning rock formations, and great narration by one of the crew, were a respite from the trail, giving our feet a rest and offering a complete change of pace. Seeing the "border" between the US and Canada, a narrow band of deforested land as far as the eye can see, with no one defending either side, was thought-provoking. Nature doesn't care, the wildlife doesn't care, even those who mind the trail and clean up that deforested space every year, a mixed crew of Americans and Canadians working together, don't care. The border is a line drawn by men, not by any necessity of Nature. And so, we sailed past this line in the forest, and cruised into Canada. 

The border
In the distance, the stunning Prince of Wales Hotel, one of the old CP hotels perched alone on a hill, served as a beacon to mark our arrival to Waterton. The little - very little - town welcomed our boat, and we were met upon disembarking by Customs Agent Lamoureux, who took our names and passport numbers, then welcomed us into Canada. No muss, no fuss... 

This tiny town with a swelling population of a couple of thousand tourists, maybe, on busy summer weekends, felt like a noisy metropolis, after a mere few days in the backcountry. Too much noise, too many people... back to "civilization"... sigh...

Hungry, and with no set agenda for the rest of the day except for setting up camp, we stopped at Zum's Eatery for lunch. We then headed to the Town Campsite, a sprawling, nearly treeless expanse of car campsites, RV setups, and the odd tent. It took us a while to find our lot, and then, in gale-force winds, we pitched the tent. Under Pete's guidance, we set it up so it couldn't possibly fly away. Bomb-proof, it was... 

We took the afternoon off - really, we had nothing much to do! We walked around town, scouted a few places out, checked the schedule for our shuttle to Montana two days later and for the Crypt Lake hike the next day, and even for movies that night. We walked over to the waterfalls and then hiked up to the Prince of Wales Hotel, but somehow managed to not go inside. I suppose it would have been nice to see it and admire the old architecture and classic design. Yet, I didn't really feel compelled to further break the illusion of being "outside" the whole week. I was quite happy with staying in a tent one extra night, and didn't want the contrast of the richness of a railroad-era monument to break the magic spell.

The Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1927

We walked back into town, and dined at Trapper's, a full-on Canadiana experience. The smoked trout, I must say, was divine... We chatted away over dinner, and left afterwards wondering what else this town might have to offer for "an evening out". We'd seen an old-style movie theater, with a showing of "Dunkirk" at 7pm, and "Atomic Blonde" at 9pm. We were just in time for Atomic Blonde, and, almost on a lark, decided, "oh, why not...!". The theater was classic, dating back to 1935, with old (uncomfortable, as they turned out) upholstered seats, and a small screen, but it was perfect for an evening out in Waterton! Atomic Blonde offered the right mix of action and entertainment - nothing Oscar-worthy, but fun enough to fill our evening. We walked back to our campsite under a sky filled with stars, me nursing The Blister, and Peter and I discussing the Cold War and the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. 

One last night in my comfy, airy tent... 

Friday, August 25, 2017

We got up early, on a cool, sunny and clear morning. We packed up camp for the last time, kept only a light daypack for the hike to Crypt Lake, and dropped off our gear at our hotel for that night. We found a good breakfast spot at the Larkspur Cafe, then headed to the ferry for the hike to Crypt Lake. 

The hike was all uphill, and beautiful, even offering a couple of "challenges" along the way, in the form of a metal ladder leading into a narrow natural tunnel, and an exposed section secured with a steel cable (you didn't think I went completely without any thrills whatsoever on this whole trip, did you?). The reward after all that work was a breathtaking, awe-inducing view, and an afternoon spent on the rocky beach of Crypt Lake. 
The tunnel

Despite the crowds, it was still peaceful and lovely and the kind of place you never want to leave... We stayed put, opting out of walking around the lake (I was still trying to protect my foot from aggravating The Blister). Leaning back against flat rocks, we rested, snacked, chatted with a few folks around us, listened to a group of students out having fun for the day, and just took another break from everyday life. Deep breaths of mountain-fresh air were rejuvenating, and I was sad when the time came to head down, with the goal of catching the 5:30pm ferry. If we made good time, we might catch the 4:00, but that was unlikely. 

Crypt Lake

Walking down, we reversed the exposed section with the steel cable, the tunnel and the ladder. Then just a long series of switchbacks downhill. Pete ate berries, of course. We got down to the dock several minutes past 4pm, and realized we'd have to be patient until the 5:30 ferry, as there was not much shade to sit in. 

A few more people arrived, and eventually, a boisterous group of students from the University of Lethbridge came down, led quietly by their professor and more loudly by one of their own. This guy reminded me of Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters, and seemed to have the same kind of easy, happy, laughing, mischievous energy. He coaxed many of his friends - along with Peter - into jumping in the lake for a refreshing swim. I stuck to soaking my feet, while Pete took a dive off the dock. We had plenty of time to dry off while waiting for the ferry, thinking it wasn't coming until 5:30. However, the ferry people must have calculated that it would be best to send another boat sooner, because at 4:50, we boarded the Miss Waterton back to town. 

We checked in at our hotel, since the Town Campsite was booked solid for the weekend. The Waterton Glacier Suites was under renovation in the lobby area, but the rooms were fine (thank goodness...). Taking advantage of the first available hot shower of the week, we cleaned up, after days of wearing the same hiking clothes and pretending not to notice how stinky we'd become... Refreshed, we grabbed a few slices of pizza and a beer at 49°N, then tried to decide how else to spend an evening in Waterton. We walked around town - again! - revisiting the shoreline around the campground, and walking down, then up, Main Street  - again! We stopped for ice cream, and headed in soon after. We turned on the TV, and, lulled by the mindless noise, soon fell asleep. I had the big bed, while Pete settled for the couch. Pretty sure both of us would have traded that in for the tent, but all the city slickers from Lethbridge and Calgary had invaded for the weekend...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Too much town (and down) time... We both knew it. Waking up at the hotel after a decent night's sleep was good. The second hot shower in a span of 12 hours was luxurious, but I would have happily traded that in for another week of trail and dirty hiking clothes, given the choice.

On the way to grab breakfast again at Larkspur, Peter found a cell phone on the ground. He was able to find contact information for the owner, and we delivered the phone to its young owner and her relieved mom on the way back to our hotel. With lots of time to kill, we watched some more mindless TV (some old movie on the Family Channel), and both fell asleep briefly. Too. Much. Time. In. Town...

We rechecked our shuttle schedule at Tamarack Outfitters. That was part of the problem. The shuttle back to Montana was no longer operating the way it had in previous years, and now depended on a Canadian operation out of Tamarack, and an American operator (Suntours) to pick us up on the US side of the border. The shuttle didn't leave Waterton until 2:30pm, bringing us to St. Mary (and Peter's red truck Clifford) at a projected time of about 4pm, ready for the 5 hour drive back to Bozeman. If it had been up to us, we would have left in the morning...

Waterton, Upper Waterton Lake and
Montana, from Bear's Hump

With several more hours to fill, we walked to the Bear's Hump trailhead, and joined the throngs of tourists making the hike uphill to get the best possible view of the town, the lake, and far into Montana. The expected "hour to 1:15" hike took us 45 minutes, though it was all uphill and I couldn't quite keep up with Pete for the second half. I reached him about a minute after he made the top, and joined the dozens of people scattered on the wide rocky expanse to rest and admire the gorgeous view. We hiked a little further up, escaping the crowds one last time and gaining an even better view. 

Calculating it would take us 30 minutes to go down and head into town, we hiked back down the trail, and grabbed one last lunch in town, at the Taco Bar, conveniently located across our one and only movie theater. A nice lunch outside, watching the world go by, marked the end of our time in Waterton. We headed to Tamarack, changed into marginally cleaner clothes for the long drive back to Bozeman, and boarded the Canadian shuttle, driven by a nice and quirky young man who had moved to Waterton after falling in love with the mountains and the lakes. He dropped us off on the Canadian side of the border. 

To the right, Alberta.
To the left, Montana.

We walked several meters to the actual border marker, once more stared at the never-ending rip through the forest dividing north and south, then walked to the US side. A friendly agent met us there, checked our passports, and after chatting for a minute or so, indicated where we would likely find our US shuttle.

Charles and his wife Sue, from the Browning, Montana, Blackfeet Reservation, met us with a friendly smile, and chatted with us all the way back to St. Mary. Pete knew the community well, and the conversation was interesting. Tough living, no doubt about it, but these folks seemed to have made better of their circumstances than some of their peers... 

Back to St. Mary just before 4pm, we hopped into Clifford the Trusty Red Truck and hit the road. We stopped once for gas, and that was it. Just straight down the road, through mountains and prairies, and beautiful country. Near Helena, we entered a very smoky section, due to the wildfires in the west. The smoke was thick, the visibility reduced, and the sky the colour of dulled candlelight at dusk... On the other side, the air cleared up somewhat, but the sun was setting bright red, in murky skies and hazy air. 

Smoky Sunset

We arrived in Bozeman at 9pm sharp. Sky Dog was waiting for Peter with a fast-wagging tail and a happy whine. I was treated to lots of licks on my salty legs! Becca arrived home shortly after. Over a salad of freshly-picked kale, we looked at Peter's pictures and shared our week with Becca. "Wow, it's already over...", was all I could think. Where did the time go? How was it that this week I had been anticipating for so long had already come and gone?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I was up at 5:30am, and Peter dropped me off at Bozeman airport for my 6:30am flight (the joy of small airports!). It's always hard saying goodbye to Pete, as it inevitably marks the end of a great adventure and a wonderful trip. Spending a week backpacking and camping with a friend you only see once a year or so makes for an intense week, and going my own way afterwards is always difficult. But - it's also always with discussions of potential future trips and other destinations, and promises of soon making real plans for next year. I only wish I had planned this trip for two weeks. I wasn't ready to come home yet...

Returning to reality after the trip has not been easy! My work travel schedule in the days following my return was severely disrupted by flight delays, causing me to miss meetings, and I felt like I was traveling incessantly without getting anywhere, all the while getting exhausted with fruitless wake-up calls at ungodly hours. Reports of worsening wildfires in Montana and specifically inside Glacier National Park, and soon after Waterton Lakes National Park, sadden me greatly. They are part of a natural renewal process, but spending a week in the area was enough for me to develop a certain kinship with the people and the Parks. 

Like many wonderful places I've traveled to in the past, "I can't wait to go back". But... with so many other amazing places still to discover, where to next...? 

No comments:

Post a Comment