Trailhead – Chief Mountain Customs

Hi everyone, Hailey here. I am going to be posting all of Ryley’s blog entries and keeping the online map up to date with his daily SPOT coordinates. My parents and I drove Ryley down to Kalispell, MT yesterday to pick up another hiker named “Chance”. We stayed the night in Glacier National Park at a little place called East Glacier. Early this morning, we drove to Many Glacier so Chance could drop off some food and they could pick up their camp permits for Glacier National Park. After a delicious breakfast at Many Glacier, the last warm, greasy meal they would have for awhile, we drove to the Chief Mountain customs and dropped them off. It was a very exciting and windy morning, and now they are officially off! Ryley’s hiking buddy Chance is also writing a blog that you can read here.

Remember, you can check the map daily to see where he is. The purple line represents the CDT alternates routes and the orangey/brown line is the official route.

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Many Glacier update

Hello again, still Hailey here. Ryley made it to Many Glacier today, a little place in Glacier National Park that has a ranger station, hotel, gift shop/general store, restaurant and a payphone! He still has no internet access but once he does he will be sending his daily journals along and I will post all of them (ETA, July 2 when he reaches East Glacier). The first 4 days have been stunningly beautiful, yet extremely difficult. Besides getting back into trail shape, they have encountered lots of “trail” that is hard snow at a 30 or 40 degree angle which may or may not be beside a cliff. Some of the paths were so steep that they bushwhacked through forest for most of the day to avoid the walking too close to the drop-offs. They also came across a mother grizzly bear with cubs. The mother charged them, but lost interest before she got too close. Chance & Ry had time to get out their bear spray but didn’t need it. Besides day 1, it has been sunny, warm and the views are incredible. Ryley is in good spirits and the park ranger said they have gotten through some of the hairiest trail conditions in GNP.

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Day 1

Great first day! We started out early from East Glacier with Hailey and her parents. We drove to Many Glaciers to get our permits and had it sorted out really quickly. The rangers were super accomodating and pretty much just let us do what we wanted. We got a good permit taking us over Stoney Indian pass tomorrow and onto the Highline trail. The rangers think it will be dangerous but Chance and I are optimistic. We had breakfast then drove up to Chief Mountain Customs and took all the obligatory photos. Hailey and I had a nice little goodbye and then we were off around 11:30.
Very easy pleasant day. Sunny but quite windy. We met a ton of hikers of all stripes coming through the Belly River area. Anyone we told we were hiking to Mexico assumed we were joking. We met a couple rangers that were complete opposites of each other. The first basically thought our plan was going to kill us, but she had heard of a couple that had done some parts of our plan (although she said they told her they wouldn’t do it again). The second looked over our permit and just said she thought we’d have an awesome time. I liked her better.

Had some nice (loud, bear scaring) chats with Chance all the way along. He talks a lot which is good to go with my long silences 🙂

We finished hiking by 4pm and putzed around camp a bit, but in tents by 6pm. It’s very windy and cold as the sun goes behind the mountains around us.

Daily Summary

Date: June 25, 2011

Daily Distance: 10.3 miles

Trip Distance: 10.3 miles

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Day 2 – Glacier National Park

Slept long last night and got moving by 9am. We had a nice quick 3 miles to the head of Glenn’s Lake and then quickly ran into a bunch of steep snow slopes as it started raining. It was really cold but the cloud cover was high enough that we could still see the mountains around us.

Chance showed off his snow traversal skills while I was quite a bit more timid. We switched to ice axes and pretty quickly put on crampons. I felt way more confident at that point and enjoyed the rest of the day a lot more. Chance had spent two weeks on snow continuously in the Sierras on the PCT, so he had tons of experience at moving through the rugged terrain we found.

As we climbed towards Stoney Indian Pass we went beside some beautiful falls, probably as large as they get in the year due to the amount of snow melt. We had a very abbreviated lunch due to the rain, snow and cold then pressed on to the pass. We started following some MASSIVE grizzly tracks on the final climb up, and the all the way down the other side. Whenever we strayed from them we got in trouble.

Eventually we descended below the snow and into lush spring again. The flowers were blooming right on the trail and the sun came out. We had not made many miles at this point, 11.4 over 7 hours, but we were already beat. We stopped for an early dinner and dried out gear while studying the maps. I realized, to our horror, we had to climb another 2500 feet to our camp site at Fifty Mountains, another 5.6 miles onward. This is what happens when rangers let you make your own itinerary, which we did on the spot in about 5 minutes. Great planning…..

Anyways, the climb was hot and hard and then we hit continuous snow again around 6000 feet. So we slowed down and started counting hours, realizing that we’d be getting to camp around dark. Chance was slowing down after breaking trail most of the day, so I led the last parts. Every 100 feet up brought better and better views of the mountains around us. Stunning. We eventually GPSd our way into “camp” on snow behind some trees. We are in the right place because we found the top foot of the outhouse buried in the snow nearby.

We’re in for a cool night but at least so far it isn’t too windy.

There wasn’t much time for thinking today. It was a mental challenge pretty much continuously to keep track of where we were. We passed one set of tracks today and didn’t see a soul. Beautiful. This is how I imagined I would see the Sierras but in 2007 they were already clear of snow by the time I walked through.

It’s well past hiker midnight aka 9pm so time for lights out.

Daily Summary

Date: June 26, 2011

Daily Distance: 17 miles

Trip Distance: 27.3 miles

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Day 3 – Glacier National Park

Crazy day, more of a slog than yesterday.

I slept OK even though it was below freezing – by the way, my Montbell ExLight Jacket is insanely warm. We started out with a traverse on snow that was fine but slow, but at one point I came around a tree corner and surprised a mommy grizzly and two cubs. I can’t say exactly what I did, but I ended up side by side with Chance with both our bear maces out while the mother charged towards us. Fortunately, once she got a good look at us, she took off. I think somewhere in there I screamed at Chance, “what do we do??!?!”. No answer. Oh well, we were pretty nervous after that!

Soon after we strayed too high and got stuck over cliffs looking at Cattle Queen Creek’s basin. While we were up there we could see the trail traversing high, with 45 degree snow banks burying the whole thing. In the distance we could see the infamous Ahren Drift and it didn’t look good either. We decided to back up and find the trail below us and traverse with it into the basin to take a closer look. We scared a black bear off somewhere in here too. 4 more bears that I saw on the whole PCT! I could have done without it 🙂

Once we were in the Cattle Queen Basin we realized our best move was to traverse around both hazards at 5600 feet and then climb back up to the trail after that. Chance was already tired at this point and we were at best half done. Our traverse went fine until we got to Ahren Creek, where the steep sides of the valley forced us to cross at a less than ideal spot. We had a good snow bridge but the far side we had to climb up an incredibly steep slope. I resorted multiple times to just jamming my hands into the dirt and praying they’d hold me up. Chance was completely exhausted by the climb and we decided we probably wouldn’t make it to our designated campsite.

We painfully climbed back up to 6800 feet then had dinner and got a last spurt of energy. We crossed one last snow field to some promising trees, hoping they would keep us out of the wind. Chance is in a tree well with his tarp over top. My Tarptent is not so flexible, but I did the best I could to protect myself from the wind.

We had great, hot weather all day… It was kinda sad though that we lacked water a lot because we were on snow mostly and not wanting to stop to melt snow. I had a lot of trouble choking down all my food, but managed… Only gagged a few times 🙂

Tomorrow we’ll have to make up a couple missed miles and then head into Many Glaciers. Chance is already talking zero day – he took twice as many as I did on the PCT, and I had thought I took way too many!

Once again well past hiker midnight so good night to all.

Daily Summary
Date: June 27, 2011
Daily Distance: 9.4 miles
Trip Distance: 36.7 miles


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Day 4 – Glacier National Park

A much easier day today, with some climbing to Swiftcurrent Pass in the morning. We got to see Granite Chalet from a distance and then the beautiful view down to Many Glaciers.

The trick was getting down the pass. The trail is largely blasted out of cliff, so we had to descend on snow until we got to the right spot and then follow it. It turned out to be 95% snow free, but damn, that last 5% was gnarly. Chance led the way over the worst of it. It would have been impossible without ice axes and extra traction on the feet. Chance even had to chop some steps with his ax.

We got down fast after that and we knew we were close to civilization when we started running into tons of day hikers. We slogged our way into Many Glaciers with thundershowers and hail chasing us.

3 cokes and a burger later, I’m feeling human. We have to resupply here and get our permits extended by a day to stop in Two Medicines… We originally thought a 23 mile day would be doable, but if we want to keep doing these big snow-bound passes we have to stay slower.

Daily Summary
Date: June 28, 2011
Daily Distance: 9.7 miles
Trip Distance: 46.4 miles

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Day 5 – Glacier National Park

Last night was very weird. It was warm out, enough that I was dripping sweat in my sleeping bag, but there was a gusty wind big enough to freeze me whenever it kicked up. So I didn’t sleep more than 15-20 minutes at a time, alternating between in and out of my bag. Hailey had also told me over the phone that my dad was reading journals of people ahead and that some of the river fords in the Bob Marshall Wilderness were “very hard”. I was somewhat worrying about that even though there’s nothing to be done but keep hiking and see what happens.

Anyways, we got up early to have one last town meal before heading out again, then got hiking by 8am. We saw a baby moose in the parking lot… Ahh nature, isn’t it wonderful? ;).

We started with about 4 miles of easy day hiker trails but then quickly got onto snow. We wandered easily up the slopes and saw some great warterfalls on the opposite side of the valley. This is probably one of the few good things about how much snow is around – the waterfalls are huge!

Eventually it was time to start climbing towards the pass, and our challenge this time was a wind gusting up to 60km/h. More than enough to stop me in my tracks! On top of that we were climbing very steep snow slopes, so being knocked off balance was less than ideal. Unlike yesterday though, the pass itself wasn’t so snow-locked, and we were able to just walk up to the top at 7520 feet. There was only one hard traverse, and I caught it on video a bit.

Looking down into the next bowl, we could see a problem – the trail was almost completely buried in snow, and we were supposed to traverse high around the slopes and eventually drop down to the Rising to the Sun Road. We ended up dropping almost straight down out of the pass and then walked to the road on top of the frozen river. We had a lot of fun getting down, lots of big boot slides.

When we got to the road we were greeted by a ranger telling us the road was closed… But there was no problem, he just wanted to make sure we headed down the right way. It started pouring rain and we quickly road walked and then dropped off the road to our campsite.

Lightweight camping in the rain isn’t super fun, because we don’t carry things like cooking tarps, so dinner was fast and I was in my tent faster. Chance did make and share with me some chocolate pudding though… Mmm.

Overall today we did a much better job of navigating, multiple times we were walking on untouched snow commenting “the trail should be near here” only to have a 10 foot segment of bare trail pop out a minute later.

Daily Summary
Date: June 29, 2011
Daily Distance: 14.8 miles
Trip Distance: 61.2 miles

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Day 6 – Glacier National Park

Very rainy last night, and I was reminded of a few leaks in the roof of my tent. Slept very well though, no alarm set.

We had an easy stroll around St Mary Lake, then had lunch by the bridge over Red Eagle Creek. Met a ranger and chatted with him a bit. He thought we shouldn’t have any problems over the next two passes, woo!

I’m not sure if I said this before, but my Kindle seems to be busted. Days like today are what its for! It’s sunny and we finished hiking by 4. Oh well, Chance gave me half his book, so that’s a start.

Daily Summary
Date: June 30, 2011
Daily Distance: 14.8 miles
Trip Distance: 75.6 miles

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Day 7 – Glacier National Park

Nice night, slept really well, we didn’t get up too early either. It looked to be an easy morning until we got to the first river crossing and the bridge was missing! We looked at the map and determined that the trail crossed over and back a mile later, so our first thought was just to bushwhack to where it came back. Then we weren’t even sure which river we were at, so Chance just decided to ford it. He had a lot more experience fording big streams so I watched… As he made it about half way then came back. The stream was too strong at that point.

Plan B ended up having a different stream crossing, which we managed shimmying over a slimy log right below some waterfalls. We eventually got back on trail and the rest of the way up to Triple Divide Pass went easily. Lots of snow, but mostly in the right places.

Triple Divide Pass is called that because waters flow from it’s slopes to 3 different oceans (I have no idea which ones). We started coming down with another long slowly descending traverse. It had lots of snow patches that slowed us down until we got frustrated and just glissaded down to the bottom and picked up a handy trail going the right way.

We met our first backpackers since Day 1 AND we are sharing a campground with them (a first). We actually saw them walking on the trail earlier and I got all excited – I ran up to them shouting “look, people!!!”. They were actually quite understanding and nice, even offering to share their dinner with us. They also had a frisbee, which sealed their place in my heart.

Daily Summary
Date: July 1, 2011
Daily Distance: 10.7 miles
Trip Distance: 86.3 miles

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Day 8 – Glacier National Park

Last night was very buggy, but I fell asleep at about 8pm and was up at 6am… Not my normal hours. Chance had stayed up drinking straight Vodka with our campsite buddies, but he was ready to go early too.

Pitamakin Pass was our goal for the day and it turned out to be our least technically challenging yet. It was all snow from almost right out of our camp, 6 miles to the top, but once we crossed over the pass everything dried out! We had to cross one steep snowfield coming down and then we were on dry trail all the way to camp!

We passed lots of day hikers and chatted them all up (you never know when random strangers might help you out). Also I guess it’s just polite to chat with people 🙂

We ended up in a big state campground, with a nice little store, which provided us with snacks, dinner, and breakfast for tomorrow. We didn’t have a way to cook dinner though, so we went begging for a fire around the campgrounds, and found a nice couple to sit with and cook our bratwursts. They were a DA and school teacher, one from Copenhagen and the other from Michigan. Very entertaining. They are in the process of driving across the country from West to East then flying to Denmark to live.

I may have mentioned this a few times, but my Kindle is busted and I am very sad about it… We’ve had hours in camps that I could have read in… Sigh.

Tomorrow we finally get to a decent town, and due to July 4th, we’ll be there for a bit waiting for the post office to open. It’ll be my first shower and first laundry since we started. Definitely looking forward to it, for my sake and others 🙂

Daily Summary
Date: July 2, 2011
Daily Distance: 14.2 miles
Trip Distance: 100.5 miles

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