Well hello there and welcome back to the blog for a little slice of our vacation life! As most of you know, this summer brought yet another training deployment for James. As bummed as we were to miss out on exploring this great state during it’s most beautiful weather period, we quickly tried to put that aside and began planning a vacation hoping that James’ opportunity leave (Army’s way of saying “paid vacation”) would allow it to happen. Planning vacations or even just something simply fun and different to do when he returns is always a good way for us to distract ourselves from the separation at hand by having something to hold onto jointly. And planning this trip was just the key! God’s hand was truly on us this trip from it’s planning stages all the way through its execution. So many answered prayers that most definitely did not go unnoticed. The first and foremost was James getting the time off and it landing on the week after they got back from their deployment. That’s pretty significant mainly for mental relaxation as the first few weeks after a deployment typically are a “little” less intense since the company is waiting to receive their equipment back before they can resume training. That for me was a huge blessing as it allowed James to (almost ha!) fully relax and turn his phone off for most of our trip.
When we tell people we are going on a vacation full of backpacking and camping, or talk about our adventures and how many miles we hiked, the typical reaction is not to normally pair that type of activity with relaxation and rejuvenation ha ha. But for us, (and probably most who hike and backpack) it is probably the most relaxing and rejuvenating thing we can do. Yes, there are definitely some exhausting times, but the rewards for the hours of walking far outweigh the aching bodies. The quiet stillness of the backcountry where there’s no cell service calms our souls and uplifts us. The fact that all we have to do is walk is freeing. No deadlines other than darkness. No pressures, no cares, no technology. Just us. We can walk for hours in the silence just gazing at the beauty that’s around us or we can talk about whatever is on our heart with no time restraints. Our feet can take us to places very few have gone and places that can only be seen by those who dare to tread there. We get to meet other like-minded individuals on the trail and chit chat about their routes and backgrounds. And as much as we as humans collectively don’t like pain, there’s something about exhausting yourself physically that is also refreshing (I know I know- endorphins right?). The backcountry to us is our “Bermuda” to many others. And that’s okay, because the more people in Bermuda, the less in the mountains 😉 So with that, our third road trip began to form and Glacier National Park in Montana was first up on the itinerary….
We decided to hit the very northern part of Glacier National Park for our backcountry excursion and we ended up having to drive up through Canada to begin our journey! The first night though we stayed in the southern part of the park so that the next morning we could drive the famous “Going to the Sun” road that loops through some of the most beautiful parts of the park on our way up to our starting point.
So if we had a choice you’d be seeing a nice SUV or truck down below with some awesome space for all of our gear and great clearance for those forest roads we often tread, but alas this is our reality and it’s a pretty good one at that. Old rojo (lovingly named by the girls I nannied) has been a solid car for us and has now provided three smooth car trips exceeding over 2,000 miles each trip. Though a little tight with all our food and gear, the smooth and quiet ride is unmatchable by any SUV or truck!
Upon arriving in Canada with passports in tow, we hopped on a ferry that took us across the STUNNING Waterton Lake from the cutest little Canadian town of Waterton and dropped us back into the U.S. at the very northern tip of the park. After clearing customs at the 2-manned ranger station we stepped off for our first day in the backcountry. Destination: Stony Indian Campground 7.5 miles with 2,100 ft. of elevation to climb in the last 2 miles.
While in Glacier National Park you are highly advised to be carrying bear spray and have to follow some strict guidelines concerning food preparation and storage. This is because the bear population (particularly grizzly) is immense there and the national parks work very hard to preserve the delicate beauty of the area. And bears snatching human food just leads to bad conclusions. That being said, I may have been a “little” nervous going into this backpacking expedition with bears (and cougars, mind you) around. But, after some video training, a can of bear spray strapped to my belt, and a knife in my backpack pocket, I felt ready to go and even ready to see a Grizzly–from a distance, that is. Well, no Grizzly was seen on any of our explorations, but as I was leading the way on the trail clapping my hands (another tactic you’re supposed to do while in Glacier to make your presence known-I was totally on top of this bear stuff ha ha) and talking to James I manage to turn a corner and stop dead in my tracks as I notice a big ‘ole black bear on the trail about 20 feet from us now walking away from us. All my “training” (ha!) kicked right in, and we just simply stopped and made some noise as the bear walked its way off the trail. After waiting a few minutes, we started walking again and enjoyed seeing all the bear tracks on the trail for a good three miles or so!
I will forewarn anyone who is looking at going to Glacier though that the trails were pretty miserable- at least where we were at. The brush was so overwhelming oftentimes covering the trail so much so that we couldn’t see our feet and sometimes even being as tall as I was. By the end of the first day my legs were all scratched up and I desperately wished I had a machete to cut down everything in my way! That wouldn’t really help the preservation aspect though! ha ha. But, eventually, we did make it to the top and my skepticism of the trail being worth it wore off to the beautiful campground. We set up camp right away and got to some exploring….
Can you find BOB (our tent: Big ‘Ole Blue) in the bottom left photo?! He’s peeking out 🙂
This was the view from the food preparation area where we cooked up dinner and stored all of our scented items.
Later that evening, we had a little bit of a fun surprise as rain (which we knew was forecasted) started to fall, quickly turning into rather large size hail balls! Our tent location managed to pool up and within a matter of minutes our tent was sitting in a huge puddle of water. James quickly started shoveling a trench around the tent getting pelted with hail the whole while, as I laid down a waterproof tarp on the bottom of our tent and then sat comfortably inside listening to the crazy loud sound of the hail hitting our tent and hearing James scrape up the earth to keep us from getting soaked and cold. What a man!
The next morning we woke up to the mountain filled with beautiful rich color saturated by the rain from the previous night and mist from the morning. We decided to leave our packs behind and do a quick trip to the top of Stony Indian Pass before heading back down the mountain. After backpacking for miles, it’s amazing how light you feel just hiking with nothing on! The trip up the Pass felt like nothing and it was absolutely breathtaking as we meandered through the meadows and across waterfall beds to the top!
This picture below is from below the Pass. We hiked up to the gray clearing you see. Looks deceiving as the camera can’t capture depth very well but it was actually 2 miles up and 600 ft. of elevation gain.
And this is the view looking back down! The first picture taken from below the pass was shot at the upper left side of the lake near the neck.
It’s always fun for us to meet other backpackers along the way and chat about what they are doing and what they’ve seen!
I LOVE baby trees. Particularly fat ones.
After reaching the Pass and having a snack, we headed back down, pulled on our packs and started trekking down the path we came up the day before. Our second night we had some “luxury” camping as we got to use a hiker’s shelter (covered building and concrete slab) for the evening which was nice since it rained again!
This trip we decided to try out Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry meals and it was SO much more convenient than our other cheaper but more laborious methods. We just got some of the bulk boxes and one of them had dessert so we whipped up this apple cobbler after our morning eggs and it turned out surprisingly well and DELECTABLE. We knew we were going to need a little extra something as we were about to tackle 11 miles and 2500 ft. of elevation gain to make it to our “Hole in the Wall” Campground.
Lake Janet popped up along our trek so we took a quick snack break to enjoy its beauty!
James was sure to take a picture a day of our backpacking travels!
As we continued on the trail (which by the way was equally as horrible as the two previous day’s trails) we ended up passing one of the Rangers who we saw at the permit station our first day. She was off for the day and meandering the trail and before she passed us she let us know that there was a bull moose just up ahead chilling out at Thunderbird Pond. Well, as James learned quickly, there are two things that will really get me moving in the backcountry. One is running away from animals (a story coming up) and the other is running to animals. This instance it was the latter. I was ECSTATIC and wanted to see a moose so I took off without reservation almost running so I wouldn’t miss him. James tried to scramble through the brush behind me but started trailing a little behind knowing I would obviously let him know if I saw the moose. Well I finally enter the clearing and am looking all around and no moose. We kept walking and see nothing. I was bummed, but only for a matter of seconds until I realized the the breathtaking location of where we were! Who knew a pond could be so beautiful! Holy smokes! Thunderbird pond ended up being one of my favorite locations from our whole trip. Anywho, we couldn’t pass up the view so decided to eat lunch there hoping and literally praying that maybe the moose would make another appearance. Well 20 minutes turned into 30 and it was time for us to start packing up again, but just as we started I see a head pop out from the brush and realize that God had indeed answered my seemingly insignificant prayer. I was going to get to see a moose! And a moose I did see! He was awesome!
Getting closer but at a safe distance from Mr. Moose.
Some other backpackers joined us to watch the moose
After another half an hour of watching this guy, we finally decided it was time to keep trekking up, so back on the trail we went for some more miles and elevation gain. Thankfully the elevation gain was nice and meandering-very unlike our hikes in WA that enjoy killing your legs with major elevation gain in short distances. We FINALLY hit some clearing and the last several miles of our hike were spent with a nice breeze gazing at the beautiful side of the ridge with mountains surrounding us and the sun warming our skin. We finally cleared the corner of the mountain and dipped into the “hole in the wall” where our campground would be and stood amazed at our surroundings. This was easily one of our most favorite campground sites to date.
The next morning we again decided to do a quick morning day hike without our packs to the Pass that was above us. Though not in our original plans, we were heading back down the same trail we came up so we knew what we were in for the rest of the day and were willing to take the risk of some more miles. The Pass ended up being a little bit further than expected at 3.75 miles up with 1200 ft. of elevation, but it was the morning and we were fresh without packs so it wasn’t too bad at all. It ended up being an absolutely stunning trail as well and we were so glad we did it! We got to see marmots along the way as well as some chipmunks wrestling with a bear bell! ha ha.
This is right after crossing the pass looking at the other side
After coming back down from the Pass we grabbed our packs again and headed back down the 11 miles of trail stopping along the way at Lake Francis. By the time we reached our designated campground we had just about hit 18 miles worth of hiking for the day and my legs were feeling it for sure. That was record mileage for me! But as we hit the last mile of our hike, we started being swarmed with nasty mosquitoes. Since we were moving, we didn’t realize just how many there were but as we finally stopped our aching legs from moving their attack came swiftly and fiercely with what felt like dozens of them coming at me at once. We immediately doused ourselves with bug spray but to no avail as the wretched things kept attacking. And as stated before, there are two things that can get me moving… even after 18 miles of hiking. This time is just so happened to be running away from animals.
In Glacier you can only camp at designated campgrounds that you reserve specifically and you can only prepare and eat your food at certain food preparation areas. With that understanding, there was no way I was about to sit outside at the designated eating site only to be eaten alive myself. I knew the shelters that we stayed at two night’s previous were only about 2 miles away as well as the Ranger Station and ferry dock where we entered the park. Though we were scheduled to hop back on the ferry the next morning, I knew we were allowed to get on whenever as long as there was enough room. I also knew there was the potential that there may be a campsite open back at the shelters (which are right next to the ferry dock) but we’d have to check in with the Ranger and see if we could change our reservation. At this point it was just past 7:30 p.m. with the last ferry leaving at 8 p.m. I didn’t know if we would be hopping on the last ferry or able to switch our reservation with the Ranger, but the one thing I did know was that I wasn’t staying there. So off I bounded again with James close behind….There ended up being an opening at the shelters we were able to grab! Hallelujah!
After spending our last evening in the shelters away from the mosquitos, we woke up to a beautiful morning the next day as we packed our gear to head back to Canada. Originally, we had planned to just start traveling south after we got out, but after 50 miles of backpacking our bodies yearned for a shower and a real bed. The cute little town of Waterton caught our attention the first day we drove through to catch the ferry so we decided to stay the day, grabbed probably the last room available in a quaint little lodge (another answered prayer!), and enjoyed a delicious dinner (after amazing showers!) at the Lakeside Chophouse overlooking the water. It was a sweet evening together and was SO nice to feel clean and be in some nice clothing!
And so ended our adventures in Montana and Canada. The next morning we started heading down south for our next adventure in……Yellowstone!