Diary: Glacier National Park Backpacking Trip
September, 1986

[Also see See Photos and Highlights From This Trip]

All of the following is the diary Shirley and I wrote during our visit to Glacier National Park in Montana where we backpacked and day-hiked. I have added maps (using Google Maps) to show the possible routes described. [Text that is bracketed like this are comments I added]

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Written Wednesday, Sept 17, 1986 at Red Chief Motel, after returning from Grinnel Glacier Lake

Fri, Sept 12 and before: Spent much of summer planning trip to Glacier. Shirley and I went store to store finding boots, gloves, caps, a sleeping bag, topo maps, etc. Figured out exactly the right time to go, after labor day and before it got cold, so there would be few tourists but clear weather for observing the stars.

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After hours of poring over maps, I picked a 6 day back packing route from Sherbourne Lake [Lake Sherburne] to Poia Lake to Elizabeth Lake, then over to the Garden Wall and down to Granite Park, then back across to Many Glacier.

[Using current trails I was unable to map what I thought was a reasonable route based on the above description, but here are two possibilities]
[For any of the photos, click on the image to bring up the full resolution, uncropped version.]

On day of departure Shirley awoke to go to work (I had taken day off). 1 1/2 hours later she was back - there was no electricity at DTIC [Defense Technical Information Center]. The rest

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of the morning was running around, then we drove to Freddie Mac, where I parked the car, said a last goodbye to co-workers, and went with Shirley to the metro stop. By then we had learned two things from papers:

Followed an uneventful flight to Great Falls, arrived at 10:15. In spite of repeated

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confirmation that Rent-a-Wreck would have a car waiting, there was none. Meanwhile, Shirley conversed with strangers who told us how awful the weather was, how many people had been mauled, that if we stopped in Browning the "Injuns" would strip our car like the "niggers" on the east coast, that all bears in Glacier, except yearlings and cubs, had transmitters (untrue), and that we would not get a car that night.

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After repeated calls and 1 1/2 hours, a whiskey-breathed owner of Rent-a-Wreck, provided us with a very nice car. We drove off into the snow and sleet.

Later that night we checked in at a motel, the , in , and slept little. I had a wracking cough. The motel had a train track nearby.

Sat, Sept 13

In the morning we got an early start

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and ate a hearty breakfast at the Cafe in . The hashbrowns, waffle, and eggs were excellent. The day was overcast and wet, with snow on the ground and trees west of Browning. At St. Marys Visitor Center we had a long, engaging conversation with a ranger. She said the route we had picked was one of the best. No-one else was in that area except

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for the ranger who patrolled the Belly River area.

Since the weather was so rotten we decided to start on Sunday, not Saturday. Instead, we would drive the Going-to-the-Sun road and hike up to Avalanche Lake. We would camp at the camp ground in my trusty orange tube tent. So we reserved one campsite and began the drive. It alternated between spectacular

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and frustrating because of the low lying clouds. Near Logan Pass the sleet had changed to snow and the drive became harrowing. So we drove to McDonald Lake [Lake McDonald, which is different from the nearby but more distant McDonald Lake] and headed straight back. A wise decision.

Snow had begun to accumulate near Logan Pass. By the time we passed over, no more cars were being allowed.

Back at the campsite we set up the tube

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tent, then rode into St. Mary for a good dinner and to browse the curio shop, where we bought bear bells.

Driving back to camp we had our first wonderful experience. It was dusk, but still plenty of light. We pulled to the side of the road near a meadow for no particular reason.

"Did you hear that?"

It was an elk bugling! And another

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answered the challenge. We were looking out across a meadow, up a gentle slope to evergreens which led up to mountain peaks. Occasional meadows broke through the evergreens at higher elevations.

For forty-five minutes we stood quietly as twilight darkened. Then, in one of the higher meadows, I saw a shape. With binoculars it resolved itself into an elk.

The eerie, echoing bugling went

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on. Then two males came out of the forest at the upper edge of the meadow near us. One had at least a twelve point rack of antlers.

They fought.

We saw them come together and rise up as the challenger failed in his attempt. For the next hour we watched and listened. 14 doe elk came out to graze around the dominant male. There were no more

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spectacular encounters, but we stayed at the magical scene until it was too dark to see. Even as we left, the bugling in the woods and meadows of that cold night continued.

Sunday - Sept 14.

Had another awful night, this one in the tube tent, then went into St Mary's for a very good breakfast at the lodge.

With our backpacking permit in hand, we drove 8 miles to Babb and

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then into the park again at Many Glacier. The day was cold and wet, but there was the occasional patch of blue sky which heartened us.

Boy were we wrong. Two days of misery.

Backpacked 1 1/2 miles from campground to beginning of Poia Lake trail. Then up into the brush and trees. Quickly learned that we needed gators (our legs were soaked from the wet underbrush that hemmed

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in the trail) and our boots were not waterproof. Not long before our thick wool socks were squishing in cold, trapped boot water.

And we were constantly aware of all the bears we never saw.

The low point was at the high point. Swiftcurrent Lake. A poor little lake surrounded by snow capped pines and a muddy, snowy trail. 2 1/2 miles to go.

The trail went down and became

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more reasonable. We saw cougar tracks. The trail dried out as we descended until we were overlooking a dry valley with a few head of cattle. I lost my bear bell in this area.

Next we headed up towards Poia Lake, a steep 200 foot climb which was pretty in a dessicated sort of way. My pants legs dried out, but the boots were hopeless.

At Poia Lake, all became snowy/wet

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Set up the tube tent and went down to the lake for water. This was actually kind of pretty and would have been quite pleasant in dry clothes. Boiled water, ate some M&M's, gathered firewood, Shirley drank tea. At one point I walked back to the camp site to get the tea. We used the opportunity to test our emergency whistles, which worked fine.

The lake was edged by evergreens on only

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one side (the cold, wet side where the designated camp sites were located). The rest of the lake was surrounded by meadows. There were ridges on two sides. The drainage creek was crossed by a primitive bridge, which we traversed.

Up at the campsite Shirley cooked a "hearty ministrone soup" which was hot and salty; this made it excellent under the cirumstances.

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Meanwhile, I tried unsuccessfully to make wet wood burn.

Then we emptied the packs of all night time essentials and tried to hoist the packs on a nylon rope over a "bear bar" provided by rangers. This effort failed until Shirley gamely climbed a tree and helped lift the packs as I pulled on the rope. Shirley is a good tree climber.

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Another rotten night in a tube tent. Another night of little sleep. A major decision before falling off to sleep: no more backpacking in these miserable conditions.

Monday September 15

Woke up and dreaded putting on wet boots, but did so. Decided to break camp without eating. Some hysterical laughter about what a good time we were having. Uneventful, relatively fast hike back. We

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did meet Gail Richards of Silver Spring, Md, who had come up after us, alone, but had not quite made it to Poia Lake. Also, we found my bear bell.

God were we glad to get back to the warmth of the car. Arrived in mid-afternoon. On the road, before we reached the car we stopped and talked to an air-head Californian and her husband. They were dressed for summer and she prattled on about going to Banff, Canada, and whether the

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weather would be better up north. Shirley and I got a laugh.

The major advantage of the 2 days of backpacking was how incredibly wonderful it made common luxuries seem: heated car; dry, warm feet; a hot meal.

We ate at St. Mary's lodge, which had the best salmon I have ever tasted. Followed by a wonderful raspberry pie. Served with the meal was a unique scone, more

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like a doughnut sweetness, on which one put a honey/butter confection. (I had discovered earlier that the lodge made a wonderful fudge, also).

That night and every night thereafter, we stayed in warm, dry, Red Eagle motel.

Tuesday, Sept 16, 39 years old

My birthday was a wonderful day. The weather cleared a little: no rain, occasional

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sun, and cloud layer risen above the mountain tops for parts of the day. Our new itenerary called for day hikes and today would be up to Avalanche Lake.

We drove over Logan Pass down to the Trail of the cedars, which begins Avalanche Lake Trail. The first part of the trail is a self-guided walk, directed by a 25ยข pamphlet. At the

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end of our hike, when we returned, we took the tour.

The entire hike was very, very pretty. A deep forest with lot of moss and fern traversed by a well tended trail. Avalanche Lake is surrounded by peaks and thin waterfalls. Shirley had a birthday party for me with candle-lit cupcakes and an unmentionable present (which supplemented her earlier present of the Karamazov Brothers show and her future

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present of another wonderful Salmon dinner at the lodge. A chipmunk visited our birthday party, but got nothing. The cupcakes were awful. The thought was wonderful, as is Shirley.

On the way down from Avalanche Lake we spent considerable time at a stream bed sorting through fabulous stones. Both of us became interested in the geology of Glacier (most formations

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a billion-plus years old). We could distinguish among Grinnel red mudstone, Appekemay green mudstone, Seiych limestone, and grey diabase. We loaded our treasures into the backpack and departed.

At Logan Pass the clouds had lifted so we took an unplanned day hike. It was quite spectacular. All the peaks were visible.

The "trail" is a wooden board walk over the Alpine meadows

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which leads up to a glacier at the foot of Mt. Cleveland [actually probably Clements Mountain]. The board walk then becomes a gravel trail which leads around to an overlook of Hidden Lake.

We passed three young hikers who told us of "baby bear paw prints", which turned out to be one print of a snow shoe hare. Hidden Lake from high above is quite pretty.

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We constantly scanned the meadows and forests for bears. And Shirley constantly jangled her bells. We also looked for big horn sheep or more mountain goats (We had seen mountain goats every time we went on the western side of Logan Pass).

Back at St. Mary Shirley treated me to the dinner, then back to the motel and to bed.

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Wednesday, Sept 17

We awoke to a cold and ultimately wet day, but went ahead with our planned day hike up to Grinnel Glacier.

The trail starts at Swiftcurrent Lake Campground (not to be confused with Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake on the way to Poia). It is a well-tended trail (in fact, asphalt covered to start). At the lower end of Josephine

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lake, right after Swiftcurrent, we think we had a near encounter with a bear. We were suddenly surrounded by a miasma much like the odor of a wet, dirty dog with an overlaying stench of musk. It was very strong. This matched the description in one book of a bear. Shirley saw grass recovering from being flattened on the left. During the day we saw scat and many diggings, but never a clear

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bear print.

The views as we climbed above Josephine and then Grinnel Lakes were beautiful. We could see up one valley to Morning Eagle Falls. Brinnel Falls came and went as low lying clouds alternately covered and lifted.

The Glacier area was somewhat disappointing, since it was in the middle of a cloud. Still, it was a

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strange and interesting world of icy Upper Grinnel Lake, colorful moraine with an incredible selection of artwork stones, and, finally, a beautiful glimpse of an ice-blue glacier wall coming down to the edge of the lake. This we saw only momentarily as the fog lifted. Then a sleet which changed to snow began and we were once again wrapped in cloud.

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This made us nervous, so we hiked quickly back, pausing only briefly for a lunch of cheese and crackers and dried fruit. The picnic was on a large, Grinnel-red rock overlooking Grinnel lake. The food led to much laughter and comment the rest of the evening about farts.

On this trip I lost my bear bell once and for all. This evening we

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did laundry and ate a buffalo burger at a local store. Buffalo burger is indistinguishable from hamburger.

[The rest of the diary was written by Shirley]

P.S. On our way back from Grinnel Glacier - just before the parking lot, we started to pass over a foot bridge with a squirrel at the other side trying to cross. So as not to scare the squirrel we stood very still and the squirrel tried 3 times to cross the bridge, each time stopping near us. It gave up & scampered back where it had come.

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Thurs, 9/18/86 - Shirley writing

The day got off to a marvelous start when Bob & I looked out the window & saw rain, pouring down. Every now & then it changed to snow. Against our better judgement, (?) we decided to postpone our 10 mile hike to Iceberg Lake until tomorrow & better weather (?). Went to the Johnston Cafe next door & ate a wonderful breakfast

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of eggs, hash browns & home-made bread. Montana cooks sure know how to do it good!

After breakfast we drove into St. Mary's, picked up some magazines to read. (in order to "wait-out" the rain) and some SNO-SEAL to waterproof our boots.

Bob and I water-proofed our boots & spent until around 1:00 pm in the motel room - reading

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the magazines.

By 1:00 pm a miracle had occurred & the rain let up. We hiked up to St. Mary's falls & Virginia falls.

Decided to forego Red Wood falls as the foliage & underbrush near the trail made pants legs too wet.

We hiked instead to SUNRISE point (for a total 6 mile trip) near St. Mary's Lake. The day was still

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overcast but at least the rain was cooperating by not falling.

Bob read a 10-point nature interpretive trail guide to me; I learned more about the native flora, geology & historical events of glacier.

On our way back from the trail we met Keith & Dena Kurz (from Michigan) - two hikers who had sold their

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home & planned to travel "until the money ran out." They were fascinating to talk with - and Bob & I swapped stories with them about hiking & the sights of Yosemite & Glacier.

The day had turned out nice after all. Tomorrow we'll do Iceberg Lake - ill weather or not.

Ptarmigan Falls

Iceberg Lake

Sat. we plan to see a grizzly bear movie at the Nature Center.

Other Websites
By Bob:

Bob Phillips [phillips bob 27 at yahoo dot com - no spaces]
Santa Rosa, CA
December, 2020