Day two began without much fanfare. No night time encounters other than a couple bugs. I got an early start since I was scheduled for a 19 mile day over Stoney Indian Pass and part way up Brown Pass. The climb was fairly steep, but seeing what laid ahead, I knew it was about to get harder.
I had left before the other PNT thrus, but they passed me about halfway up. I had mentally prepared for a couple short snow fields, but it never occurred to me that I’d have some sketchy water crossings. Right after Astina Lake there was a board laid out over a fast moving creek. As soon as I stepped on it the board tilted to one side. It wasn’t a lot, but enough to toss my ungraceful butt into the water had I been in the middle. Since I’m no gymnast, I decided a Ford was safer. I unclipped my pack and carefully planted my feet in the frigid waters. I moved slowly across, and felt out every foot plant balanced with my trekking poles. I made it passed with some slightly wet shorts where the water lapped at my knees. On the short switchbacks that followed, I gave in to my hunger pangs and ate a snack. That’s what I get for skipping breakfast.
Finally up to the ledge, I had to ford again above Patriot Falls. I knew the cliff was only 20 or so yards down the stream, so being swept down this here would lead to falling back down hundreds of feet. If I was going to die, it would be a shame to waste all that work getting to the top. I’d rather the trail figure out how to kill me while I’m still at the bottom. Thankfully, other than going a bit numb in the snow melt it was uneventful. Just another 500 feet of climbing to go. It was then I realized that the AT was definitely in the past. I was not in hiking shape and all those pounds I packed back on from slamming sodas didn’t make things any easier.
The top of the pass offered some beautiful views of Stoney Indian Lake.
I was exhausted by the top though and took a much needed rest. The sun was getting to me. Once moving again I was on an incredibly steep descent. I encountered a few patches of snow on the way up, but going down was the first one that you could slide a little bit. It’s not that there was a risk of glissading right off a cliff, but you could slide into a few rocks and get banged up. In total I think there were 9 patches of snow.
It was just slow going down. After the lake, the vegetation became extremely thick. In several parts I couldn’t see where I was stepping at all. I just had to hope that I found all the switchbacks and didn’t sprain an ankle on one of the frequent water bars or rocks. The plants reaching as high as my chest were common, but a time or two they were over my head.
Once at the bottom of the descent, the PNW combines with the CDT. It surely some exciting miles for CDT thru that finish only 8 miles or so from that spot. I continued on to the Goat Haunt Ranger station. I got there sometime after 4:00 and was just completely exhausted. I laid down for a while after the Customs and Immigration officer played 20 questions with me. I got to watch as the tourists got on and off the boat to Waterton in Canada. Waterton Lake is very pretty, though I hardly see the appeal of ferrying to the US just to say you’ve been there.
I started moving again along the flat trail that leaves the ranger station area. I was weak with fatigue. Soon after leaving, the freakiest bridge crosses the river. Load limit: One hiker. Uhh… That sounds pretty unscientific. The whole time I’m crossing I figure the conversation was something along the lines of “How much can this bridge hold?” “Oh, I don’t know that math stuff. Surely it’s good for at least one…” And so it is signed.
And let me tell you. That thing bounced and swayed with every step.
About a mile and a half in, the trail starts it’s slow climb up to Jenny Lake. I could feel that I was just out of gas. The heat surely wasn’t innocent either. I reluctantly turned back to camp at the Waterton River Campground. It violated my permit, since there are designated sites chosen when it’s issued. Unfortunately there was no way I could make another 800 feet of climbing or the 6 miles to my site.
I chatted with the lovely couple there that had met in Glacier 16 years ago. As darkness fell, I got ready for bed. The mosquitos were horrible and my quilt was way to warm for the weather. I had to decide between a sweatbox and suffering the blood lust of those horrid little insects. The best was to just swap back and forth.
Day 3: In the morning I felt much better. I needed to make up 6 of the 19 miles from the day before, so felt the need to keep moving. Most of the climb wasn’t too bad up to the Frances Lake Campground where I should have stayed. It was just overgrown with very few views of the mountains. There were also these obnoxious little plants that grew right alongside the trail and were between waist and shoulder height.
Everytime I brushed against them, they decorated my shirt like so:
If you have any pollen allergies, this is not the right trail for you, unless you have an abundance of self-loathing, which is sorta a prerequisite to a thru-hike anyway. I guess disregard that and I’ll continue to pretend you take my advice seriously in the first place. Back to the trail, nearing Brown Pass there is a pretty view of Thunderbird Falls, the meltwater from Thunderbird Glacier. The park predicts the glaciers will be all gone by 2030, so see them soon.
Brown Pass is just to the right of the smaller hump in the photo above. The sun was in full force as I climbed up. The top offered nice views to the valley I was about to enter.
Thankfully, that was the end of all my major climbing for the day. The descending was still pretty rough. My gait for most of it was to plant a foot and slowly shift weight. There was no momentum to help keep me going and no break to the thought behind every step. At least there was a pretty cascade.
The climb down went on forever and I’m convinced they only put in switchbacks because if they had made the trail any steeper it would require some system of Chutes and Ladders. A chute does sound easier on the joints. Remember how I’m not in thru-hiking shape?
I ran into a guy on his way up when he was about halfway, another 1000′ feet up to go. He didn’t say much, mostly just asked if I had seen any bear. I hadn’t and we both moved on. Not long later there was a couple making their way up too. I heard them clapping to alert bears before I saw them. That gave me enough time to pretend I wasn’t taking a nap on the side of the trail. This guy was carrying most of the stuff for both of them! Up a 2000’+ climb! Forget that. She can go hungry and sleep under the stars. They too asked if I had seen bears. Is everyone so afraid?
I nearly reached the river when I heard a big comotion and saw two bear cubs scury up the trees right next to the trail. What the hell? Did the three hikers I just pass run into these bears and then not bother to mention it? Had the topic not come up I can understand, but they went out of their way to ask me. A little reciprocity is expected even if I didn’t ask. My problem at hand was two treed cubs and an absentee mother. No mom likes to admit their kids are the problem and I really didn’t want to find out how she felt about that. I backed up the trail with bearspray in hand, safety off. I slowly approached several times and then retreated when I saw the Cubs in the tree. When they finally came down, I didn’t see which way they ran. I carried my spray for about 1/4 mile figuring my luck was that they ran down this convenient path in the woods.
The next few miles I just hoped for Bowman Lake Campground to be just around the corner. I was ready for dinner and I needed to poop. Between the steep cliffs, thick brush, and my reluctance to poop on the woods anyway, that privy was sure to bring relief. And relief it brought (after miles of cursing at mosquitos and whining to myself). I didn’t even bother to snap a photo at the lake. I just ate and hiked on. The other end of the lake was my stop for the night. It was a front country campground still 8 miles away. I wasn’t really racing the darkness, just the fact it was sure to fill up on a Friday night and the ranger wasn’t going to be up all night for late-comers like me. I got there in about 3 hours, a fast pace.
The ranger told me it was full when I got there at 9:30. No surprise really. He was impressed that I had hiked about 22 miles and sympathized with my situation. I got to camp in the picnic area for free even. Basically I got the biggest, grassiest campsite, with multiple picnic tables and my own privy. Hard to beat that. Well, unless I had some Deet for another night of mosquito feasting. Then I realized I had left my headlamp in the privy 8 miles back. What a day.