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[CDT-L] Montana 98 (part 4)

Friday, August 7.  Atlantic Creek to Upper Two Medicine Lake (14.3
miles) -
Ginny:    A group of kids, employees of the park on their days off, came
into camp late last night - they are doing the Norris Traverse, without
the Red Eagle Valley walk. I am a bit jealous.

         Lunch at Pitamakan Overlook - incredibly, outrageously
There are red, purple, yellow, blue and green mountains in all
directions.  The valley at our feet has two aquamarine lakes (Pitamakan
and Lake of the Seven Winds - love that name!)  The next valley over,
Dry Fork, has a couple of lakes, the pyramid shape of Flinch Peak
behind, a view of Two Medicine Lake 8 miles away, and the flat Plains.
beyond. To our left is the Nyack Valley - narrow Cut Bank Pass, the
glacier on Mt. Thompson, Triple Divide Peak, mountain after mountain and
green valleys between. We can see valleys heading off in four different
directions from here.  For the next three miles we walk on or along the
Continental Divide to Dawson Pass. It's a longer route than the
"official" CDT, but the views are spectacular.  (They won't let horses
up here because the drop-off is a couple thousand feet and the trail is
rather narrow.)   The wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Happiness
is.  We saw 11 bighorn sheep at Pitamakan Pass - a group of six down by
the lake, two on the other side of the pass, and three on the way up to
the overlook. It was a steep climb to the overlook, but well worth it. 
I love this high country. 

        Later: Coming toward the campsite, we were tempted to go on to
the main
campground and try to get a reservation there so we could get a
milkshake and hamburger (hiker hunger has settled in), but we decided to
have a peaceful night by the lake here instead.  Besides, this campsite
is closer, and we're tired.  It makes tomorrow longer than we expected
(15 miles instead of 10), but this site should be much quieter than a
busy RV campground. At the trail junction there was a bright yellow sign
warning us to watch out for a mountain lion that is active in this area.
That's only the third warning we've seen - the one at Waterton regarding
bears and berry bushes, a warning near Granite Park Chalet warning
tourists about bears along the Highline Trail and this one.  Evidently
the bears have been coming a bit too close to the Highline Trail -
probably the most popular trail in the park. We heard about a bear
coming right up to the Visitor Center at Logan Pass, and another story
about the ranger at Granite Park running out with his bear spray while a
day hiker stopped to take a picture of the bear that was approaching him
on the trail. After about 15 miles, over 3000' elevation gain and loss,
we are pooped. Jim is feeling the effects of too much sun, I think.  We
walked along a narrow track 1000' above the Nyack Valley and then turned
the corner to descend to the Two Medicine Valley.  It was extremely
beautiful.  We saw 12 more Bighorns, including several nursing kids.
They were only about 50' from the trail - well camouflaged until one
stood up as we passed by.

        We are camped near Upper Two Medicine Lake in a narrow valley
Lone Hiker and Helen Mountains.  We thought our reservations were for
the main campground at Two Medicine, but we were wrong. (There are three
Two Medicine Lakes - Upper, Lower and just Two Medicine.)  A
thunderstorm seems to be brewing.  Wind and big gray cumulus clouds have
cooled things off.  I jumped in the lake anyhow. It felt wonderful, but
too cold to stay in long.  This lake is funny because it has tons of
dead wood piled up at the end of the lake. Not rotted, just ghost trees
lining the beach.

        Today was a very good day - but a bit painful because of the
downhill. My knees are saying unspeakable things to me, and so are my
toes. (Jim lost two more toenails because of the downhill.) 

        I am not ready for this to end. Only one more day. Yes, I want a
(need a shower!) and food, but this has been so good, so beautiful.  The
hike from Pitamakan to Dawson Pass was some of the most spectacular
scenery I've ever seen - but it all is around here.   As Jim said to
someone, "Glacier is everything we expected, and more."  I was worried
that it would be a disappointment because of all the other people -- I
don't like crowds -- but it is worth doing.   A lot like Colorado last
year, but without the rain and altitude sickness. 

Jim -    Another day to remember - the trail was the usual relatively
flat approach to the pass along a stream followed by steep, steady
uphill switchbacks.  At the base of the pass were a couple lakes where
we pumped as much water as we could carry. Halfway up the hill we saw a
group  of female bighorn sheep and I caught  sight of the south end of a
northbound  male.  We took a break when we got to Pitamakan Pass and
spent some time with the awesome views back toward Morning Star Lake and
off into the Oldman Lake drainage.   Then we started the next 600' climb
up to Pitamakan Overlook and saw another group of female sheep but these
all had their young ones with them.  Got some good pictures here.  Lunch
was at Pitamakan Overlook where the Nyack and Coal Creek drainages 
became  visible.  The trail then turned the corner and slabbed along a
12" wide goat path on the western side on Mt Morgan with a 2000+' drop
into the Nyack Creek drainage  just inches from our right boots.  The
trail then got to the southernmost end of the ridge and made a sharp
left turn at a little platform where there were just unbelievable views
back into the Nyack and Coal Creek on the right and into Oldman Lake and
the Dry Fork drainage on the left.  Then the trail slabbed along the
western side of Mt Morgan and Flinsch Peak above the east side of the
Nyack (still with that 2000+' drop  only now it was fractions of an inch
from our right boots rather than inches) for another  2 miles to Dawson
Pass. At the saddle between Mt Morgan and Flinsch Peak we could also see
back down into the Cut Bank valley and over to Pitamakan Overlook where
we had just had lunch a little while ago.  We met one group of guys
going the other way and they looked a little worried.  They asked us if
they'd passed Dawson Pass yet - they had.  But we didn't tell them how
far they still had to go on that goat track - it wouldn't have made them
happy.  When we got to Dawson Pass I finally found a place to drop my
pack and get out my hat - we'd been out in sunlight at 8000' for about 3
miles and I was fried - but I wasn't about to try to get the hat while
we were on the goat track.  Even Ginny wasn't comfortable with that
one.  But the scenery was absolutely fantastic.  I've never seen
anything to match it,  but I'll keep on trying.  

        The trek from Dawson Pass to Upper Two Medicine Lake was a long
downhill that got to both of us.  There were a lot of dayhikers and then
we met a  group with backpacks who said they were headed into the
Nyack.  Hope they were carrying a lot of water cause they had a 3 mile
climb to Dawson Pass, a 3.5 mile walk across the goat track that we'd
just finished and then several miles down an extremely steep trail into
the Nyack before  they'd get to another water source.  And they were
starting this trek at 1600 (4 pm).  

        We were both ready to get to the campground tonight.  We found a
campsite practically right on the lake - and pretty much isolated from
everyone else.  Ginny went for a  swim - I wasn't that ambitious.  And I
had a  really bad sunburn on my head.  There was a young married couple 
and another group of 2 couples at the campground when we got there.  The
young  marrieds offered us a quesadilla  at dinner - and it was
delicious.  The other couples offered us a ride from Two Medicine to
East Glacier the next day (that's where they had parked their car) but
we couldn't do that - can't  be real "thruhikers" if  we're 
yellow-blazing.  They also offered to carry out our garbage, but since
we're going to the same place - and our packs are lighter than theirs at
this point, we couldn't in good conscience do that either - but it WAS a
form of Trail Magic and we really did appreciate the offer.  People
really can be good if you give them a chance.  Two more guys wandered
into the campground  while we were eating and promptly went off to see
if they could catch some fish for dinner.  They weren't successful. 
Another sleepless night for me - I've got a cold.  That's something new
- I've never gotten sick on a trip before (except for the altitude
sickness in Colorado  last year).   

Saturday, August 8.  Upper Two Medicine Lake to East Glacier Park (15.2
miles) -
Ginny:    I'm clean! Halleluiah!  Sitting in our room at the Whistling
Swan, it is small, but the shower was hot and strong, so all is well.
Today was a good day - but very hot and dry. We left camp at about 8:30
(can't seem to do those early starts anymore) and made the five miles to
the campground by about 10:15.  We passed one couple who said, "There's
a cougar here." leaving unclear whether they meant they had just seen
it, or if it was just generally known to be in the vicinity.  We visited
with the ranger at the ranger station for a few minutes (not one of the
ones we met 12 days ago) then went on to the camp store for their famous
"World's best huckleberry milkshake."  They were good, really thick, but
very expensive.  I thought Mark's were as good. We sat looking out over
the lake at a scattering of boats and fishermen.  Jim had a hamburger
while I ate a bagel - 10:30 was just too early for me to be ready for
lunch.  I felt very grungy compared to all the nice neat tourists.  Only
7 days since my last shower - but a lot of miles. Then we hiked up the
road to begin the climb to Scenic Point.  It is a different Montana.  
That section of the trail is really in the rain shadow - utterly dry. 
We passed a lot of dead standing trees, ghostly white on the hillside,
then a scattering of bristlecone pine as we switchbacked up the
mountain. We passed a waterfall that was okay, but nothing compared to
the dozens of others' we'd seen. We've  generally seen between three and
six waterfalls a day - many of them big ones. The valley we climbed
above was really dry, the top of the ridge even more so.  There were a
few scrubby alpine plants, and one lone marmot that tried to follow us
home after I'd sweet talked him a few minutes.  I was waiting for Jim
and scared this poor marmot who was trying to pass through the rock at
his back.  I couldn't leave him terrified, so I talked to him for a
minute until Jim caught up.  Then as we went on up the trail, I turned
around to say something to Jim and noticed this funny little shape
trotting up the trail behind us. The view to the east was of grassy
plains, to the west the red and purple mountains of Glacier.  We saw
Dawson Pass where we were yesterday, and Two Medicine and Lower Two
Medicine Lakes at our feet. It was a hazy day, so not good for pictures,
but still it was nice. The descent was as steep as the climb, at least
for a while.  Eventually the vegetation changed to scrubby pines and
willows, then grassy meadows, then lodgepole and aspen forest. We met a
group of day hikers from the East Glacier Lodge, filtering water, and
three people on horseback. One girl said, "You've been out for 11 days!
You must be hungry.  Do you want some cheese?"  We turned her down. 
Yesterday we were offered a cheese quesadilla at dinner from a couple
that was just there overnight. That we did accept - delicious!  Even out
here, there is trail magic. 

        We were out in full sun for most of the day and ended up on the
edge of
dehydration. Our water lasted, but just barely.  The first thing we did
in town was stop at the store to buy coke, orange juice, two beers and
bananas.  We finally saw our first and only CDT trail marker at the park
boundary.  Nowhere else has there been the slightest indication that the
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs through Glacier National
Park. There have been occasional metal blazes on trees, and some yellow
markers that I thought were blazes but that turn out to be bear tree
markers.  They put some strips of barbed wire along certain trees along
the trail that are good scratching trees.  From time to time they pick
up the strands of hair and do DNA tests on them. The yellow squares mark
the test trees.  Anyhow, there is no blazing like I've gotten used to in
the east, but there also isn't much need for it, at least this time of
year.  The trails are pretty obvious - except in certain overgrown
meadows, and blazes aren't much help there.  In the snow it may not be
quite as obvious. We saw lots of horse damage on the stretch between the
park and town - really deep ruts.  Evidently the ground really holds
water - and the horses pass by every day.  It was like trying to walk
railroad tracks, hopping from rut to rut. In the park there are signs at
the junctions, outside we had to rely on the guidebook. ("Turn right at
the meadow with the lone aspen" - well, there are four small aspens
there now, but we got the picture.)  The guidebook directions were good
despite the lack of blazes. They only seem to mark turns, and not always

        I'm happy that we did what we set out to do out here, hike from
one end
of the park to the other, but I'm very sorry to see it end.  Despite the
aches and pains and smelly clothes, I am happy out here.  I love the
colors and textures of the rocks and mountains, the constant variety of
the woods and wildflowers (mostly lupine, fleabane and paintbrush
today), the constant search for wildlife or wild berries (we ate some
really good huckleberries and thimbleberries along the way), the peace
and beauty of sitting by a lake or pond watching the sparkles and the
fish jumping, feeling cool breezes on a sun burned body, the aching
aliveness of bathing in a cold lake, walking easily and lightly on
smooth trail - so much happiness.

Jim -    Another long  - and in this case, dry - day.  We had an easy 5
miles into Two Medicine where we dumped the garbage, left the broken,
bear-chewed water filter with the ranger, then went over to get  Coke,
huckleberry milkshakes and a cheeseburger for me and a bagel for Ginny. 
That was a fast $15 - but worth it.  
        Then we got water and started the climb to Scenic Point -
another 2200'
climb along another goat track, although this one was a little wider
than the Pitamakan-Dawson Pass route.  This was also the area  where
Mark's friend died and was eaten by the bears.  But there were no bears
here today (at least none that we saw) --- just lots of tourists.  It's
only 3 miles to Scenic Point - but it's a tough 3 miles - all uphill. 
There were 2 groups up there when we got there - one headed back toward
Two Medicine and the other headed toward East Glacier.  We kept on
toward East Glacier and caught the one group at the first stream
crossing where they were pumping water.  This was a very dry section -
and a very dry day.  I hadn't quite filled all the water bottles at Two
Medicine and there came a time when I wished I hadn't neglected that
little detail.   We saw the only CDT marker of the entire hike - on the
signpost as we left the Park.  The rest of the trail was basically a
gentle downhill, which contrasted greatly with the first very steep 3
miles after Scenic Point. The only problem was that about a mile of that
was walking on the ruts made by the horses during the wet season - it
was like walking on railroad ties with deep mud and horse piss in
between (incentive to NOT miss one of those "railroad ties").   Yeah - I
got pictures of that.  Hope they show what I wanted them to.  

        Finally got to East Glacier, stopped to say hello to Mark,
stopped to
get some Coke, beer, and orange juice and headed for the motel  to
unpack, get a shower and some clean clothes and re-hydrate.   Then to
Serrano's for dinner and early to bed.

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