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 Trip of a lifetime - Glacier National Park 
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 Trip of a lifetime - Glacier National Park
Hi folks,
I've been clammering on and on about Glacier for the last few weeks. Many of you offered great advice, whether it was because you'd been there and gave me some "must sees", or offered advice about gear and cameras. The trip was phenomenal - best trip I've ever taken coupled with what I believe could be the most spectacular 5 mile stretch of trail that exists on the planet (Boulder Pass to Hole in the Wall).

Before launching into the trip report, I especially want to thank Kevin Rooney for lending me an additional ice ax for my brother to use. The snow crossings were steep and slippery, and not only did we have to use our traction, we had to help some others across the fields.

Some of you who've known me for a while know that I hiked the 48 as a way to overcome an intense irrational fear of heights. Ten years ago, this trip to Glacier wouldn't have even been possible. This group and your encouragement over the last several years really helped make this trip possible. For that, I'm extremely grateful.

Enough babbling - here's the report.
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Before's
On arriving in Whitefish, we used AirBnB for our first night's stay. We stayed with this very interesting local guy named Life Noell in Whitefish. He runs what I would consider a hiker hostile out of his house. As our first introduction to Montana, he was great and made us feel right at home. He also lended us a can of bear spray, and had an extra IsoPro tank that a previous tenant had left. Did you know bear spray costs $50 ? We were glad to have the freebie.

We checked out a local townie bar in Whitefish. While in Montana, I never paid more than $4 a pint for a beer, and they don't charge tax (no sneaky little restaurant tax like in NH - or is that something they only levy against Massholes?). The beer there is great - made with glacier water and fresh Oregon hops. Wicked tasty...

The next day, we went to the park and visited the one-of-a-kind Polebridge Mercantile, and devoured their outrageously delicious Huckleberry Bear Claws. I've destroyed some French Bakeries in my time, and I have to say, whoever is the head pastry chef at the Merc is definitely professionally trained. Those were the best pastries I've had outside of France. Amazing. We car camped the first night at Bowman Lake, and did a fair amount of swimming watching the sun set against Rainbow Peak.
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Day 1 - To UPK
We made it out to Kintla Lake with no problem (after another stop at the Merc, more bear claws, and some stuffed breakfast pastries). I should mention here that on going back through the ranger station, we simply asked if they had some bear spray, and they were happy to sign one out to us. We were told by almost every other hiking group we encountered that they also asked, and were told the park doesn't issue spray because of liability. If I didn't mention it, bear spray is fifty bux a can, so we went into the woods with $100 of free bear spray - thanks!

One thing Glacier park sucks at is giving you an accurate estimate of your elevation gain. They print elevation gain right on the permit, but it's total altitude change, not cumulative elevation gain. If your hike begins with an 11.5 mile trek to Upper Kintla, be warned that the "400 ft elevation gain" is a joke. The PUDs (pointless ups and downs) equate to around 1500 ft of total elevation gain on that stretch. It's not "a few hills to try and tire you out" like some report - it's a haul... especially when it's 80 degrees and the sun is beating down on you. I ditched pack and wound up in Kintla lake a few times. We rolled into UPK around 9:30.
Speaking of which, the sun sets at 10:00p during August. That was an unexpected surprise.

Day 2 - UP UP UP to Boulder Pass
We set out to Boulder Pass. Encountered some sleet along the way which made us instantly grateful that our discussion on whether a tarp was worth the extra weight ended with an agreement to take the tarp. We should've pressed on - we made better time than planned, and were much closer to the pass than we thought. We arrived at Boulder Pass to bright sunshine, and set up camp... only to have a hail storm show up 5 minutes later. This set the pace for the whole trip - pack up, move, set up, hunker down through a thunderstorm, rush out to cook dinner, hunker down for another storm, sleep, rise and repeat. Each day, we hiked in GREAT weather, and each afternoon we hunkered down for the 2-3 hour thunder show.

While heading up to BOU, we got our first glimpse of the Agassiz Glacier. I saw pictures in the ranger station from the 1930s, and seeing this massive hulk of ice being reduced to puddles made me rather emotional. This glacier has lost 90% of its volume in the last 100 years. My guide book from 1957 used this glacier as an example of climate change (yes, as early as 1957). Go to Glacier NOW... this beautiful Glacier isn't going to be around much longer. In NH, the impacts of glaciation are apparent, but watching the glacier actively work to carve out a mountain was a spectacular site. Image

By the way, Boulder Pass is BEAUTIFUL!
Image

My wife and I have been talking about adding a half bath. This is a picture of the pit toilet at Boulder Pass, followed by the view you get while doing your biz. I have some ideas for a bathroom now...
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Image

There's also a VERY curious inhabitant at BOU - we saw this guy a few times:
Image

To HOL
If you can do one hike in your life, make sure it's the 5 mile stretch from Boulder Pass to Hole In The Wall. This is the most spectacular site I've ever seen. Best five miles of my life. There are no words to describe it.

On leaving BOU, we passed the notorious moon-scape rock field on the side of Boulder Peak, along with some pretty awesome up-close views of the retreating glacier and snow fields. As you reach the crest of the pass, you start to see Thunderbird mountain, and then you know you're in the wilderness (on returning, someone pointed out that Thunderbird Glacier is in the shape of a thunderbird... something I totally missed while there).
At the beginning of the trip, we discussed whether or not to bring ice axes and traction. We're glad we did. Not only did we need them, we had to lend them to other people coming the other direction who were apprehensive about crossing the field. The proof was in the pudding - there was a group an hour behind us, and one of them took quite a slide after losing his footing. That said, the worst part wasn't the snow crossing, it was the slippery muddy scree field a few minutes before. Extreme care was required.

We arrived at HOL (after raiding the huckleberry bushes at the trail junction), and went about our routine: set up, then hunker down for the thunderstorm. I'm glad the storm came because it filled up the waterfalls and gave us quite the light show with the sky.

Image

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At this point, I have to comment about preparation. At 9:30, a couple rolls in completely soaked to the bone. All of their gear was soaked as well. No rain gear, no pack cover, AND... cotton clothes. Some of us at HOL contributed some dry clothes to the couple, but I'm a bit surprised they made it through the 45 degree night. It was one of those "Hey sweetie. Let's go backpacking for a couple nights 25 miles from the nearest road. I'll bring everything". I don't know if they were aware just how close to death they were - hypothermia is more dangerous than a grizzly.

Back to BOU

We hated to leave HOL - it's just beautiful. There are waterfalls hundreds of feet high in every direction - it's just mesmerizing.
But we headed back up to BOU (barebooted the crossings this time - what a difference a day makes), and were treated to fantastic weather all day.
Not only that, but the the wildflowers decided that they'd been sleeping long enough, and almost overnight, the meadows were FILLED with flowers. The flowers are EVERYWHERE. Just beautiful. I was later told by a park regular that peak bloom last a few days, and we were lucky to have such a rare sight.

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We spent two nights at BOU just enjoying the surroundings. When the morning came to hike down to UPK, the temp dropped to around 30 degrees, and we were treated to an hour-long snow storm (people commented on our North Face winter gear and gloves when it was 80 degrees earlier in the week, but jokes on them - we were warm and dry while our tents developed an icy crust on the outside). Finally, we had a window, and made a long, wet descent back down to Upper Kinta. We were the only campers at UPK. UPK, Boulder, and Hole are the three hardest-to-get sites in the park. Somehow, we got them all, a couple of times each, and even were there alone. Yes... we were the ONLY campers at UPK... which means I got some great pictures come morning:

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And out...
The 11.5 miles back out went twice as fast as the way in. We had 65-70 degree weather, and it was a perfect hiking day. We stopped often to chat with other hikers, taking an excessively long lunch at Kintla Head to visit with a backpacker from North Dakota. He discussed how he was there because he wanted to see grizzly bears, then lamented that none of his kids want to hike with him any more (uh, maybe it's because you're looking for bears?).

We arrived back to our car and proceeded to our AirBnB in Kalispell. The next couple days, we explored what Montana had to offer - we visited a few microbreweries, and went shooting (my brother had never shot a hand gun, and "wanted to do something Montana" while we were there). I also made sure to buy as many huckleberry items as I could reasonably take. We managed to get back to the Flathead Valley in time for their annual Huckleberry festival. Your taste buds have not lived until you try the best huckleberry desserts made by the finest cooks within 100 miles. I lost ten pounds on the hike, and gained them all back in 5 minutes.

Summary
This was the trip of a lifetime. I took close to 700 pictures! Out of all places I've been in my life, the Boulder Pass trail from Kintla to Hole in the Wall is the most spectacular. The scenery is always changing, the challenges are non-stopped and ever evolving, and the experience is one-of-a-kind.

Some things I learned:
1. Ask for bear spray - you might just save a fortune

2. Listen to the rangers - when they say you'll need traction, YOU WILL NEED TRACTION

3. The campsites are flood plains - ice axes make great irrigation tools

4. The more you prepare beforehand, the better your trip will be. We saw so many people fumbling to "make their gear work", or trying to figure out "geez, what do we do now?" We had a plan for everything, and took gear for every situation. It was the perfect trip - we used everything in our packs except the first aid kit. We even had to give gear to people who didn't quite prepare properly. So... the more time you put into planning your trip, the more you'll be able to enjoy it.

I know I'm leaving out a lot, and there are 100 times as many pictures on my roll than what I posted here. If there's anything you want to see or know, feel free to reach out to me.
They say Glacier is the Crown of the Continent, and that's not just a line from an overpaid marketing firm. It really is the most incredible thing I've ever seen. Never have I seen mountains with such prominence. Standing on a ledge, you can look down to the valley at 3000 ft, and watch a peak rise from the mist straight up to over 10,000 feet, often times creating a mile-long waterfall. It's overwhelmingly beautiful.

Thanks again to you guys for the advice and support. I can't recommend this trip enough.

Image

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Wed Aug 17, 2016 6:04 am
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 Re: Trip of a lifetime - Glacier National Park
Now that's how you do a trip! Sample the local food/brew. Getting lucky enough to wake up to an otherwise empty campsite and soaking in those views. Getting to use everything in your pack. Sounds like it was an exciting time to be alive! That "privy" has the best view from any one I've ever seen. Thanks for sharing your experience out there. Those mountains, wow. I may have read it wrong. But did you not bag a single peak? I'm not judging or discrediting you here. Your trip looks outstanding if you didn't. Heck I didn't even realize you may not have until I started typing this reply. It doesn't matter if you didn't .


Wed Aug 17, 2016 6:58 am
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Indescribably delicious!

I often say when I see reports like this, "Someday". But there's probably a slim to none chance I'll ever make it.
Which, obviously do to this report, is a crying shame.

Excellent report. Outstanding trip selection. :)

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Wed Aug 17, 2016 7:32 am
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OH MAAAAAAAAAN!!!
How were you able to select just those few pics to share?? This is on my plan for next summer's cross-country park-to-park trek we are planning. I have added the boulder pass to hole in the wall hike to my must do list.

Thanks so much. Glad it worked out. So cool that the whites were your training ground/confidence builder. Please post more pics.

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Wed Aug 17, 2016 7:48 am
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I don't really know what to say except HOLY COW! Awesome-looking trip, I guess you fulfilled your wish for a bucket-list emptier. And to add to what the others have already mentioned, to also hit the apparent handful of peak wildflower bloom days is icing on that delicious cake!

Awesome shot of the mule deer by the way (not that the others were bad either!). Those big goofy ears always crack me up.

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Wed Aug 17, 2016 11:10 am
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Well, there goes my lunch break! :D

Awesome stuff!! So glad your plan came together, and perfectly it would appear. So cool that you got to share the experience with your brother also. This is one of the few major National Parks I haven't visited yet and it's definitely at the top of my list. The National Park system is just amazing. Many have these small, unique towns and outposts around them like this one, or historic lodges like nowhere else, and the scenery obviously can't be beat. I'm a huge fan of them if you couldn't tell, so thanks for sharing and enlightening us on this one. I definitely hope to get there befor the glaciers are nothing more then the name of the place.

Best 5 miles of trail on earth? Best thing you've ever seen? Obviously it's all subjective but that's very high praise for sure, so, I have to ask, what else are we comparing it to form your experiences? Like, what are your top 5 runner-ups? For my money nothing can surpass the vast wilderness and variety of scenery, wildlife and natural features in Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons are the finest set of mountains I've ever seen, but there's only 9 of them. Yosemite Valley might be the greatest little spot for scenery with mountains, cliffs, rivers, waterfalls etc that I've ever seen but again it's on a relatively smaller scale. Rocky Mountain probably has the best alpine and mountain terrain I've come across, and looked similar to this if my memory serves. Glacier seems like it might pull the best features of all of those and while not as superlative as any one of those in each category it has a little bit of the best of all of them?? Or maybe it's better than all of them. Hard to tell from a dozen pics, so if you just have link to all 700 I'll happily scroll through each and every one later on! :D


Wed Aug 17, 2016 12:32 pm
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I tell you, for so long I have had 3 destinations in the US I have always wanted to visit. The Grand Canyon, Alaska ad Glacier NP. Something about Glacier NP has always captivated me. Maybe it is the striking resemblance to many parts of Alaska, but who knows, What I do know is that I am now jealous. :D

Brian


Wed Aug 17, 2016 5:36 pm
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Thanks for the kind remarks, everyone.

GIBBA - I had one shot at bagging a peak - Boulder Peak from the Boulder Pass campground. The day we spent exploring, I went up and was probably a couple hundred feet from the summit when the clouds started to roll in. I was 45 minutes away from camp, and by that time, had a decent understanding as to what those clouds meant. I probably could've made it to the summit, but played it safe. No regrets, though - the view from the top of Boulder Peak would have offered a different vantage point, but ultimately included everything I hiked on this trip (not bagging the peak gives me all the more reason to return).

GRANITE GUY - Reading your comments made me aware of just how much hyperbole I used in my report. I'll dial it down a bit. First, I confess that I've not been every where on the planet. No Yellowstone, no Tetons, no John Muir trail. That said, I'll explain my comment. The air was the cleanest air I've ever breathed. The water was the best water I've ever tasted (I really miss that water). I've never seen mountains so prominent (with views all the way down to the valley, the visual prominence from the observer was around 4000 feet or more). While walking the Boulder Pass trail to Hole in the Wall, you're standing an an 18 inch wide path and for most of the entire hike, you can see all the way down to the valley and all the way up to the summit... literally hiking on trails blasted out of a mountain. While hiking, I encountered a group from Texas who went on at length rattling off their hiking accomplishments (everything from the Rockies to the Alps), and I was guaranteed that the view I was seeing topped them all. It's also really remote and unspoiled - you're just immersed in it. The one person I met on our trip who didn't seem to share my view that Glacier was the most incredible site to be had was the guy from North Dakota who had red-lined Yellowstone and was working on Glacier. He insisted that there's no place like Yellowstone, but he also liked Yellowstone alot because of all the bear encounters he'd had (this was the guy complaining about not seeing any bears at Glacier).

So I can't really say it's the most beautiful place on the planet. I can promise, however, that anybody who makes it to the ledge of Boulder Pass and can look over Hole in the Wall to Thunderbird peak will be amazed, regardless of anything else you've seen in your life. I'm certain even Helen Keller would appreciate the view.

MORE PICS: I shot everything in RAW, and am working to do a large-scale batch conversion to JPG for the whole set. Once done, I'll share the Flickr link here. For now, here's a few more that I didn't include in the report.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. Canadia - From Boulder Pass, you look out over a naturally carved soccer arena. Gardner point slopes down from the left, Carter slopes down from the right, and in the middle is a fairly flat area paved smooth by the retreating Boulder Glacier, leaving all the cool little tarns and polished boulders in it's make. The flat part dives off a cliff, and rises to this very colorful range in Canada.
Image

2. A shot from the foot of Bowman Lake. I included Rainbow Peak before, which is the large peak on the right.
Image

3. Yours truly. Notice the giant piece of paper stuck on the pack? That's the permit. It's required to be visible on your pack at all times while hiking, and to be displayed on the outside of your tent when camping.
Image

4. A giant waterfall draining Boulder Pass:
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5. My bro-in-law Kenny turning around on the Boulder Pass trail on the Hole-in-the-wall segment. I should mention that Kenny was well acclimated as he'd spent the week before hiking at Machu Picchu. School teacher really enjoying his summer.
Image

6. The easiest snow field of the trip. Just needed poles and a little balance. A slip here would've resulted in fun, not injury.
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7. The Agassiz Glacier, Kintla Peak, and Kinnerly Peak... a few moments before a giant thunderstorm rushed over the glacier and headed straight for us. Image

8. Token sunrise shot:
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9. Another one of Thunderbird:
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10. A Volkswagon sized black boulder left by the glacier. Oddly, there were no other black rocks anywhere near me when I took this. Where did this come from?
Image

11. A picture of the Weasel Collar glacier. This one is the slowest melting glacier in the park (only lost 6% in the last 50 years). I think it's the only one in the park that still "flows" down the mountain. If I correctly recall what the ranger told me, I think it flows around 30 ft per year.
Image

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Thu Aug 18, 2016 6:14 am
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More awesome pix! Man, that's one heavy looking pack you've got there. I looked back to see if you mentioned the weight but did't see it. 40-50#'s?

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Thu Aug 18, 2016 7:43 am
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No need to Dial it down at all on my account. First, I didn't take it as hyperbole at all, just very high praise and excitement trying to convey the awesomeness of this place. If you can't imagine a better 5 mile stretch of earth you should say it, and with emphasis, if that's how you feel. Don't bother trying to temper the exitement you felt and probably relived posting the report on my account. I write my share of reports and thats mostly why I write them, to try and convey and share the awesomeness of the places and to re-live it all again and down the road if I wanted to look back and read them. Secondly, it makes for a great read and trip report. Reports that read as a trail guide are really pretty boring.

The new pics are awesome also. Really, when you get the album done I can't wait to see more So, again, thanks for sharing.


Thu Aug 18, 2016 8:58 am
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JustJoe wrote:
More awesome pix! Man, that's one heavy looking pack you've got there. I looked back to see if you mentioned the weight but did't see it. 40-50#'s?


It was 45 pounds for a 7 day, 6 nighter. Includes gear for all weather, and all temps.
By the last day, I'd dropped ten pounds of personal weight, and 10 pounds of food... probably why we smoked the trails on the way out. 20 pounds lighter, and a new pair of legs.

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Nothin' on the top but a bucket and a mop,
and an illustrated book about birds.
You see alot up there, but don't be scared:
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Thu Aug 18, 2016 9:00 am
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Wow, do you have an ear to ear smile! Keep the pictures coming! We went back in 07 and I personally felt it was the best park I've seen and plan to go back someday. So no bear encounters? I wonder if they have a ton of rescues like NH, since it is remote and they probably have a lot of yahoo hikers. Congrats on posting your trip of a lifetime, sounds absolutely amazing! It does sound like you have come a long way indeed with your experience level. The for taking the time to post this. Wonderful trip report!


Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:22 am
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Great pics, great report, great time!


Thu Aug 18, 2016 11:31 am
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Incredible! Just incredible! Thanks for sharing


Terry


Thu Aug 18, 2016 2:43 pm
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Yes, I did know that bear spray was $50. Although mine's expired, and I don't always carry it any more. (I know, it's silly in NH. I know.)

Obviously looks like a fantastic trip, and like most of us it's a place I've been wishing to visit for many years. My wife and I actually had plans to when we were in Billings a couple years back, but circumstances had us cut out the "extra" week that we were going to use for a Glacier trip. Great that you were able to make it happen!


Thu Aug 18, 2016 3:54 pm
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