Trip Report CDT: Montana/Idaho pt1

Hike Restart

Since having started at the Mexican border I'd been debating with myself whether or not I'd go through Colorado in the snow. The approach to Chama confirmed to me that I didn't want to risk it. I'd planned to do many alternates and really wanted to walk through the San Juans but if I went north in June I'd most likely be road walking around all the mountains which didn't sound fun.

So after a nights rest in Chama, NM I flew back home to Toronto and spent three weeks relaxing and eating at home. I bought tickets to Kalispell, an Amtrak ticket to get me to East Glacier and planned to start from the Canadian border to reconnect southbound my hike along the CDT.

While waiting for a connecting flight in Denver I spotted some other thruhikers in the airport. They were planning on doing the PNT. I hadn't been able to secure permits for Glacier National Park but they let me tag along on theirs. Not only that, they were staying with friends and gave me a place to crash as well! Amazing luck and extremely kind people, much love for Kickback and Kite!

In the morning Kickback's friend who worked in Glacier gave us a ride to the western permit office in Agpar. We were there for opening time and I was able to be put onto their permit for Glens Lake Foot. Now all that had been settled we dealt the little problem of hitching 75mi(120km) to the Chief Mountain trailhead at the Canadian border.

For our first hitch we squeeze into a SUV with four girls who worked for a tour company in the park but were out on a day-hike(17mi(27km)). The second hitch is with older man in a camper van from Texas(13mi(21km)). The third hitch was with a Glacier emergency preventive ranger(18mi(29km)). After a quick lunch, we grabbed our final hitch with the Glacier backcountry ranger stationed at Belly River (27mi(44km)).

Waterton/Glacier park sign

All in all we arrived at the trailhead without much issue and very quickly. We had only 10mi(16km) to hike to camp so we set off. The views were immediately breathtaking as we are thrust into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. It was very reminiscent of being in Banff back in Canada.

We take a brief break by a raging waterfall and meet some weekend hikers. About 1mi(0.6km) before camp we run into our first bear. It dashes into the woods before I get a good glimpse but I'm almost certain it's just a juvenile black bear. At camp there is some maintenance crew and a handful of PNT hikers. We set up in our tiny allotted space and relax for the rest of the afternoon by the lake.

Hiker standing in water in front of mountains
Kickback soaking his feet

I wake early and say goodbye to my new found friends. I thank them so much for helping me out and saving me the headache of getting permits. I take the Cosley Lake Cutoff to reconnect back to the CDT. A few hours later I'm huffing and puffing up Red Gap Pass. It's cloudy but thankfully the weather holds out.

I meet a SOBO CDT hiker going NOBO, Sergeant Pepper. He tells me there are tons of hikers stuck in East Glacier trying to get permits and he decided to do Glacier NOBO to have a better chance. It seems my chance encounter with Kickback and Kite really paid off. After a few more hours I make it to Many Glacier. There is no advance permit required to stay here but as luck would have it the campground is closed. They were dealing with a bear and so only hard-campers(ie. RVs) were allowed currently. Thankfully the rangers had a little community centre they are letting CDT hikers stay for the night!


I eat twice at the lodge nearby and hang out with some hikers. Swede, Whitney, Poet, and an older couple are sharing the small building with me tonight. Another hiker Happy Ending is staying at the lodge. Also Ric Flair is here, I'd met him previously in New Mexico. We all feel fortunate to have a roof over our heads as a crazy hail storm pours down just as the sun sets for the day.

Swede and Whitney are gone when I wake up. My start is delayed as I need to get my one permit for tomorrow night at Red Eagle Lake Head. After that is sorted, I take an alternate around the west side of Lake Josephine and see a massive moose standing in the river. I climb up Piegan Pass and meet Swede, Whitney and Happy Ending again. We see a mountain goat running around up their with us.

On my way down I convince a day-hiker to give me a ride into the town of St. Mary. I do not have a permit to stay in Glacier for the night so I will stay at the campground outside of the park boundary and hitch back in tomorrow. It's a headache but hitching seems to be pretty easy within the park so far. On the drive down my trail angel gives me a bunch of hiking recommendations which sweetens the deal.

Alpine valley

I grab a bit more food from the small grocer in St. Mary and head over to the ranger station. As I pass the tourist sign I help someone take a photo and they chat me up. After hearing what I'm doing they try to offer me money but I refuse. I get to hiker/biker site at the campground and make friends with Just Ben and a female cyclist. Just Ben had done the CDT last year and was about to start his PNT hike. I shower in campground and go to a ranger talk in the evening.

I wake early to start my hitchiking back into the park with the early sun. It isn't long until I hitch back with some park staff heading to work. The trail along St. Mary Lake is quite overgrown but the vegetation is all dry and the path underneath is well groomed.

In particularly dense overgrowth I round a tight corner and see a large splotch of brown ahead of me on the trail some 25ft(7m) ahead. There's a juvenile black bear ambling down the same direction I'm heading. I begin to shout and it looks around ahead confused, eventually peeking backwards and seeing me. It does not startle and just keeps walking ahead of me slowly. I follow cautiously and continue shouting. After a few minutes it slinks off into the brush and I breathe a sigh of relief that it was cooperative.

From lush and dense brush the trail breaks out into a large burn area. The Red Eagle fire of 2006 burned over 34,000 acres of land. There is a nice chance to do a simple river crossing to cut off some miles and I get to camp at midday. Swede, Whitney and Happy Ending are here sharing a campsite. Two other groups of day-hikers eventually join us as well. Yardsale, who I'd seen in New Mexico and his friend Jeremy stop by briefly and then hike on.

The majority of my day is spent napping on the lake shore watching bald eagles and Canadian geese.

All the thruhikers seem to wake up early at the same time. There are a few passes in front of us today and I plan on doing an extra one on my way to Two Medicine Campground. Again I have no permit so I plan to use the hiker/biker campground there.

Mountain pass

I summit the Triple Divide Pass at 0800h. There is another SOBO hiker going NOBO I meet up there, White Noise. To give us company as we chat a few mountains goats trot by. As I descend into the valley I spot a large moose meandering through the meadows by a river. I summit Pitamakan Pass at 1100h. From here I take the Dawson Pass alternate which makes me do two more passes (Cut Bank and Dawson of course) which I complete by 1200h.

Along the connection between Cut Bank and Dawson the wind was roaring. The path is solid but at some saddles I run across crouched over to not be blown around. I run into another pair of SOBO hikers going NOBO in Glacier. Hiking down I warn some day-hikers of the high winds and they say rangers have been discouraging people from going up today due to the wind speeds.

I get to the Two Medicine Campground at 1430h and take a half hour break hoping to run into some CDT hikers. I get antsy and decide just to push all the way to East Glacier. There is a big climb to the aptly named Scenic Point and the wind holds me in place as I try to hike forward. Some day-hikers tell me to expect a large family of big horned rams at the saddle and another warns me not to go higher because of deadly winds(apparently moving at 95mi/h(153km/h)). I only see some mountain goats and keep crouched to the ground on some sections to secure myself against the buffeting winds.

Eventually I get to the hostel in East Glacier run by Luna, The Looking Glass. There are tons of hikers mulling about and I see Yardsale and Jeremy again. I shower, grab a pizza in town and go to sleep.

I wake up early and am excited to be leaving Glacier park today just so I don't have to worry about permits any more. There is just Marias Pass as the final obstacle in Glacier, with many thruhikers slackpacking it. That means they leave their gear in town, hitch to a part of trail and then essentially day-hike back to where their pack is.

The day is uneventful but I do enter a new area called the Bob Marshal Wilderness. There are extremely steeps climbs, lots of horse shit and many small water crossings. In the evening I am attacked by an aggressive grouse on trail as it flies for my eyes. I end up camping near a beautiful alpine creek at above 10,000ft(3050m).

Alpine lake

It's cold as I wake up and head down into a valley. I pass an old locked cabin and it seems like there are a ton of thruhikers who stayed nearby for night. Someone wishes me a "Happy July 4th" and another mentions a bear had come by this morning into camp.

I meet two hikers Duck and Easy, and then another two Windu and Skiggles. I chat with the latter for awhile as they had done a bunch of high routes that I was interested in doing. By chance they mention my friend Goose, who I hiked the Florida Trail with, was just up ahead! In the evening I catch Yardsale again and a few other hikers(Flamethrower, Pop, and some other dude). I camp with a few people near Deans Lake.

Hiker Goose

I get a strong start in the morning and hope to complete the Spotted Bear alternate today. At the junction for the alternate I catch Goose and Cruise! We spend the rest of the day hiking together along with another hiker, Gorf.

Chinese wall in Montana

We pass the stunning Chinese Wall around midday and after a good dose of climbing camp together near a river. We play a fun little game called Rose, Thorn and Bud to share how we are feeling about the hike. Cruise builds a fire and we pass the evening chatting about books.

Chinese wall in Montana

I was originally planning on hitching into Augusta but Goose and Cruise are heading to Benchmark Ranch where they had sent resupply boxes. I decide to join them and see if there is any food leftover by hikers. It's a great plan as the hiker box is over flowing, I am able to do a full resupply for free. As we leave the ranch we are swarmed by friendly horses looking for food.

We take a short hitch back to the trail head and reconnect to the CDT via a side trail. The rest of the day is uneventful. Finding camp at night is hard since we are is a large burn area and we all get separated to find spots.

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