Home: Two Medicine Campground
After seven straight days of riding, it was time to give our bodies a break. So no epic (or even non-epic) mountain hikes until we’re rested up. An advantage of our no-deadline life is that, even though we’re in this special place, we don’t need to try to optimize every moment here by squeezing in as much activity as possible. We can just enjoy the special place without doing anything. And we can enjoy it even more because the camp store has beer, wine, and ice. Day drinking in the campsite led to afternoon rain, heavy enough that it pooled all around the tent we were holed up in (nearly floating away our shoes), but it stayed dry inside, so there’s another test passed. We cooked up beef jerky and noodle dinner, and called it a good night!
Hiking: 13.5 mi / 1650 ft. climbing
Home: Two Medicine Campground
We had our standard reserved site for three nights, but always planned to stay a 4th, by moving to the hiker/biker site. The challenge was how to reserve and pay for the hiker/biker site. The standard way is to book online at reservation.gov, but that’s kind of impossible with no service. Kyle, the ranger manning the entrance station (and then driving 4 miles into the campground to do rounds there every morning; they’re short-staffed) has been working and studying for days about how to make it work for us, but it really seems like no one knows anything. So I decided to just ride out 5 miles in the morning (and back down the 500 ft. hill) to a point where I knew cell service existed, to take care of it ourselves. More importantly, I also wanted to see if I could book ahead at later campgrounds we hoped to stay at.
Well, it turns out I was too early to book the hiker/biker site at Two Medicine, because booking for that is only allowed day-of. It’s the hiker/biker sites on the west side of the park that are bookable (and supposedly must be booked day-before). See how this shit is impossible to figure out? And nothing was available later on at St. Mary’s campground, so the trip was basically a bust.
Meanwhile, Rett was walking over to the boat dock to see if we could get on a boat this morning that would take us across the lake to shorten the hike we wanted to do. I couldn’t book in person yesterday afternoon because the day’s online reservations would only be delivered at 5pm, so they wouldn’t know how full they would be until the morning. See how trying to make everything Internet-based in a place with no Internet access is pretty stupid? Well, Rett’s trip was also a bust, no slots were available. The hike (Dawson Pass) without the boat would be too long for our first hike in forever, so we had to change it up.
Cobalt Lake it was. Since it’s a non-premier hike in one of the least-visited front country parts of Glacier, we had the trail nearly to ourselves. It wasn’t a world-class hike, but I thought it was pretty damn good. Rett was less-impressed, being cursed with higher expectations, but I had to remind her that living in Washington had spoiled us.
We barely spent any time at the lake, because our arrival there was the precise moment the afternoon rain began. Something we’d definitely never seen in Washington though, was hail coming down on a mountain lake (in front of a snowfield on the other side) and then floating on the surface before softly melting away. Also new in a less-peaceful way was the sound of thunder echoing off 2000-ft. vertical stone walls.
The rain let up on the way down, but then started up one other time strong enough that we needed to put on our rain jackets and cover our packs. By the end, Rett’s pack (which, like mine, is one of her front panniers that converts to a backpack) was digging uncomfortably into her back and making the last mile miserable. Understandable, since it was one of the longest hikes we’ve ever done, and while we have good cardio fitness, that fitness mischievously allowed us (with zero hiking base) to do something we probably shouldn’t have done.
We grabbed food for dinner at the camp store, but as we were leaving, the skies opened with the heaviest downpour yet, so we stayed on the store’s sheltered porch until it let up (and took the opportunity to stretch!)
Luckily Rett had been smart enough to buy a $13.25 mega-Lunchables, because we needed to hole up in the tent again once we were back at our site, and we likely would have died of starvation if we hadn’t had that no-cook first-dinner to eat. And then it wasn’t too long before it cleared up enough to cook second-dinner outside (it seems hiking makes us hungrier than biking!)
We’d learned from Kyle that the final solution to booking the hiker/biker site was “go to the ranger station”, which is right at the campground entrance. The three previous nights I’d seen multiple through-hiker tents set up in the site, but those guys are all gone early in the morning, so we just made the move early to grab the one relatively-decent spot in the not-very-good site (which is supposed to be able to hold up to 8 people under 4 reservations, but that would be a challenge due to the slope, size, and surface).
At the ranger station, Martha was helpful, but booking a hiker/bike site certainly wasn’t any sort of standard procedure she was familiar with, and her job doesn’t even really have anything to do with the campground. She did have a sheet of paper with much of the same info from the park website that, among other things, stated: “Two Medicine campsites require payment through recreation.gov using their scan & pay system. Reservations do not need to be made in advance, but you must download the recreation.gov app and have an account before arriving.” I of course had this app, and the app even had a nice infographic explaining how your credit card would be charged once you returned to connectivity. Brilliant! Except…there was no QR code to scan anywhere at Two Medicine, and no one there had even heard of such a thing (despite this being written on a sheet of paper they hand out). Argh!
She ended up simply using their landline phone to call a colleague who had an interface to reservation.gov, and he booked the site for us. Seemingly as if we were the first people to ever face this situation. My best guess is that up until now, no one else has even tried to pay for their site, and no one at the park cares if they don’t (and they probably even prefer it that way!)
But the ranger station visit ended up being critically useful to us anyway, because we got some disappointing news as an aside from the ranger: the campground in Many Glacier Valley, where we hoped to transition to for our next extended stay, had just been closed to soft-sided camping (i.e., tents) due to bear activity. People frequently say that Many Glacier is the best section of the National Park, so we were crushed, but without connectivity there wasn’t anything we could do to learn or plan around it, so we just put it out of our heads for the time-being.
We’d had hopes to do two hikes during our stay in the Two Medicine Valley, but we’d wrecked ourselves so badly on yesterday’s hike that we knew the wisest move was to take another recovery day before a potentially-challenging ride out tomorrow. And while the hiker/biker campsite surface was a downgrade from our standard site, and covered in much less shade, the air around it was filled with superior views of the mountains, so it wasn’t a bad spot to hang out for the day.
We had a procession of Continental Divide Trail through-hikers pass through, wondering if this was their spot to camp. The trail passes directly through the campground, so we were the first people they could talk to after coming slightly-bewildered straight off the mountain. We’d learned yesterday from Toast, a really cool CDT hiker who stopped by our site yesterday to chat for a while, that CDT permit-holders had their own designated sites a little further on, so we directed everyone that way. And no one came back, so I guess they liked what they saw there better. I realized that the tents I’d seen here the last few nights were almost certainly from CDT hikers who simply hadn’t had us sitting here with the knowledge to direct them to where they really wanted to go. And then it made more sense that the park had no experience dealing with people like us, because all these hikers went through a totally different flow, and the Two Medicine Valley just isn’t on most bike tourers’ agendas. At times I felt like our alien two-wheeled presence almost scared some of the hikers away, but it meant that we ended up with the whole site to ourselves for the night.
Today’s afternoon rain (we’re sensing a pattern here) held off until we were making dinner. We were still able to manage it, with Rett diving into the tent to stay dry and receive the items I passed through as I finished them up. Finished them up under the watchful eye of a bighorn sheep standing four feet away, an event that had already become so commonplace that it barely elicited a comment from me. This Glacier is a strange and wonderful place.