Glacier National Park (Apgar), MT

Day 2

Home: Apgar Campground hiker/biker site at Glacier National Park

We woke to another form of hiker/biker site crime. I had seen that all four slots at our A-loop site had been reserved for last night. Yet, we were the only souls present for the day and night. Since you can only book the sites 1 day in advance, did this mean 3-to-6 bikers had a sudden route change, or, worse, got hit by a car en-route?! No, now that we’ve become the cynical unwilling experts in this domain, we know there is another likely reason.

Glacier National Park in 2023 requires a permit to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road during peak hours. I don’t think they cost a lot, but since their job is to limit traffic on the road, by definition that means some people who want them won’t be able to get them. But! If you have any other type of reservation in the park (boat ride, hotel, or… campground), you don’t need a separate reservation to drive the road. Campsite reservations are even more-difficult to come by than vehicle reservations, except for…hiker/biker sites! And even “better”, hiker/biker sites are only $10!

So almost surely the “missing” hikers and bikers were actually drivers who never had any intention of camping, they just wanted to drive the road (we’d heard rumors of people booking $400 motel rooms and not using them for the same reason, so blowing only $10 is a significant improvement!)

And just like the thieves at St. Mary, this may not have been a victimless crime. Since all the slots were booked, there is a chance that a genuine hiker/biker, who needed a slot at the last minute, who deserved that slot, was forced to walk/ride elsewhere to the point where they could have run into late-night danger on the road. Argh!!

As much of a chore as this unsought knowledge is, today was real chore day. We first moved over to the C-loop, half-packing our stuff, so that I had this enormous bundle of our rolled-up tent hilariously strapped to my rear rack (with deflated sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and other stuff still inside, it was seriously a 3 ft. diameter cylinder). Roger introduced us to John and Els, and we were glad to hear they’d be staying a few more nights.

Then Rett and I rode out 12 miles to the town of Hungry Horse for groceries. Yesterday I had scouted the grocery store 2 miles outside the park in West Glacier Village, and it was similar to the St. Mary store: more produce than the in-park stores, but still not much, and everything else ridiculously priced.

So with five more days in the park, we figured it would be good for our guts to get some unprocessed foods. When I walked in, a grin broke across my face because it smelled like a real grocery store! A smell I hadn’t even realized I’d been missing, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t smelled it since the Browning IGA three weeks ago. As a bonus, the laundromat was connected to the grocery, so that was another chore off our list.

I was really proud of Rett for doing this thing that to me, made us feel like true long-term bike-tourers, the kind we see traveling the world on Instagram. A year ago, she wouldn’t even be willing to hop on her bike to ride it a quarter mile to the laundromat. So to do a 24-mile round trip reveals a whole new person.

On the way back we stopped at that expensive West Glacier store for beer (a nice sour 6-pack from Odell in Colorado!), a water bottle full of ice, and a packet of salad dressing, the latter two of which were given at no charge, so I guess the store isn’t that bad!

I was surprised that it was nearly sunset when we arrived back at the campsite, and rightly so, since the clock said it was only 4pm. It was the deep orange color of the sun filtering through the trees that had tricked me. So while I was glad that we hadn’t lost five hours somewhere, I’m less glad to hear that this mountain land may finally be getting the smoke it’s avoided thus far…

The sun looking unusually red at 4 hours before sunset. Must be smoke.

Day 3

Hiking: 7.1 mi / 850 ft. climbing
Home: Apgar Campground hiker/biker site at Glacier National Park

When we came to Glacier, I told people 75%-jokingly that maybe we’d spend a month in the park. Really we had no idea. Maybe in three days the ability to power our devices would force us out, and if not that, it would be the need for food, and if not that, bad weather. It turned out none of those factors had limited us, but one other concern I’d had in the back of my head, not just in Glacier, but anywhere in North America in the summer, was wildfire smoke.

The haze from yesterday afternoon continued into this morning, and the rumor was that it was smoke from fires in British Columbia. It drove home how lucky we had been up until this point, how our time in Glacier wouldn’t have been nearly as picture-perfect as it has been so far, if we’d been under a haze of smoke like most of the rest of the country has experienced for periods over the last two months. Especially since we seem to be near the center of the source of much of that smoke!

So if our luck has finally run out, and the smoke is what finally forces us out of Glacier (or at least dims our last days), then we’re grateful for how long our luck lasted and how much ice and rock we saw through crystal skies before the curtain dropped.

We had three more hikes planned, and the one for today was one of the two that were all about the epic mountain views. That means it was quite at-risk from being spoiled by the smoke. I hadn’t had time or connectivity to do all the weather- and smoke-forecasting work that I would normally do to plan around something like this, so I was uncomfortably flying (er, riding the shuttle bus) blind.

Since The Dragon’s Tail was a short hike (in relative terms!), we hadn’t gotten up super-early to make it on an express bus from Apgar back up to Logan Pass, and instead we’re on the 2nd or 3rd non-express. But I noticed that sitting right in front of us was George, the experienced Glacier hiker who helped us decide to hike Siyeh Pass in reverse 5 days ago! What a lucky coincidence! He fully endorsed our idea to do the Dragon’s Tail, but agreed that if it was as smoky up at Logan Pass as it was down in the valley, it would diminish the hike quite a bit. He also agreed that the charms of Avalanche Lake, the hike we’d planned for tomorrow, would be less-diminished by the smoke. His suggestion was to just ride the shuttle up to Logan Pass, and if it was too smoky, ride back down and do Avalanche. Such a manual, time-consuming, old-school method to acquire information (see it with your own eyes?!), while appropriate for this back-in-time place we’re in, was painful to my efficiency-bone, so at the Avalanche transfer point we decided to not board the bus up to Logan Pass. We’d just hike Avalanche Lake today and hope for an atmospheric turnaround for tomorrow (and the next day!)

We first walked through the Trail of the Cedars, a boardwalked path through shadowed forest, where the density of large tree trunks reminded us how much wetter the western slope of these mountains is, and where we couldn’t see further than 100 feet even if the entire atmosphere was sucked into space. It was a very pretty forest, but this was definitely a trail where I’d been spoiled by Western Washington, where the cedars are even bigger.

In fact, even the Avalanche Lake-proper section of the hike could have been in Washington. Which doesn’t mean that it’s not an awesome hike (we still would like to have our forever-home in Washington, after all!), it’s just that seeing something familiar has a tough time competing with the last couple weeks of seeing things I’d never seen anywhere.

Avalanche Creek, twisting, turning, diving.

Well, actually I haven’t much seen the like of Avalanche Creek, which we followed upstream most of the way to the lake. It’s carved itself into a narrow, twisting gorge for much of its length. If it ever dried up, I think it would leave behind a slot canyon nearly identical to ones I’ve explored in southern Utah.

Dense open forest, one of the best environments to walk through no matter what state you’re in.
More of Avalanche Creek falling.
Mountains receding into smoke.

Once we reached the lake, we of course took the trail extension all the way to the far end, where we navigated across several small waterfall-fed streams to find a spot on the stony beach for lunch.

The skies may be hazy, but the water is clear!
The waterfall-sliced barrier wall at the far end of the lake, which you can imagine would be even more impressive without the smoke.
Things close up still look sharp and beautiful!
We even get Washington poses on this hike (which do serve to highlight how we never saw a single tree trunk even close to this on the entirety of the eastern side).
A super-spotted fawn, not on the trail, but back at the Apgar bus stop, where we sat for a while after returning from the hike using the Visitor Center’s WiFi.

John and Els, our camp neighbors did the Highline Trail today, which is also up at Logan Pass, and their photos showed it was clearer up there than it was at Avalanche, but still well below the clarity we’d become spoiled by in Glacier. So did we make the right choice with our swap? We can only know that answer tomorrow!

Els and John, our awesome Belgian neighbors who we’d spend a few nights with. They’re finishing up Salt Lake City to Glacier, essentially the reverse of Dennis’s bike tour that was part of my inspiration for coming here.



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