Hiking: 5.4 mi / 1000 ft. climbing
Home: Apgar Campground C-loop hike/biker site
A couple days ago, on our first day at the C-loop hiker/biker site, we met two other legit cycling pairs, both doing a cross-country west-to-east.
The first two were from Portland, young and dumb and unprepared, with one of them riding a skinny-tired road bike whose lowest gear (30-23) is what Rett would have if she got rid of her nine lowest gears! They went on an unsanctioned hike, didn’t really know the way, got a bit lost and stuck out on the mountain near dark, well past the time of the last shuttle bus of the night, needed to hitch a ride back to the campground, arrived at 10pm, and just sacked out on the ground, too exhausted to pitch a tent. Low on funds, they wanted to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat Lodge breakfast we recommended, but dawdled too long in camp to make it there on time. For some reason we couldn’t comprehend, the next day they rode up to Logan Pass in the dark, completely missing all the astounding views.
The second two were smart, thoughtful, and curious, with a solid bike touring pedigree (one of them riding a Trek 520, a classic touring bike). They successfully hiked to the summit of Mt. Brown, a feat rarely done, where they were able to marvel at the tremendous whooshing sound made by a bird-of-prey as he dove, wings tucked, straight past their faces down the mountain. They wisely chose to take an easy day before climbing on their bikes to Logan Pass, and when they did, they timed it so they had the road almost entirely to themselves. And then, having made it to the top well before the bikes-off-the-climb restriction at 11am, one of them caught the free shuttle bus back down to partake in the all-you-can-eat breakfast.
You may have already guessed, dear reader, that there was really just one pair of cyclists, and both of these two divergent descriptions lived within the single pair of Eli and Sean (not sure about the latter’s name, so we’ll go with Sean). They were just out of college, one with a job lined up, and one who felt his parents had more confidence he’d find something than he did himself. Rett and I often talk about how younger people have a resilience, a physical and emotional springiness that we just don’t have at our age, and how it allows them to still get by even if they’re dumb and unprepared (and in this case we had John and Els, closer to our age, to agree with that observation). For Eli and Sean, since they also have a side of wisdom and thoughtfulness beyond their years, I think they’ll have an incredible and life-changing summer crossing the country. Well, we’ll see what happens to Eli when they hit the 10% grades in the East that don’t exist out West…
For us, careful planning told us that we needed to set the alarm for 5am if we wanted to accomplish our regimented goal for the day. Once again we felt bad cooking breakfast at the table less than 5 feet from John and Els’s heads inside their tent, but we tried to be as quiet as possible.
We were going to try the Dragon’s Tail today after bailing on it yesterday due to the smoke. Despite our early wakeup, our slow and methodical breakfast meant that we got the 3rd or 4th shuttle up from Apgar, so it was non-express (we needed to transfer at Avalanche) and we got to the top around 9am.
The bus stop at the top is where we saw Sean (waiting for Eli to return from breakfast), and that’s what triggered my retrospective on them above.
The weather rumors turned out to be correct, and the smoke had miraculously cleared out, leaving the sky so crisply blue it seemed like someone must have been up well before us to paint and polish it. Our planning (to compensate for our lack of resilience) was combined with incredible luck to make yesterday’s hike-swap gamble completely pay off.
Our trail started on the Hidden Lake Trail, which heads south from Logan Pass while the famed Highline Trail heads north. It also seems to be the most-popular trail in the park, which makes a lot of sense given the incredible views-per-mile and wide mostly-boardwalked surface over its relatively-short 5-mile out-and-back distance.
A guy with a big lens coming down the trail told us there were bighorn sheep ramming their heads into each other in the meadow ahead, and while we didn’t get to see that bit of animal insanity, a whole crowd of them crossed the trail right in front of us (and behind us). We had technically seen bighorn sheep in the Two Medicine campground, but those scraggly females looked nothing like these spiral-horned rams straight off the NFL field.
The boardwalk smoothed the surface, but it was actually a surprisingly difficult walk because of the significant climb. I think it’s the first boardwalk I’ve ever seen where the “flat” sections between stairs were angled up at a significant slope.
Then, just a few hundred yards before the overlook (and current end of the trail, since the section down to the lake is closed due to grizzly activity), we branched off onto a path marked only by two small signs: “Climber’s Route”, and “Stay on Trail”. I decided to interpret that combination to mean “once you’ve turned onto this climber’s route, don’t go off the trail”. Because it was clearly a trail (and one described by hikinginglacier.com even if it doesn’t appear on the park maps), and who is to say that we aren’t climbers anyway?
I expected traffic to drop significantly, but was amazed that we had the trail almost completely to ourselves while an army marched on oblivious behind us. Even amongst the masses it had already been an experience that understandably draws those masses, but the solitude (which we probably value more than most) brought it to a whole new level, figuratively and literally. We reached the first saddle and its top-of-the-world views without seeing another person. While we ate lunch, one couple went by, at least making me feel like we wouldn’t get arrested for being somewhere that people aren’t allowed.
The trail is definitely the toughest and most-technical of any we’ve hiked in Glacier (we had to navigate our way over or around a couple snowfields in addition to using our hands in more places), so I can understand why they try to discourage the masses of boardwalkers from heading this way. On our way up to the second saddle, we hit a really steep section with a loose gravel surface. After Rett hiked 15 steps up, I asked her to turn around and try going down a couple steps before she continued further up. That turned out to be nearly impossible, so that’s where we made the tough decision to call it and turn around. Rett was disappointed since she wanted to go further (and would have been able to if we had our trekking poles), but it wasn’t worth ruining what had already been a great day. After all, we aren’t Sean and Eli with their 22-year-old foolish resilience, and must make up for it with wisdom.
And then, shortly after we turned back (maybe because we turned back), Rett spotted a mountain goat on the cliff directly above us. Again, we’d seen a mountain goat before, so cool, but already we were becoming jaded. But whoa, now there was a baby with Mom too! And there was Dad ahead leading the way!
They came down from the cliff and walked the whole way ahead of us back to our lunch spot. They acted so much like a stereotypical human family, with the kid being the most curious about us, but also sticking close to Mom, with Dad leading the way and providing the occasional stern direction when necessary. It was the best animal interaction we’ve had in the park, largely because it was just us and the goats up in this astounding place for 10 minutes together.
On the way back we decided to walk the final bit on the official trail to see if the ring-of-boardwalk viewing area offered anything we missed, and, except for a huge crowd, nope! (perhaps more accurately, we went to confirm the superiority of our route, to elevate it even higher in our minds. Mission accomplished!)
So yeah, when combining all the factors we love in a hike (like views, variety, solitude, wildlife), it’s hard to not score this near the top of any ground we’ve walked on this earth. Especially when yesterday’s smoke had us thinking our window for spectacular hikes had closed.
The worst part then was the interminable wait in the hot sun back down at Avalanche for our transferring shuttle bus to appear, but given that this incredible day would have been impossible for us without this free service (well, probably not impossible, Eli and Sean show we could have re-climbed Logan Pass on our bikes to get to the trail), we weren’t asking for any refunds.
Maybe even better than the hike for me was when Rett met me at the shower building on her bike! I had taken mine over from our C-loop site back to the A-loop showers, but totally expected her to trudge the quarter-mile there and back. But without me even suggesting it (or maybe because I didn’t suggest it), she not only did a short ride through stressful turns, she did it in her shower sandals! With an unbalanced load of panniers on her bike! With her long skirt hiked up! Maybe the hike was so good that its benefits extended beyond the immediate visual experience.
We completed the fine day with an excellent Knorr noodle and tuna dinner augmented with broccoli from our long grocery run, I got a load of good info from John and Els about Yellowstone and our route there, and then we were early to bed for one final epic hike tomorrow!