Have you ever run out of adjectives to describe the beauty that surrounds you? That's how we found ourselves on our most recent camping trip in Glacier National Park. We used "spectacular, magnificent, incredible, majestic". At times, it felt that only "wow" was fitting for vistas that are almost indescribable.
One of my nephews joined us, and between the two of us, we snapped hundreds of photos! Don't worry - we won't make you scroll through them all, subjecting you to the famed family vacation slide shows! But I will split the trip in half to make it a bit more manageable for me and palatable for you. Here we go!
Chief Mountain Trailhead sits in the far northeast corner of the Park; from the parking lot, you can see the border entry into Canada. Waterton Lakes National Park lies to the northwest. One day, the border will re-open and the orange cones blocking the highway will disappear! Fortified by blueberries and graham crackers with peanut butter (no restaurants were open for breakfast), we left other hikers behind, and headed south, into the Belly River area of Glacier. We had been told by friends about the stunning landscape, and we were not disappointed.
The trail begins in heavy forest, but soon opens to alpine meadows blanketed with a bounty of wildflowers. Sticky purple geranium. White geranium. Campion. Paintbrush. Bedstraw. Mariposa Lily. Aspen fleabane. Fireweed. Clover. Alumroot. Death Camas. Yellow Columbine. Groundsel. Harebell. Showy locoweed. Prairie smoke. Cow parsnip.
As we shot the scenery, we commented often that the pictures didn't do it justice. The human eye can capture the macro and the micro, simultaneously. Believe me when I tell you that this meadow was awash with flowers!
After 2 hours and 21 minutes, 6 miles and 150 feet of elevation gain, we reached Gable Creek Campground, our home for the night. To reserve campsites in the backcountry, one has to make advance reservations or show up at the office in the morning and take what is available. In our case, we submitted our request on line on March 15, and we received approval on April 5. Gable Creek has 5 campsites; since we arrived relatively early, we snagged the largest, which easily accommodated our two tents. (Can you see me sitting to the left of the orange tent?)
We had a free afternoon, so we explored a bit after we set up the tents and secured the food on the bear hang. The Belly River ranger station is located less than a half mile from the campground, and we sought out the park ranger on duty. (When we checked in at the backcountry office, they told us that our exit route, through the Ptarmigan Tunnel, was not going to be possible; the tunnel was still closed! But, they expected it to open well before our exit date.) And sure enough, the ranger confirmed that the Tunnel had been opened. Whew!
We saw many hikers in this area, including someone I knew from volunteering at the Food Bank! All this way and I run into someone I know!
The pasture fencing around the ranger station was extensive, and I loved the element in our photos.
Dinner featured spaghetti for my nephew and beef stroganoff for Man with Hat and me. Gathered around the campfire and cooking area was a motley crew - a couple from New Hampshire, two guys from California hanging with a fellow from Montana, and a hilarious couple from Minnesota. After dinner, a German couple arrived and said a grizzly had blocked their path on the way to Cosley Lake campground. "Is there room for us?" There was a spare campsite, but we would have made room for them regardless! We closed the night with a few hands of Gin - Nephew 2, Me 1, Man with Hat 0.
We carried on to the foot of Glenns Lake; from that vantage point, the views were obscured by the massive grove of sycamores. Another day, we might travel onward and explore destinations with intriguing names such as Mokowanis Junction and Stoney Indian Lake. For now, we retraced our steps, with Chief Mountain towering in the distance and two bald eagles circling overhead. At Cosley Lake, we took a right turn for the river crossing.
When we reached the foot of Elizabeth Lake, we dropped our packs and put our feet in the water - aahhh. It was not our final objective, but all three of us needed a break! Fortunately, the remaining 1.6 miles to the head of the lake and our campground was quick. We put up the tents and were mobbed by flies! As rapidly as possible, we completed the task, hung our food and headed to the lake. Typically, flies and mosquitoes don't bother you when you are out in the open. The rock/sand bar below became our beach for the next day and a half.
We could hear a loon calling as we went back to the food prep area and made our dinners. Although the campground has four sites, only one other couple (from Brooklyn) joined us.
One of the benefits of summer camping in the far North is the length of the days. We still had plenty of light for the men to continue fishing. Personally, I was hoping for a moose sighting!
Given that my nephew is new to fly-fishing, Man with Hat provided occasional advice. No sooner had Man with Hat said "Can I give you a fishing tip?" than my nephew hooked a large grayling!
Here is a video of my nephew (almost) bringing in a fish.
(The strange sound you hear in the background is Spousal Unit blowing up his pack raft. That evening, it was still too windy for the raft, but that didn't stop them from catching numerous fish.) Ducks flew in for the night, a frog hopped from the water into the willows, and a raptor did his own fishing in the lake. I sighed a happy, contented sigh. And tried to think of words to describe the joy on my nephew's face.