Day 4: The Value of Preparedness

We woke to bright sunlight filtering through the trees into the yellow fabric of our tent. The plan was to keep moving east across the park toward Many Glacier Campground, where we hoped to set up for the week. We made breakfast bread, broke camp and hightailed it across Going-to-the-Sun Road. It took longer to get across the park than we anticipated (tourists) and was late morning by the time we reached St. Mary Lake. Given how quickly the campgrounds fill up, we decided to stay in Rising Sun Campground rather than gamble on Many Glacier.

A few sites were unoccupied and we snagged a great spot nestled against a cliff toward the back of the campground. Shortly after registering and paying for the spot, the campsite host walked over to greet us. He warned us that East Glacier was “bear central” and we needed to be extra diligent with our food because black bears hang out on the bluffs behind our site “all the time.” They eat from the raspberry bushes that just happened to be surrounding our tent.

Side note: It’s incredible how many noises mimic the sound of a bear’s grunt in the middle of the night.

After getting our tent set up, we headed out to explore Logan Pass along the Continental Divide. The weather shifted from warm sunshine to low hanging cloud cover. Fortunately, we packed our rain gear, which we pulled out of our packs about 20 meters into our hike toward Hidden Lake. It took about 30 minutes to reach the overlook, but the lake was totally socked in by clouds, so we decided to mush on to get a better look. The trail quickly became more rugged and the crowds thinned. A family of mountain goats crossed the path a few feet in front of us.

Ominous clouds clung to the wall of the divide. But the clouds covering the lake cleared to reveal the bright blue water of Hidden Lake below. We stashed our rain gear in our packs and hiked on. Our goal was to make it down to a waterfall before the rain moved back in. About halfway down a series of switchbacks, heavy raindrops began pelting our exposed base layers and packs. We scrambled to put on rain gear, but it was too late. Our clothes and packs were soaked. Fortunately, Luke packed a tarp that we could hide underneath until the storm passed.

We scrambled down the rocks and into a grove of pine trees lining the shore of the lake. Luke strung up the tarp and we squatted beneath it, waiting out the storm. The image of a curious grizzly coming to check out the newcomers sent me into full-blown panic mode each time a tree branch scraped our tarp or the wind rustled some leaves. At one point, Luke got really quiet and said, “Did you hear that?” Sheer terror nearly forced a shart out of me.

A few seconds passed, then I heard a low grumble. Visions of grizzlies made my heart temporarily seize, then pound out of my chest. Panic set in as my imagination ran wild. What were our options for escape? Do we jump into the lake? Do we run? Hit it with a hiking stick? Or, do we enact the worst plan of all time and attempt to play dead knowing the end result would be actual death in the form of a heart attack?

Suddenly, our “bear” burst forth from the trees in the form of three male hikers. One guy said, “Hey, you guys are smart!” as he hiked through. We stared back, wide-eyed and traumatized from underneath our soaked tarp. At that moment, we deduced that if a bear wasn’t going to kill us, our paranoia would. We tore down the temporary shelter, gathered our soaking wet bits and pieces and retraced our steps back up the mountain.

The rain let up the higher we climbed and we got back to the lookout point in record time. Once we were up and over the pass, the rain stopped completely and the sun starting poking through the clouds. We were drenched and freezing, but still in somewhat good spirits. On our way to the car, we encountered a chubby, beaver-like creature that was very comfortable with humans. He was a hoary marmot and was absolutely adorable. (Seriously, look them up on the Internet.) The marmot became our official mascot for the remainder of the trip.

Streams transformed from a mere trickle to swollen rivers rushing down the side of the mountain. Clouds were blowing sideways across the divide, carrying rain and winds in the most bizarre weather pattern we’ve ever seen. Glacier was proving to be one of the wildest national parks we’ve ever visited.

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