Montana – Days 1-4: Glacier National Park and Other Adventures

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My first day in Montana I went to Yellowstone National Park. Technically the part of the park we were in for most of the day was in Wyoming, so I’m going to save that adventure for the Wyoming post, sorry. However, I will say that I had some awesome adventures with Robb, my friend from college, and he made some pretty tasty dinners the two nights I spent with him in Bozeman, MT.

The day after our adventure in Yellowstone I drove up to Missoula. I decided to work on some productive things while I waited to hear from my hosts. I had messaged them in the morning before I left Bozeman and hadn’t heard anything, but figured it’d be best to get to Missoula sooner rather than later. That way I could get to their house whenever was convenient for them. I worked on my blog and looked up some more flight information and did other random stuff. I still hadn’t heard from them at 6 p.m. and I’d messaged them at 8 that morning. Ten hours seemed a bit long not to hear from them, so I messaged them again.

I tried to remain calm and reminded myself that I’ve been on the road for eight months, and I’ve stayed with over ninety Couchsurfing hosts and I’ve never had a host not come through. Granted, once I had a host say they needed me to wait a few hours to come over, and this was at like 8:30 p.m. and so I decided to just sleep in my car rather than stay up into the wee hours of the night chatting with them, but still. One out of ninety-seven? Those are pretty good odds.

I sent another message and decided I’d wait until 7 p.m. and then just drive the rest of the way to near Glacier National Park and find a Walmart to camp out at. Since I was planning on going to Glacier the next day anyway this would save me some driving time in the morning. 7:10 p.m. rolled around and I Googled a Walmart near Glacier and headed there.

When I got to Walmart I saw signs saying overnight parking was against the city codes. Uh-oh. I went in to use the restroom, change into my pjs, and brush my teeth anyway and decided if the Walmart was open 24 hours I might just decide to risk it and stay there anyway. I could probably convince someone I spent eight hours wandering around a Walmart in the middle of the night, right?

The Walmart was indeed open 24 hours and there were a bunch of other cars sprawled around the outskirts of the parking lot and clearly camping overnight, so I decided to join them. Unfortunately, because of the lingering threat of being awoken in the middle of the night and told to move on, I did not get my best night sleep. Alas, I survived and no one bothered me.

I'm telling you, sleeping in Walmart parking lots is a thing a people do...Kalispell, MT.

I’m telling you, sleeping in Walmart parking lots is a thing a people do…Kalispell, MT.

The following morning I headed into Glacier National Park. I entered through the West Entrance and took the Going-to-the-Sun Road north. Unfortunately, about half of the road was still blocked by ice and snow and whatnot as a result of winter and avalanches and whatever else causes roads to be impassable. Still, I managed to have a pretty wonderful time in the park.

I stopped off the road and found a beach on Lake McDonald with 270° views of the mountains surrounding the lake. It was stunning. When it wasn’t too windy the mountains were reflected in the lake and it was absolutely breathtaking. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

One of the prettiest places I've ever been: Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, MT.

One of the prettiest places I’ve ever been: Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, MT.

I stayed at the beach for like an hour and did my morning workout routine. Which was really only awkward when the boatful of fishermen floated by. I waved, but they didn’t notice. That only made me feel more awkward. Thankfully it was beautiful, so that made me feel better. Eventually more people started showing up to my previously private beach so I decided it was time to move along.

There was so much greenery around this killer waterfall on McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park, MT.

There was so much greenery around this killer waterfall on McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park, MT.

I continued along the road and found a waterfall along McDonald Creek just north of the lake. I couldn’t resist checking out the path just beyond the fenced in viewing area. I waited until the other people around went back to their cars and then I hopped the barrier to see where the trail led. I was a little nervous because of all the signs everywhere warning that this was grizzly bear country and not to hike alone and to have bear spray. I was both alone and sans bear spray, but I really needed some secluded nature time. I knew no one would be coming along that path anytime soon and I didn’t plan to go too far, so I figured it was worth the risk. Plus, the road was not too far from one side of the path and a cliff and the river were on the other, so my chances of a bear encounter seemed pretty slim. I wandered for maybe five minutes before I realized why the trail was blocked off. Part of the path had literally fallen over the edge of a cliff. Presumably an avalanche or a rock slide had knocked it off the mountain. Whoa.

I was far enough from the waterfall viewpoint and the road and other people in general that I was content. I sat down and wrote some postcards that I was behind on. Once my butt started getting tired of sitting and I had finished a nice sized stack of postcards I decided to go somewhere else and go on a real hike.

This was the view from where I wrote some postcards on the blocked off trail, Glacier National Park, MT.

This was the view from where I wrote some postcards on the blocked off trail, Glacier National Park, MT.

A number of National Parks I’ve been to have given me a newspaper that tells me about current happenings in the park in addition to the standard park map. Usually the newspapers have details about the different hikes I can take and estimates on how long they would take and how difficult they are. Glacier had a newspaper, but it didn’t have the hiking details. That bummed me out. I really wanted to see a glacier, but if the map was to scale it looked like the hike was quite a bit further than I wanted to do in a day. I could have risked it, but I really didn’t want to. Especially since I was heading back to Robb’s again since my Missoula hosts had bailed on me and it was a five hour drive back to Bozeman.

I decided the loop around Johns Lake would be a nice short hike so I started there. The map at the trailhead said there was a waterfall about a mile beyond the loop. The loop itself was only a half a mile and I had plenty of time still, so I decided to go see the waterfall. Usually I take pictures of the trailhead maps just in case, but I forgot to take one this time. I also left the park map in the car. Whoops.

Needless to say, I ended up going the wrong way and hiked for about forty minutes beyond Johns Lake before I admitted to myself that clearly I had taken the wrong trail. I retraced my steps and then I heard a huge crashing sound behind me. I really wish someone had been there to see my face, because it was utter terror. I was convinced a bear was about to attack me and I was about to die, for some reason I decided to stare death in the face and whipped around. All I saw was a tree branch with the leaves still rustling from its descent. I relaxed slightly and laughed at myself, but quickened my pace nonetheless. Every subsequent sound made me jump. Probably the third time this happened I actually said aloud, “Stop it! That’s enough! I am not afraid. I am fine.”

Eventually I found the fork where I had gone the wrong way and went the other way, which indeed led to the waterfall. It wasn’t as cool as the one I’d seen from the road earlier, and there were more people around this one. From there I couldn’t figure out where the loop continued to take me back to my car without going back the way I had come.

The waterfall off the Johns Lake Loop wasn't as cool as the first one I'd seen that day, Glacier National Park, MT.

The waterfall off the Johns Lake Loop wasn’t as cool as the first one I’d seen that day, Glacier National Park, MT.

Finally I chose to walk along the road to get back to my car, but the road was really windy and there wasn’t much of a shoulder. It made me nervous with how fast people were taking the corners. A short way down the road, I found a trail that ran parallel to the road. I figured it’d be better to use that than the road so I took it. It started ducking deeper into the woods and further from the road, but I thought it might be the horse loop that had overlapped parts of the Johns Lake Loop, so I stuck with it. It was indeed the horse loop, and it eventually met back up with the Johns Lake Loop. At the juncture, about five or so minutes before making it back to my car I ran into the only other person I saw on this hike that wasn’t by the lake or the waterfall. He was an older gentleman and also hiking solo. We said hello and I continued on my way.

Once back in my car I started making soup for lunch. I noticed the man I had recently exchanged pleasantries with come out of the woods. He had been stopped when I saw him, so I hadn’t realized we’d been going the same way. He started approaching my car, and still on high bear alert I started to panic and said in my head, “do not come over here and knock on my window.” Which is precisely what happened.

I considered locking the doors, but it was too late for that, so I rolled down the window about halfway and said, “Hey, what’s up?” “Hello, there,” he replied, “I just saw that the lights were on but didn’t see anyone in the car so I thought I’d see if I could get in and turn them off.” “Well, here I am, but thanks!” I said, and with that he turned and walked across the street and disappeared on the elusive Johns Lake Loop path. I considered following him, just to see where the Loop trail met the waterfall, but decided against it in the end, I was hungry and had a long drive back to Bozeman ahead of me.

When I finally arrived at Robb’s place I was feeling kind of nauseous, so I went to bed early. I awoke the next morning and slowly started my day with a workout, breakfast, and a morning nap, followed by lunch and one of the most productive afternoons ever. Despite not doing an awful lot in Montana, it still felt like a pretty eventful state.