East Glacier to Chief Mountain

We’ve done it! 5 months and 4 days after leaving the Mexican border and having hiked about 2700 miles, we finally reached the Canadian border yesterday morning.

As with any long hike, finishing the Continental Divide Trail brought with it a real mixture of emotions – relief, happiness, sadness that it’s over, sadness at saying goodbye to the wonderful people we’ve met on the trail as we all go our separate ways, a feeling of accomplishment, a slight feeling of disbelief that we’ve actually done it … But yesterday I pushed that lot to the back of my mind, as all I really wanted to do was get back into East Glacier for a hot coffee and a hot shower. The weather has not been kind to us these last few days, and it felt very much like winter was coming and it was time we were finished.

When we left East Glacier on Thursday, it was a perfect autumn day, with blue sky and sunshine. But as we entered Glacier National Park and climbed up onto a rocky ridge, the sky clouded over and darkened, and rain and hail were thrown at us by a chilly wind. It cleared up a bit as we began a steep descent to Two Medicine Lake and the campground, but while we were in the national park office getting our camping permits there was a huge downpour. In between showers we managed to get our tent up, cook dinner and snatch a few photos of the fresh snow on the surrounding mountains, but it was a cold and damp evening and it was a great relief to get into our nice warm sleeping bags.

The next day we had 25 miles and two mountain passes to do before our next campsite – in Glacier National Park camping is only allowed at designated campsites, which must be booked in advance. So our alarm was set for 6am, and we were on our way at first light, just before 7am. A few shafts of intense sunlight as the sun rose gave us hope that the clouds would break up and clear, but it was not to be.

As we made our way into a huge bowl-shaped corrie with a lake at the bottom and towering walls on all sides, we wondered where on earth the trail was taking us. Then we started a long and gentle zigzag up the side of the corrie, following rocky ledges up to Pitarmachan Pass. At the top there was fresh snow on the ground and bitingly cold winds threatening to knock us off balance – not a place to hang around!

So after a quick descent and a march down the valley, we had another steep ascent, this time up Triple Divide Pass. This is named after nearby Triple Divide Peak, where rain falling on different sides of the mountain flows west into the Pacific,east into the Atlantic or north to Hudson Bay. Again, the cold blustery wind ensured we didn’t stop for long to admire the dramatic scenery.

As we dropped down to Red Eagle Lake, the sun briefly emerged from the cloud to cheer us up as we hiked through an old burn area, where the wind whistled around the bare white trunks. Sadly our campsite was located in the burn area, with no shelter from the wind. So after a quick dinner, we retreated to our tent, leaving Pegasus (a small but tough thru-hiker originally from Burma) cooking her dinner in the designated food prep area.

Fifteen minutes later, as we were reading in our tent, we heard some high-pitched shouting, from which we could only make out two words: “Ripple” (Neil’s trail name) and “bear”. We hastily pulled on our jackets, shoes and headtorches, and got out of the tent to find Pegasus hurrying towards us clutching her food bag. She had been about to hang her food from the campsite’s food pole, out of reach of bears, when she heard a huffing sound, and saw two eyes glinting back at her in the darkness. Not wanting to lose her food to a bear, she had run with it instead.

But now if the bear followed its nose, it would head straight for the three of us – and with grizzlies as well as black bears around the place, that was the last thing we wanted! The only solution was to head back to the food hanging pole where Pegasus had seen the bear, and get her food strung up out of reach as quickly as possible. So that’s what we did, with lots of clapping and shouting “Hey bear!”, “B***er off bear!”, and “You’re not welcome bear!”

Peering into the darkness, we couldn’t see anything out there. But when we spotted the headtorches of two hikers coming along the lakeshore, we went to warn them about the bear – too late as it turned out, as they’d already seen a huge grizzly go crashing past them, heading away from the campsite.

After all that drama it took a while to get off to sleep. But sleep we did, and our food bags were still hanging from the food pole the next morning, which was a relief!

We only had 14 miles to do the next day, but it felt like such a long day … It was easy walking, mostly along St Mary’s Lake, but in the pouring rain and with low cloud obscuring the mountain tops, it was pretty tedious. When we arrived at our campsite, an angler with an enormous rucksack had a fire going in the firepit, trying to dry out his camping gear. We don’t normally bother lighting fires, but we kept this one going after he left, and were glad of it! When Seamtape arrived, he did a great job of finding more firewood, and when Pegasus arrived she joined us around the fire too. It was good to sit round the fire, talking and eating, until another rain shower sent us all scurrying off to our tents.

And so to Sunday, our last full day on the trail. It got off to a rubbish start, when I bit into a cold hard Snickers bar and broke the crown on my front tooth clean in half. Polite words cannot describe how pissed off I was!

With another 25 mile, two mountain pass day ahead, it would have been nice to get some decent weather. But as we plodded up Piegan Pass, the clouds closed in and it began to hail. My gloves weren’t warm enough to cope with the cold wind, so I paused to put my hiking poles away so I could warm up my hands – and so narrowly missed seeing a mother bear and cub on the path, which Seamtape (who was just in front) got a lovely little film of! Not my lucky day!

But on the bright side, by the time we got down to Josephine Lake, the sun was making sporadic appearances, and we had a nice easy tourist path to follow.

Our final mountain pass of the CDT came soon after, and it was an unusual one. A long ascent into a corrie led to a series of steep switchbacks, and then to a large steel door – the entrance to Ptarmigan Tunnel. It’s only about 80 yards long, and was driven through the ridge near the top to avoid some very steep crags. Popping out on the other side, the trail was built around the sheer cliffs by blasting the bedrock and building up the trail, to give a spectacular section of trail which we really enjoyed.

Then it was down to Elizabeth Lake, for our last night on trail. This left just nine miles to go to the Canadian border. We had hoped to finish at Waterton Lake, the official endpoint of the CDT, but this was closed following a wildfire. So we headed for Chief Mountain, a little-used border crossing in the middle of nowhere. The sky was grey, the trail was muddy, the terrain was unexciting, but as we climbed up towards the road and the border crossing, the sun came out, and the clouds lifted off the mountains to show a fresh covering of snow on the tops.

Coming out of the forest into a large car park, we headed down the road to the border monument, on the Canadian side of the border. A few photos, a wistful look northwards into Canada, then we turned around and headed back to the car park. A chilly lift back to East Glacier in the back of FiveStar’s parents’ truck, and that’s it, we’re done.

Well not quite. We still have a 55 mile section to hike down in New Mexico, to achieve our goal of “continuous footprints” from Mexico to Canada. So we have an epic journey by train and Greyhound bus ahead of us, but we’re looking forward to some nice sunny New Mexico hiking!

Hiking out of East Glacier
Storytime and Neil near East Glacier
Mount Henry
View from Scenic Point
Near Scenic Point
Descending to Two Medicine
Mountain goats near Two Medicine
Above Two Medicine
Two Medicine Lake
Two Medicine Creek at sunrise
Flinsch Peak, near Pitarmachan Pass
Gloomy weather at Pitarmachan Pass
Pitarmachan Lake
On the way up Triple Divide Pass
On the way up Triple Divide Pass
Triple Divide Pass
Triple Divide Peak
View from Triple Divide Pass
Burn area near Red Eagle Lake
Rain on the way, Red Eagle Mountain
Food prep area at Red Eagle Lake campground – bear long gone!!
Virginia Creek
Neil, Pegasus and Seamtape at Reynolds Creek campground, enjoying a rather smoky fire
Early morning light on Going to the Sun Mountain
Bad weather on Piegan Pass
Coming down from Piegan Pass
Ptarmigan Lake from tunnel south entrance
Near Ptarmigan Tunnel
Elizabeth Lake, from near Ptarmigan Tunnel
North entrance to Ptarmigan Tunnel
Trail and north entrance to Ptarmigan Tunnel
Descent from Ptarmigan Tunnel
Looking back at Ptarmigan Tunnel (right in the centre of the photo)
Shower, near Ptarmigan Tunnel
Belly River waterfall
Looking back from near Chief Mountain
At the Canadian border
At the Canadian border
At the Canadian border

8 Responses

  1. Jim Bispham
    | Reply

    Congratulations guys, well done on another epic thru hike. Just managed to catch up proper with your blog after my travels.

  2. Becka
    | Reply

    I love that Going to the Sun shot and the final twist that you’re heading back south to tick off the missing segment – but of course 😉

  3. Raye Cullingworth
    | Reply

    Congratulations on completing this amazing (and arduous) journey. I really admire your determination and “never give up” attitude. Certainly not for the likes of me (even I was a few decades younger). I’m wondering how many pairs of shoes you went through. Dick and I wish you and Neil a safe journey as you now retrace some of your footsteps. I’m sure your Mum will be very happy to welcome you back in the U.K. (Love all the photos of the beautiful scenery).

  4. Roz Savage
    | Reply

    Incredible achievement!! Been thinking about you so much, and enjoying a few vicarious bragging rights. The description of the last few days sounded tough, but the photos looked amazing.

    Sorry to hear about the tooth. Didn’t know chocolate could be so dangerous. Also looks like you’ve lost a lot of weight – unsurprisingly. Hope I can help you replace some calories if we get the chance to meet up in October.

    Meanwhile, keeping fingers crossed that you can complete the missing section and still make your flight home – good luck!!

    Xox

  5. Bill Batson
    | Reply

    Just fantastic Tanya and Neil, Many congratulations. Enjoy your beer/coffee/bath/rest!!

  6. Rita Savage
    | Reply

    Some pretty amazing scenery! And a coy smile.

  7. Russell Cullingworth
    | Reply

    Absolutely Brilliant! Thanks so much for the blog and the journey! Congratulations to you both on your amazing milestone achievement – may the memories stay with you forever!

  8. Matt
    | Reply

    Congratulations! Looks like its been another amazing adventure 🙂

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