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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Epic Journey Day 6

Start: Elizabeth Lake (Foot) Campsite
Exit: Ptarmigan Trailhead
Mileage: ~10.6 miles with ~4.2 miles spur trail to Iceberg Lake
Elevation Up: ~2518 feet
Elevation Down: ~2480 feet

It was another morning of tearing down camp, followed by a quick breakfast with our campmates before beginning our last day on the trail.

Right from the start of our hike, we began ascending the mountain via a series of switchbacks weaving up through the trees. As we climbed up and up, Ben paused to capture views from the overlooks on his camera and to scavenge berries. Raspberries and thimbleberries were favorites of the day, choke cherries, elderberries and various other mystery berries were huge disappointments.

After about 1.5 hours, we reached the ridgeline, where the forest faded into open scree fields. We traversed these slippery slopes as they climbed toward Ptarmigan Tunnel. While keeping our eyes open for any grizzlies that might be playing in the fields below us (at a safe distance for photo ops), we spotted a pair of moose grazing and paused to take their pictures and snack on some raspberries near where we sat.

We dusted ourselves off and continued climbing the final ledge to Ptarmigan Tunnel. As we proceeded past the man-made wall that lined the walkway, we paused to admire the nearby glaciers and listened to their creaks and groans.

Despite having climbed over 2000 feet in our first 5 miles, carrying heavy packs, we appeared to be the first people of the day to reach the tunnel. We took some photos on the north-west entrance of the tunnel, chased a chipmunk out of the dark as we admired the stonework and noted the sidewalls a ranger had told us before were designed to keep horses centered within the tunnel so riders in years past would not bump their heads on the ceiling.

As we emerged on the south-east side, we met the first hikers arriving from that side. After a few pictures there, we sat down for 1st lunch and defended Kari's goodies from our pesky chipmunk friend (PLEASE DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS).

Following lunch, we continued down the mountain, past numerous day-hikers, admired their various fragrances, and were amazed at the fear of bears which the park had instilled in them.

Kari became increasingly concerned about whether Kari would be able to find a place to pee with all the day-hikers on the trail. What an inconvenience! Fortunately, Ben stood watch and crisis was averted.

Other than a short pause to photograph a mountain goat family, playing on the snow off trail, our descent went uninterrupted and we quickly arrived at the intersection with Iceberg Trail. Taking the path leading up toward Iceberg Lake, we climbed up what smelled to be a popular day hike trail. With our big backpacks, questionable body odor, and Ben stopping intermittently to snatch thimbleberries off the bushes, we definitely stood out. When we made it to the lake, we sat down for 2nd lunch and filtered some of the icy water to wash it down.

With our tummies and water bottles full, we began our descent, keeping an eye on the grey clouds that were starting to roll over the valley. We passed the sign indicating the direction to Many Glacier and set off in the direction of our final 2.8 miles toward Many Glacier Campground. We held hands when the path was wide enough to do so. Our feet had already begun to hurt - 13 miles in a day seemed to be Kari's limit with a full pack. The backwoods phase of our adventure honeymoon was coming to a bittersweet and drizzly end.

We held hands as we stepped off the trail and into the parking lot. With no clear idea of exactly where Many Glacier Campground was and no desire to walk on the hard asphalt any more than we had to, we strolled together down the street to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Office. Taking charge, Ben approached the front desk and asked where the campground was and where to be to get on the 9am shuttle the following morning, so we could get to our rental car and retrieve Ben's Honda from Kintla Lake on the opposite side of the park.

Good thing he asked!

Despite having been told over the phone during the planning months preceding our trip several times that the 9am shuttle would be available, the 9am shuttle would, in fact, NOT be running anymore. Fortunately, we arrived 30 minutes prior the 4:45pm shuttle, giving us just enough time to find a room in East Glacier for the night prior to picking up the rental. The manager on duty pointed out the East Glacier accommodations to Ben and handed him the phone, wishing him luck finding a room. After a couple no answers, Ben found us a place to stay for the night, so we went out to wait for the shuttle.

While we sat on the kid-sized bench by the door, we met a small group of thru-hikers who were almost finished traversing the Continental Divide Trail. They carried minimal gear, but claimed to hike ~30 miles/day, making Kari feel like an absolute weenie.

When the shuttle arrived, we hopped in the back to keep our smell (which had only gotten REALLY bad on this final day) away from the other riders. We moved up by the driver when the other riders had left and were joined by one last rider. This man was probably ~30 years old and had been doing seasonal concessionary work and exploring the world since graduating college. Now, he and his girlfriend travel and work together, getting jobs via connections and storing up letters of recommendation. But as they get older and thoughts of kids start to enter their minds, things would be changing and the transition might be difficult. This was a very interesting conversation for Kari because that was how she had wanted to live but she had chosen a different path. Glacier for season, then off to Nepal, then who knew!

The shuttle driver was also a seasonal worker - he and his wife worked at Glacier doing more grown-up jobs over the summers and stayed in provided housing.

The driver kindly dropped us off at the door of the convenience mart/Avis/etc. where we met the store owner who also owned the motel we would be staying at, along with several other businesses in town. We dropped off our bags at The Whistling Swan Motel, bought two pizzas (1 12" pizza for each of us) and demolished the food, while sitting on the "dirty" bed. We splurged with some TV and showers (though the body odor would persist through several washes) and hopped into the clean queen bed for the night.

Click here for photos from Glacier National Park

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