Given Lemons, you must make lemonade… and then drink a lot of it!
We hightailed it into St. Mary, MT, on the east side of Glacier around dinnertime, just late enough for the backcountry permit office to be closed. The volunteer ranger/intern who was working the front desk, not so kindly let us know that there was no way we would be able to do the Northern Traverse hike that we had reserved a permit for. He not-so-gently told us that there was way too much snow up there at this time of year, and implied that we were idiots for planning such a trip. This was quite the blow to both of us, as we were really looking forward to this portion of the trip. With our tails between our legs, we walked out and cooked dinner in the parking lot, while trying to sort out what we would do with the gap in our itinerary that was botched by the high snow.
In the morning we headed back over to the ranger station, kind of hoping the other guy was wrong. He was not. The snow is just too deep that far north, and it just has not melted out yet. I guess we should have known better, the trail in many places is just 10 miles from the Canadian border. Quickly we worked with Rebecca, our very helpful backcountry permit ranger to sort something else out.
In lieu of our 4 day backpack, we decided that we could use the opportunity to see more regions of the park, including Many Glacier, and Two Medicine, which were not in our original plans. We would start with a dayhike from Many Glacier up and over Swiftcurrent pass to the Loop, which is a stop on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road (aka Sun Road).
We scrambled out into the parking lot, and packed our daypacks. I quickly scribbled a hitching sign on a couple of sheets of notebook paper, and we hustled over to the road junction in St. Mary to start thumbing. It was already 10 and we had a 11 mile hike to finish before 620 – the last time the bus stops at the Loop. After no more than 15 minutes of waiting two guys (Nathan and another fellow) from the East coast pull over to pick us up and they gave a ride straight to the trailhead in Many Glacier, roughly 30 miles north of St. Mary.
The trail up Swiftcurrent is stunning. The mountains in Glacier are dramatic, tall and magnificent. The flat valleys with deep lakes and steep walls carved of ancient rock look so different from the Colorado Rockies. We boogied up the valley to the base of the climb just as the temperature began to climb. The heat really kicked in as we started the 2500 foot wall of switchbacks up the east side of Swiftcurrent Pass. With just daypacks we were able to ascend at a good pace.
On the descent of the West side, we stopped at the Granite Peak Chalet- a Swiss inspired mountain hut that has incredible views of the interior of Glacier National Park. It would be a treat to come back and stay here sometime. The chalet was hand crafted from local stone around 1911, and is still in full operation today. We stopped for a peak in the front door, and then headed off on the steep descent to the Loop stop on the Sun Road. We caught the long shuttle back to the car, and devoured a bowl of pasta that could have fed a family of 4.
We went over to St. Mary to pick up some groceries for the next day. I sat in the parking lot for a bit and talked with my dad. He asked about the trip, about married life, how the van was running, to which I replied, “Perfect”. After we finished talking, I went inside and did some shopping. When I came back out, the van was not perfect. I couldn’t get it to turn over- I had accidently left the lights on.
Of course, jumper cables were one of the items that had been on our many, many list of things to get for the trip. Of course, I forgot to actually get them. We asked around and no one in this small, sleepy town seemed to have any. So I put the hood up, and grabbed a sheet of cardboard to make a sign. Just as soon as I put the finishing touches on the sign, and held it at my chest, a very sweet lady and her son pulled over. License plate said West Virginia. I love people from the South.
She gets her cables out and after a few tries, the White Rascal purrs back to life. As we talked about their trip, she asked about ours. As soon as we told her we had just gotten married, and that we were out on our big adventure, she bolted for the front seat of her van. She comes back with $20 in her hand and says “Yall must take this. At our church we have this Pay It Forward campaign going, and maybe you can use it on your trip- or to buy some jumper cables.” We tried to refuse, but she would have none of it. It never ceases to amaze me how kind people can be.
We assured her that we would be sure to Pay It Forward down the road.