June 25th, 2019
Chief Mountain, Canadian Border mm 0 to Many Glacier campground, 1 mile from CDT mm 35
Distance in miles: 28
What a journey it has been. Due to my long hiatus, I don’t know what to call this start? Re-start? Day 1? I’m going with that. It was a fantastic start, perhaps the best first day ever. I’ve loved every first day though and it’s hard to compare them.
Today saw us getting up at 5:30 am after a rather restless night. I was too excited to sleep, plus it was light out until 11 pm, then light again by 4:30 am. It had been a long day of travel the day before, first to Kalispell and then to East Glacier. My flight went well and I was lucky enough to have a couple meet me at the airport. Chuck and Vickie are neighbors with Karl and Leslie, who hosted Relentless. The timing was perfect since they had an appointment in town the same day. It would have been a hard hitch otherwise.
There was a huge meal waiting when we got to the lodge. Plus a great reunion with Relentless and Salty. The last I had seen Relentless, we had been crying for hours together in a hotel room in Grants, NM. He was very sympathetic about the news about my father and a good shoulder to cry on. Now here we were in Northern Montana under much better circumstances.
Back to this day, Relentless woke up extra early just to make us omelettes. What a guy. I had been stuffing my face like a champ for several days, trying to bulk up, and this was a great final touch. Karl then drove us all the way to the start of the trail at Chief Mountain border station. The drive was amazing, skirting around the colossal mountains along the high plains. There were even bison to set the mood, like a scene out of Dances With Wolves. Chief Mountain itself stood out prominently, beckoning us into the park.We took the obligatory photos at the international monument and then chatted with the solo customs guy at the station…he was actually super chill and friendly. Welcome to the USA! We didn’t go into Canada since none of us had passports. But we were close enough.Then just like that, we were on the trail by 8 am and entering Walking Bliss. I wasn’t sure how to feel so I just went with elated. I am just so blessed. Everything was green and there were jagged peaks all around, amidst a stunningly beautiful sunny day. What heaven was I just dropped into?We walked along like Hobbits in the Shire for several hours, running into Dahn and Vortex (both 2018 PCT SOBO hikers that I know). In 3000 km on the TA, I never caught up to Dahn. Then it took me about 1000 miles to catch him on the PCT. Now I caught him on the first SOBO CDT day. Except that they had to walk NOBO to the border because they couldn’t get permits going south, thus they were on their 4th day. Maybe I will catch him again.
Speaking of permits, Relentless put in the hard work of organizing ours but still struggled with the bureaucracy. In the end, we didn’t get the most ideal campsites but at least we were able to go SOBO. The permit had us set for 28, 30, and 26 mile days…huge mileage for just starting out but we are some hearty thru-hikers.We did our first pass mid-day: Red Gap Pass at 7543 feet in elevation. I felt strong and energetic, flying up the switchbacks. All my day hiking in Colorado sure paid off. We caught up to 5 young men, all under 20, setting off on their adventure. Two were thru-hikers and the rest just hiking Glacier NP. It was good to meet some newly-minted SOBOs.With my eagle eyes, I also spotted some mountain goats. Then heading down from the pass, I came upon a black bear, blissfully rubbing on shrubs and scratching his back on every tree he passed. I just stood and watched, knowing he would soon detect my scent, given that I was upwind. When he did, he stood up tall looking in my direction then behind me to see if there were more humans. And then he went right back to doing his territory marking. I clearly did not matter to him and I love when animals feel secure enough to go about their business in my presence. I’m not a threat.
Regardless, I waited for Salty & Relentless to catch up before proceeding. We saw the bear yet again, across a meadow still scratching his back on trees. Then we saw another 2 black bears before the day was done. The last one was in a field where the trail ran parallel to a park road. A crowd of tourists in cars were stopped and began yelling at us: Bear! Come this way! We kept walking the trail with the bear doing its thing off to the left, completely ignoring us. The tourists kept shouting, we kept walking, and the bear kept bearing. It was rather comical. A black bear will not bother 3 hikers but this one was a cinnamon black bear and probably mistaken for small grizzly by the tourists. They presumed were were daft and perhaps they were right. We also walked right past a coyote. Lots of wildlife today!We made it all the way to Many Glacier Lodge and there we rested for a bit. It was so warm inside the lobby that I couldn’t resit making up a meal and enjoying the view. The bathroom was quite nice too. Then we had to walk a mile off trail to get to our campground. The info desk at the lodge said it was only a quarter of a mile away…that may seem so when you drive it but not when you walk it after already having gone 27 miles. We dragged our feet the whole way there and were set-up, ready for bed in short time. There were a few other thru-hikers but I had little energy for socializing. I didn’t even remember my head hitting the pillow on this long, beary great day.