Tuesday July 26th, 2022, 0620-1200
Red Meadow Lake to Polebridge, WEBO mm 56.3, Section 1 Rocky Mountains
19 miles, Gain 930′, Loss 3000′, elevation 3550′
As imagined, everything was soaking wet in the morning. My hiking clothes were all still very damp from my swim, so I left camp wearing some of my dry camp clothes. This was a mistake because shortly the route left the road for a single track trail that was very overgrown, to say the least. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve recognized before: every piece of vegetation sticking out into the trail is much more noticeable when it’s wet. The weight of the water also bends the vegetation down even more. But this trail was just absolutely saturated with green stuff. At first it was knee level, soaking my tights and shoes. Then it kept moving up. I stopped to remove my rain jacket and long sleeve, replacing these with my wet hiking clothes, so that was a good call at least. While I was stripped half naked, the German couple caught up. Luckily I had just finished changing.
I reached a saddle where an old road bed started. I thought this might be where the trail opened a little but I was dead wrong. This was where the PNT carwash (hiker wash) got into full swing. The alders closed in and for several miles it was merely a 4 foot tunnel…great for bears but not a human. I was shadow boxing alders and getting whipped in the face all while water poured from my head down. I don’t even get that wet when it rains because of my umbrella. I likened it to scuba diving in a sea of green. And I did not enjoy it. I didn’t bother to keep my emotions in check either, yelling obscenities left and right. I figured this was good for warning the bears and man did I see a lot of huge piles of bear poop in the vicinity! This was the most sign of grizzlies yet. Yikes!
A cleared road couldn’t come soon enough. I rejoiced when one finally did but it took a long time to dry and warm up. 10 miles of road walking surely did the trick but I was uncomfortable for quite a stretch. At least worrying about staying warm made the time pass quickly. I saw one WEBO in this stretch and all I said to him was: enjoy the carwash. He didn’t understand, thinking I was referring to traffic on the road (there hadn’t been one car pass me). He’d understand, soon enough.
I joined the main road to Polebridge, where a train of cars began to whoosh by. It was still a dirt road and signs along the way begged drivers to slow down to limit the dust. I wholeheartedly agreed. Luckily for me, the rain had wetted the road sufficiently to dissolve this problem. I stopped to take pictures at the town sign and a lady stopped her car to get out to help. I learned that she worked at the Merc and later she served me one of their famous huckleberry bearclaw pastries. Yum. But first I took my stuff over to the North Fork hostel to hang my tent to dry. Then back to the Merc for 2 hot sandwiches (at $10 a piece) and the bearclaw. I found Wolverine there, doing a similar thing. I read an article about bears trying to stuff their faces as fast as they can to put on weight over the summer …the term is hyperphagia. We hikers have a lot in common.
Though it was later in the day, we decided to try to take care of our GNP permits. I’d been dreading this part of the hike. GNP limited walk-in permits even more so this year, so I feared me might be severely restricted in where we could camp and which routes we might take. But first we had to go over a mile to get to the ranger station. Reluctant to walk, we stuck out our thumbs and got a ride right off the bat…from an off duty ranger in a jeep, no less. Her and her partner were heading to Kintla lake for an overnight. She gave us the low down on routes, helping us make some early decisions. Then at the station, we were able to get every campsite we wanted. The whole process took less than 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! What a relief it was to get this done, as we’d expected to have to come back the next day.
On the way back to town, we tried to bum a ride from some rafters, hoping we could float down the river. But they were at the take out and had no room in their truck. We did get a ride from another jeep, this time a family on vacation. Vacationers are notorious for never giving rides but what can I say, we’re good! The parents even scolded their 2 kids in the back (who I sat my smelly self right next to): Kids, don’t pick up hitchhikers! Then the little boy looked right at me and asked: what are you doing and why are you in my jeep? It was hilarious. Unfortunately our ride was way too short and we had to bid farewell before I could explain my life story to the curious little guy.
Polebridge was still hoping with tourists so we headed for the peace and quiet of the hostel. It officially opened at 5 pm and we finally got to meet the host, Oliver. This place was renowned for its tranquil and laid back style. Oliver is a kind and contemplative soul who opens his home to travelers from around the world. It reminded me of so many of the hostels in New Zealand. Like all the places around Polebridge, it’s off the grid, run by solar, and basic. There are composting toilets, bunks, tenting, and small cabins\tepees. I opted to spend $20 extra (double the amount) for a bunk in lieu of tenting. But I ended up having the whole room to myself, so it was well worth it. I felt especially indebted to Oliver, since he’d held my box for nearly 2 months and also fielded a bunch of my questions over the phone. Really, he’s just a great guy and I highly recommend a stay at his hostel!
We wrapped up this long but productive day with dinner from a food truck. We both had the green curry with fried rice, egg and veggies. It was so good and filling. We also split a bottle of pino grigio. Wolverine gave me the idea of packing out a small box of wine to celebrate our half-finish in Glacier. Because of our flip-flop, it felt like we were nearly at the end and yet, we still had over halfway to go. This is how the flip-floppers hiking up Katahdin must feel.