Wednesday July 27th, 2022, 0820-1900
Polebridge to Upper Kintla Lake, WEBO alt, Section 1 Rocky Mountains
26.6 miles, Gain 1730′, Loss 866′, elevation 4440′
I slept very well in my own room all night. What a nice score during the peak of the season! We got away pretty early from the hostel but were sidelined by coffee at the merc. This proved to be fortuitous, as we made friends with some lady kayakers, Sarah and Jackie. We had a big day for our first in the park, but it was a lot of road walking at the beginning. Holding with our pattern of connecting our footsteps, we put in 15 extra miles on the dry and dusty road. It was by far one of the busiest and it pretty much had zero redeeming qualities, other than some nice views as we walked through open prairie sections. A few stretches were terrible with bugs and then it just got hot.
A few miles into the road walk, Oliver passed us on his way back from his morning bike ride. What a cool dude. Shortly after, a ranger came by, asking to see our permit. Good thing we had one, which I happily produced. She was shocked to learn that we were first walking the road to the lower lake, then going another 11.5 miles to the upper lake. She didn’t quite believe that we could do it at first but I think we had her convinced by the end. She was a very confident and authoritative lady but then again, so am I when it comes to hiking.
I lamented that we hadn’t finagled a slack pack from our kayak friends, who were also going to Kintla lake. Having at least put the idea out there into the universe, wouldn’t you know it, they stopped as they drove by, asking if they could take our packs. We unloaded our food and some other items (but kept our bear spray!), greatly decreasing our weight for the remaining 7 miles. It was very kind of them and greatly appreciated. Then we tried to manifest a cold coke, but to no avail. No one else stopped and a lot barely slowed down. But we did gain notoriety all around the campgrounds for being “those 2 girls walking the road.” Everyone we met later asked us about it.
We stopped for a swim break at the first lake, and also to retrieve our stuff from the car. A volunteer ranger saw us getting our things and mentioned that we needed to park the car at the trailhead before setting off for our hike. Oh no, we explained, it’s not our car (as we slipped the keys back under the bumper). He registered understanding and began a nice conversation about the area. I realized finally that I’d seen him at the hostel the night before. Oliver hosts a weekly get-together for the locals and park staff. I admired the close-knit and eclectic community that seemed to exist in the tiny town. This gentleman was kind and a great spokesperson for the park, and I regret that I didn’t get his name. Everyone, in fact, had been so nice. With so much natural beauty surrounding the area, I guess that puts people in good spirits.
We cooled down in the lake, then began the last part of our day on gold-standard trail. We passed some day hikers and then 3 backpackers. It was different to be running into hikers that weren’t doing the PNT. In fact, since we were on an alternate route, we were almost assured of being the only thru-hikers. The Kintla lakes and Boulder Pass route is longer by about 15 miles but said to offer stunning views, superior to Bowman Lake and Brown pass. Wolverine and I always seem to be up for doing the longer and harder alts, and so it was for this one.
Walking along the lake trail, we weren’t disappointed with our choice. The mountains started closing in and it got pretty epic towards the end. There were waterfalls streaming down from hidden circs and loud cracks of ice breaking from hanging glaciers. We climbed about 800′ in elevation to gain the upper lake, hearing the connecting river booming down the hill to our right. There were probably some cool falls but we couldn’t see them. Arriving the campsite, we saw two kayaks on the shore. We wondered how they had made the climb and later heard the story of hardship from the 2 guys that carried them for 2 miles. Woof!
We ate our meals at the food prep site, then hung our bags, all in following with park protocols. We’re girl scouts, that’s for sure! And miracle of all miracles, we noticed a significant lack of mosquitoes while we did all this! We even hung out on the lake shore to watch the spectacular sunset colors. I never would’ve believed that was possible this time of year. It was the nicest backcountry campsite I’ve yet enjoyed in Glacier. On the CDT, we could only get one backcountry site and it was in a burn area that wasn’t very appealing. So far my PNT GNP experience was shaping up to be even better.
Only problem was, to the victors in hiking go the dregs. The kayakers, given all their stuff, had claimed the closest camp site, understandably. But then 2 guys of the same party had each taken a whole site for their large tents, leaving only the smallest and lumpiest site of the 4 free. We squeezed our tiny single-person tents in just fine, enjoying a better lay than many that had come before. Us long-walking ladies may endure miles of vehicle dust and then the runtiest of campsites left over by the drivers of said vehicles, but we persist and overcome.
We were also not deterred by all the fear-mongering regarding snow on Boulder pass. Word on the trail was that it had taken the 3 backpackers we saw earlier twelve hours to get over the pass. Later we got a Garmin message from Skunkbear and Sashay, who had been section hiking since Bonners Ferry, skipping ahead to Glacier. They’d gotten over the pass this day and while there was some snow, it was fine. Sometimes I still wonder if my calibrations and expectations from thru-hiking run too high and nearly every time I find I need not have worried about my capabilities. After 550 miles on this challenging trail, we had this. I went to sleep listening to the loons calling. What serenity.