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Summer Break!

Every year, my company shuts down for the first few days of July, giving us a five-day weekend. It's great! Last year I went to Banff and this year I returned to Glacier National Park, plus Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. I went to Glacier in June 2020, and it was amazing, but the east side of the park (on Native American land) was closed because of Covid. And we certainly weren't allowed to enter Canada back then, but Waterton has been on my list for awhile. So this was the year to make them both happen, and I took a million photos and videos, so get ready! 

Iceberg Lake, Many Glacier, Glacier National Park

A permit is required for Many Glacier from 6am to 3pm, and I snagged one from 24 hours in advance. I stayed in Browning for the night, which is just about the saddest and poorest town I've ever gone through in the United States (even worse than rural Mississippi), and got a lazy morning start, but somehow, I got a parking spot right at the trailhead. 

This is an easy hike, gaining just 1,539 feet in the 9.87 mile round trip. There's also a nice place to rest a little more than halfway through above Ptarmigan falls. If you're short on time and looking for maximum views, this hike is it. Beginning to end, this hike will take your breath away. There were quite a lot of people to and from the falls, but the rest of the way to the lake wasn't bad. 

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park

As with Many Glacier, you need a special vehicle permit for Going to the Sun Road, unless you are staying at the campground, which I was. In that case, you are already behind the park gates. For Going to the Sun Road, it's impossible to get up early enough to beat the traffic. Sunrise in July was around 5:30 AM and I was on the road by 6:15. Coming from the east side, the traffic was fine on my side, but traffic from the west (Whitefish/Kalispell area) was insane by 7, a steady stream of traffic that had already filled the Logan Pass parking lot.

You can hike to the Grinnell Overlook from Logan Pass, but my plan was to hike it from the Loop Trail, via the Granite Chalet, which was many miles down the other direction from Logan Pass. When I arrived, there were still five or so parking spaces available, with a lot of turnover. Few people hike from here, so parked cars are generally just taking a photo or two and are then on their way. 

This trail is one of the very high bear activity trails in the park that sometimes gets shut down because of too many bears. So when I started off alone in the early morning, I had my music blaring and my bear spray in hand, safety off. It's nearly 4 miles to the chalet, and in that time, I only passed one family and one other solo hiker. It's very steep, so not many people go this way. Yeah, a little nerve racking. I took a snack break at the chalet and from there on out, there were plenty of other people. 

The next .7 miles to the junction of the trail from Logan Pass is almost perfectly flat, which was a nice break, and then the last .8 miles to the overlook is steep, steep, steep! The payoff at the end, though, is exquisite. Altogether, this hike was 11.55 miles with 3,856 feet elevation gain.

There were more people traveling between the chalet and the road on my way back, so I felt a bit safer, but I ran into so many other animals on the trail who seemed undisturbed by humans that it seemed too uncomfortably plausible for a bear to be only several feet away.

Hidden Lake Overlook, Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

On my way back from The Loop to the campsite, I decided to stop at Logan Pass if I could easily find a spot, otherwise, I'd skip it. I didn't even try to go into the parking lot with the vehicles circling around and around and around. Instead, I drove a little west of the parking lot where cars were parked alongside the road and happened to find an open parallel parking spot. Note that parking is only allowed on one side, the rangers were out there ticketing everyone who ignored the clearly visible "no parking" signs on the other side.

I walked to the visitor center and saw a sign for the Hidden Lake Overlook trail. It was mostly boardwalk and being short and right off the visitor center, I knew it would be mobbed with people, so I hemmed and hawed about doing it. It seemed like it would be unpleasant. Well, all the people aside, I'm so glad I did it! I saw big horn sheep fighting, a family of mountain goats, and the lake itself was stunning. 

From the overlook, there is a trail down to the lake itself, but it was closed on the day I went because of a momma grizzly and her cubs that were hanging around. The overlook trail was only 2.16 miles round trip with 557 feet gain, which is kind of a lot for a such a short distance.

Bertha Falls and Bertha Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

My plan for this day was actually another hike in Glacier, but I didn't have a vehicle permit for Many Glacier, which meant I'd have to get past the gates before 6am. When I woke up, however, it was raining. I did not want to pack up my tent in the rain, so I decided to sleep in instead and wander up to Waterton later in the morning. After my tent dried out, I packed up and got on my way. 

If you have been to the west side of Glacier and know how built up it is, you might be pretty surprised by how much of nothing there is on the east side. St. Mary has a convenience store and a few places to eat, but there is nothing in Babb besides an espresso truck (which I stopped at) and one place for dinner. Then there's nothing all the way to Waterton. The Chief Mountain border crossing is open limited hours, but is fast and friendly.

Waterton was only 10.50 CAD (7.94 USD) for a day pass that was valid through 4pm the next day. Everything in Canada is cheaper, and not just because of the exchange rate. Glacier is $35 for a seven-day pass - a one day pass is not an option, and if it were, it certainly wouldn't be valid until 4pm the next day. Plus the $2 per day surcharge for Many Glacier or Going-to-the-Sun Road. Oh, and you can hike with your dog on all the trails in Waterton. You can't take them on any in Glacier.

Once again, I lucked out on parking, pulling up to the popular Bertha Lake trailhead a little before noon and getting the first parking spot next to the trail sign. But even if I hadn't, there was plenty of parking on the road below...a whole tenth of a mile away. 

This hike has a few spots to enjoy. There's a lake overlook just under a mile in. Then, another 8/10th of a mile in is the waterfall. Most people stop here and it was pretty crowded when I went by. In another mile and a half, you get a good view of the upper falls. And then further on, after about 2,000 feet total gain, is Bertha Lake.  

There's a trail that goes all the way around the lake, though most of it doesn't give lake access, only in a few spots. I decided to take it really because I had nothing else to do and my hotel check in was still a few hours away. If you veer right and take the trail that way, it gets pretty overgrown and a little scary by yourself. There's lots of bear activity here. If you veer left, the trail is more heavily used. 

At the far end of the trail, quite far from the water, I heard some big rustling in the trees. I yelled and clanged my hiking poles together, but still felt a bit too nervous to step into the brush and blind corner alone. I waited a bit until two women behind me caught up, and then I hiked and chatted with them for awhile. 

A lot of the forest here is burned out from the 2017 fire, but it was still beautiful. Altogether, with the loop around the lake, I clocked this hike at 9.49 miles with 2,225 feet elevation gain.

Crypt Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

This was my last hike of summer break. Normally, I avoid this type of hike that you have to take a ferry to. I don't like being trapped somewhere - I want to leave when I want to leave. Plus, when you are all on a ferry, everyone will start the hike together and there will be a crush of people. Not my idea of a good hike. But this hike came recommended by several people, so I bought my ticket the night before for the 8:30 AM ferry, which is the first one. 

I was near the exit of the boat, and I was all prepared to hit the ground running, so I got out fast in front of most people. Now, make no mistake - I did not want to actually be first. As is the theme of this trip, there are lots of bear sightings on this trail. I liked the idea of a half dozen or so people in front of me, making noise and clearing the bears off the path. 

The first half of the hike is in the forest, and then you come to an opening with amazing views of the mountains and the massive waterfall coming off Crypt Lake. If you're bunched up in a hiking group, this is where it will spread out as people stop to take pictures, remove clothing, and slow down as the trail gets steeper and rockier. Then you'll come to a clearing where horse riders have to tie up their horses to finish the hike on foot. After that, there's a small section with some big exposure, but the trail is wide enough and stable, and then comes the fun part. You have to climb up an eight-foot ladder, crawl through a tunnel, and then go up a steep section that has a chain bolted into the wall to hang onto. If you're used to doing Class 2 hikes or higher, you won't find the chain necessary, but it's good that they have it given the wide range of skill levels that do this hike. 

And then you are just about there. I'm glad I was one of the first people to arrive so that I had a bit of serenity before the crowd behind me came. Most people stay at the opening of the lake, so if you want more serenity, you can hike around it. But given how much hiking I'd been doing, I was over it and not interested in hiking round, even for the novelty factor of stepping back into the United States, which is technically where the far end of the lake is. 

I hung out at the lake for about 45 minutes and watched the trout swimming in the clear water and the mountain goats trudging up the snow on the side of the mountain, and then I headed back. On the way back, I took the detour through Hell Roaring Canyon and hung out for about a half hour there too, watching the water rushing down and the butterflies flitting about. And then I headed back to the dock where a number of people were waiting for the 3:30 ferry back. If you missed it, you'd have to wait until 5:30. Those are the only two options. 

This hike came in at 11.66 miles with 2,822 feet gain, so for my whole summer break, I hiked 44.73 miles with 10,999 feet gain. And if you count the run I did Saturday morning before leaving Missoula, that put me at 58 miles with 14,704 feet gain! I'm getting stronger and stronger as race days draw near, but it was really nice to have some days of hiking where I could actually stop and enjoy the scenery around me.

Bonus! Poia Lake, Many Glacier, Glacier National Park

Ten days after summer break ended, I was finally leaving Alberta (more on that stay in a later post) and heading down to Las Vegas for work. It was around an 18 hour drive, so there was no way I was going to pedal-to-the-metal the whole way and not see some things. I snagged another last minute ticket for Many Glacier and opted for the Poia Lake trail. I needed to do a long trail run, not a hike, so I picked a trail on the outskirts that wouldn't be crowded. I did a 17.4 mile run with 2,958 feet gain, and true enough, I only saw five other groups that whole time, including one solo woman on horseback.

But we all know that fewer people means more wildlife and there was no way I was getting out of this area without a grizzly encounter. In my last five minutes in Glacier National Park, a mere .4 miles from my car, at the end of an exhausting trail run, I came around a corner and there he was, in the middle of the trail about 80 feet away. He was on all fours, but stood up when he saw me. We made eye contact and I (stupidly) did the one thing you aren't supposed to do - I turned my back and ran a few steps. It was just a "nope!" involuntary instinct to go back the way I came. 

But then I quickly ducked behind a tree. I got a video of him before I started yelling at him to get away, which, fortunately, he did. I kept yelling after I turned off the camera because, unfortunately, to continue down the trail to my car, I had to go around a blind corner where the bear had been and I didn't know how far off the trail he was. So I kept yelling and approached slowly. I saw him up a hill a tiny ways and he turned around, scanning the area for me, but I kept moving and I don't think he saw me again.

So there it was. My first wild grizzly encounter. Not as bad as I anticipated, but man I did not need that at the end of a run when all I wanted to do was be back at the car where an ice cold sparkling water waited for me in my cooler!