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East Glacier to Canada – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – East Glacier to Canada Hike Overview

east glacier to canada hike on the continental divide trail 2018

With a fair amount of snow already on the ground and much more foretasted, Katie Hopeful and I set off into Glacier National Park. I was reluctant due to the weather, but Katie and Hopeful seemed optimistic. Stopped in the Two Medicine ranger station only minutes before they closed for the season. On the morning of our second day, Katie and I decided to turn back due to the weather conditions, with the idea of road walking to Canada from here. Hopeful continued to hike, alone. Katie and I regrouped in East Glacier and I ultimately set off alone the next day. A 37 mile road walk and another 11 miles in a blizzard, and I reached Port of Piegan at the Canadian border. At last, my journey on the CDT is complete!

Saturday September 29th – CDT Day 162

Woke at 7:45 to gloomy skies. This would be the best it looks all day.

Packed up and got breakfast at the diner. We had many discussions about the route, end points and ride back to east glacier logistics, etc.. Mostly based on the oncoming weather. Maybe 8 inches of snow today at high elevation forecasted, and wind chill in the teens. The next several days won’t be great either, with another storm coming Tuesday.

Walked out of town at noon. Road walked to two medicine, about 12 miles. The rain switched over to snow as the time passed. I had plastic grocery bags over my feet to keep them dry/warm. It seemed to be working so far.

We stopped to eat lunch inside the Ranger station once we arrived. Nice to get out of the snow for a bit. This was the last day this Ranger station was open for the season, and this Ranger was leaving in less than an hour. After this, no more permits from this location. This would make big problems for any CDT hiker behind me. I only know of Mr. Clean behind currently.

After the Ranger station, we start hiking actual trail. The scenery here was incredible, even as it was barely visible through the falling snow. One could only imagine the grandeur of this place in optimal weather!

It somehow seemed fitting, to spend my final days on the CDT in a snowstorm. Kinda like, you’ve been out here a long time and you’re really pushing your luck. If you aren’t ready for the end, here’s a strong sign that it’s over. Beautiful though, no doubt.

We walked another 6+ miles to our campsite at Oldman lake. By the time our tents were up, we were all cold and ready for shelter. It’s going to be a long couple of days like this. Katie and hopeful were too cold to cook outside and opted to eat some no-cook food items for dinner instead. We were all too cold to get water from the lake, or hang food. With Opsaks for food storage, this wasn’t a great concern though.

I was glad to have the grocery bags on my feet, but they certainly weren’t dry. Tomorrow I’ll use turkey bags, since the grocery bags ended up getting holes in them. I didn’t expect them to last. 

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 2839
Rain – yes, and snow
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday September 30th – CDT Day 163

Woke up around 7. I was cold the second half of the night. This was the coldest I felt at night on the CDT. The snow continued to fall lightly as we all dreaded the moment we have to get out of our bags.

Last night, I put my wet shoes in a heavy duty grocery bag and kept them in my tent. This morning, I put them in my bag to warm up. Katie and hopeful, well, their shoes were frozen. However, My socks were frozen. Good thing I had multiple pairs.

I emerged from my tent to a world freshly covered in snow. Three or four inches had fallen. Visibility was low this morning and there was no view of the surrounding mountains to be had. To prepare for the cold and wet weather today, I wore a couple of turkey bags over the warmest pair of socks I had. However, my feet got cold very quickly. My hands were also cold to the point I couldn’t use them to do anything useful. I did jumping jacks, ran up and down the trail and ran in place to try and get the circulation going, but to no avail. It took much longer to pack up this morning than usual.

I tried to scrape off the frost from the outside of my tent, but there was a lot left, including on the inside of the tent. It was also wet underneath my sleeping pad. My Tyvek ground she was frozen to the ground and when I hold it up, and inch of ice came with it. There’s no way this stuff is going dry out.

Reality was setting in for me that hiking the Highline trail to Waterton was a foolish endeavor. I should have listened to my gut instinct on this one and not followed the group mentality. I announced my decision to turn around and go back to East glacier, with the intention of road walking the rest of the way to Canada. It would only be 45 miles. Considering there’s no view of anything, current weather conditions and future forecast, it’s the right call. Katie agreed and joined me. Hopeful still wanted to press on to Waterton on his own. There really wasn’t anything I could say to change his mind.

Katie and I started walking back to two medicine while hopeful headed up pitamakan pass. We hiked less than a mile before Katie started having regrets about turning back. She really wanted to hike to Waterton. Well, so did I, but it’s not a matter of what you want at this point it’s a matter of should you do it. It’s like she just forgot all of the reasons she wanted to turn back. Either way, she continued on to East glacier with me.

It seemed like visibility was even lower than yesterday. Still, a nice hike back. It was pretty with all the freshly fallen snow.

We ended up on a spur trail that dumped us out near the entrance of Glacier National Park. This was actually closer to where we wanted to go anyways, so this worked in our favor. We didn’t have to walk far before we were able to hitch a ride.

Now back in East glacier, we headed to the two medicine grill for lunch. Duffle was sitting outside on a bench. He left yesterday morning at 9am, and bailed going over pitamakan pass. He lost the trail in a complete white out and almost fell off a cliff. Couldn’t tell if it was a 10 foot cliff or a thousand. After that he said no way.

While eating lunch I got a text from Dixie saying that she bailed as well. She made it over triple divide pass which had snow up to mid thigh. Hearing Dixie and Duffle’s stories make me very happy with my choice to bail.

I got a room at the Whistling Swan again. Showered up and started drying out my gear. Spent the evening prepping for tomorrow. Instead of packing 5 days of food I now only needed a little over one. I took my extra food and condensed it into one Opsak. I’ll drop off the extra food with Mark at the general store tomorrow morning to hold for me until I finish.

Miles – 8
Total Miles – 2847
Rain – snow
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

Monday October 1st – CDT Day 164

Katie decided to hitch up to many glacier and continue hiking to Waterton with Magoo. I really couldn’t wrap my head around this decision, considering the fact that tomorrow there will be 18 inches of snow on the way for high elevations. Regardless, she made up her mind.

Since I finish tomorrow and she’ll likely finish Thursday, we might not see each other again. It also dawned on me that I might not see hopeful again either. Saying bye to Katie was hard. All of the sudden there’s been a lot of goodbyes and it’s been tough.

It was a little after 9 when I made my way up to the general store. Mark was happy to hold my food. I then jumped on highway 49 and immediately got a hitch from old scout and his wife. I saw him yesterday at two medicine grill, he finished a few days ago.

I got dropped off along highway 49 right where the road splits off to two Medicine. Highway 49 was closed, assuming for the winter. I started walking it around 9:30.

Great views of two Medicine Lake and the snow capped peaks behind it. All the sudden I was overcome with thoughts and emotions regarding the end of the trail tomorrow. Crazy to think that this is my last full day of hiking. I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time, and I am ready for it. Still, reflecting on all of the things I’ve seen, places I’ve been and people I’ve met along the way made me wish it wasn’t ending.

Even though the road was closed there were many people driving on it. Regardless of the traffic, it was a very scenic Road walk.

 

When I got close to highway 89, I stopped along the side of the road for a quick food break. 10 minutes max. Then I made my way down to the highway.

The first few miles of highway 89 were under construction, just a dirt road. I had 5 cars stop today to ask me where I was waking and if I need a ride. Of course, I said no.

Most of the day was spent hiking hwy 89. I took another short break after 3pm. People were looking at me weird as I sat on the ground and ate food along the highway.

The views outside of Lake Mary were awesome. Snow capped peaks, dark clouds and stray beams of sunlight gave this place a magical touch.

As I walked by a scenic overlook, a woman flagged me down. She said she saw me walking and asked me a few questions about my hike. I told her about the CDT and she gave me a couple of beers.

Black bear

Everything in St Mary had closed for the season, and it was basically a ghost town. I walked right through it and moved on. Just north of St Mary, I saw a black bear walking a small road alone the lakeshore. This was basically just down a small embankment from where I was walking. The bear didn’t know I was there for a minute or two. The bear noticed me and we locked eyes for a few seconds. Not feeling threatened from my position, I kept walking and the bear then ran away.

After I saw the bear, the clouds fell out of the sky and fog over took the landscape. Darkness came shortly after. It was a bit eerie yet pretty cool walking in the dark in the fog. Except when a car went by.

When I got into the town of Babb, I stopped in a restaurant that was open. However, it was a fine dining restaurant with entrées all above 30 bucks each. No thanks. I found my hotel a couple hundred yards north. I had called this morning to reserve a room and I was told to walk in the unlock door and the key would be in the room. It was nice to be able to just walk straight into the hotel and not have to do anything. At 37 miles, today was my second highest mileage day on the CDT.

Miles – 37
Total Miles – 2884
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – black bear

Tuesday October 2nd – CDT Day 165

The weather was looking nasty this morning, with several inches of snow on the ground and lots more still falling. I was pretty tired from yesterday’s big mile day, but motivated by being only hours away from completing my CDT thru hike. Time to get moving and finish this thing.

 

Dressed with all my layers and turkey bags over my feet, I set out into the snow storm for the final 10 miles to Canada. Visibility was low and the snow flakes were huge. Not much traffic on the road, good for road walking but bad for the hitch back from the border.

While walking the road, a park Ranger drove by and said he might be able to give me a ride south from the border if he gets done pulling some motorists out of the snow. I also a had border patrol agent offer up a ride south to Babb. Hopefully one will pan out when I get there.

For months I’ve been waiting for this moment. The last stretch to the finish line. I had wondered what it would feel like to walk the final mile of a thru hike, and that moment is finally here. With the weather being so bad and road waking to Port of Piegan instead of hiking through Glacier to Waterton, it was not the joyous walk I envisioned. Nevertheless, my journey was just mere steps away from ending and that was difficult to come to terms with.

As I battled my emotions, the border crossing finally came into sight. The falling snow obscured it from view until I was right up on it. This is it! I walked through knee deep snow drifts on the side of the road to get to a sign that said “now leaving USA” for a picture. I held back tears with some nervous laughter, in shock of what I had just accomplished.

I continued walking into Canada, stopping at the Canadian customs office. It’s set up for vehicles, not pedestrians, so I stood behind the line of cars in the road and waited a few minutes in the falling snow. When it was my turn, the customs agent asked what I will be doing in Canada. I pointed at the Welcome to Alberta sign a few hundred feet away and said “I’m going to walk up to your sign right there, take a picture and drink this beer if that’s alright with you”. She gave me a weird look and I explained that I’m ending my CDT hike here. She asked another agent about the beer and they said since I’m not driving It’d probably be OK, and they’re just going to look the other way.

Standing in front of the Welcome to Alberta sign, there was nothing left to do except drink that beer. It wasn’t the best tasting beer I’ve ever had, but it was certainly the most meaningful and by far the most well-deserved. I sat in the snow and stared at the sign, and the snowy nothingness behind it. I thought about all I had done and seen over the last 165 days to get to this point. I almost couldn’t believe I was here.

Finished hiking and celebrating, I walked back into the US. I mentioned the border patrol agent who offered a ride to the agent at the window, and he said to come inside while he asks around. The woman who offered the ride had already left, but another agent said he could take me in a half hour. That’ll do, I’m in no hurry now with my hike over. I also asked if there was an obelisk here, the type of monument that’s at Waterton and Chief Joseph. The agents told me they were not aware of one. However, I later found out from Dixie that there was indeed an obelisk right here, positioned somewhere in between the the US and Canadian buildings. I was glad she got to get that iconic thru hike photo in front of it, but really bummed I was not able to. 

The ride to Babb with the border patrol agent worked out. Now, I had my thumb out on the road here trying to hitch back to east glacier. It took about 15 minutes before a guy in an FJ Cruiser stopped. He was a photographer named Lee, here on a 100 day trip from his home state of Hawaii. He was planning on camping at st Mary lake, but with all the snow on the ground he decided against it.

Lee was going to drop me off in st Mary, but since he was no longer staying there he asked “where do you need to go”? I said east glacier, so that’s where we headed. Nice!

In east glacier, I picked up my bounce box from the general store. Lee was thinking of heading to Whitefish, which is right next to Kalispell. He then offered to drive me to Kalispell from east glacier, which I gladly accepted. This saves me a train ride to Whitefish and an Uber from Whitefish to Kalispell.

In Kalispell, I got a hotel room at the country inn next to the airport. Lee and I had been in the car together for a couple hours and were getting along great, so I offered to let Lee use the other bed in my room. He accepted. It’s the least I can do for a guy who dropped who drove me a couple hours across the state. We ordered pizza, my first post hike meal. Of course, I ate the entire large pizza.

I went to bed thinking about my journey, and the end of an Era, really. This had been my dream for the last 6 years and now it’s finally done. It’s a great feeling, but overshadowing that is a greater feeling of “what’s next”? Only time will tell!

Miles – 11
Total Miles – 2895
Rain – snow
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

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