Backpacking gear normally lasts for years—the same sleeping bag, clothes, stove, backpack, and all the little miscellaneous stuff. With much of the gear list the same, packing for this trip was relatively easy. I had pulled out my list, updated it with the new tent and cook set, and checked everything off. Yan just followed my list and added her gear. Except for the sleeping bag and backpack, she had pretty much everything from before, ready to go. Working with the list and a small kitchen scale, we had gotten each of our pack’s base weight to less than 20 lbs.
It’s Sunday morning, and we’re ready for the hike out.
The last several days have been hectic and rushed. Two days ago, long before daybreak, we bolted out the door to make the early flight to Seattle and onward to Kalispell, otherwise known as Glacier Park International Airport. Travel turned out to be on time. We got our car and headed to Starbucks, where I hammered out some last minute emails and wrapped up work assignments. After a late lunch and buying fuel canisters in town, we visited the Schnalls in their beautiful riverfront home in Bigfork. Deer graze in their backyard meadow where the Swan River makes yet another bend. The visit and dinner with Stephen and Patty was one of those restful retreats in our packed weekend. After the wonderful dinner at ShowThyme, we drove into West Glacier and checked into our room, since we wanted to stay close so we could beat the morning rush to get permits. The rest of the evening was spent watching the sky and clouds turn shades of peach and orange, with purple mountains reflected in expansive Lake McDonald.
We had gotten up early Saturday morning to rush to the Backcountry Permit Center. Even though we had arrived twenty minutes before the 7:00 opening time, the line was winding down the ramp and nearly spilled onto the road. After the doors opened, it took another twenty minutes before we made it inside. The night before, I had looked at their availability update screen, which the Park updates in real time, and planned out two possible routes. Finally, I made it to the counter and presented my plan.
Ms. Ranger asked: “When are you leaving, and how many people?”
“Leaving tomorrow, with five.”
“Then, you’ll need two sites for each night.”
“We’d like to do Kintla Lake to Bowman Lake through Boulder Pass.”
“Sorry, there aren’t two sites for each of the nights. Go to the status board, which is updated in real time, and come up with another route.”
When putting together possible routes the night before, I hadn’t considered that they only allowed four per site. The extra person needing another whole site complicated things. “How about out of Two Medicine, heading toward Cobalt Lake?” I asked anyways.
“Sorry. Go back to the board and find another itinerary,” she said, coldly.
I stood in front of the board, my mind a haze as I became more desperate. I watched sites drop off the board like flies. Then, I found something and got back in line.
Another ranger helped me. “Sorry. Those sites are no longer available. Go back and find another itinerary.”
Plan A, then Plans B, C, D, and finally E. Yan was watching me get more and more nervous and exceedingly desperate. After getting back in line again, I stood in front of the first Ms. Ranger. “How about Slide Lake, Cosley Lake, and Poia Lake, leaving tomorrow for five?”
“That will do it. I’ll make that reservation.”
Then, her coldness suddenly melted and she opened up, became very nice, and told Yan and me how Slide Lake was her favorite spot in the park. She took the time to go over how to find the trailhead, where to park, and reassured us that the route is fabulous.
What a relief! I walked out of the office, still stunned that we had gotten something. We celebrate with breakfast at the West Glacier Restaurant, sharing an omelette, hashbrowns, vegetarian sausage, and huckleberry pancakes, which were amazing.
The rest of the day was filled with a lot of driving, mainly to tour the areas on the western side while we had the chance. We turned around at the blockade past the Weeping Wall on Going-to-the-Sun Road, visited the Lake McDonald Lodge, and walked around the lakeshore. Yan found a heart-shaped lavender rock. I told her to make a wish, don’t tell anyone, and toss the rock back into the lake. She did. Then, we braved wind, rain, and dust while driving through Polebridge to visit Kintla and Bowman Lakes. They are spectacular. A rainbow arced low across the sky as we crossed the prairie.
We made it back to Kalispell later than we wanted. Brad, Grant, and Mark, driving over from Spokane, also arrived late, and we somehow managed to pull up to the restaurant for dinner just minutes apart. Then, we packed the food. By this time, we’re both exhausted from the long day and decided to finish packing the next morning.
Earlier this morning, before big breakfast buffet and before the long drive hugging the park’s southern and eastern perimeter all the way to the Canadian border, Yan and I packed up using our gear checklist again. We have everything, and we’re now ready to step into the woods.