Heidenreich & Gass: CDT Thru-Hikers

Trail's End - for Now

September 8, 2000—Day 137—Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada—We arrived in Glacier National Park after the long hitch up from Leadore, Idaho, and the next morning began the long process of obtaining a backcountry camping permit. For most of the sites we requested we were met with a sigh and an expression of concern from the backcountry ranger. In the end we were able to convince him of our map and compass skills as well as our ability to walk over five miles a day. He convinced us to take our time in the park—after all, we would be finishing almost a month earlier than planned, and many people had said Glacier was the highlight of the trail.

Minutes after receiving our permit, level five restrictions went into effect in the Park, meaning no open flames, including backpacking stoves, as well as a time limit of three nights in the backcountry. Fortunately, our permit grandfathered the latter restriction. Unfortunately, we could only eat cold food for the next week.

Because part of the CDT in the southern end of the park was closed due to bear activity, we chose an alternate route: a bushwhack up over Red Eagle Pass. This route, according to the guide book, had been a popular hiking trail before WWII and was used years before that by the Indians. Nowadays, however, you would be hard put to find any evidence of it as you thrashed through the thick willow and alder that grows along the banks of the stream.

We found that our best mode of travel was rock hopping in the stream bed—that is, until we hit the falls, a sheer cliff too wet to climb even if we had happened to have the equipment. So back down the stream we went to try to find a way up and around. By mid-afternoon we had made it three miles to the top of the pass, where we discovered that the route we had planned for the other side was dizzying even to look down. At this point the krummholtz were so thick we had to hoist each other up in order to see if we could find another way down. Later that evening we arrived on the valley floor five miles from our designated site, which meant the ranger was right: We couldn't walk more then five miles a day.

Glacier is all it is reputed to be, with spectacular jagged mountains and amazing hiking. The glaciers nestled in the alpine tundra melt into waterfalls that cascade down sheer rock faces. The lower country hosts a large variety of trees found nowhere else along the Divide Trail—the forest seemed lush compared to what we had walked though, even in a year of drought.

Wildlife seems abundant and healthy, although we didn't get close enough to check most species. Instead we sang at the top of our lungs through every berry patch and around every blind corner to let Mama and Papa bear know we were coming. Already it was getting chilly in the park. Our last afternoon on the trail found us trudging though a storm that couldn't decide weather to rain, snow, or hail on us. Ironically, it was one of the worst storms of the trip, leaving all our gear thoroughly soaked and us purple and shivering—why couldn't it have been a couple hundred miles south a couple weeks ago?

Our last night was spent in a dirty, soggy tent; dinner fare was crumbled, damp pop tarts. We tried to eat without spilling crumbs all over ourselves to avoid becoming bear bait on the last night of our trip. This was rather difficult considering the state of our cold hands. On the 31st of August at 9:10 in the morning we crossed the border into Canada and shared a bottle of champagne, appropriately named "Cold Duck," which was how we felt, although the sun had started to break though the clouds.

We met the end with mixed emotions. We were both very sad to have had to skip a section but had resigned ourselves to the situation and agreed that had we continued on, the interstate was the only way that would have been possible (or allowed)—no replacement for the trail. So we celebrated how far we had been able to come and talked about a time in the future when we might be able to come back to Montana to walk in the mountains again. Both of us decided we would, but neither of us knows when.

Read Adrianne's account of how it feels to be green in the Wild West.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »