I looked up and our eyes met. We thought the same thing. Oh F*$%! This pack was way heavier than what we trained with.
I was looking at my best friend and we were day one, hour one into our first backpacking trip. It was August 2017 and we had chosen a 6 day backpacking trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft through Glacier National Park to pop our backpacking cherries. At this moment in time we both thought ‘What had we done?!’.
It turned out this trip changed my life. The beauty and remoteness of it made an enormous impact on how I view the world. Years later I still always find myself quietly lost in thought, transporting myself back there, sitting by a crystal-clear lake.
But let’s rewind. Here we were with our group, loading up our packs, having a secret minor panic attack at the weight the food we were given had added to our packs. Too late, time to pile in the van and get this adventure started.
Our starting point for this journey was the Canadian border. We pulled up and our guide, Andrea, told us to wave at Canada as that is all we would see of it. We got out of the van and started loading up. This was it. We strapped our very heavy backpacks on and started down the trail.
Our path was the Belly River trail and our first destination was the Gable Creek campground. I’d say about 20 steps down the trail the ‘Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?!!’ thoughts started to flood my mind. I could still see the trailhead and my pack was already feeling like it weighed 100 pounds, my back was hurting, and my feet were tired! I just continued along, trudging through the trees, convincing myself I could do this for 6 days straight. Then, we emerged from the trees and got our first open views. And it took my breath away.
Anyone who experiences breathtaking views knows that pictures don’t do it justice. I can’t even begin to describe to you what I was looking at and what I was experiencing in that moment. I had traveled places and seen some pretty amazing views, but this was different! I was being completely transported out of any world I knew and found myself emersed in this magical place. Needless to say, after that moment, I completely forgot about how heavy and uncomfortable my pack was. All I could do was just continue to take in my newfound heaven on Earth.
I am not going to write about every detail that occurred on my trip. You will just have to go experience it yourself! Our path started at the Canadian border and our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Belly River trail, camp at Gable Creek
Day 2: Glen’s Lake, Margaret’s Lake, camp at Mokawanis
Day 3: Bear Mountain Trail, Camp at Cosley
Day 4: Camp at Elizabeth Lake (head)
Day 5: Helen’s Lake, Camp at Elizabeth Lake (foot)
Day 6: Hike out Ptarmigan Tunnel
Every lake we encountered was crystal clear and had the most beautiful smooth and colorful pebbles. We often had lunch by the lakes, just taking in the stillness and peacefulness they offered. When you go, don’t be so rushed to get to your campsite. Take time to have an extra long lunch and when you are done, just sit and enjoy. Take that time for yourself, you deserve it. Soak it up so that you can re-live it when you get back to the crazy rush of life we are so used to. Also, if you dare, take a swim! Fair warning that it is EXTREMELY cold and will take the breath right out of your lungs!
I was lucky enough to have my trip during the solar eclipse and that was a moment I will remember forever. At this point we did slightly rush our hike to get to an open field. We made it just in time to set down our packs, put on our special glasses, and lay back to watch nature’s show. It was so cool and so eerie! I had never experienced a solar eclipse of that magnitude so it caught me by surprise how very cold it got and most of all, that you can see the stars!! That just blew me away! If possible, I highly recommend trying to schedule your trip around some celestial event, because what better place to experience it than Glacier National Park!
If time allowed, we often dropped our packs and took small day hikes to explore some offshoot trails. One of these was the Bear Mountain trail near Cosley lake. This trail was a toughie. It was a constant uphill and was switchback after switchback after switchback. It was very rocky and while the trail itself was not my favorite, the view from the top was worth every step. If you are there and have the time, do it and spend some time at the top.
Another day hike we did was to Helen’s lake. This is now my most favorite place on Earth. It holds a special place in my heart and it is what I find myself daydreaming the most about. Several of us took a morning hike out there. That particular morning was the coldest we had encountered and drizzly. From the start the trail was just pure beauty. It was the most remote I had felt on the trip, which was saying a lot considering where we were. I don’t know if the drizzle had anything to do with it but I felt like there was so much color, there were so many scents, and the sounds were so clear. My senses were on fire! The vegetation was so lush too and the water seemed almost the clearest we had encountered. We hiked along a gorgeous flowing river, picking and eating wild raspberries before coming to the lake itself. It was so peaceful. So serene. I felt like we were the only people on Earth in our time there. Again, I feel like my words and pictures won’t do justice to that moment. All I can say is, go see it for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it.
Our final hike of the trip was a doozy. We hiked out of Ptarmigan tunnel and back to civilization. It tested my limits physically as it was a long hike up and long hike back down. But those views though! We got to see the entirety of Elizabeth lake from up above. Seeing everything we had been experiencing down below from an ariel view up above it all really helped wrap up the journey. Coming out of the wilderness and emerging from the trailhead was bittersweet. On one hand we did not want to leave and wish we could have stayed in seclusion forever. On the other hand we were tired, needed to shower, craved an ice cold beverage, and let’s be honest, we missed our dogs. When we took our packs off for the last time, I thought back to my first few steps on the trail and I felt so accomplished and proud of myself. This was my first backpacking trip but it certainly would not be my last.
If you have never backpacked before, I highly recommend using Glacier Guide & Montana Raft to take you into the backcountry. They far exceeded my expectations in every way possible. This was backpacking made easy, which allowed for everyone to truly be able to sit back and relax and just enjoy our surroundings. We weren’t worried about cooking, cleaning, or gathering water. Our guide pampered us and took care of it all. Our guide, Andrea, was 12 out of 10 stars! She was so fun and knowledgeable and really make the whole experience easy and enjoyable. She was the first one up to cook and get the coffee going and was the last up making sure the food dishes were cleaned and food put away. Most importantly, I felt safe with her in a situation that was completely foreign to me. The guide service took care of our permits, food, snacks, cooking equipment, water filtration, and first aid kits. We brought the rest. The food was just all around mouthwatering! It was like having a five star backpacking chef with us! Every meal was just so tasty and filling and I could not believe I was eating like royalty in the middle of nowhere. I distinctly remember one campsite we shared with a group of hikers that were eating some of your basic backpacking food out of a package and Andrea was cooking us a rice curry concoction. They were all staring at us, mouths watering, that we almost felt bad for eating this well in front of them. They looked so very hungry! Yes, we ended up sharing and giving them what we did not eat.
Every moment spent in Glacier NP was special and unique. Every trail and every campsite made a lasting memory. I learned so much about who I was and who I wanted to be during that week as I left my comfort zone. It was a life changing experience and I cannot wait to go back.
So if you are debating going, don’t debate. Just go. Buy the plane ticket. Pack the bag. Just go!