CDT Day 76: Chief Mt Route Mile 7.5 – 26.8

(19.3 miles – 31 km)

Monday July 1, 2019

Poia Lake – Red Gap Pass – Canadian Border

The bird song as we left Poia Lake just on sunrise was like an orchestra rehearsing. Each instrument trying to get pitch perfect. So many different sounds and calls. So beautiful to hear.

We left early eager to get to the border and have plenty of time to hitch back to East Glacier Park. Poia Lake looked beautiful as the pink and red of the sunrise lit up the sky and the tops of Red Mountain.

The park ranger who issued us the camping permit said this last day from Poia Lake to the border was an easy flat walk. That turned out not to be so.

We had one more pass to go over before the the border. Red Gap Pass was 6 miles away from Poia Lake rising over a 1,000 feet. The trail rose gradually until we were above the treeline. The steepest part of the rise was a series of switchbacks on loose screens which thankfully was free of snow. I was happy to have another day in this magnificent mountainous landscape. Red Gap mountain to our left is entirely made of red rock material that we first saw in Waterton National Park.

Ee made the top of the pass and stopped for breakfast. It was a perfect morning, blue sky and little wind. Another of those moments you really want to bottle, I didn’t want it to end. The views into the valley we were going into were breathtaking. Snow covered ridges with glaciers hanging on high and huge lakes down in the valley. As always we are grateful to the track builders for creating trails in such difficult and incredible places.

While we were having breakfast a Mountain sheep came off the mountain to our right and walked right near us across to the other ridge. What a beautiful way to leave these mountains.

We descended the pass and headed down to Elizabeth Lake from where we followed Belly River valley all the way to the border. Once we dropped back into the treeline the trail was lined by the most dense bear grass we have seen so far. So beautiful, like sentinels guiding us north.

As we got closer to the lake mosquito activity increased. These mozzies were vicious – Hammer finally gave in an applied DEET to his skin, something he was hoping to avoid. Just before the lake we met a hiker who started on the trail in New Mexico on the same day we did. Eor is his trail name and he has been holed up in Chama in New Mexico for the past 3 to 4 weeks, waiting for the snow to melt and was just starting his southbound hike.

The mosquitos around Lake Elizabeth were super vicious. We were keen to move quickly. But not long after saying goodbye to Eor, a Park Ranger stopped us for a chat. She was really nice and friendly while going about checking our permit. We were being eaten alive. So hurriedly we said goodbye to her and scooted out of there hoping to outrun the bloodsuckers.

Not long after leaving the lake the mosquito activity ceased. From the lake we had an 8 mile long hike along Belly River to the border. When out of the forest, it was a lovely hike through flower packed meadows. The last 3 to 4 miles felt never ending.

By 2pm we emerged into a trailhead carpark and we were done. And it was a bit of good luck, not planning, that we reached the US-Canadian border on Canada Day. We asked the US customs officer if we could go up to the border monument to take a photo. He was nice and said to watch out for the Canadians throwing hockey pucks at you if you crossed the border. Haa haa, he had a sense of humour.

With photos done it was time to hitch. There wasn’t a lot of traffic coming into the US and we were beginning to despair when a campervan stopped to offer us a ride. It was a New Zealand couple, Dennis and Carol who were touring the US and Canada for what they hope will be 12 months. They were heading east and dropped us off just south of Babb before they turned off towards Browning. With hindsight we would have been better off to go to Browning as well.

We didn’t have to wait for long before another campervan stopped and gave us a ride to the St Mary’s Park entrance gate. It was Michelle and her husband Paul who were from New York. They were on a 12 month sabbatical touring the US. Their campervan had all the toys, a car attached to the campervan, canoes and bicycles as well. It was a very comfortable and luxurious way to travel.

From the busy park St Mary’s village, we almost immediately got a ride southward from father and son, Dwayne and Keith. They were going home to Browning and ended up driving us all the way to East Glacier. It was so interesting hearing about their life in this area, particularly the harsh winters. They were out collecting elk and moose horns which the animals drop in spring. Apparently they are quite valuable. They showed us photos of some enormous specimens they collected on other trips. It was another of those meetings with people that enriches our trail life.

It was another day of awe inspiring beauty and wonder. We are so happy to have experienced another glimpse into the wonderland that is Glacier National Park. And it with sadness that we need to turn away and head back south to fill in the jigsaw pieces of that is CDT trail this year.

By 5.30 pm were back where we started last Thursday. We got accomodation at the same cabins we stayed in before. The evening was incredibly warm and the town felt quite and a bit deserted. Such a change from only a week ago. We spent the rest of the day trying to arrange our trip south to Butte, Montana. Spotty to non-existent internet connection did not help much. To our disappointment one way car rentals within Montana are impossible right now. I’m hoping for better luck phoning car rental places tomorrow. Otherwise it will be a very long hitch.