Written by Kevin
We went to church in Sandpoint ID on Sunday Aug 6. I took a nice long nap (2 hours) in the grass after church and we hit the road headed towards Glacier. We got to Kallispel in the early afternoon. We did some shopping and used wifi to find info on camping and rafting and made our way towards the park.
We used a free camping website (www.freecampsites.net) and found Blankenship Bridge about 7 miles outdoes of West Glacier. This is a bridge right at the confluence of the north and middle forks of the Flathead river. It’s a fantastic place to camp as it’s free, it’s right next to the river, it’s full of friendly and interesting people, it’s beautiful, and it’s a great jumping off point for lots of adventures.
Monday we got up with the intention of running the middle fork of the Flathead, the section all the commercial companies do for Glacier whitewater. We drove to the put-in, about 7 miles NE of West Glacier, unloaded the duckie and I drove the rig back to town for the end of the shuttle. Jerr always has an easier time thumbing a ride because, after all, she’s a hot chick with lovely long legs. But she doesn’t feel comfortable hitching and I can understand that concern so I undertook the maneuver. In hindsight I would recommend getting out the bike and riding the shuttle to avoid frustration, but I just stuck out my thumb. It took a good half hour to get a ride but eventually a nice Canadian guy with a summer home in MT gave me a ride. Jerr had been ready for some time and was just chilling out at the launch. I was a little frustrated when I got there because I saw at least 2 cars there that didn’t give me rides that were headed to the exact same spot to launch their rafts. I had my lifejacket with me to let people know I was rafting, not just a dirty drifter.
The float was much tamer than our last outing on the clearwater, but it was also warmer and more of a party atmosphere. We had our new bluetooth speaker on the boat (it’s supposed to be water proof) and we jammed out while making our way down the river. The rapids were fun but short and pretty spaced out. There were sections of the river that had awesome turquoise water with deep slow moving pools. We ended in town, grabbed the van and headed back to the campsite. We steamed that night next to the river and jumped in between rounds 2 and 3. It was a great place to steam, we didn’t have to load everything back in the trailer after we were done, we could leave it out without much fear of it being messed with, though we did load the bikes back in, better to not give someone too much temptation.
Tuesday was chill out day. We went into Columbia Falls and used wifi at the coffee shop for several hours (we caught a GF chili to not feel so bad about being wifi mooches.) We closed the place down and headed back to our campsite to do a tire rotation. We now had about 10,000 miles on the tires (10,000K into the trip) and the fronts were quite a bit more worn than the backs. I got a very late start on the work as a local guy came over looking for beer and ended up talking to me for about an hour. When I did get started I jacked up the passenger rear, threw a long under it for a jack stand, then jacked up the front only to have the whole van come inching forward and fall right off the log onto the ground. I was not flustered, I thought it would be an easy fix, but a few hours, lots of cursing, getting soaked in an isolated rain shower and putting several dents in the van managed to change my easy going demeanor. Some local good-ol-boys came but and were real life savers. They had a little crappy floor jack that I was able to squeeze under the rear axle and git it lifted up enough to get the tire back on and call it a night. We got out the handyman jack only to lift the whole rig up and have it come crashing forward 3 times with the result of scratches and dents in the number and rear door. Jerr had called Les Schwab in Colombia Falls earlier in the day and they had quoted her $80 for a balance and rotation. I thought the balance was probably okay (we weren’t feeing any wables ) and I could save a little cash by just doing it myself. In the end it was a bad decision. I ended up having to take it in anyway, and I had done some damage to the van in the meantime. Live and learn.
Wednesday we decided to go into the park and do some hiking/trail running. We didn’t get an early enough start for 2 reasons. First we stayed up too late with the whole tire chaining fiasco, second, and most frequently occurring, was we’re just lazy in the morning and slept through a few alarms. We’re just not good at getting ready early in the morning, we need to either embrace that and deal with it (not get frustrated when it happens and we miss something) or make a concerned effort to change it. That being said we rolled into the park around 9, unloaded the trailer down low (there’s a length limit on the Going to the Sun road) and got to the top of Logan Pass around 10. This is far too late, but 10 the masses have congregated and there were no spots in the lot. We ended up parking 1.1 miles (we know this with certainty because I said I thought it was less than a mile and Jerr was sure it was more and put a wager on it and made us measure) from the parking lot and trailhead. We were both a little frustrated at this point. We were supposed to be up there 2 hours earlier to avoid crowds, and we probably should have handled parking a little better and waited for a spot to free up. We wanted to run the Highline trail, which we did, but not without getting stuck behind no less than 25 groups going at much slower paces. Once we made it past the little summit that happens about mid-trail we had a much smoother run and could go as fast as our legs and lungs would let us. We made it to the granite chalet and had a little rest then tried to decide which trail to take back. We had 3 main options under consideration. Take the loop trail down to the road and the shuttle back up to our car (the shortest option), take the same trail back to the car and fight traffic, or my preference of taking the Many Glacier trail down and hitch hiking back the the other end of the Going to the Sun Road and take the shuttle back up to our car. In the end we both went on the Many Glacier trail and by the end of the day we probably put on close to 20 miles. The Many Glacier trail had almost no one on it until we got to the end and had lots of berries as well as a young grizzly meandering by. When we got to the campground/entrance we started trying our luck at hitchhiking back to the St Mary’s entrance where we could catch the shuttle back up to Logan Pass. We ended up getting a ride with a nice young lady that worked on the trail crew based out of Many Glacier. I forgot my iPod in her car and she mailed it back to my dad, what a lady, we really owe her one. We did another steam that night to relieve some of the leg strain put on during the day. We got a kid that was camping there to join us and he told us about his nomad life with primary employment as a marijuana plant trimmer. We later met another camper in the same campsite that was employed in the same trade.
Thursday I bought a 2 day fishing license and spent a big chunk of Thurs/Fri fishing. We floated the north fork of the Flathead Thursday morning. It was a nice relaxing float but I think I only landed 2 little fish, one of them a whitefish. We were only on the water about 2-3 hours, it ended up being a pretty short float back to our campground. Jerr had run the shuttle by driving back to camp and riding her bike back to the put in. After the float we had lunch, I had a nap and Jerr did yoga, then we drove into West Glacier to take me fishing and to drop off a fellow camper whose car was at the entrance to the park. I spent a few hours fishing just upstream of the jumping foot bridge close to town. I did better fishing catching 4-5 fish in the slow moving clear water. A storm rolled in right at the end of the day. The air got heavy, the sky went dark, and the wind went crazy. A power pole went down right next to us and made a noise like a booming drum. Tree branches were all over the roads and rain started coming down fast and hard. Later we were told there were something like 115 lighting strikes in the park and several small fires were started shutting down trails and campgrounds.
Friday we did another float, this time on the middle fork of the Flathead, just bellow the whitewater section back to our campsite. This time I ran the shuttle and we loaded the bike onto the raft to not have to make a second trip to go get it after we were done. It was another slow fishing day, but the water was beautiful as was the weather. We ran into lots of people doing booze cruises down the same section. Too late I decided I wanted to ride my bike off one of the medium sized cliffs right next to the river with a big deep pool underneath. After making the decision I wasn’t able to find a good cliff so it didn’t happen.
That night we decided to go biking in Whitefish. We went to the Spencer Mountain trails and did the Maple Syrup and Otter Pop trails. MS was rated as a Blue (intermediate) and Otter Pop was a Black (advanced) but Jerr thought those rating should have been switched. MS was steep and rocky with natural obstacles. Otter Pop was flowy with berms, jumps and drops. We had a great time on the trails and splurged by going out to eat at a Pizza place in Whitefish (picked by Jerr - I always make her pick as I don’t want to be responsible for cross contamination.)
Earlier in the day we ran into a sauna afficiando and his sun who were camping at the bridge. We talked saunas and rivers for quite a while. I felt a little bad that we weren’t planning to steam that night as I would have liked a fellow sauna-er’s opinion on the steam in the MHS.
Saturday was our day to move on. We got up relatively early and headed toward East Glacier and the Two Medicine entrance to the park. After taking the van in we had started to notice a very strong pull to the right when braking and between gear shifts. The play in the steering was enough to cause us some concern and make driving pretty exciting as you had to constantly be ready to compensate for the swerve when tapping on the brakes. I drove as I felt better about my ability to compensate for the wonky steering.
We made it to the park without incident and ran the Scenic trail which offered very few hikers, a nice 7ish mile jog, great views and a nice cold stream to dip our legs in on the way down. We met a guy that looked just like Alex Hannold in the parking lot and out on the trail who was actually Tristin from Whitefish who writes for the Flathead paper (tribune - herald - beacon?).
I thought the steering might be related to the fluid level in the front differential (google had someone who thought that was a likely cause) so I tried to top off the fluid while we were parked at the trailhead after getting back to the van. I succeeded in making a big mess, but the fluid was pretty much full. At that point we more or less bid farewell to the big mountains and headed towards eastern MT to the flatter ranch land and to visit our friends the Beckers.
We had a good time in Glacier. The mountains and views were spectacular. The rivers were clean and refreshing and the people were friendly and helpful. Despite the hordes of tourists it’s worth a visit, spend a few days if you can.