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East to West Hike across Glacier Park

It was a fine day to start our hike across Glacier Park. Getting dropped off near Chief mountain we began... Chief mountain is very large and stands much taller than anything around it. The air has a hint of smoke and the view may be a bit hazy from fires across the region, but nothing to worry about as far as forest fires in our area. The closest fire is about 500 miles away. Carrying heavy packs we are prepared to spend several days in the wilderness.
We always pack the essentials: food, water, shelter, wet weather clothing and pepper spray for bears we might encounter on our trip.
(Hope we don't get THAT close though!)

Chief Mountain Fall Colors

Chief Mountain Slide Show Here

Chief Mountain is quite fascinating. The look and shape of this mountain is unique and makes a very recognizable landmark. Chief mountain can be easily recognized from 100 miles away in any direction. Nearly vertically straight, 1,000 feet of solid rock is awesome to view. The Blackfeet peoples and the Blood tribe in southern Canada regard the Chief mountain area as sacred ground.  As we pass through this humbling place, and as the rule is with the entirety of Glacier Park, we take care in observing the leave no trace behind hiking rules.
 Our goal this trip is to hike across Glacier Park's, eastern boundary to the west along mostly well beaten paths. We are starting just off of Hwy 17 on Indian lands.
We can see Chief Mountain in the distance, so awesome looking, even though it is still 6 miles away.
On day 1,
We take our time and enjoy perfect weather while hiking along the southern side of Chief mountain. As we get to the west side of the mountain, we come to Slide Lake; a small lake, and nice place to spend our first night.

On day 2,
Gable mountain, which is taller than Chief mountain, is off to our left now as we look forward to having a much more strenuous day of climbing up and through Gable Pass. The views are spectacular along the way, and watching ever so closely, we have not seen a bear yet.  (Yea!)  As we climb down to the Belly River, finishing our day of hiking, we setup camp and prepare the evening meal. The sights we've seen today were sights very few will ever see.  There is no easy way to see these wondrous places deep in Glacier Park, except to brave the wilderness like this.
On day 3,
It's another awesome day. Hiking along, we pass two large lakes, Cosley and then Glenn's. After lunch, we decide to push on toward Kootenai Lakes and camp for the night. It took a little longer then expected, and getting there nearer to dark was a bit scary. All the animals were out and about foraging for their evening meal. Seems as though every time we came across a moose or a deer, they would completely ignore us or tell us to get out of their way. Just have to laugh when you pass a goat on the trail and he makes you step aside with just that look in his eyes.

On day 4,
As we awakened this morning, we could see moose, bear, deer and goats nearly everywhere. This must truly be the "High Country" folks talk about!  We were quietly enjoying the animals and decided to stay at this camp site for a second night. Thinking, this fine day, we might never again see such an abundance of wildlife. Just a short hike from here is Rainbow falls so we decided to take a little detour off our planned route, and spend some time at the falls. As you can see in this picture, we enjoy taking photos of water.

On day 5,
We stopped by Goat Haunt Montana, and checked out the view across Waterton Lake; A cool place with its own border crossing into Canada, and living quarters for several Glacier Park rangers. After a brief time here, we set our sites on making it up to the Continental Divide. All went well until the last mile or so. It was as steep as can be, and pushing on to make it to the top of the world, left us tired and a bit shaken.  After today's hike of about 12 miles, we didn't even bother putting up our tent.
On day 6,
By morning, it had gotten pretty cold, being up at this altitude, so we dressed in all the warm clothing we carried, then, the two of us sat down with a cup of hot chocolate as we planned our day. We were not able to truly appreciate the scope of where we had settled down last night. Only in the morning light, could we realize how spectacular the view was. Looking across from peak to peak, and watching eagles fly over head, one gets lost in dreams of feeling you could fly if only...  Standing there you just know you are one of a handful of hardy hikers that will ever see these spectacular sites. On our hike today, goats and bear are mostly what we see.  It is the end of September, and a lot of the animals spend their time wandering these high mountains, foraging for food. What a beautiful site as we near Kintla and Upper Kintla Lakes. Knowing that we are nearing the end of our hike makes us all the more conscious of trying to take in every second of being in this great American wilderness. We set up camp between the two lakes today, knowing that just one more day and we will have to return to civilization.
On day 7, Monster Rabbits
Tomorrow our ride will find us just outside the park along the north fork road.  At daybreak, we are up and packed ready to say goodbye to Kintla lake. We headed south along the trail that will take us to the North Fork of Flathead River. Next thing we knew, the trail was gone. Not to worry said my hiking companion, we can just head southwest until we get out to the river. Walking along on level ground with small pine and fir trees all around, we came to a fence. " What is this, a fence in the park?"  Wow, this was a very tall fence too.

Not knowing where we were, we just kept walking along the fence till we came across an old homestead. It seemed to be a quiet place with no cars in sight anywhere. It was still quite early, but there was this old gentleman who seemed to be working around the place. "Hello,"  we hollered. " Well, are you boys lost?" he asked, not seeming too surprised at our being there.

I would suppose, we were not the first to have wandered onto this property. We were delighted to find the place, knowing that if there were people here, we could not be that lost. Introducing ourselves, and asking for a little direction, he told us his name, and invited us to join him for a hot cup of coffee. Being pretty curious as to why and how he could be here in Glacier Park, he told us how his family had homesteaded this land long before Glacier Park even existed. And about how the government was trying to deny him, and others like him, access to their own property. He seemed to be getting a little excitable as my friend took sides with the government and said that he should have to go by the same rules as everyone else visiting the park. Wrong!!!  As he explained it, he had no intentions of going by what he called, 'Government intrusion, or rules.' He told us how it was an ongoing battle with the government wanting him to conform to more and more rules all the time. We finished our coffee, got some directions, and decided it was time to be on our way.

On the way out, we could see huge pens with some sort of animals in them. We asked, "What do you have back there?"  "Those are my rabbits" he said. Thinking he was kidding, because they looked more like small goats, Llama or Alpacas from a distance. But it was true. In another minute we could see he did have some really big rabbits. I bet they were 4 1/2  feet long, and 50 pounds or better. There they were, about 30 of these "Monster Rabbits" inside the fence with what looked like dog houses for shelter.

At this point I could not believe my eyes. So I asked if I could please take some pictures. First he said, "Sorry, I don't want any pictures taken." (Lucky for us, he did want to show off his monster rabbits though, and changed his mind.) So he said to wait by the woodshed and he'd bring out his two friendliest pets. We snapped these first two photos, and then he said, "Go ahead and pick that one up, he don't bite". Being familiar with rabbits, I grabbed a hold of this monster buck rabbit, and gave him a lift. That buck had to be 50 pounds or more. Big and friendly critters indeed. I am glad I got these photos since "Monster Rabbits" must be more rare than the grizzly bears we had been looking at for these past few days.


On day 8,
Only one more hurdle, the North Fork of the Flathead was just ahead. Like real explorers, we planned to wade or swim across the river, holding our packs above our heads trying to keep them dry. This is no small river. It must be 100 feet across, and near the middle, we both slipped and went under. What a struggle hanging onto our packs while trying to get across. We made it through, and then had a big (wet) laugh. Many have hiked, but few will every swim the river to get out of Glacier Park. Yeah we did it, from east to west across every inch of America's largest park, Glacier National Park.

We've made a lot of memories, and we've seen "Monster Rabbits" that most could only dream about...

by Steven Rapelje


Here is the latest information about legal battles between original homestead property owners and Glacier Park government authorities.

Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana, just north of Columbia Falls. The park encompasses more than one million acres and is home to grizzly bear, moose, elk, along with 63 varieties of wild mammals. While most of the roads in Glacier National Park are closed off during the winter, this provides miles and miles of tracks for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Visitors are seldom around in the dead of winter, so the muffled hush of the snow covered woods is especially enticing and serene.

A ski or snowshoe trip along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is one of the most scenic roads in North America, is a great option, according to park rangers. The road is closed to cars from September or October until snowmelt, usually in June. Several short hiking trails branch off from the road, which would be excellent for snowshoeing or skiing in the winter season.

 Once you have your gear, head up to Glacier National Park for an exciting adventure. Guided snowshoe trips are available, led by a park naturalist, and are highly recommended. If you are looking for an informative tour, snowshoeing is an easy way to explore the winter wonderland of this unique park. Snowshoeing will provide even the novice an effortless activity so your senses are more in tune with your environment and your guide's knowledge on the history, wildlife, geology, and biology of this precious ecosystem.

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