Sunday, 15 September 2013

Farewell Road Trip (5): Victorian splendour and Grizzlywatch (and avoidance) no.2

The tea set at our B&B
When you've spent weeks driving through sagebrush desert, hours on dirt roads and seen only a handful of small mountain towns, it is hard to believe that Montana's capital, Helena (population 28,000), will be an extremely pleasant Victorian town complete with huge gothic parliament building and tree-lined shady streets. But it is exactly that and we'd managed to select the most Victoriana building of them all for our B&B, complete with antique piano and clawfoot bath. We toured the town, drank micro-brewery ale and ate one of our rare meals out at a place so authentically Greek that I kept expecting a skinny stray cat to jump onto the table. So, in summary, a bizarre but very refreshing stopover before our next backpacking adventure...

I'd waited all trip for mountain goats, here they are, at Logan Pass
Mark + bear spray = ready
Glacier National Park in Montana had most well organised and maintained backcountry campgrounds of our trip: each one had a food preparation area well away from tents, a proper pit toilet (sometimes with no roof, but MUCH better than digging a hole) and metal food lockers. The briefing video explained why: a one minute fluffy intro was followed by 25 minutes of 'what to do when a food habituated bear tries to eat you' with a cheery 'have a wonderful time in glacier national park' sign off.  As the national park with the most infamous grizzly attacks (google 'night of the grizzlies') we were pretty highly strung as we headed out, bear spray cans dangling from our packs, especially as we'd seen a grizzly right by the road before we started out. 

Day 1 took us through the Ptarmigan tunnel, blasted through the rock in 1930 to create the satisfying 80km hiking loop we hoped to complete. The sun shone as we forded our final river to our first campground, Cosley Lake, where each campsite had its own private sandy beach from where you could watch the sunset and the brewing thunderstorm.  

The view from our private beach

Me, somewhere, in the brush
The next two days were significantly less warm: heavy overnight rain left the 6ft high brush (yes, taller than me) soaking wet and freezing cold and, at one of our lunch stops, I even climbed into my sleeping bag to try and warm up (we always go very light on clothes knowing this is the option of last resort).  The huge quantifies of bear scat and grizzly diggings, coupled with poor sight lines, meant we spent most of the two days shouting 'hey bear' which, when it got boring, was replaced with the thundercats' and bananaman theme tunes for a change.  

But it was all worth it for the approach to our final campground 'Fifty mountain': walking through the tree-less alpine meadows it seemed you could actually see the famed fifty separate peaks across the park.  And seeing a grizzly, as inevitably happened, was actually pretty magical: a mum and juvenile cub foraging amongst the flowers a nice safe distance from camp.  Instead of the usual retreat to the tents due to cold at 7pm, we sat out till after sunset watching the alpenglow on the mountains.  

A 5am start (yes, we do love them) heralded our final day, 20 miles of incredible mountain views, re-hydrated chocolate cheesecake (actually quite delicious) for breakfast, the biggest bull moose we've ever seen shaking the water off his antlers in a lake and even a cold coke at the Granite Park chalet.  Back in the valley we had much-needed showers and lots of pie (why a hamlet in northern Montana has the world's best pie shop is a mystery, but for proof, just ask Mark to see his newest t-shirt).  

After a good night's sleep and NOT a 5am start we headed north, crossing the border back into the Canada, for the second half of our trip...

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