Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CDT - Southbound - Glacier National Park section hiker's reconnaissance

You have a couple of choices for a southbound CDT route through Glacier. The first starts in Waterton Lakes National a Park in Canada, crosses the border at Goat Haunt, and follows the Highline trail through Glacier. This route is open at the earliest around Aug 1, as it depends on snow conditions and the Ahern Drift trail segment being blasted out.

The second starts at the Chief Mountain Customs Station. The trailhead is about 50 yards south, and has a large parking lot. When we were there around 7/21 there were about 40 cars there. This route goes to Belly River, then Elisabeth Lake. After that you can go via the Ptarmagan tunnel if it is open, or the longer route via Poia Lake to Many Glacier (a resupply point with store, motel, etc.).

There is not a lot of car access to the park. It is divided north south by the Going to the Sun Highway, which starts in St. Marys and ends at West Glacier. The CDT crosses this highway at two different points, depending on your route. You can probe the east side of Glacier NP at three points - Many Glacier in the north, at St. Marys in the middle, at Two Medicine in the south. East Glacier is the town at the far south east. The train goes through West Glacier and East Glacier.

The shuttle systems can get confusing. The park service runs three free shuttles across the Going To The Sun Highway. There is a shuttle for the west, middle, and east, so it takes three rides to get all the way across the Going to the Sun Highway. They do run frequently - every hour or so. See the park service schedule. There are also for fee shuttles running up and down the east side, as well as pay shuttles to connect to to the nps shuttle at St. Marys from Many Glacier or Two Medicine. The cost was $10 for each link, i.e. East Glacier to Chief Mountain $40 per person, on to Prince of Wales Hotel, $50. There is one shuttle that goes all the was from East Glacier to Chief Mountain. It leaves East Glacier at 11am and gets to Chief Mountain, I think at 1:45pm. They go more often between St. Marys and Two Medicine and Many Glacier. The East side shuttles are on a first come first served basis, so you can't rely on getting on - may be full already. Don't have any answer to that problem. Don't know if it is a realistic problem, or just hypothetical. The bus exists to shuttle train passengers who have a Prince of Wales Hotel destination to that hotel. Excess space is available to hikers.

If you have to leave a car in Many Glacier, you can leave it in the big lot behind the hotel, also, I think, in the lot in front of the Swiftcurrent Motel. We stayed at Whistling Swan Motel in East Glacier, and they were willing to let us leave our car there, as we had a reservation at the start of our trip, and the day we exited Glacier.

If you have a trail angel who can drop you and pick you up in various places, you could slack pack from Many Glacier to Going to The Sun Highway, also from East Glacier to Ahern Pass. They could also drop you at Chief Mountain earlier than the shuttle would..

Resupply - we were able to drop a package at Swiftcurrent Motel (Many Glacier) with the promise that we would pick it up in three days. Don't know if they would accept mailed packages. The store at Many Glacier had freeze dried dinners plus the normal type of things you might buy for resupply.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Passing Days

Just back from a road trip to Glacier National Park. It is in Montana and borders Canada for my European readers. The plan was to start the Continental Divide Trail. We didn't put a foot on the ground with a backpack on, but that's another story.

Nowadays we Google our route options, and then use a navigation device in the car to keep us on track. Google said from Oakland, CA, go north through Spokane, WA as fastest choice, a close second was northeast over the Sierras and through Nevada. We were packed and ready to go via Spokane when a last minute check of the weather page showed the jet stream dividing the routes. Oregon Washington was all t-storms and jagged lightning symbols, the Nevada route smiling sun symbols. So, off we go, over the Sierras, through Reno, Nevada, and those little towns from my childhood, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Elko, Nevada, and Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls, Idaho.

I say from my childhood, as this was the traditional route we took, from Yellowstone Park, where Dad worked, to California, where all the kin were. The trips I remember were mostly in the 1944-1950 time period, when almost every year we would spend the limited vacation days driving this route, seeing all the relatives in California, and then returning.

This trip, the Nevada - Idaho section is almost all on Interstate 80, at least two lanes in each direction, flat, and straight as an arrow for 60 to 70 miles at a time. I set the cruise control on the speed limit 75 mph and go that way for hours. During those days of driving from Yellowstone, there was one lane each direction, still straight as an arrow, but undulating, dipping into and climbing out of gentle valleys. There was no white line signalling a safe passing area. The road would look clear of cars for 20 miles, and all of a sudden one would pop up a few hundred yards ahead, hidden in one of the valleys.

This made passing a matter of great concern. There weren't many cars. Those that were there moved along about fifty to fifty five miles per hour. If the car reached 60 mph it began to roar and sound like the engine was getting ready to fly through the hood. Dad was a careful driver, but he liked to go along at about the speed limit (55),  so he had a strategy for those slow drivers that would be thwarting his driving rhythm.

You could see them ahead of you, first way down the road, and closer and closer as you overtook them. The important thing was to minimize your time in the lane with oncoming traffic. So, Dad would make his move. About a half mile before the offending car, Dad would stomp on the gas. Nothing happened instantly, but we would be gaining speed. At the same time, Dad would be watching down the road, trying to guess where the next long stretch with no dips would be. He would time it so he would hit the start of that long stretch at the same time as he came up to that slow moving car, whip to the left into the oncoming traffic lane, pass the car going about 30 mph faster than it was, and whip back into the safe lane, decelerating to a normal speed. We kids thought it was great fun. Mom must have had total trust in Dad because she took it in stride, but looking back, I suspect that it must have aged her a little.

When we returned from this recent Glacier trip, we took the Washington Oregon route, much of which is on US 97, a one lane each direction highway not a whole lot different than those of Nevada in the 40s. I thought about Dad's technique  few times, but the newer cars have a little more get up and go, so I was content to wait for a very safe opportunity or a passing lane. Of course, I'm about thirty years older than Dad was during his passing days, so there might have been a testosterone basis.

One last variant of Dad's method was what he used in Sequoia National Park, and taught to me. There was a sixteen mile extremely curvy road from where we lived at 3000 feet elevation, up to the primary park area at 7000 feet. This road was a continuous series of S curves, limiting you to about 15 mph on outside curves, and 20 on inside curves. Each outside curve was totally blind, but you could see a long ways up the road. Once you have memorized the road, you can tell from looking up the road whether there is a car coming or not. So, if a car was not coming, Dad would just pass the car ahead of him on an inside curve, terrifying the other driver, who thought a car might appear at any second. I learned to drive on this road, and soon used the same technique. Never have had a road since where such a move would be appropriate.