126 Miles thru Glacier National Park – Part III

Day 7: Granite Park to Fifty Mountain Campground (12 miles + 3-mile return side trip to Sue Lake)

Our luck with the weather had run out. It rained all through the night and we woke up in a wet tent under a thick cloud cover. The trek to our next destination, Fifty Mountain Campground, was thankfully an easy one. 

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The trail stayed relatively flat for most of the way as we traversed across ridge after ridge. It was on one of these ridges that we finally got what we wanted: a grizzly. 

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Not on the trail, but at a nice, comfortable distance, far enough that it took us a few seconds to discern it as a grizzly. But as soon as it picked its head up from the berry bushes, there was no question. We hollered at so it knew we were there, but ended up scaring it away. 

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As it took off over the hillside, we followed the trail with caution, stopping every few feet to clap and shout, and also indulge in the ripe and plentiful huckleberries lining the path.

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The scenery this day was impressive even with cloudy skies hiding the mountains’ peaks, but the day was made even more remarkable by the side-trip up to Sue Lake. Following the CDT from Granite Park to Fifty Mountain, you pass the junction to Sue Lake about a mile before reaching Fifty Mountain campground. We decided to drop our packs and stash our food at camp before venturing back to Sue Lake.  

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We were not disappointed. I fully recommend anyone passing through here to make the extra effort and not miss out on this outstanding overlook. High, high above Sue Lake, this side trail is a steep and rocky climb with views unattainable to those below. 

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On the day we were there, a fresh dusting of snow had settled on the peaks surrounding Sue Lake, making the scene all the more majestic. And lucky us, the clouds lifted ever so slightly just as the sun was falling, setting fire to the jagged range. 

Day 8: Fifty Mountain to Lake Francis Campground (18.6 miles) 

We ate breakfast standing up in the cold drizzling rain this morning. Our boots had been soaked for three days straight now, and putting our feet into them each morning was like stepping in ice water. Walking became motive for staying warm. 

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As we left the moraine field of Fifty Mountain, the trail descended steeply to the valley floor, and we were thankful not be headed in the opposite direction. Here too the trail had been overtaken by thimbleberry bushes, and we were drenched up to our hips from the dew within minutes. The trail had turned into a muddy mess. For about 3 miles we followed fresh bear tracks, the first tracks of the day, as the weather seemed to have scared off most people. 

At long, soggy last, we emerged from the woods at the foot of Waterton Lake and the Goat Haunt immigration checkpoint between the U.S. and Canada. However, this was not our day to depart. We had three more days and two nights on the trail–a 20+ mile side trip west toward Boulder Pass. 

We chatted with the Ranger at Goat Haunt for a bit and got a weather forecast. Snow at Boulder Pass, he said, eight inches. Reluctantly, we pressed on. 

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It was more of a trudge than a tramp from Goat Haunt to Lake Francis Campground. The trail was 100% deep, slippery mud, which made the walking slow and difficult. And after passing the 100-mile mark on our eighth consecutive day of backpacking, I felt utterly exhausted. 

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Lake Francis was nothing shy of spectacular–especially after 8 hours of tramping through thicket and sludge. Plus, we were the only fools to show up at camp that night. The air was cool but the rain had ceased long enough for us to have a private dinner on the lake’s rocky beach. 

Day 9: Day Hike to Hole in the Wall Campground (9 miles, no pack)

Attempting to cure my exhaustion on our first and final rest day, I didn’t get out of my sleeping bag until I had slept for 12 hours. (It was easy to do and I could have slept more). Alas, no day with K is ever a true rest day. Before noon he had me up and walking–without my pack thankfully–to Hole in the Wall Campground.

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We were told this section offered some the best landscapes in Glacier, hence our keenness to include this side excursion in our itinerary. It was true. The views from the pass beyond Lake Francis toward Hole in the Wall were some of the best we saw. Unfortunately for us, eight days had worn us out. Fatigue, blisters, and knee injuries were abound, so we skipped the overnight and decided to schlep up only for a day hike. 

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The weather was good that morning, but a storm was looming in the distance. By the time we reached the turn off to Hole in the Wall Campground, dark clouds were rolling in. We snapped a photo by the Hole in the Wall sign: that was the end of the road, for us. 

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With the storm at our heals, we scurried back to our humble abode at Lake Francis. Technically, we weren’t supposed to be camping there and were risking intruding upon someone else’s camp reservation. Despite our hustle, the storm beat us back to camp and, once again, we found ourselves drenched. Luckily, no one had come to claim our site as their own. Hours later, and in a dry change of clothes, we mustered up the nerve to cook dinner. We sat sharing a pot of rice and elk sausage in the middle of the trail beneath the trees.  

Day 10: Lake Francis to Watertown Township via Goat Haunt Ferry (6.5 miles)

It’s possible to walk across the border into Canada, but we were too wrecked to take any more steps than were absolutely necessary. So, we retraced our path back to Goat Haunt early in the morning to catch a 10:45am ferry. 

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The ferry at Waterton Lake shuttles tourists from Waterton Townsite to Goat Haunt multiple times a day, depending on how many people sign up for the ride. Upon our arrival at Goat Haunt, we were relieved to see the vessel coming toward our side of the 10-mile lake. The boats tour guide–the local high school valedictorian–spoke of the wooden boats 80-year history on the water as we cruised passed our nation’s boundary and into Canada. 

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Stepping off the boat, we were handed a phone from the captain. It was the Border Patrol calling. We read them our passport numbers and that was it. We we’re free to enter Canada. We had just hiked over 120 miles (or 150+ miles if you include miles hiked without packs) in 10 days, covering the full south to north length of Glacier National Park, and were headed to Banff to see what other tramps we could find. 

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