Intro to Backpacking in Glacier
In early July of 1998, I suggested a backpacking trip up to Brown Pass to my wife and she agreed to join me after I highlighted the advantages, while neglecting to mention many, if any, downsides. Since we didn’t do any backpacking, it was going to be interesting for both of us. I bought a lightweight tent and a day and a half pack for her to use on the trip. She hated the shoulder straps on the new pack and decided to use her old frame Kelty pack which we had bought in Alaska and used for one overnight trip in the early 80s. I tied the tent onto the new pack, which I used, and we were set.
One of the selling points was a canoe which I borrowed to save hiking six miles around Bowman Lake.
This was a happy tradeoff since she didn’t want to add those miles to what remained from the head of the lake to the Brown Pass campground. The tradeoff came with her anxiety about paddling across all that open, cold water in a canoe. Luckily, the wind was not blowing so the water was relatively calm.
When we reached the end of the lake, I found a spot where we could drag the canoe out and sort of hide it so we could expect to use it again on the return. We saddled up with our backpacks and began the trek.
early in the hike
Initially, it was a “walk in the park” and Pat was in excellent spirits by the time we reached the first stream crossing about a mile from the lake. We were still following relatively level terrain and the trail was well maintained. After a couple more miles, we encountered our first hint that an adventure was in the making. We came to Pocket creek and the spring floods had eliminated any sign of a bridge. The stream was flowing fast and cold, not to mention deep.
I cast around looking for a way to proceed and spotted a downed tree upstream. It nearly spanned the creek, but was full of limbs which made movement across tough. We eventually reached the far end and jumped down into the shallows on that side. Of course this caused wet feet, but no problem…Pat had brought 3 pairs of socks for the trip and promptly shed the wet pair and put on dry ones. She learned an important lesson…dry socks in wet boots result in more wet socks. This was not acceptable, so after another mile it was decided that wet socks might cause blisters and another change was made.
About this point, she discovered that her new bear spray was missing. We couldn’t imagine what had happened to it, but then it dawned on us that crawling through that tree across Pocket creek, it must have been snagged and separated from her holster. At this point, we decided it would be worth going back to look for it which we did to no avail. This was a considerable inconvenience since we felt two bear sprays would be much safer in case we had an incident. It also meant that I would have a close buddy the rest of the trip!
As we started the last several miles and 2,200 feet of elevation gain, the trail was engulfed with plants encroaching from both sides and our pant legs were soaked from the thigh down due to moisture that had condensed on the leaves. This put the finishing touch on the 3 pairs of socks and my wife did not enjoy dry socks again for 3 days.
We reached the campground and the next surprise was that no one else was there…the wife duly noted that situation and was NOT a happy camper.
Brown Pass campsite
Luckily for me, a small group of hikers from Goat Haunt to Bowman Lake came into camp later and set up several tents. One other aspect of the Brown Pass campground was swarming masses of mosquitoes. It was not possible to open your mouth to eat without getting large amounts of unwanted nourishment. We opted to hide in the tent to eat which is not a great plan when in grizzly country. Some people even advise changing to different clothing to sleep after food odors get into your fabric.
After a night of sleeping (?) with bear spray and flashlight at the ready, we got up and had breakfast while deciding to explore the trail to Boulder Pass. This was a good plan until we approached the vicinity of the pass.
Hole in the Wall to Boulder Pass
Since it was July 5, the trail was not open yet and not even visible due to large drifts of snow east of the pass. We went as far as prudent without ice axes which was tantalizingly close to our goal and decided to return to camp.
After a second night of battling mosquitoes and worrying about critters wandering about in the dark (probably mule deer), we woke up to spot a couple of grizzlies in the distance on the side of Mt Chapman near the intersection of the Boulder pass and Bowman lake trails. It was a sow and her cub of the year, and we watched them working the hillside for food while we ate our breakfasts. I wanted to climb Mt Chapman while it was so convenient and my wife had planned on relaxing at the campground. With the sighting of the bears came a discussion regarding our sole remaining bear spray. I suggested leaving the spray at camp so my wife would feel safer, but she did not want me out alone without it. The discussion ended with her statement that she would climb with me.
This always results in plus and minus factors. I am glad to have her join me, but feel increased responsibility for a successful, uneventful outing. The only thing worse than getting lost or cliffed out in Glacier, is having a partner who has to suffer the consequences alongside. Since it was her birthday, she was going to have a memorable day!
We started out to the trail junction where we needed to head west to the relatively simple scree slopes up the mountain. Did I mention the grizzlies? Right, they were still near that junction when we approached and the wife was becoming very anxious. I tried to exhibit a calmness that was not really present and said we should just gradually move past the bears while letting them know we were there so as to avoid surprising them. I took the precaution of carrying my bear spray in my hand with the safety off after considering how to use it if the need arose. Also, I spoke out loud to the bears to alert them to our presence and they seemed to be ignoring us.
As we got beyond the closest point in the passing maneuver, an estimated 40 yards, I started to breathe a sigh of relief. However, after taking another 3-4 more steps and starting to open the gap, the sow suddenly took note of our presence. She turned toward us with a menacing look and stood up on her hind legs staring (glaring?) at us while deciding her next move. I had my wife in front of me at this point and told her to calmly continue moving away from the bears avoiding direct eye contact. Fortunately, this was the extent of our excitement and the bear apparently decided we posed no danger.
We gradually calmed down and used some of the adrenalin to climb. The next challenge was in the form of clouds which obscured the summit and much of the mountain. Mt Chapman is a simple climb from the south so we just continued upward and eventually found the summit cairn. After the excitement of bagging a seldom climbed peak (spell REMOTE), I began worrying about getting back down in the poor visibility.
Mt Chapman summit
It would hardly do to end up on the north side of the mountain headed into Canada! I had my compass and tried to remember the general route of the approach we had taken. After about 30 tense minutes, the clouds started to lift and we could once again navigate by visual reference.
When we reached the trail, our thoughts once again focused on where the bears were and if we could get by again. We were especially alert as we approached the trail junction and greatly relieved to meet a back country ranger at the intersection. He was in a near state of shock…the grizzly had totally surprised him as he approached the junction. There was no warning before she appeared beside the trail popping her jaws at him!
We spent our last night at the campground and hiked back down to the lake which is about 2,200’ lower. Once again we were soaked from the thighs down by the leaves brushing as we passed on the narrow path. When we reached the lake, the canoe was still waiting for us and again we had good fortune with almost calm breezes. I have been on Bowman lake several times when large whitecaps formed from the afternoon breezes. Instead we enjoyed a mirror-like surface and listened to several loons serenading.
It was quite the intro to backpacking in Glacier for both of us. My wife gained considerable admiration from the Over the Hill gang since none of the members had been on top of Mt Chapman.
No comments posted yet.