I did a thru-hike of the CDT in ’98 starting in the “bootheel” of New Mexico and finishing up in Waterton Lakes Provincial Park in Canada.
There were 7 of us when i started with lots of old hiking friends and some new ones. But, by the time I got to Montana which is the last state for a Northbound hiker and a beautiful one, I was alone. Hiking alone for 700+ miles can be daunting, but I learned a lot about myself and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Anyway, my friend Pieps (Brian Piepergerdes) knew about when i was finishing and sent me a care package to the PO in East Glacier, MT which is the last town stop on the trail. Now Pieps is a great hiker with lots of experience and hails from Kansas City. There is a famous candy bar that also comes from Kansas City and he sent me a few of them. They are called Russell Stover candy bars and they are chocolate on the outside and creamy caramel on the inside. Needless to say, after 2600 miles of hiking, they are an awesome surprise to the taste buds.
I ate one that day at the PO and decided that these things were going to be cherished and rationed. So, it was about 4 days later when I was about to spend my last night camping on the trail before finishing at the border and then hiking another 4 miles or something to the town at Waterton Lakes, BC Canada.
Looking back at the view on my next to last day
Now Glacier National Park is known for it’s grizzly bears. This can make it a very pleasant experience if you are not too afraid of them. I respect them but my fears when hiking are a lot less than my fears in the working, crowded, business world with all it’s distractions and rules and……………well, anyway, I enjoyed those last few days with almost no one out there in the park after about 3 pm. Saw many day-hikers but not many people camping out at night.
So, on the day before i was going to finish, I was climbing a mountain and noticed a grizzley bear about a mile away to my left (west) and he was foraging for some food, rolling over logs and moving on and probably getting ready for winter as it was late Sept. I was a little surprised that he hadn’t seen me yet, or at least I don’t think he would be so playfully hunting for his grubs or insects or berries or whatever.
I noticed the wind was coming from that direction so figured he couldn’t smell me. Now, the last thing you want to do in griz country is to surprise the bear. So, what was i supposed to do? The “book” says i should shout a warning and let him know i was there. But I didn’t think that the best idea because he seemed to be having a lot of fun, i was alone, and i could almost see the top of the pass about a mile away for me. Once over the pass, i could move fast down the other side and be out of his territory.
So, i kicked in in gear and picked up my pace to about 4 mph. Now, i’d already been on the trail for 5 months of hiking almost everyday and was in some pretty good shape.
The trail was full of switchbacks and i couldn’t see the bear except on the western end of each switchback. There he was each time, a little closer, still having fun and not paying any attention to me. I kept moving fast and finally got to the top heaving a huge sigh of relief as now i could forget about him as i’d be a half mile away before he probably even got to my scent on the trail.
I went about another 4 or 5 miles that day before calling it a night and setting up camp. I wanted a really nice camp that night as it was my last of a great summer of hiking and spending time in some beautiful scenery. So, slightly illegally as i didn’t have a permit to just “stealth” camp, i went off trail a bit and camped in a boulder field near the top of another pass.
Now one thing you are supposed to do in the park is hang your food away from your tenting area. I was above treeline so wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to sleep with my food because i was in “griz” country, so………..
I searched for, and found a spot where there was a big pile of rocks nearby. It seemed like an old cairn that would mark a boundary or historical spot or something. SO, i found a flat spot nearby, set up my tent and took about 10 rocks off the top, put my food bag (with my one and only Russell Stover candy bar left inside) in there and replaced the stones. I went to sleep figuring if the griz was coming, at least he would hit the food bag and not me!
In the middle of the night, i was awakened by some sounds of rocks being moved and dropped. The adrenalin started flowing as i figured it had to be griz out there to move those rocks up about 4 feet high. I immediately thought about the “Russell Stover” candy bar and my mouth was watering from the anticipation of eating it tomorrow at the border as much as the adrenaline from the possible grizzly bear encounter i was about to have.
I got out of my tent, with my trusty, little Photon Micro-lite flashlight, and went over to the cairn. There, instead of the big ole bear, was the biggest rat i had ever seen. It wasn’t a marmot although it was slightly bigger than one. More like a possum. Ugly and big. I scared him away with a few rocks and thought about going back to bed but figured he’d just come back so, i went over and took the cair apart again, got out my food bag, complete with the candy and breakfast, and brought it back in my tent with me and slept with it as a pillow for my feet as i usually do. The rest of the night’s sleep was a little fretful as I wasn’t sure if i’d have to fight off “griz” or the big rat but it went uneventful.
I woke up to a fine morning with wonderful views. Went and finished the trail in the next few hours.
When I got to the monument at the border, I sat down, reflected on what i had just done (completed the “triple crown of US backpacking) and the 5 1/2 months of backpacking the Rocky Mtns. THe last 700 miles hiking by myself and loving it. Also the great people i met, the Mormon wagon train I had joined up with for 3 days (another story) and THEN: I proceeded to break out that food bag and thoroughly enjoy that LAST RUSSELL STOVER CANDY BAR! ANd let me tell you, it was as good as i remembered and worth the anxiety it had caused me.
There was a ranger station nearby still in the US and I went there and met and talked to a ranger there. She was a bit surprised that i made 13 miles by 11 AM as i couldn’t very well tell her about the beautiful above treeline campsite I had the night before. She then told me i could take the boat to the border so i wouldn’t have to clear customs but i said i had thoughts of a great restaurant i had heard about in the Canadian town there. So, i proceeded to hike the 4 more miles or whatever it was to the town where i found a few restaurants and after asking around, went to the one that served reindeer and French wine. I had a meal that couldn’t be beat. Actually ordered an appetizer, two main courses, AND dessert.
After the meal, i went to a pizza joint where they had “open mike night” and a few beers. Since I usually hike with a guitar, i participated and caught the looks from a nice girl there. I won’t tell you any details but she invited me back to her place where i camped in her front yard and she drove me to the border in the morning. It was a great way to end a great hike and one I’ll never forget. Especially the last 1 1/2 days!