Mar 21, 2014 at 7:57 am #1314676
Me and two of my buddies did this trip two summers ago but I'm just getting around to posting the trip report. Our plan was to basically hike from the west side of the park back to our car on the east side. We rented a car and stayed at St. Mary's campground on night one.
On our first day of actual back country camping, we took the shuttle from St. Mary's to Apgar which I believe is as far as the shuttle will take you. We then caught a ride into Polebridge where we saw our first bear along the side of the road.
We started hiking at the head of Bowman lake which gave a beautiful view of the whole lake and the peaks in the background.
Day 2 we woke up early and started our uphill hike up Brown Pass. We were pretty tired after making it to the top but the reward was spectacular after being able to look back on the hike we had just done along Bowman Lake.
After stopping for a quick lunch at Brown Pass, we continued to Hole in the wall which is where we would spend the night. I have to say this is one of the most breathtaking campsites any of us had ever stayed at. Wildflowers everywhere and mountain streams right along the campsites.
Day 3 we decided to do a quick day hike to Boulder Pass because we heard the views were amazing. We were not disappointed. The view looking down on our campsite at Hole in the Wall was great.
The wildflowers in Glacier was plentiful and beautiful.
Once we made it to the Boulder Pass, we turned around, headed back to Hole in the Wall and packed up camp. We then headed out to Hawksbill where we spent the night. The next morning we passed Lake Francis just a few miles past Hawksbill and wished we would have gone on a little further and spent the night at Lake Francis.
On day 4, we hiked to Lake Francis and hung out for a while there for a granola bar before continuing to the Goat Haunt. We made it to the Goat Haunt just as a brutal storm came in. Although we weren't huge fans of the Goat Haunt (there is a ferry dock there so it is very crowded with people) it was nice to have a stone shelter over our heads during the storm. Especially since the next morning we saw a ton of downed trees.
Day 5 we woke up and the weather had cleared so we kept hiking until we got to our campsite at Stony Indian Pass. This was our 2nd favorite campsite as we spent hours just sitting and watching mountain goats run along the ridges above. It was amazing how agile and nimble they were on the treacherous terrain.
On Day 6 we woke up and began to climb Stony Indian Pass.
After making it to the top of Stony Indian Pass and hiking down the other side, we passed Glenn Lake and Cosley Lake before reaching our campsite at Lake Elizabeth. We spent the whole evening fishing and caught several nice sized fish before retiring to look at the stars.
The next morning we woke up and hiked up to the Ptarmigan tunnel. We passed a ranger along the way who said a storm was coming in and by the time we reached the tunnel, we had all of our layers of clothes on as well as rain gear as it had started to snow!
We hiked down the other side of the Ptarmagin Tunnel through the rain and snow and then decided to check out Iceberg Lake. We were glad we did because we saw a giant bull moose along the way and Iceberg Lake was definitely worth the trip.
We spent the night at the Many Glacier campground before getting up for our last day in the park. The day began with a brutal climb of Swiftcurrent pass. The view from the top gave great views of the lakes we had passed in the morning (I believe the first one was Lake Fishercap).
After getting to the top of Swiftcurrent pass, we hiked down the other side where we caught the shuttle at Logan Pass. While waiting for the shuttle, we recapped our trip. Our only disappointment was that we didn't see a bear in the park. Literally right as we said that, a young bear walked right across the road! We were so close that all the other people around the shuttle got near it and were taking pictures. We knew that a young bear could be next to an angry Mom bear, so we had our bear spray ready, kept our distance, and jumped on the shuttle as soon as it got there.
We took the shuttle back to where we had left the car at St. Mary and then drove back to Great Falls where we each ate a giant steak and grabbed a beer at the Sip and Dip. If you're ever in Great Falls, check out the Sip and Dip which is one of the most unique bars I have ever been to. Overall it was a great trip and we were sad to leave!Mar 21, 2014 at 10:34 am #2084953
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
Your variation on the "Northern Traverse" is one of my favorite routes in all of GNP. Thanks for sharing.Mar 21, 2014 at 1:57 pm #2085015
Looks like an awesome trip. Glacier is on my hit list this year!Mar 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm #2085030
Erick, that was a great route, and rather ambitious. You caught many of GNP's greatest hits in one fell swoop.
I have two questions: (1) After Swiftcurrent pass to Granite Park, did you descend to the Loop to catch the shuttle, or did you hike over to Logan Pass via the Garden Wall trail? (2) After passing Cosley Lake, did you do the ford of Mokowanis River, or did you go to the Belly R. RS and then to Elizabeth L.? If you did the ford shortcut, I'm curious as what month you did it, and how difficult it was.
Like for Dave, Clayton, and Sam, GNP is my favorite place on earth (I was raised just SE of the Park, in Choteau; you passed through that cow town on your way back to Great Falls). Thanks for sharing your photos and itinerary, and getting my juices flowing again.
Edit–After re-reading your trip report, I see that you did the Garden Wall route to Logan–my bad. I'm still curious about the river ford though…Mar 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm #2085098
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
Wow, you managed to hit nearly all of the major stuff in Northern Glacier in one trip. That's a lot of elevation up and down (as I'm sure you know). Beautiful territory and some of my favorite areas in the park.Mar 22, 2014 at 8:33 am #2085176
@curtpetersonLocale: Pacific Northwest
Thanks, Erick. Incredible timing as I'm literally sitting here with a GNP map in front of me putting together an itinerary for an 8 day trip in September. I'm stuck on a few points and your report is really helpful in making a couple difficult decisions on what to pass up. A few quick questions:
Which would you camp at if you had to choose: Brown Pass or Boulder Pass?
How did you get up to Polebridge?
From Goat Haunt, is Stoney Indian Pass Trail > Ptarmigan Trail the superior route to Many Glacier instead of Waterton Valley Trail > Highline Trail > Swiftcurrent Pass Trail?
-CurtMar 22, 2014 at 9:11 am #2085185
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
Curt, the Brown Pass campground is a sham. I've never camped there, and I only would as an alternate. Boulder, on the other hand, may be my favorite high campground in Glacier. It's pretty stunning, and it may have the best toilet-with-a-view in the Rockies. Brown, on the other hand, is a completely-treed in pass, and the campground is in the forest without much to show for all your work.
(Honestly, for anyone traveling over Brown Pass but not going toward Hole-in-the-Wall/Boulder, it's worth taking the trail at least half-a-mile to a mile or so that direction to get some of the more complete views of the area and down the length of Bowman Lake.)
Personally, I prefer the Stoney Indian Pass route too. The Northern Highline is fairly rugged because it has to avoid a number of cliff bands–you end up constantly ascending and descending, something like 3,000' gained and lost from Fifty Mountain to Granite Park. When you drop low, you can't see over Flattop Mountain to the main draw of the Livingston Range. The plus though is that its' secluded, has lots of wildlife, and the short detour to Ahern Pass is pretty phenomenal. Stoney Indian is one of my favorite passes–it's on par with Boulder easily. However, once you drop into the Belly River drainage, it gets brushy fast. That probably won't be as big an issue in September, but in July and August, the cow parsnip can completely cover the trail up to my chest (I'm 5'11"). Depending on the snow (which is high for us this year), it might be a week or two behind or it could be completely gone.
One alternate to think about (and my recommendation) is to go from Elizabeth Lake and over Red Gap Pass. It's another less-traveled area, and I really enjoy it a lot. When you get to Many, you'd have to walk or hitch a couple of miles to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, but that shouldn't be too big of a problem if you have a pack on your back and trail dirt to show for it. People are pretty willing to give you a ride if necessary.Mar 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm #2085240
Glad you guys liked the report; we had a blast on the trip.
We took the belly river route in July so conditions were fine.
Definitely agree stay at Boulder Pass or Hole in the wall instead of Brown Pass. The Brown Pass campground was nothing memorable at all but Boulder Pass and Hole in the wall were both great. I would also agree that the Stoney Indian Pass Trail and Ptarmigan trail was one of my favorite parts of the trip so if you can swing that into your route I would recommend it.
From Apgar, we paid a shuttle to drive us to Polebridge and then hitched a ride once we were in the park to the Bowman Lake trailhead.Mar 23, 2014 at 9:11 am #2085383
@curtpetersonLocale: Pacific Northwest
Thanks for your insights. Super helpful!
The jaunt out to Boulder Pass is what's messing up the itinerary. I keep reading that it's the premier spot in the Northern GNP so we're trying to make it happen, but it screws up the loop with our limited days-off window.
Do you agree that it's "can't miss"? How is the 10+ miles from Goat Haunt to Boulder Pass? Scenic hiking or is it all about that Hole In the Wall to Boulder Pass area?
Reluctantly thinking about abandoning it altogether and slowing down a bit and enjoying the "main" loop more instead of running hard to get more in. If we did that, we'd probably go: Many Glacier>Ptarmigan Trail>Stoney Indian Pass Trail>Waterton Valley Trail>Highline Trail all the way to Logan Pass. We'd have time for side trips and fishing with this plan. Boulder looks amazing, though!Mar 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm #2085542
Dang fine pictures and trip report! Taking the family there this summer for some car camping but hope to return in the next couple of years for a proper backpacking trip.Mar 24, 2014 at 6:08 am #2085615
If memory serves me correctly, a good majority of the hike from Goat Haunt to Boulder Pass is in the woods. However, there is a beautiful waterfall at Lake Francis, and beautiful views of the valley after Hawksbill. Then once you get to Brown Pass it is open views the entire way to Hole in the Wall. If you can squeeze it in your trip definitely do but it sounds like you would have a pretty awesome trip regardless considering you have Ptarmigan tunnel, Stoney Indian etc. etc.Mar 24, 2014 at 9:23 am #2085656
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
I'd pick Boulder or Hole-in-the-Wall over Brown's Pass any day. I've camped at all three. The scenery at the latter two is absolutely superior (even the view from the lowrider toilet at Boulder is world class).
There was a problem deer at Brown's pass that was so salt-addicted that it was literally trying to lick my quilt WHILE I was sleeping in it! I had to go into the forest and collect enough branches to build a barrier around my tarp so that the deer was forced to keep it's distance.
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