Glacier: Belly River to the Loop, September 9-12

We knew that since we would be getting walk-in backcountry permits, our plan to do the Northern Loop starting at Many Glacier would need to be flexible as far as campsites.  What we didn’t really plan on was an entire section of the trail (most of the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail) being closed due to bear activity.  After going over alternative options with the backcountry office at Apgar and getting our “itinerary not recommended” stamp of approval (for a pretty conservative itinerary…not sure what it takes to get a recommended one), we dropped the truck at Many Glacier and barely caught the one shuttle for the day that went up to the customs station at the border.  It was after 3 by the time we were on the Belly River trail headed for Lake Elizabeth.  It was super hazy from fires and I was a bit excited by the forecast of rain and wind for the night (forecasted to be 50mph gusts) to clear things out.  We ran into a ranger on the trail who warned us about the wind but seemed most interested in his espresso Gu.

In retrospect we were glad that we were forced into taking this section of trail.  It was totally different than the rest of the trip.  We would have otherwise missed out on some of the impressive diversity of the park.

More haze on the Belly River trail

By the time we arrived at Lake Elizabeth, it was strangely warm and starting to get windy.  The lake was spectacular, especially with colors starting to change.

The campsites at Lake Elizabeth were the most protected of any of the sites we ended up staying, but it was still extremely windy.  It didn’t rain and was still a bit hazy in the morning, which made for a nice sunrise.

The water at Cosley Lake could have been from a beach in Zanzibar, but any balmy beach comparisons stop there…

After the smoke and and a morning of hiking through trees, we were excited to gain some elevation and get some views.  We had a combination of rain, hail, and snow all the way up Stoney Indian Pass.

This pass was pretty breathtaking.  Also making things interesting were a couple short periods of time where it was windy enough that none of the water from the waterfalls was even hitting the ground; it was all just being blown out into a mist.

We were getting pelted pretty good at the top of the pass…

We woke up to snow and cold.  And a almost a little too postcard/HDRish scene on the lake.  This is straight out of the camera, I swear.

More sunrise splendor…

In addition to the change to our first day’s plans, the other hitch was that the Granite Park campsite was full for every night that we were in the park.  We reserved a site on Flattop Mtn., but knowing that the Highline Trail would probably be quite a bit more scenic, we considered just not camping the next night and taking the Highline from Stoney to Many Glacier.  This would be a long day, but we thought it might be worth it and decided to get up early and decide when we got to Fifty Mth.  The morning was so cold, wet, and gorgeous that an early start ended up being wishful thinking.

Autumn warming up with the coffee.

Later in the morning it cleared up nicely and we got the crystal clear air we’d hoped for.  It was still pretty chilly for the rest of the day.

More changing colors on the way up to Fifty Mtn.

Maybe it’s the desert lover in me, but I always get really excited to be in open tundra.  We both agreed that this was our favorite section of the trip.

Flattop Mountain had been burned, which was another unique landscape that we would have missed out on with the original plan.  I suppose it might not be this pretty the rest of the year…

Lots of great grasses in Glacier

Bowing trees

Another excellent sunset

It got cold this night.  I had a full Nalgene in our SL2  next to my head that froze almost all the way through.  We later learned that it had got down to 26 degrees in St. Mary, so probably a few degrees cooler where we were.  It was a good reminder that it’s time to wash my quilt.

Frosty Beargrass in the morning

We considered jumping onto the Swiftcurrent Pass trail in the morning, but that would probably take most of the day and the afternoon was already earmarked for beer drinking and napping in the grass at Many Glacier, so we opted to hike out at the Loop and hitch back to Many.

Almost up to the Loop

It took a three-legged hitch to get back to Many Glacier (Loop>St. Mary>Babb>Many), the first of which was in the bed of a truck–an excellent way to experience Going to the Sun.   Despite the route changes it was a fantastic trip, and as I mentioned before, the changes forced us to see parts of the park we would have otherwise missed.  We’ll count the sections we didn’t get to do as reason to come back soon (as if it’s needed…).


6 thoughts on “Glacier: Belly River to the Loop, September 9-12

  1. Oh. My! Brendan and Dona Otono, you have outdone yourselves. What AMAZING photos! I really can’t imagine freezing my tail off like that, but it might be worth it to see those sights. I am in awe of your adventurousness and talent in photography. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great photos, we were a day and a half off from crossing paths; we only got rained on hiking out Kintla when ya’ll got snow going up to Stoney.

    I think the Flattop trail is actually better than the Highline. The flowers in July are outrageous.

  3. Thank you for sharing the highlights of your trip. Amazing photos and it looks like a nice light gear setup. A little weather is always nice to bring out the colors in nature.

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