Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Pitamakan: On this day, a nice place for a nap

Editor | July 3, 2024 5:00 AM

The nice thing about Glacier National Park’s new Wilderness Backcountry Permit system is it lets you see what’s available in advance, so even if you didn’t book a campsite back in March, you still can nab a site (if one’s available) several days in early.

The system isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than standing in line first thing in the morning trying to get a walk-up permit.

As such, we booked our camp at Morningstar Lake a few days in advance and by happenstance, ended up having the place to ourselves, not that we were in camp for very long anyway. The camp was just a place to drop weight as we headed up to Pitamakan Pass. The original plan was to climb McClintock Peak at Cut Bank Pass, but my post-surgery legs just aren’t there yet, so when we got to Pitamakan, I took a nap.

A lot of folks do the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop in a day, but that’s about 18 miles or so, which means you have to keep moving. The way we did it, there was plenty of time for a nap, plus the wind was blowing just enough to keep the bugs at bay.

We saw some cool stuff, including a grizzly bear from about 125 yards out, which is just about the perfect distance to watch a bear. There were also a lot of flowers and a lot of hikers just starting their long journey on the Continental Divide Trail. They all looked clean and shiny, which made me smile. I bet they won’t look that clean by the time they get to Mexico, I ran into a couple of CDTers heading north a few years ago in the Bob Marshall. By then they were almost done. They were the filthiest adults I’ve ever seen, but happy. They’d been on the trail only God knows how long.

One kid I ran into had a dog with him. He claimed it was a service dog, so he could have it in the backcountry.  I always thought service dogs were well-trained dogs that were leaders. This dog (a big fluffy husky looking thing, that I bet would be absolutely miserable in the New Mexico desert) ran behind him and was chasing after every ground squirrel it could.

I’ve never met a grizzly bear that said to itself, “Oh, that’s a service dog, well I won’t charge you then.” 

At least he had the dog on a leash. He was a pleasant enough fellow, so who knows? Glacier does allow certified service dogs, though it also warns about grizzly bears and other hazards and you have to pack out their poop, according to park regulations.

The next morning we awoke to the pit-pat of raindrops. We broke camp quickly at 5:30 a.m. and we still didn’t beat the front as a deluge of rain fell shortly thereafter. Even Gore-Texed up we were getting wet. 

I’m just glad we weren’t doing the CDT, particularly with a big fluffy dog.

If you go the round trip is about 20 miles, with 2,600 feet of elevation gain and loss.