[West Glacier, MT]
We woke up to a beautiful blue sky dotted with puffy clouds this morning. We were excited to have a nice sunny day today because we wanted to finally go into Glacier National Park and try one of the many gorgeous hikes this park has to offer.
Our AirBnB included breakfast, and let me tell you, having breakfast here is like eating at Grandma’s house. All the guests congregate in one of the many dining areas in this huge house. One of those even had a piano, and we found one of the guests, a little girl of maybe 7 or 8, playing on it this morning. A staff of 3 or 4 people has been cooking up scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes and waffles. Olivia and I both have been going for the bacon and waffles first; we would then top the waffles with homemade huckleberry jam, and you won’t hear anything else from us after that but humming and awing.
We knew we wanted to do a fairly good hike today, just didn’t know which one to pick. We headed to the park’s Western visitor center, where we picked up some maps and talked to the rangers. With the Eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun road still closed due to a fire, we had to pick a hike on this side of the park. We settled on Apgar lookout. The trailhead to Apgar is at the terminus of a 2-mile unpaved road, where we got to get our first sight of wildlife – a deer was munching on bushes close to the road, and didn’t seem nearly as scared by us as we thought she would be. The one-lane wooden bridge we had to drive over added to the excitement.
The Apgar Lookout trail climbs 1900 ft over 3.6 miles. It begins with a gentle walk but quickly starts ascending on 3 long switchbacks.
A 2003 fire burnt many trees here; the wind subsequently blew them down, and now the trail provides great views towards West Glacier. Most of the climb occurs on the switchbacks. The last part of the trail follows the ridge, which can have snow as late as June.
At the top, panoramic views of Lake McDonald and Glacier’s peaks take whatever breadth you have left from the climb. You can see all 6 peaks taller than 10,000 ft here. Today, many of them were shrouded in clouds, which I think added to the beauty of it all.
The descent was still challenging even though our heart rates were no longer racing. We were glad to be done in the early afternoon though, and spent a good portion of the afternoon preparing for the following day and just relaxing at our AirBnB.
For dinner, we went to the historic Belton Chalet. The Belton opened in 1910, the same year Glacier was declared a national park, and began welcoming guests who were arriving in the area via the Great Northern Railway. By 1929, two other chalets opened nearby, in East Glacier and Many Glacier. With the added competition and the Great Depression looming, the Belton Chalet entered a state of steady decline. Over the next 50 years, it changed hands numerous times. Today, the chalet has been restored to its previous glory and it houses a restaurant and a tap room. Our meal there was delicious. The highlights for me were the Huckleberry martinis, the bison meatloaf wrapped in bacon and the dessert – smores pie, which was an amazing chocolate pie in a graham cracker crust with melted marshmallows on top.
I also got to meet a fellow Bulgarian! Olivia and I were trying to figure out the accent of one of the waitresses, which sounded very Eastern European to me. The girl turned out to be Slovak, and Olivia commented how weird it was that foreigners end up in such a remote place to work. I told her it was common for Bulgarian college students to come in the US for the summer to work. They would often end up in hard-to-fill spots in obscure places just like this one. Next thing we know, the Slovak girl motioned over another gal, who turned out to be Bulgarian! Small world.
Montana weather lived up to its unpredictable nature this evening. We were sitting in our deck room enjoying the view out the window, with the sun still fairly high on the horizon to the West, even though it was already well past 8 pm. Then, it suddenly started raining – a gentle but steady mist that lasted about 10 minutes. Before we knew it though, it was over, the dark clouds had moved on farther East, and a beautiful evening unfolded before our eyes.
We were glad for the leisurely second half of the day today, as tomorrow we get up very early to go back to the East side of the park. We cannot leave Glacier without actually seeing a glacier, and that’s what’s on the agenda for tomorrow.