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Welcome NOLSies! Thanks for stopping by. You might enjoy:
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) publishes a magazine with a circulation of 70,000. We’re happy to share that our Pacific Crest Trail thru hike story graces the cover of the Fall 2013 issue. The issue also contains a glowing review of our PCT photography book.
Read the cover article (pages 16-19) and book review (page 21) by clicking below:
A PDF of the entire issue is also available.
Mother and baby mountain goats
We rarely hike a trail more than once. We only make an exception to this rule if the trail is either near our home or extra spectacular. Glacier National Park’s Hidden Lake Trail is definitely the latter. We first hiked the trail in 2010. It was the dream day hike: epic views, short mileage, and lots of wildlife. We decided it was time to relive that experience this year, and we’re glad we did.
The trail begins at Logan Pass, behind the visitor center. The amazing views start immediately. Clements Mountain with glaciers at its base dominates the scene. Alpine meadows spread out on either side of the boardwalk path.
We scanned the cliffs looking for mountain goats and bighorn sheep. No luck there. Instead we spotted a weasel dashing under the boardwalk and into its hole 20 feet away. You never know what you’ll find!
After a short one-and-a-half mile walk, the trail reached the Hidden Lake Overlook. The lake and surrounding peaks were unbelievably beautiful.
Glacier National Park’s Hidden Meadow Trail lived up to its name. The trailhead was about 3 miles south of the Polebridge ranger station on a small dirt road. It was so well hidden that we drove right past it. After backtracking, we discovered that that when heading south, the only sign was blocked by trees.
Evidently nobody else found the trailhead, as we didn’t encounter anyone on the hike. We had heard this trail offered good wildlife viewing opportunities. It was especially promising that no one was around to scare off the local creatures.
The trail led us through a forest which had burned about 25 years ago. The burn had destroyed almost all the old trees, but new trees were growing dense and strong in their place. Everything seemed quite dry, which made us think about how enticing the moist meadow would be to the wildlife.
This is a short trail, only 1.2 miles each direction, and we soon reached the grassy meadow. In the clearing, we were delighted to find a large pond with swans paddling about.
In addition to the backpacking trip in Glacier National Park on which we got engaged, we went on several day hikes in the area. Wedding planning temporarily delayed our posts, but now we plan to catch the blog up on all the cool stuff we saw in Montana.
On an afternoon in mid-September, we headed out on the Trail of the Cedars, a flat boardwalk and paved path through beautiful old cedars and hemlocks. Walking a foot or two off the ground on the boardwalk paths was fun, and offered a slightly different perspective than we typically experience walking through the forest. The trunks were huge and the canopy towered far above. The trees were so massive they had created their own ecosystem, much more moist and shaded than other areas in the park. Ferns fanned out over the forest floor.
Near the Avalanche Gorge Bridge, we turned off onto the smaller Avalanche Lake Trail. After a short climb up, we peered down into the narrow Avalanche Gorge. Fast-flowing water had sculpted the rock walls into all kinds of beautiful shapes.
As we continued the trees grew smaller and denser. Green moss carpeted everything.
View of Agassiz Glacier from the Boulder Pass Trail
Glacier National Park is one of our favorite places on the planet. It had been three years since our last trip to the park and we decided it was time to visit again. Apparently lots of other people felt the same way, because even in mid-September, we found backcountry campsites were popular and permits were sparse. Fortunately we managed to reserve campsites for a 4 day trip starting at Kintla Lake and heading up to Boulder Pass, then back down to the lake. The trip ended up being a very memorable one!
Day 1: Kintla Lake Trailhead to Upper Kintla Lake Backcountry Camp (11.6 miles)
We began our journey walking around the edge of Kintla Lake. The trail followed the shoreline at first, then broke away, climbing uphill. When the trail rejoined the lake, we gawked at the dramatic peaks surrounding us. It was a gorgeous day. The sharp laughs of loons echoed across the calm lake.
Anna at Kintla Lake
After a few miles of walking we reached the end of the lake. The trail continued through a burned area. Most of the pines had been killed by the flames, but many of these dead trees were still standing. To our left loomed the Boundary Mountains, so named because they sit on the border with Canada.
Eventually the burned area ended and we reached Upper Kintla Lake. This pristine lake is contained by massive peaks towering thousands of feet above.
For our first trip back into the wilderness, we drove up Poudre Canyon, then set up a base camp just off Pingree Park Road. Dispersed car camping is allowed in that area, which meant we could choose the spot that suited us best, no permit required.
After erecting the tent, we marveled at the starry night sky. Bright city skies make it easy to forget the enormous quantity of stars floating up there all the time. The sounds and smells of the forest enveloped us, simple but rich. The experience reminded us why visiting wild places is so important.
The next morning, sunlight peeked through the trees and gradually woke us up. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while watching squirrels play and chatter.
An excited squirrel
We drove a short ways to the Emmaline Lake trailhead and headed up the trail with small daypacks. We were in great spirits, happy to be back in the mountains.
Day 36: Birch Spring Gap (Mile 171.5)-Spence Field Shelter (Mile 182.5); 11 miles
The crazy hail storm had passed and a variety of birds were greeting the new day. Take a listen to a minute of what we heard:
Unfortunately North Star’s painful headache still hounded her. The dizziness she’d been experiencing for the past week intruded as well. Bending over to pack gear made her head spin, forcing her to take several sitting breaks. We were dismayed that her symptoms were not improving.
The trail followed the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, taking us past beautiful old trees. All the recent rainfall nourished the wildflowers, known as “spring beauties,” which carpeted the ground. Shutterbug enjoyed the views, but North Star’s mold headache was so powerful that it made walking very difficult for her. The pain meant she couldn’t enjoy any of the beauty around her.
We kept walking. Fog blew in, at times condensing into rain.
We reached the Spence Field shelter where we cooked up a hearty dinner of couscous and pinto bean flakes. From our tent we heard rumbles of distant thunder. Though North Star was tuckered out she had trouble sleeping because of her headache.
Day 32: Nantahala Outdoor Center (Mile 137.5)-North of Simp Gap (Mile 149); 11.5 miles
The Nantahala River flows through the bottom of a deep gorge. In the morning we began a 3000 foot climb up and out of that gorge.
We passed lizards sunning themselves beside the trail.
Much of the climb was forested, but a break in the trees allowed us see the river and Nantahala Outdoor Center below. We had already gained some serious altitude.