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.
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.
After all the day’s walking we ate a hearty meal and then promptly fell asleep. Glacier had already rewarded us with some incredible landscapes, but we were just getting started.
Day 2: Upper Kintla Lake Backcountry Camp to Boulder Pass Backcountry Camp (5.6 miles)
Our second day in the backcountry featured a 3000 foot climb. During the climb we were rewarded not just with fantastic views, but also a variety of wildlife. Early on we noticed large bear prints in the mud, complete with claw marks. We did not encounter the bear, but given its size, we were fine with that.
Climbing higher, we caught glimpses of voles scurrying into their burrows as we approached. They were so quick we could barely identify them. Later we were thrilled to spot a creature we had never seen before: an ermine. The ermine is a type of weasel, and though cute, it’s quite vicious. When especially hungry, ermines can kill and eat mammals much larger than themselves, like rabbits. This ermine just seemed curious to see us, poking its head out of various holes in the stone wall it called home.
Larch trees also made their appearance. Larches are one of the few conifers whose needles turn colors and drop in autumn. When thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012, we had been blown away by their vibrant yellow needles in Washington State. We were too early to see Glacier’s larches at the peak of their color, but we could see hints of yellow appearing in the needles.
Finally we passed above treeline into an exposed rocky area. Small stacks of rocks (cairns) guided us across rock slabs to the Boulder Pass campsite, which is the highest in Glacier National Park. We set up our tent, then explored the rest of the site. The pit toilet featured the best view of any toilet we’d ever encountered. Massive glacier-covered peaks rose to the left, and in front spread the valley we’d just come from, 3000 feet below.
After we got situated, Chris decided to climb another thousand feet up Boulder Peak.
The view up there was even more expansive. To the north, Canada came into view. To the southwest, Pocket Lake rested at the bottom of a deep bowl. Looking back at the campsite, the tent was a tiny bright dot at the base of a towering rock wall.
Chris made it back down in time for us to share a lovely sunset.
Day 3: Boulder Pass Backcountry Camp to Upper Kintla Lake Backcountry Camp (5.6 miles)
The next morning, Chris got up early to hike farther east past Boulder Pass. He continued almost to the Hole in the Wall trail junction. The views here were intense. Rows of jagged peaks framed a startlingly deep glacial valley. It was amazing that a trail could even be constructed in such steep, complicated terrain.
After getting his fill of views and photographs, Chris returned to the campsite. There we enjoyed another hour in the Boulder Pass area. The local marmots and pika were great fun to watch as they fattened up for winter.
Though it was hard to leave the most scenic pit toilet ever, we were scheduled to spend the night at the Upper Kintla Lake Camp. We packed up and enjoyed the easier hike back down the mountain. When we reached the bottom, we set up camp and ate in the designated food preparation area.
The lake proved an ideal spot to watch the sunset. We sat on the small beach enjoying this peaceful, beautiful place.
Then Anna broke the silence, proposing to Chris with a ring she’d made from a blade of grass. Chris said yes! He had the same thing in mind and had taken a ring along on the trip as well. He made a quick trip to the tent, brought back the ring, and gave it to Anna.
We stayed on the beach, soaking up the moment. After a while the moon set behind a tall peak, silhouetting pine trees on the ridge before it disappeared. Only a glow in the sky remained.
Day 4: Upper Kintla Lake Backcountry Camp to Kintla Lake Trailhead (11.6 miles)
Newly engaged, we very much enjoyed an early morning by the lake.
We wanted to linger, but had to get going so we could make the 11 miles back to the trailhead. When we reached the burned area between Upper Kintla and Kintla Lake, we found a tree with a beautiful pattern carved and burned into it. Fire and woodpeckers had together created a sculpture.
Ending the trip at the Kintla Lake trailhead, we were tired but elated. After spending the last five years of our life together, including city life and a complete hike of Pacific Crest Trail, we knew our relationship was rock solid. Glacier was the perfect place to make our commitment to each other stronger and more public. We are very excited about spending the rest of our lives together!