Sunday, September 12, 2021

Hiking Glacier National Park: Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Pass Loop (Part 1)

As I sit down to reflect and write about hiking the spectacular Dawson Pass/Pitamakan Pass Loop in Montana's Glacier National Park, I still feel a lingering sense of awe. This hike was different than my usual treks in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. 

There were plenty of big mountains, big views, and big sky. The sense of space and chiseled (rather than Cascade craggy) mountains dominated. Despite a smudgy blanket of wildfire smoke that subdued the views somewhat, it was still all that and more.

With so many shots to share, this is the first of a few posts about this early September road trip/backpack. While many hikers do this 16- to 19-mile loop as a day hike now, some of us opt for a more leisurely trek, with a few days on the trail. Yes, I'm old school, but I don't want to rush through paradise.

Road Tripping

You don't want to hear much about the car troubles I had as I drove east from Seattle to meet friends north of Spokane. I'm grateful for AAA and managed to barely make it to a truck stop in George, Washington, where I charged up my dead smartphone to call for help since my clutch died. Enough about that.

After a good night sleep at the home of my friends' relatives north of Spokane, we took off mid-morning for the 5+ hour drive across northern Idaho and on to East Glacier. My friends Mark and Andy splurged on a big room for us at the historic Glacier Park Lodge, vintage 1913, before we started our 3-day backpack.

Glacier Park Lodge lobby

I love these big old lodges built for guests traveling by rail. This lodge was along the Great Northern Railway, and you can still arrive by train today.

We had dinner and breakfast in the lodge dining room, where the food was tasty and the portions were very generous. I gave half my breakfast to Andy, and it was plenty for two.

Day 1 on the Trail

We needed to be up and out early to pick up our two-night permit (pre-reserved) at the Two Medicine Lake ranger station when it opened at 8 a.m. It was fun to chat with some of the other hikers in line ahead of us at the ranger station. One middle-aged woman was thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) solo and down to her last 3 days. 

Two Medicine Lake    

We hopped on the historic shuttle boat that traverses the lake to the trailhead, and enjoyed the gorgeous morning as we cruised across the lake. (Some hikers start near the ranger station and hike an additional 3 miles along the lakeshore to the trailhead, but we opted for the scenic boat ride. See the short video below for a taste of the ride.) The boat is on the National Register of Historic Places and was originally built in 1926.


Historic Sinopah shuttle boat

All the other passengers dispersed pretty quickly up a few shorter trails as we slathered on sunscreen, shed layers, and threw on our backpacks. Our first night destination was No Name Lake, a short warm-up hike only about 2.2 miles away and 900 feet higher.

While hiking up a somewhat steep trail with a heavy-ish backpack can be a slog, I tend to do better on the uphills because they're easier on my aging feet and knees. We stopped once for a water/snack break and to enjoy the increasingly spectacular views.

Looking back down to Two Medicine Lake where we started.


Our best weather was this first day, with clear blue skies and mild temps. Since it was such a short hike, we arrived at the lake by early afternoon and had our pick of the three campsites.

And then we chilled all afternoon after setting up tents. Thankfully, this late in the season mosquitoes and other pesky bugs aren't a problem. 

No Name is a lovely alpine lake tucked close against the base of a steep cliff wall that juts upward abruptly a few thousand feet. Mark spotted a couple snowy white mountain goats lounging on some steep scree at the toe of the cliff, far above.

No Name Lake

We'd been warned to be on the lookout for grizzly bears and carried bear spray wherever we went. So when we heard a loud huff and something crashing through the brush coming our direction, I got a quick rush of adrenaline.

Soon two BIG moose came trotting toward us and then split around the three of us standing close together, passing within less than 10 feet on either side. These beasts can do serious harm if annoyed, so we (outwardly) kept calm.

After dinner when we were sitting on the beach at the lake, fellow campers Maggie and Rowan yelled to us that the moose were headed our way (four of them this time). I looked up to see a moose headed right toward me about 20 feet away, so we quickly scrambled sideways and back to camp, keeping an eye on them the whole way.

As I lay in my tent at night after dark trying to fall asleep, I heard moose thrashing about loudly in the brush, getting closer and closer.  

It was cool to hear the clacking of their antlers together as they jousted, but I really couldn't sleep until they wandered away. Then I slept a good sleep in all that mountain fresh air (thanks in part to a light warm sleeping bag and inflatable mattress).

In the early light the next morning, the cliff behind the lake glowed pink as the sun was rising, and I scrambled out to snap a few shots.

After a quick breakfast and packing up, we set off for what would be a much longer, more dramatic day ahead. You can read the second post here to join us as we hike up to Dawson and Pitamakin Passes.

 Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Colorful stones and a hint of autumn at No Name Lake












Sylvia Bowman said...

Can a moose see well at night? I'd have been terrified that they would blunder onto the tent.

Karen L said...

Love your trip already!! Thanks for doing the blog Jill. What a beautiful place.

Anne Johnson said...

Lovely photos, since my knees would punish me if I tried this I am glad for the photo trip.

jill said...

Sylvia, I don't know about their night vision but I assume it's better than mine. I positioned my tent as close to some trees as possible to shield myself as best I could!

Karen, thanks so glad you enjoyed the post. It was indeed a great trip!

Anne, thanks! More to come soon.

Colleen said...

Wow...what a epic camp trip. It looks stunning! Love, love Glacier. Enjoy Jill.

Anonymous said...

So lucky that the moose showed up!