As close as Glacier is, it still took about 3 hours to get to Kintla Lake, where our trip took off, due to slow and winding dirt roads. We first stopped at Bowman lake; this would be where we end our trip and where I drop off my car. Right before we reached Bowman, we got up close and personal (in our car) with a beautiful grizzly bear. We checked him off our list of wildlife to see, and had a newly sparked energy for the trip ahead.
After exploring around Bowman lake for a while, we left my car and headed up to Kintla… the next time I’d see my beautiful Ruby Sue would be once we made it all the way through our trip! So with one last look through the valley that held Bowman Lake, we headed off to the start of our adventure.
Our first hike was pretty easy, just 6 miles to our first campground. At the trailhead, a man noticed our huge packs and asked where we were headed – turns out it was to the same place he was! We discovered that he and his wife were taking kayaks to the campground, a mode of transportation my dad and I were a bit jealous of.
After a nice 6 miles of rolling hills and beautiful lake views, we made it to camp. We chose our site, and decided to “ice” our feet in the cold, cold water of Kintla Lake. The next day we had about 11 miles and over 3,200 feet of elevation to gain… numbers that sounded intimidating, but didn’t mean much to us yet. We ate dinner and chatted with the couple who came on kayaks, and it was a beautiful night. After hanging our food, appreciating the sunset, and setting up camp, we settled in for our first night.
I woke up to the sound of rustling bushes. Lots of rustling. Now, this campground had a “bear frequenting” status according to the Glacier National Park website, and I was already hyperaware because I know how many bears are out there… so after a few minutes I convinced myself it was a bear.
I woke up my dad and we both listened – him making jokes, and me thinking we were gonna die. Eventually, we realized the sound wasn’t really moving, so we ventured a look outside the tent, and discovered that our wild imaginations had turned a squirrel dropping pinecones into a giant, hungry grizzly bear. We laughed at ourselves, packed up camp, ate our trusty oatmeal breakfast, and headed for Upper Kintla Lake.
The hike to our midpoint was beautiful. We saw glaciers, gorgeous rays of light, a lake filled only with bull trout (an endangered native species in Montana), and so many fall colors. This section was mostly rolling hills, but our legs were tired and it was beginning to rain. We took a break at Upper Kintla Lake, and then headed 6 more miles to Boulder Pass where we would stay the night.
The hike up to Boulder Pass was brutal. We had gained almost no elevation from the first 5 miles, so we had all 3,200 feet to gain in these next 6 miles. It was all uphill, all the time, no breaks. We stopped and rested quite frequently, but our legs were wearing out a lot faster than we had hoped.
This hike was absolutely stunning, even though it felt horrendous. The last couple of miles felt like hundreds, but we made it to the top with daylight to spare, and got to stay in one of the most spectacular campgrounds in the United States and use the world’s best toilet. That hike was rough, to say the least, and it took a huge toll on my dad since he hadn’t been hiking all summer like I had. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I’d improved since moving here, and we knew it was all downhill from here on out, literally!
The next morning our spirits were lifted. We only had 4.5 miles to do that day, and at the end of it was Hole in the Wall! It was a breathtakingly beautiful hike down into the bowl where camp was, and we explored the hanging valley before any other hikers arrived. It started to rain, however, and so we hung out under our tarp and looked at the map, and then later set up the tarp in the cooking area so everyone could eat dinner and stay dry.
That day was my favorite day. It was casual and relaxing, and the views were unbelievable. It felt so amazing to know that you have to work so hard to be able to enjoy a hidden gem like this one. It’s not a place that just anyone could drive into and take photos of. We had to carry our lives on our back for 3 days and hike in 22 long miles to get there. It was an incredible feeling.
The next day was another long one, 9 miles down to the Bowman Lake backcountry campground. It was stunning views of Hole in the Wall, Thunderbird Mountain, Brown’s Pass, and Bowman Lake for the first few hours, and the rest of the hike went through dense shrubs and forest, with a couple of (dried up) river crossings.
We fell back into our bear calling habits on the trail, and enjoyed the peace and stillness of the forest. Along the hike we met a man with a video camera who we later found out was a fairly successful youtuber, and it turns out that we were featured in his newest video.
At the Bowman Lake campground, we reconnected with the group we were with at Hole in the Wall, the youtuber, and also met a new group of friends just starting their trip. They were all parents, but they meet somewhere different every year to do a trip like this one, and we all sang songs around the campfire together and told some incredible stories.
Our last day was an early morning and some stealthy (but unsuccessful) moose tracking during the 7 mile hike out to the parking lot at Bowman Lake. We arrived at the car, I soaked my feet in the lake, and we made our way out to Polebridge for some famous pastries and chocolate milk.
This was the trip of a lifetime. I am so lucky to say that I have backpacked in Glacier National Park, and to Hole in the Wall of all places. After hiking nearly 40 miles, I learned more about my strength, my weaknesses, and the natural world around me. By the time we finished this trip, summer was very much over in Northwest Montana, and Glacier had already closed many access points due to winter weather conditions. This park is a true wonder of nature, and I feel so lucky to have experienced as much of it as I did during this amazing, short summer of 2018.