We left off with Part III of the Western Omelette with this…
—Disclaimer: the first few paragraphs just cover car problems. Skip ahead for actual adventure stuff and amazing pictures—
A classic southern (Arkansas?) firefighter stopped his truck and took time out of his family vacation to offer help and advice, and reset the car by unscrewing the battery terminals… and we were able to chug along (downhill) to a campsite. So we spent the next day hanging around Jackson, applying literal boatloads of aloe to our sunburnt faces and drinking local brews while we waited for the auto shop to solve the mystery of the stalling car. Long story (about 8 hours) short, the mechanic spent the entire day looking at, calling us in to discuss, replacing parts for, and most likely (when we weren’t looking) kicking it. To no avail. He gave us a diagnosis of “well… you’re probably safe to drive on it if you’re careful.” Although that wasn’t the answer we were hoping for, it did come with a price tag we could swallow: he didn’t charge us anything, after putting in 8 hours, tuning things, cleaning stuff, and buying parts. So, if you’re ever in Jackson and want a stand-up, honest dude taking care of your car, talk to Roy.
So, our best bet was to ignore the problem. Classic coping mechanism. And it worked! For like 5 miles. Until we had to drive straight up a mountain at a 14% grade. The car stalled on us, but we were able to pull over to the side of the road and get the car started again…only top stop in another 100 feet. A sheriff pulled up behind us (spoiler alert: not the last time Andy would be pulled over this trip). We convinced him that we didn’t need a tow truck, and that if we could just get to the next turnaround we could coast downhill back into town. He agreed to let us try, but warned that he couldn’t keep having us break down on the two lane mountain highway: he’d have to shoot us if we failed again. With his words echoing in our head, we started the car and crawled to the turnaround point, then coasted back into town. The sheriff followed us all the way, gun trained on us, to make sure we followed through.
Once in town, we hit up a hardware store to get one of those car-computer things that resets the check engine light code, which essentially gave the car an “on/off” switch. What else could we do? We decided to do the smart thing: continue to ignore the problem and try to get out of town by taking the only other route. This less mountainy route had one problem: it wasn’t less mountainy. The mountains just didn’t come into view until we were well into the middle of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park (ever heard of it?). This was one of the most nerve racking drives you could imagine. Let’s review the situation: We had no real plans on where to stay, it was getting dark, we were in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, no cell service, car breaking down on steep uphills. We had a system though: the car would stall, I would throw it into neutral and pull off to the side of the mountain road, Andy would hit the hazard lights, and I would punch in the “clear codes” button sequence. Viola. Each stall only cost us about 10 seconds of time but probably took years off our lives due to anxiety.
We kept our spirits up by taking in the beautiful scenery of Yellowstone and by blasting Frank Turner (our favorite British folk/punk singer). Many hours, geysers, and buffalo later, we arrived out the other side of Yellowstone! Hurray! Oh wait it’s now 9pm and we have nowhere to sleep. Might as well drive an hour into Idaho, then pull over in a National Forest and sleep 50 yards off the side of a highway, right? That’s legal-ish? Okay so one of us thought it was legal but we may have made a small mistake because we woke up within sight of the road and within sight of some sort of house or walled structure or something. We were only there for maybe 7 hours, including when we ate dinner (hummus and triscuits) while sitting in the car, went straight to bed after setting up, and we packed up really quickly in the morning with no breakfast.
We decided it would be silly to simply drive through Yellowstone without even a day hike. So we day hiked. 7 miles out and back up a mountainside (Purple Mountain), provided some windy and freezing cold views of the park. But first we had to battle the hour of cars lined up outside of the park waiting to take advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend. That place can get quite busy, apparently! Something about being in the top 5 most popular national parks in the USA? Idk.
After our Yellowstone hike, we made a beeline for Helena, Montana to meet up with a Jenni and Ryan and beer. We drank some beer and I remember a pizza and more beer.
We hit up a state park late at night to camp, cause Andy and I are allergic to sleeping indoors and I don’t think Jenni and Ryan had enough room for us anyway. We got brunch the next morning, went shopping for food for the next week, and shot straight north to Glacier National Park!
The drive was a straight shot north, with flat land stretching far off into the distant mountains on the horizon, and we were high spirited and had our favorite tunes blasting. Our car was jam packed with food and camping gear strewn about, but it was about to fill up even more. On our way through the small town of Augusta, we encountered a hitchhiker. A Frenchman, as it turned out. Since he was skinny and we knew we could take him in a fight, we decided to pick him up. We figured it was the least we could do, after we had both hitchhiked thousands of miles last year in New Zealand. We didn’t have room to pick him up, but we made room. We discussed life, our passion for travel, racism, America, cheese, and a lot more. Nobody murdered each other, so it was a good ride! We had to part ways a few hours later in the town of Browning: he was heading into Glacier at a different entrance, so we dropped him off close by so he could hitch another ride into the park.
With Billy in our rear-view mirror, we hit the last road to Glacier and stopped in St. Mary for the night at the KOA. We needed to shower and we needed to have some drinks and play horseshoes and plan our next excursion. We were heading into Glacier with only one plan: to make our plans up as we went along.
The next morning we packed up our packs, not sure what to expect from the magnificent Glacier National Park. In the Tetons, we needed snowshoes and ice axes… Glacier was many states north and we were told that the main road still had sections that were under dozens of feet of snow. So. Yeah. How do you pack for that? We drove over to the visitor center and talked to a super unhelpful ranger who literally couldn’t recommend a single hike in the park. She said, “idk, they are all pretty good.” Thanks. We walked over to the giant topo map they have and just picked a trail that was close to us and had good distance and took us to a lake. We decided on Gunsight lake. Best decision we ever accidentally made. After going through the informational video and getting our permits and bear bag (way better than a bear canister), we hit the road. One of the most beautiful roads in the country, as luck would have it.
(Pic of drive along that road captioned: Going to the Sun Rd. )
We parked at the trail-head and finished our last minute checks, finally deciding to bring the snowshoes in case we had to cross snowfields. This would turn out to be a terrible idea. More on that later. We hit the trail and started off on a lot of muddy downhill stuff, stopping multiple times to shed layers, put our rain covers on our packs, and admire bear prints in the mud. It’s grizzly season, as we were warned, and we were told our bear bells would do nothing and that we should be wary of fresh tracks and scat, and to talk loudly while hiking to avoid stumbling into a bear’s teeth.
Talking was boring since we had already been stuck together for a week straight, so we decided to just walk around and sing Frank Turner and Against Me! songs (okay fine you caught us, we sang ABBA and Miley Cyrus songs). We stopped singing for long enough to check out the views, though.
We didn’t run into many people on the trail, just a few small groups at the beginning and some girls who were NOT bears which was great cause when I heard them coming around a corner I thought they were bears.
It turned out that we set out the day before the normal season starts in the park, so the trails had not been maintained since last year. This meant that there were downed trees everywhere. Literally everywhere. Before long, we were pretty pissed that we brought our snowshoes, because, since we didn’t need them on our feet and instead had them strapped to our packs, they would get stuck in branches every time we had to crawl over/under/around the blockades.
Gunsight lake was indescribable. I will set the scene, then let the pictures do the talking. We had hiked about six miles with nary another human in sight, and nearly two miles of trail was covered in downed trees. The final mile might have been slightly uphill and a bit wet, but it led us to a small snowfield and a lake that… well… see for yourself.
More pictures? Okay.
After setting up camp and cooking dinner and downing a bottle of wine, it was time to really take in the view.
We set up camp, ate dinner, drank wine and ice cold beer, hung out by the lake, saw an avalanche, listened to music amplified through a metal bucket we found… you know, regular backpacking stuff.
The next morning, we reluctantly woke up, made breakfast, packed up, and left our paradise. As luck would have it, THIS was the day they sent a crew to clear the downed trees from the pack. I can’t make this up: we met the crew as they were about to start the 2 miles of trees we had just walked across twice in the last 14 hours. “You should have hiked out there today instead of yesterday!” Thanks.
Anyway, we got out of there as quickly as we could because there were fresh bear tracks and scat, and because we wanted to get to our next paradise.
Our next paradise went by the ridiculously misnamed Cracker Lake. No crackers at all. False advertising much, Glacier? But the views made up for that. This was another seven mile trail, ending in a glacial lake, as secluded as could be, with only the occasional MOOSE to freak us out. Same deal as the previous night. Booze. Seclusion. Tunes.
We were told this trail was prime grizzly territory, and that we would surely die. Totally worth it.
We spent a lot of time discussing which lake, Gunsight or Cracker, was more epic. I think we liked Gunsight more, but Cracker is definitely a 9.9/10. Again, we had the entire lake to ourselves and made it home.
Okay more pictures….
We really wanted to try swimming but it was freezing cold so we opted out. But look at that water!
The next morning was another slow one, and we dragged our feet because we knew it was our last day in Glacier.
We got ourselves out of their and went back to the nearby KOA for showers, beer & horseshoes, and a fire. The next morning we would do our laundry and pack up before going on one last day hike in Glacier…
We met a park ranger along the trail who told us there were reports of grizzly sightings on this trail in the morning. So of course we chose the path that he was taking to check on the situation.
After the hike, we ate a quick lunch by the parking lot picnic area, and then, with great remorse, put Glacier in the rearview and got heading home. But there was still plenty to see on the way back, so stay tuned for the final Western Omelette installment.