This was a little delayed in publishing, but well worth a read!
Journal entry of July 9 and 10, 2016 — in Glacier National Park, Montana
Saturday July 9, 56 kilometres, Rising Sun Campground to Sprague Creek Campground, over Logan Pass (6647 feet)
Today was an incredible ride, a highlight of the whole trip. We got up for an “alpine start,” meaning you get up really really early to depart. We woke up at 5 but then snuggled for 10 minutes. Then everyone jumped into gear. I got breakfast ready while Anna, Kathleen and Jasper packed the tent and bikes. We ate a quick breakfast — although I probably ate for half an hour straight. Glacier and its environs are decidedly a “food desert,” especially for vegetarian no-milk no-peanut people like us. So the night before we had pasta and sauce with some raw carrots. I woke up at 4 AM with a grumbling stomach and a feeling of excitement for our early departure. I love mornings.
Why the early departure? We were going to climb the last mountain pass of our trip, the very Logan Pass we had briefly visited the day before, a pass of over 6600 feet, on the world famous Going To The Sun Road. The lack of shoulders, heavy traffic, and no bike regulations that limited where bikes could ride between 11 AM and 4 p.m. meant the earlier the start the better. So we had our earliest camping start ever, on the road at 6:02 am. The only time we left earlier was in Cuba when we weren’t camping and skipped breakfast — we left at 5:58.
The road was empty, the light on the mountains was stunning, and the weather was cool and dry. We rode up and up and up, the kilometres ticking by at a comfortable pace. We savoured this pass, appreciating how much sweeter the experience was on a bicycle versus in the shuttle bus.
It was also slightly sad as it was our last pass.
We reached the top before we knew it, climbing through a tunnel and zigzagging around the mountains. At the top we paused to snap a photo, chat with some admiring Americans, go to the bathroom and then down we went.
We didn’t want to push our luck with the weather and their were grey clouds approaching. So down we went, flying gleefully down a road carved out of the cliff, going the same speed as the other vehicles. Stunning views and more mountains flew by and I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. When we got to the bottom we biked alongside a rocky river, the Flathead River, with turquoise water rushing between purple cliffs and over ledges. We stopped in at Lake MacDonald Lodge to try and find some food and found very expensive limited options. We camped at Sprague Creek and then jumped the shuttle to Apgar Village. Still no decent food. So we headed back to camp with more pasta and sauce and some other random food items, such as cheese, individually wrapped bagels a tiny 6 dollar jar of huckleberry jam and some greasy nacho chips that no-one liked but me.
We made a haphazard dinner and head off to bed, when the story usually ends, but not tonight. After the kids fall asleep, while Kathleen and I are reading in the tent around 9:30, we suddenly hear a loud sharp bang followed by panic and commotion from the campsite beside me. Kathleen and I pause and look at each other in surprise and bewilderment. Then we hear something about a gunshot and I leap out of the tent, scrambling to find the first aid kit, thinking someone has been shot. Kathleen stays in the tent with the kids. When I emerge I see three women from the neighbouring campsite frantically getting into their car and driving erratically away. There path was blocked by an incoming SUV. The women looked at me and said “tell them it is an emergency!” and so I motioned to the SUV to pull into our parking spot and let the car,a blue Ford Probe, leave. The car goes another 200 feet and parks by the camp hosts’ site. Meanwhile other campers converge on the road trying to piece together what happened. One woman is dead certain it was a gun. The man driving the SUV mentions a woman in black walking away from the site where the noise came from. After trying to comprehend the situation, I head over to the blue Ford Probe, thinking they may have accidentally discharged a firearm and someone may be hurt. The three women are talking to the camp host and quickly let me know they are all fine before they jump back in their car and screech out of the campground. There is an unsettling quiet. No police, no sirens, nothing. So,as the situation seems to have calmed down I crawl back into the tent and go to sleep.
Sunday July 10, The Highline Trail starting at The Loop and ending at Logan Pass. 3000 ‘ elevation gain approximately
The next morning I chat with the newlyweds from South Dakota camping near us. It turns out they were evacuated in the night, as the whole campground was. A man fired a gun on the beach maybe 200 metres away from where we slept. 8 rangers descended on the campground shortly after I fell asleep. After a brief negotiation, the man surrendered and was taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation –he was talking of suicide. Apparently he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, who was the woman in black who ran away from the gunshot initially. I confirmed the story when I read about it in the local newspaper two days later. What a crazy night. But not the end of craziness in Glacier National Park though.
Here’s a link to a news article about this incident: Standoff in Glacier Park ends peacefully
Kathleen here: You might be wondering what we were doing sleeping in our tent after a gunshot went off in the campground. When I heard the shot and saw a woman running down the path, I assumed a bear was in camp and someone had shot a warning shot to scare it away. (It is legal to carry a loaded gun in Montana, but not to discharge it in a National Park). After Derek found out no one was hurt, I thought it was safe to go back to sleep. Later in the night, I woke up and needed to go pee. When I peeked out of the tent, there were lots of people walking around in twos, with flashlights. We later learned this was the rangers evacuating anyone who wasn’t in their tent, but I thought it was still about the ‘bear’ – lots of people also needed to go to the bathroom and were going in twos. Our neighbours told us the next morning they let the rangers know we were sleeping in our tent during the campground evacuation and the ranger had said as long as we were in our tent it was fine, they just didn’t want a lot of campers milling about while they were negotiating with the person on the beach who had a gun. Eventually it was quiet and I went pee and then fell asleep. Which just goes to show that your experiences can be heavily shaped by your assumptions. The kids slept through everything.
That morning we pack up and jump on the early morning shuttle heading back up to Logan Pass. Keeping in mind that we love a challenge, and that it is best to get on the shuttle at the beginning of the route, we decide to go UP the Highline Trail instead of descending it as the majority of hikers do. This added about 2200 feet of elevation gain to our hike. This time we are fully prepared for mountain hiking with full rain gear,a complete change of clothes,cold weather gear, bear spray, food,water and iodine pills to purify more water if necessary. We headed off in bright warm sunshine,with 360 degree mountain views of deep valleys and snowy Rocky mountains. As we ascended, 2 different groups of hikers mentioned a bear on the trail ahead of us. Fortunately it was a black bear, not a grizzly. We started to sing songs, make up poetry, and recount Vinyl Cafe stories to make sure the bear knew we were there. We never did we a bear, but we really enjoyed Anna,’s retelling of “Christmas at the Turlingtons” and jaspers’ rendition of “My dad is dying.” We ascended 6.4 kilometres to a beautiful mountain top chalet where we picked up some chocolate bars and snacks,took a brief stop,and continued on to complete the remaining 12 kilometres of rolling traverse to Logan Pass. The views continued to be mindblowing. The weather turned darker,cooler,and soon a light rain was falling. We headed on and saw a rescue copter swoop down to a group of hikers who had waved to them. As the helicopter ascended again we could see a look of irritation on the face of the paramedic. Lesson learned–never wave or signal a rescue helicopter unless you have reason to!
At this point the kids were hiking ahead of us–there were dozens of people hiking the opposite direction on the trail and the trail was open with clear sightlines in every direction, so we felt they were safe. We rounded a valley and saw the rescue copter still,stationary on a piece of snow on the trail. A pilot was standing nearby so I asked him what had happened as we passed. He mentioned a hiker was sick and needed to be airlifted off the trail. We hiked on and can across 2 paramedics and a ranger accompanying a woman down the trail back to the helicopter. A few minutes later we came across 2 more rangers huddled with a woman with her leg in a makeshift splint. She was also waiting for an airlift as she had dislocated her knee.
And then ,maybe 10 minutes later,we heard a piercing scream from ahead of us on the trail. Kathleen and I broke into a run, fearing the worst. When we emerged from some trees we saw Anna Sierra on the ground surrounded by 2 rangers,and Jasper standing nearby. Anna had been hit in the shoulder by a falling rock about the size of a cantaloupe. The ranger thought it weighed about 8 pounds. Initially we feared the worst,but a physical exam revealed that she only had scrapes on her arm, and she had no significant pain when moving her arm or hand. Jasper too was spooked by the event,as the rock had also glanced off his bum. We continued on hiking as we still had at least 2 kilometres of rough hiking to get to Logan Pass, and the rain was off and on. The hike was beautiful but we were very glad to finish it!
At the end there were about 45 people waiting for the shuttle that seats 14, but I was able to convince the volunteer to let us on so we could get Anna down the mountain quickly. On the bus we met a kind family from Chicago who really lifted the spirits of the kids. Were we ever relieved when we finally reached our campsite again!
Here’s a hyperlink to a news article about THIS incident: Two Hikers Rescued from Glacier’s Highline Trail
Looking back I think these were two of the strangest days of the whole trip!