Day 5: Rising Sun Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana
After a big breakfast in camp, and dropping off my surly note at the ranger station, we drive west along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to a trailhead just past Sunrift Gorge, then head down the trail to St. Mary Falls.
Unlike the vast open prairies of the Great Plains, or even the relative flatlands of our home in the upper midwest, weather can really sneak up on you here in the confines of mountainous terrain. No sooner do we get a half-mile into the woods than rumbling thunderclouds suddenly swoop in over the crest of the Continental Divide, spewing lightening and spitting rain. We take shelter under a cedar tree to wait out the storm, and are glad the storm blows over just as quickly as it arrived.
The St. Mary River falls spectacularly over a redrock ledge here before being later joined by Virginia Creek, finally emptying into St. Mary Lake. Hiking up Virginia Creek, we find two more sets of falls, the upper of which is by far the most dramatic, plunging over one hundred feet to crash upon a broad flat ledge.
Along the trail we see several other people, most, like us, wearing small packs and boots and carrying hiking sticks. Some, however, don’t seem to belong out here in the woods—with their polyester slacks and shiny loafers, big dangly earrings and clouds of perfume—but rather in a poolside bingo hall at a condo in Orlando. There are small mobs of shrieking children, running along the trail and whacking trees with sticks.
But one pair we encounter does not fit in anywhere: two guys, one middle-aged, the other about nineteen, wearing dirty jeans, torn and sweaty T-shirts, and steel-toed work boots. They are trudging along the trail, the older one leading the way with an expression of grim determination. They have no gear whatsoever, but the older one clutches a small paper sack held out in front of him, his fist tightly wrapped around its neck as though he’s trying to choke it to death. It almost appears the bag is leading him up the trail toward the falls. There is a frightful fire in his eyes as they approach, and instead of the customary smile or ‘hello’, they both just grunt in Neanderthal fashion.
As we continue, feeling lucky to have gotten out of their way in time, we speculate aloud on their mission here in the forest, and on the contents of the paper sack. Perhaps they are a father-and-son construction team who built a faulty footbridge over the falls, and have now been ordered by the National Park Service to hike back in there and add some more lag screws. “You brought the wrench, right?”, I can imagine the father growling to the hapless kid.
Or maybe the bag contains the cremated remains of a deceased family member or beloved guinea pig, now destined to be cast upon the cascading waters.
“I never shoulda promised to do this.”
Or perhaps something more sinister is afoot … “I told ya we shouldn’t have cut ‘er up in such little pieces!”
We hurry on, hoping that if they follow us, we are able to find a large bear to hide behind.
Rolling back down to the edge of St. Mary Lake, we pop the Westy’s top and enjoy a pleasant lunch on the lakeshore, then motor farther north along the park’s eastern side, taking a campsite at the Many Glacier campground.
In addition to the usual warnings and signs, there is another notice here: “Bears have killed and injured people in this campground!” Indeed, a short stroll through the campground to the parking lot of the nearby Swiftcurrent Motor Inn reveals a handful of grizzly and black bears browsing on the lower slopes of Mount Henkel, less than a mile away.