Trip to Montana, Part IV: Getting Lost Backpacking
The flight into Schafer Meadows may have been a little exciting, but once on the ground what a peaceful and beautiful place. The first order of business after tying down was to chat with the ranger who stays in a cabin there for the summer, with the closest road 15 miles away. We brought milk and fresh vegetables to him, which seemed to be appreciated.
He brought us into the ranger station to look at maps and talk about what trails had been cleared and what he thought would be a good backpacking trip for us. Backpacking permits are by lottery in Glacier National Park to the north of us, so Betsy asked him if permits were required. “Permits? Heck no, I’m just glad to have people use the trails. They are underutilized out here. Spread the word”. But watch out for bears he said, we were in the highest population of brown (grizzly) bears in the lower 48 states.
He suggested fording the Middle Fork Flathead River, taking a right, and taking a trail “up a crik” to a lake. It is a pretty easy 7 miles he said. We grabbed out backpacks and headed out, now pretty late in the day, but determined to do the 7 miles to the lake before sundown.
Well, I forgot the map in the plane.
But he said a left turn up a creek, so we did that. The trail became less and less of a trail until we were thrashing through a thicket of Alder when we heard a grunt/growl, a big rock rolling and a big animal also thrashing through the Alder, luckily AWAY from us. It was likely a bear, possibly a brown bear, and a close quarters encounter can be really bad with the bear acting instinctively in self defense.
We found segments of the trail on and off, until we were high up into a beautiful high-altitude cirque. By now we were thinking that ranger was one tough dude since he said it was a easy hike, but soon we realized there was no lake and no water and fading light. We obviously (now) went up the wrong damn crik but luckily we found a small seep of water to filter, and we laid out the tents for the night. We were all exhausted and a little irritable (I was a pretty easy target, having forgotten the map), but at least a bear didn’t eat us.
The next day we hiked down and camped on a great spot on the river and re-energized. The following day we hiked to the correct creek, up the creek to Scott lake (seeing black bear and mountain goats), then all the way back to the airport for the night so we would be prepared for an early take off.
With a light plane the take off was rough (I think that airstrip must be softer earlier in the summer, but it was pretty rough when we used it) but no problem, and we did the long flight all the way back home, with a short stop in Salmon, ID to drop off Belyn who wanted to retrieve a “dear john” letter she had left in a particular car there. That is a different story.