Millennials across the world are constantly talking with their friends over a few brewski’s about going on elaborate trips. Few of these envisioned trips actually happen.
I want to talk to you about one that did.
Glacier Banff 2017.
It all started off (possibly) as a joke between Brandon and I about how the glaciers weren’t going to be there much longer and we should probably find a way up there. Then another few weeks went by and we chatted again about the feasibility of it all; time off, travel, lodging. All the fun stuff that is surprising really important.
Then about two to three months out we actually locked it in.
Look at us. Two millennials who can plan, commit and not bail. Are we actually millennials? TBD.
But as millennials,
we’re always about saving money we have no money, so we went the hosteling route which turned out to be a lot of fun (see karaoke below) and was convenient.
So, away we go!
Day 1: SLC to West Glacier
With 650 miles and nine hours ahead of us, it was an early wake up… but nothing coffee can’t solve. Plus, we were stoked. The trip was finally here.
In order to keep this from resembling a George R. Martin book, we’ll fast forward through all the driving because if you haven’t heard, there’s not a lot of anything in Idaho or Montana. Except for Missoula.
A blue dot in a sea of red and the home of the University of Montana, Missoula is a really cool little town that I would recommend to anyone if you happen to find yourself in western Montana with a few hours to spare.
When we got to West Glacier, it was about 6pm but with us being so far north and only a few days from the longest day of the year, we figured we could still fit in a short hike.
After checking out Lake McDonald and doing all those #InstagramPics, we set out to find Fish Lake – with no map, flashlight, or bear spray. (Sorry to all of our parents.)
The hike wasn’t anything exciting but after spending all day in a 12×6 vehicle, being able to move freely was a godsend.
As we’re heading down after being slightly disappointed in the lake, it began to get dark – shocking right? – but we also started back into the dense forest we hiked up in. No one’s really worried right now. We’re chatting about who knows what and then Brandon taps my arm to signal something ahead of us.
We both immediately stop and strain our eyes to see what’s ahead.
It was nothing but a cute little deer. Okay, carry on – but now I’ve got my whistle out…just in case.
Then a couple minutes later, Brandon starts booking it down the trail. Me, not knowing what the hell happened, follows along, blowing my whistle while in full flight or fight mode. (Obviously the flight won that round.)
When we finally stop and gasp for breath, I’m trying to figure out why we just went all Usain Bolt in a National Park. Brandon’s like, “You didn’t hear that?” “Hear what?” I countered. Apparently, he heard a growl – still unsubstantiated – but regardless it was enough to get us down and off the trail in a very quick fashion.
Nothing like going 0 to 60 on your first day of vacation but it does make for a good story.
Day 2: Bike Going to the Sun Road (Brandon’s version is titled slightly differently…)
Would it be a true vacation if everything went as planned?
We hadn’t even started the damn bike ride before we broke a bike. It’s almost too insane to even write about but the gears on Brandon’s bike went haywire simply by cruising around the West Glacier Village. We didn’t know it, but it was an omen.
Once we got a replacement, it was time to begin 16 miles up hill.
For most of you, you probably haven’t had the chance to bike uphill for this long – which is totally cool. But if you have, you know what this like.
What made this bearable, though, were the views. Each pedal took us closer to Logan Pass and gave us a better and more jaw-dropping view of the valley below us and the peaks above. But each pedal also led to burning calves and thighs.
Once we got to Logan Pass, we were in the clouds – and snow – and began freezing due to how sweaty our clothes were after nearly three hours struggling uphill.
But now the fun was about to begin – or so we thought. Brandon headed down before me and just minutes into the downhill, he went head over heels, literally. His front tire came loose going 30 MPH downhill, yet he walked away with only a cut up shirt, some bruises, and one fewer PB&J sandwich.
The crazy part about this bike ride is, after taking nearly three hours up, it took us minutes to get down. Pointing my bike tire downhill and letting loose is likely the most exhilarating thing I have ever done.
But the madness wasn’t done yet.
The final bus pick up was at 5pm and we arrived at 5:10pm which meant we had to ride another 15 miles. It’s safe to say neither of us were too thrilled about this predicament.
Again, is it really an Alec and Brandon adventure if everything goes as it should?
However, we salvaged it with some sweet photos on Lake McDonald and then the rest is pretty hazy — no mom, not because of that — from sheer exhaustion.
Day 3: Drive to East Glacier and Two Medicine Lake
Monday was a pretty chill day. A two-hour drive along the southern border of the Glacier brought us to Two Medicine Lake around the lunch hour (photo No.1 below).
Our goal was to do an eight-ish mile round trip hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake and see what nature had in store for us. Once we were a couple miles in, we were told the trail going up to the lake was flooded or snowed in…I’m not really sure but we were urged to not go that way, but to instead check out a waterfall (photo No. 3/4).
Don’t tell TLC, but we definitely chased this waterfall.
After this, the chaos continued with a drive up the eastern side of Going to the Sun Road (though it’s not called that but for simplicity here, I’m sticking with it.) Due to snow, we were stopped at the Jackson Glacier overlook (photo No.6 below).
While we did this drive next to St. Mary’s lake, my co-pilot (cough Brandon cough) took advantage of not having to drive and got his beauty sleep. Safe to say, I took the opportunity to stop at every possible pullout to take photos.
Day 4: Drive to Many Glacier, then Hikes to Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier
I still don’t know if Brandon was ready for the non-stop pace that I had planned this trip but if he wasn’t before, he was now.
We retraced our steps from yesterday and headed back into Glacier, this time going about 40 miles farther north into the Many Glacier area. (A must stop place for anyone going to the park.)
We got an early start as we knew that this would arguably be the longest hiking day and it was. Eighteen miles worth, spread out between two incredible hikes.
However, we were worried. The skies that morning were overcast and we knew it wouldn’t be fun to go nearly 20 miles soaking wet. Luckily, the weather held off and away we went.
First up was Iceberg lake, four-ish miles in, nestled up against a towering rock wall. For us, the lake was completely frozen over – enough that we could walk a comfortable distance out and have no trouble.
Because of the snow-covered terrain, everyone, including us, left the trail and meandered towards the lake on the north side – we later were told my regulars you’re supposed to cross over and end up on a plateau sorta overlooking the lake. Either way, it was stunning and pretty cool to walk on a lake at the end of June.
Now, coming back, we had the time of our life.
A deer joined us on our way back, literally walking on the designated trail 50 yards ahead of us for over a mile, maybe even two.
So now, with approximately nine miles under our belt by 1:30, we rested a bit, fueled up, and started on our way to Grinnell Glacier, a 10-mile round trip hike. Now, remember, the sun doesn’t set until after 10:30 here so we had tons of daylight ahead of us.
This hike, to Grinnell Glacier, ended up being the best hike of the trip in my opinion.
We first walked around Swiftcurrent Lake which is connected to Lake Josephine which is then connected to Grinnell Lake. Once we got to Lake Josephine, we started our accent up to the glacier, traversing a pretty easy trail through beautiful scenery and an amazing blue-green lake below.
Though, as I’ve said before, nothing comes easy when it’s Brandon and I taking on the world. We noticed that the trail was heading pretty much directly into snow and then we came upon a sign that basically said ‘stop, don’t keep going, turn around.’
But the two of us, college educated, and raised to respect authority, did as any two males would do: We kept going. (Sorry Mom…. Dad, you probably wouldn’t mind).
Anyways, we only got another 20 yards before we hit snow. After slowly traversing one 10 yard snow bank, we decided 1) the next part could put us on our butts and sliding 50 feet down the slope and 2) we had no idea where the trail was at the moment.
In the end, we never did make it to Grinnell Glacier but the views from our final spot were more than ideal. Nestled above Grinnell Lake, we had the entire place to ourselves and it couldn’t have been more pristine.
As we headed down, we said a silent goodbye to the wonders that Glacier National Park had to offer. The jagged peaks, the blue water, the unique landscapes; all crafted over millions and billions of years, given to us to enjoy for just a short while.
Day 5: To Our Neighbors Up North
Prior to this trip, I hadn’t really been out of the country before. Way back when, I walked across the US-Mexico border with my family and then walked back over. That doesn’t really count in my opinion.
So this was a super cool experience – leaving my homeland for
a better another country.
I somehow ended up driving across the border both times but it was an interesting experience, getting quizzed by one guy in a toll booth in the middle of nowhere. “What do you do? What’s your purpose here? Do you have a gun?” (LOL, yeah me, a gun.)
But after proving we were no threat to their nation, Canada accepted us with open arms and away we went.
Our first stop was Waterton Lakes National Park, which I HIGHLY recommend visiting. The views are simply stunning and may have been the best we saw all trip.
Once we had enough of getting our mindblown, we continued northward (through the definition of nothingness) towards Banff.
Minus a slight detour (which might have been my fault, combined with the fact we had no internet or a map), the trip was very smooth and we reached Banff by Monday evening.
Without going into too many (embarrassing) details, dinner consisted of us bugging our waitress about Canadian facts that apparently we were never taught in school. (Think back, how much did you really learn about Canada growing up?)
Anyways, after bringing down the overall image of America, just kidding, that already happened on January 20, 2017, we started figuring out what our first full day in Canada would be.
Day 6: Chephren Lake, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise
Gotta give a big shout out to Instagram for helping me find the first spot.
Chephren Lake is about 90 minutes from Banff – up the Icefields Parkway towards the Saskatchewan River Crossing (maybe 10 minutes south of it). Nestled out of the normal hustle and bustle of tourists, we were one of only a handful of people on this muddy, forestry six-mile round-trip hike.
However, once we got out of the forest and mud, the view was spectacular and frankly still doesn’t seem real. It’s one of those places you want to build a log cabin and stay forever.
Sadly, though, we couldn’t stay forever and had to keep moving along!
Next stop, Moraine Lake – which I would say is one of the must see spots of someone’s life.
Words really don’t any of these places justice but it was simply stunning. In the Valley of 10 peaks, the entire thing seemed like a dream. We scampered up a small rock formation to get the full view of the lake with the towering peaks in the distance bearing down on us.
I think we were too awestruck to say much while we were there.
Then we dropped our bags off at the Lake Louise Hostel (yes go with hostels in Canada, they’re great!), had a dinner, and wandered over to Lake Louise with a few beers in hand (sorry Mr. Trudeau if this is against Canadian law) to cap off an amazing day.
Day 7: Lake Louise, Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, and Karaoke
This was our final full day in Canada. So, as with any trip planned by me, it was action packed.
We started the day hiking to the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House (seven mile round-trip hike) into the valley/mountains behind Lake Louise. The hike brought us through a couple avalanche zones as well as snowfield which we had to traverse. Neither Brandon nor I really knew what they meant by “Tea House” but we soon found out it had absolutely amazing food at around 7,200 feet.
Knowing we didn’t have much to do the rest of the day, we doddled on the way back, taking in as much of the scenery as we could – knowing this was the last time we’d see anything like this for a long time.
Once we got back down to the lake level, I waded out into the water just enough to make it worth it, without actually going in too far (though I would have loved to have swam in it…but it was a tad too chilly for my liking). Plus, it was a nice way to reward my feet for the many, many miles I put on them over the prior week.
With that final hike behind us, I met up with a college roommate who just happened to be in Alberta for work. We grabbed dinner and headed back to our the HI-Banff hostel where they had ended up having a karaoke night – which turned out to be an absolute hoot of a time. (Considering everything was 25% off, #CurrencyRate, you know the drinks were flowing!)
Day 8: Back to the United States
After a week of living out of a car, the trip was entering into its final stages.
We were finally headed back to the U.S – but not before one last meal in our second favorite country, with our two favorite Canadians which we met at the hostel.
After that, it was a pretty boring drive back to the states.
To speed things along, there’s not much in southeastern British Columbia… we got grilled at the USA border but they let us in (thank god), and then we found our way back to Missoula, MT where we stayed in arguably the worst hotel we could probably find in town.
Day 9: There’s literally nothing in Idaho
When I say there’s nothing in Idaho, I mean it. Maybe it was because we took the ‘scenic’ route within (along?) the Bitterroot Mountains, but we saw close to nothing alive on the way back to Utah.
This was honestly one of the greatest trips of my life and I feel safe in saying Brandon had similar thoughts as well. I could have gone on and on, even more than I did above, about this trip but I’ll spare you all.
Getting to see nature up close and personal, experiencing some of the most beautiful and jaw-dropping rock formations, and meeting so many interesting people along the way made it an adventure I’ll never forget.
If you ever plan on visiting any of these National Parks, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter for recommendations or thoughts/concerns.
If you made it all the way down here, thanks for taking the time to read about my trip and I hope you enjoyed it all!