Glacier NP

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Sierra Club Potomac Region Outings Backpacking Trip:
Continental Divide Trail in Glacier & Waterton National Parks, Montana & Alberta

Backpacking Trip Cancelled

The backpacking trip to Glacier National Park has been cancelled. While I have recovered considerably from my surgery, the surgeons predicted recovery time was wildly optimistic. [This trip was completed with three participants as a dayhiking trip.]

04/29/08 WE HAVE BACKCOUNTRY PERMITS!!! These are very hard to get for this park.
Dates shown in the itinerary below are the permit trip dates received which are close to what was requested. We still have one spot open for the entire trip and four spots for the first leg from Two Medicine to Many Glacier.

Further Trip Signups on Hold

As some of you know, I've had problems off and on over the past 4.5 years with a groin strain. Recently I went to see the 'A' team at Johns Hopkins Hospital and they found a problem (literally in ten minutes) that 8-10 other doctors could not find in the past 4.5 years. I will be having surgery on 7/7 and both doctors think I have a reasonable chance of still doing this backpacking trip. But for this reason, I am not accepting any more people at the present time.

Dates: Sunday Aug 24 to Sunday Sep 7, 2008 (actual backpack is 8/26 to 9/4)

Location: Glacier National Park in Montana, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada

Estimated Trip Cost: $395.50 (actual cost could be higher or lower, see details at the bottom of the webpage)

Because of strict Glacier NP rules the parent organization, Sierra Club MWROP (now called Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings), is not allowed to make any profit on the trip, not even a $5/head donation. All trip costs will be divided evenly between all participants including the leader. Also, per Glacier NP rules, All participants must be Sierra Club members. The trip costs include permit fees, your share of a rental car, and two shuttles. Actual cost could be higher or lower depending on the number of participants splitting these costs. Participants will make their own airline and motel reservations and pay for them directly themselves, that is not part of the trip cost. I will coordinate with participants when and where we have to be for flights and motels before, during, and after the backpack.

You will need a US passport (or other acceptable documentation) to get back into the US from Canada

Maximum number of participants: 8, limited by number of tent sites available at smallest campsite

Date of last revision: 7/01/2008

Trip Description

Continental Divide Trail in Glacier (GNP) & Waterton (WNP) National Parks

These two spectacular national parks were joined to form the World's first International Peace Park which has also been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. This concept was the idea of Rotary Clubs in Alberta and Montana who in 1931 convinced their respective national governments that this was a great idea.

The Continental Divide forms the backbone of North America, running 8,000 miles from Alaska to the Panama Canal. It divides the North American continent watershed into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) follows the rocky spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada.  Triple Divide Peak splits rainwater between the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Hudson Bay. While the rest of the CDT has a reputation for hundreds of miles of unmarked trails, and the requirement for extensive bushwhacking and orienteering; the sections in GNP are generally well marked with an obvious treadway. That doesn't mean we won't have to do some navigation with map and compass.

We will be backpacking from Two Medicine to Many Glacier to Waterton Townsite which is a total distance of 93.6 miles with 11,481' of elevation gain. Past experience with guide book elevation gain estimates is that they are pretty low. Also the guidebook doesn't show elevation loss so I won't know that until I make detailed (1:24,000) topographic maps for each day of the backpack.

We will spend the first and last nights in a motel or lodge plus one layover day during the backpack itself at Many Glacier. I will setup a resupply at this intermediate stop in Many Glacier. Each person will ship food, batteries, film, memory cards, and fresh clothes to a resupply point - usually a ranger station or hotel. The route will take 9 days of backpacking plus a couple of open tourist days to round out the two week trip. The open days will be used for travel time, to pick up our permits, repack gear, ship out gear if possible, and other activities such as dayhiking, photography, licking our wounds, and just being tourists.

We must stay at specified campsites which have existing tent sites, pit toilets, food hanging or storage facilities, and food preparation areas. Campfires are only allowed at some designated campgrounds, use existing fire rings, and down dead wood only. If fires are allowed we can burn refuse paper, but not plastic, foil, or food. We will be using small backpacking stoves to cook.

GNP & WNP are among the most spectacular and visually stunning backcountry wilderness areas in North America with an amazing array of wildlife in a beautiful setting. This will be a great location for photography so bring your cameras while exploring this 1 million acre wilderness - and that's just in GNP. We won't spend as much time in WNP but we can scout it out a little and gather some information for a future trip. Let's see some glaciers while they are still there.

This entire trip is rated strenuous and is suitable for experienced, physically fit backpackers with the appropriate gear. All participants must have previously and successfully completed at least three weekend backpacking trips within the past three years. They also must engage in a regular physical fitness program on a weekly basis - working out four to five days per week at a minimum. Individual pack weight will vary but most people will be carrying from 40 to 60 lbs. Each person is responsible for providing their own gear and meals. If people want to, they may elect to share tents, meals, stoves, first aid kits, and water purifiers/filters. A roster of trip participants will be posted, and I will try to coordinate this common gear with participants.

Some rock scrambling is always a possibility on a backpacking trip (ala Old Rag), so participants should have good eye-hand-foot coordination. This is a backpacking trip, not a mountain climbing trip - all travel will be on hiking trails. Participants will have to fill out an information form regarding their relevant medical history, physical condition and conditioning, prior backpacking experience, and backpacking gear – just like on any national Sierra Club backpacking trip. All participants must sign a liability release.

Some Necessary Gear

  •  sturdy, waterproof, broken in hiking boots that fit properly
  •  Teva's or equivalent
  •  two sets of socks
  •  gaiters ?
  •  properly fitted and adjusted backpack, 4000 to 5500 cubic inches
  •  pack rain cover
  •  small lightweight tent & ground cover
  •  sleeping bag plus pad, rated to +20 F
  •  light weight backpacking stove & fuel (we will buy fuel out there)
  •  personal first aid items (no scented toiletries)
  •  water purification tablets and a water purifier/filter
  •  rain suit - ponchos are not allowed it's potentially too windy above treeline
  •  extra clothes (include long sleeve shirt and long pants as well as shorts and T shirt)
  •  a fresh set of clothes for the second leg and ship out the dirty stuff (or do laundry in Many Glacier)
  •  swim suit
  •  sunscreen, sunglasses, hat with visor or brim
  •  wool sweater or fleece jacket
  •  light but warm knit hat
  •  gloves or mittens
  •  headlamp, extra bulb and batteries
  •  baseplate compass readable to one or two degrees - declination correction strongly preferred - mirror for signaling
  •  topographic map
  •  toilet paper + trowel
  •  matches in waterproof container
  •  pocket knife
  •  whistle
  •  unscented biodegradable soap, wash cloth, backpacker towel
  •  backpacking food - low odor - see details below
  •  2 quarts or liters of water + 1 empty extra bladder with cap (optional)
  •  insect repellant, DEET
  •  mosquito headnet ?
  •  Gatorade, or equivalent if desired
  •  40' of 1/8" nylon line for hanging things
  •  bear canister (not required - campsites have poles or boxes - hanging is okay here)
  •  dry waterproof bags for your sleeping bag, clothing, camera, film, electronics 
  •  ice axe and instep crampons for crossing the six permanent snow fields (NOT REQUIRED THIS LATE IN THE SEASON ON THIS TRAIL)
  •  pepper spray for bears is optional, buy it out there
  •  DO NOT ACCIDENTLY SPRAY YOURSELF OR YOUR GEAR, once it dries bear spray becomes an attractant!
  •  huge, light, cheap duffle bag to protect your backpack from the airline bears
  •  drivers license, health insurance card, passport to get back into the US
  •  sufficient money and credit cards for gas, meals, and other expenses


Trip Itinerary

Day Date Activity
Pretrip - Ship empty stoves & fuel bottles to hotel in East Glacier if necessary (see notes about stoves & fuel), allow 10 days for ground shipping

Ship resupply food, film, memory cards, batteries, supplies, clean clothes, etc. to hotel in Many Glacier, allow 10 days for ground shipping

Sunday Aug 24 Fly to Kalispell, MT, pick up rental car(s), drive to Glacier NP, get permit if possible, check into hotel, buy fuel for stoves
Monday Aug 25 Open day in East Glacier for dayhiking, Red Bus rides, photography, tourist activities, etc.
Tuesday Aug 26 Start the CDT backpack from Two Medicine, camp at Morning Star Lake MOR (begin segment 28)
Wednesday Aug 27 Morning Star Lake MOR to Atlantic Creek ATL campsite (continue segment 28)
Thursday Aug 28 Atlantic Creek ATL to Red Eagle Lake REH campsite (continue segment 28)
Friday Aug 29 Red Eagle Lake REH to Reynolds Creek REY campsite (complete segment 28)
Saturday Aug 30 Reynolds Creek REY to Many Glacier (segment 29)
Sunday Aug 31 Open day in Many Glacier for resupply, hiking, tourist activities, etc.
Monday Sep 1 Many Glacier Swift Current Pass TH to Granite Park GRN campsite (begin segment 30)
Tuesday Sep 2 Granite Park GRN to Fifty Mountain FIF campsite (continue segment 30)
Wednesday Sep 3 Fifty Mountain FIF to Waterton Lake WAT campsite (continue segment 30)
Thursday Sep 4 Waterton Lake WAT to Waterton Townsite in Canada (complete segment 30 and CDT backpack)
Friday Sep 5 Open day in Waterton for dayhiking, Red Bus rides, photography, tourist activities etc.
Saturday Sep 6 Take shuttle #1 from Waterton to Chief Mountain, Canada, take shuttle #2 from Chief Mountain to hotel in East Glacier
Sunday Sep 7 Drive from East Glacier to Kalispell airport, fly home

Segment numbers correspond to trail segments in the CDT Guidebook

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park
PO Box 128
West Glacier, Montana 59936
Phone (406) 888-7800

Glacier Natural History Association
PO Box 310
West Glacier, MT 59936

Click on the following links for more information. All participants are required to read both this entire webpage and the GNP Backcountry Guide available at the link below. There is also a video which we are required to watch either at the ranger station when we pick up the permits or it can be viewed online before arriving. I would prefer viewing this online in advance so we don't have to spend time doing it once there. I will send details to participants.

GNP Backcountry Guide 2007

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada
Box 200
Waterton Park, AB
T0K 2M0
Phone: 403-859-2224

Common Items

If people want to share: tents, stoves & fuel, water purifiers/filters, first aid kits, or meals, you can work that out for yourselves from the trip roster. At a minimum we need one stove, fuel, purifier/filter, and first aid kit for every two to three people. I will try to coordinate this somewhat. We would like to use stoves that can accept the same fuel in case one fails.

In addition to the above items there may be some other common gear that we will have to split up - probably not much. Some common gear that I will carry myself includes an altimeter, and a large detailed topographic map.

Guidebook & Maps

"Montana & Idaho's Continental Divide Trail", Lynna Howard, Westcliffe Publishers
This is the Official Guidebook of the Continental Divide Trail Alliance and is a well written and excellent trail guide.

Glacier National Park / Waterton Lakes National Park, Montana & Alberta, Trails Illustrated, 1:100,000 scale
Will be supplemented by 1:24,000 daily detail maps that I will make with the Topo mapping software.

Two other books that you may find interesting, informative, and helpful

"Hiking in Glacier and Waterton National Parks", Falcon Press
Good information on other trails in the two parks that we will use for dayhikes

"Glacier National Park", Moon Publishing
A very good book for tourist information in the region, but contains very little information for the backpacking part of the trip.

Bears, Mountain Lions, & Wolves

Yes the big four all live here - although I've never heard of Wolves causing a problem for people.

Both Grizzly and Black bears live in both national parks. Although it is extremely unlikely, people have been killed and eaten by grizzly bears in Glacier NP. Not to worry, you've already accepted a far greater risk every time you get into a car. All of the normal bear Do's and Don'ts apply here even more so than other National Parks and wilderness areas. Check the GNP website for information about bears and mountain lions. I will provide more information about bears to participants.

In addition to food we also have to hang or somehow store, our garbage, and any toiletries. Bears are attracted to anything with an odor and their noses are 10,000 times more sensitive than ours! Do not bring any toiletries that have an odor. Also bring food that has little odor. LEAVE THE SPICY BEEF JERKY AT HOME - you don't want this scent to get into your pack! Unscented biodegradable soap, toothpaste, sun block, lip balm, and insect repellent should be all we will need

I tried to find the information, that I quote above, about bears sense of smell and was not able to find that reference but did find quite a few other - just as interesting sites. Bears have the most sensitive sense of smell in the animal world.

Information about bears sense of smell

Information about bears in general, check out the live bear den webcam & bears for dummies.

The PDF file on Staying Safe in Bear Country is outstanding - everyone should read it.

Horses, Mules, Burros, Llamas

We may meet horses, or other pack animals on some portions of trail, they have the right of way. Step off the trail on the downhill side and wait quietly until they pass.

Deer, Mountain Goats, Marmots, Rodents

Deer, mountain goats, marmots, and other rodents are attracted to urine and sweat to eat salt and other minerals. Do not leave sweaty clothing or boots unattended, they may be chewed and destroyed. Your boots are your wings - keep boots and clothes inside your tent at night. When urinating use the pit toilets when possible or durable surfaces such as rocks if you can do so - this last remark requested by the park rangers.


The weather on this trip could be anything from warm, sunny conditions to high winds and a snow storm. You must be prepared with gear and clothing to deal with either extreme. We will also be crossing six permanent snow fields - we will not be crossing any glaciers. If you don't know the difference between a permanent snowfield and a glacier you should take my Wilderness in Winter course. Temperatures could be below freezing - your sleeping bag should be rated to +20 F.


Everyone is responsible for providing their own backpacking food for meals and energy snacks. This is not a commissary based trip - I refuse to do them, they are way too inefficient and are really tailored for beginners. Bring more food than you would normally eat at home, but don't over do it. As a backpacker, you will appreciate the concept of food as fuel. Bring things that are lightweight, tasty, and nutritious but easy to prepare, cook, and clean up after. Extra points for meals that pass the "Lick Test". If you don't know what the lick test is you should buy the late Colin Flecther's "The Complete Walker" and read it, version IV is now available. This book is the Old Testament of backpacking - Backpacker Magazine is the New Testament.

Don't plan on buying backpacking food out there, it's too time consuming and we won't have time to do that. All of your food for the entire trip should be packed before we get on the plane. If you see  some fresh food out there that looks good, add it to your pack but don't plan on it.

The backpack is split into a 5 day leg from Two Medicine to Many Glacier, where we will resupply, and a 4 day leg from Many Glacier to Waterton Townsite in Canada. I will provide mailing instructions for shipping your resupply food, gear, and supplies. For both legs, plan for food and snacks from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day. We will eat breakfast on both starting days and dinner on both ending days in restaurants.

Leg 1: Two Medicine to Many Glacier - 5 Days/4 Nights, lunch to lunch + energy drinks + energy snacks

Leg 2: Many Glacier to Waterton Townsite - 4 Days/3 Nights, lunch to lunch + energy drinks + energy snacks


We will have to treat all drinking water either with a purifier, filter, or tablets. I want each person to have a total of three water bottles or bladders with at least one bladder with a cap. An empty bladder weighs almost nothing and consumes almost no room - make sure you bring a cap to close it in case you lose the bite valve.

Leave No Trace

We will practice "Leave No Trace" backcountry ethics. This means that we pack out all of our trash and garbage. It also means that we do not use soap or shampoo to wash in lakes or streams. Just swimming in the water without using soap works pretty well all by itself for getting your body clean. Use a folding basin and/or wash cloth and soap 100' away from lakes or streams to wash more thoroughly. It's okay to use a tiny amount (couple of drops) of biodegradable soap in the lake or stream just to wash your hands and face.

Stove Fuel

Vapor Fuel Canisters (the simple plan):

Carry the stove in your luggage, buy a vapor gas canister out there.

Liquid Fuel (the complicated plan):

We will be shipping our empty stoves and empty fuel bottles to the starting motel. We cannot carry our stoves or fuel bottles with us on the airplane unless they are brand new and have NEVER been used. Once used they will contain fuel residue and cannot be taken onboard the plane. Although this policy varies from airline to airline. NO AIRLINE WILL ALLOW FUEL OF ANY KIND ON THE AIRPLANE! We will ship the stoves via Parcel Plus, or Mail Boxes Etc. they have been trained to deal with empty fuel containers. We will have to buy fuel out there before the trip, and ship the empty stoves and empty fuel bottles back the same way in the same boxes. We need to ship the stoves about 10 days prior to our trip departure to ensure that they are there IN TIME as we must use regular ground transportation.

Trip Cost

The trip cost includes: your share of a rental car, one shuttle to the starting trailhead, two shuttles from the ending trailhead, and the required NPS per person per night fees. Not included: everything else, such as: park entrance fee, airfare, motel rooms, meals, necessary backpacking food and gear, rental car gas, tips, personal expenses, and any other necessary but excluded expenses.

It is important that each participant bring sufficient cash/credit cards for incidental personal expenses. Also if the trip plans should change for any reason such as injuries, or the backpack being shortened or extended by a few days due to circumstances beyond our control, such as weather, fires, high water, snowstorm, bear closure, etc - it could have an impact on your individual cost. 

Make checks payable to: Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings and mail to the Trip Leader.

Fixed per person costs
$35  Day use fee at $5/person/night for 7 campsite nights
$5    Blackfeet Tribal fee $5/person/year
$8    Start shuttle - East Glacier to Two Medicine
$40  End shuttle - Waterton to Chief Mountain to East Glacier
$88 per person in fixed costs + an equal share of the group costs below

Group costs shared equally among all participants
$60    Advanced registration application fee per group - split among all participants (backpack split into two trips at $30/trip)
$900  Single rental car cost estimate for the 15 day trip with 3 people per car splitting this cost

Total cost estimate = fixed person cost + 1/8 of advanced registration fee + 1/3 of rental car cost

$88 + $7.50(assuming 8 participants) + $300 (assume 1 rental car shared by 3 people) = $395.50 total (actual cost could be higher or lower)

Cost Comparison: National vs. Local Sierra Club Trips

In 2000 I led a one week Paria Canyon backpacking trip to Utah & Arizona for Sierra Club MWROP. The cost of that trip was $900.00 per participant and included RT. airfare from BWI to Phoenix, the participants share of a rental car, two nights in a motel before the backpack and two additional nights after the backpack, plus the BLM permit fees. In comparison the national Sierra Club was running the same week long backpacking trip to Paria Canyon and they were charging $695.00 which included the BLM permits and $50 worth of backpacking food. The airfare, rental cars or shuttles, and motel costs were all extra. I've been on two national Sierra Club backpacking trips and they were both great trips with excellent leaders and I believe that it is a worthwhile and important financial cause but there are limits to my generosity. Spending $100.00 a night to sleep in your own tent is unreasonable. Also the national Sierra Club backpacks require participants to participate in mandatory commissary cooking. You don't have a choice. They bring way too much cooking and cleaning gear, my pack weight is approximately 6 to 10 lbs heavier per week doing it their way and I have the spreadsheets to prove it. I would rather carry 6 to 10 lbs of photography gear than 6 to 10 lbs of pots and pans. Their trips, while great, are designed for beginners.

Many people are unaware that the National Sierra Club has been prohibited from leading trips in many National Parks as they would compete with commercial concessionaires who provide professional guide services. In some parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park they are only allowed to do a single fixed route every year. Local Sierra Club chapters, because they run their trips at cost, are allowed to run trips anywhere.

Trip Leader:

Ted Fryberger
6259 Deep River Canyon
Columbia, MD 21045
Phone: 443-917-2902(W/H)

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