During their epic 2013 sojourn cross-country, Ziehl and Catherine had the pleasure of rolling through Glacier National Park. Looks like a hell of a place…wouldn’t it be nice to visit some day? Flash forward to Thanksgiving 2014. Kelly and I are sitting around the remains of a holiday feast surrounded by family. My cousin Chris, himself an avid White Mountains hiker, asks whether or not we have any big plans for the upcoming winter. ‘Not really, but we’re thinking about going someplace cool – nothing’s congealed just yet…’, we explain. ‘You should go see Pete in Glacier!’ he quickly suggests. ‘Pete? Who is Pete?’ I wonder, and ‘Where is Glacier, again? I think Ziehl’s been there, maybe…’ My Uncle Terry and cousin Chris fill us in. Pete was a regular dude, commuting in and out of Boston, just the same as everyone else ’round these parts until he’d had enough. He and his wife Lisa pulled up stakes and moved out to the sticks: northwestern Montana. In fact, they found land more or less surrounded by the National Forest. The ‘homestead’ as they like to call it, is basically off-the-grid: well water, solar and gas power, a wood stove for heating. They’re lucky to have a road that goes most of the way to the house; they snowmobile the last leg in winter and 4-wheel it during mud season.
And they have a bunkhouse! Chris, Terry and my dad all confirm that he’s a good dude – seriously hospitable, and apparently harboring and appetite for wilderness fun comparable to mine and Kelly’s. Honestly maybe even bigger than ours… They encourage us to get in touch. Trusty social media pulls through for us. A few phone calls and emails later and we have travel plans! We decided to tack a GNP segment onto the end of our Downing Mountain Lodge hut trip to make for a grand tour of western Montana. The drive from Downing to the Flathead region took the better part of a day, but after a 4 days of climbing up and down mountains we were ready for a scenic ride.
The photos from the drive can hardly be expected to do justice – it’s just too hard to capture the scale and grandeur of sweeping vistas of the American West without slowing down, hiking around and pulling out a fancy camera with a big lens. Western Montana was no exception and honestly, I was enthralled with practically every second of the drive.
When we arrive in the Flathead Valley, Pete meets us in town in his trusty Tacoma looking every bit the mountain man we’d heard of: wiry, suntanned, cigarette smoldering, boots spattered in spring mud – the real deal. Kelly gets the grand tour of the neighborhood while riding shotgun in the Tacoma as I follow them through the twisting mountain roads leading up to their land. We ditch the cars at a carport nicknamed ‘Camp 1’ and he shows us to our chalet. After settling in we meet Lisa, and go for a stroll around their extensive land with private trails, sweeping views to south, direct access to the National Forest, their private mountain: a little slice of paradise!
We really had only two days to spend with Pete and Lisa, so we had to optimize. We decided to spend the first day skiing, before we were robbed of any additional snow pack. We, then would spend the second day sightseeing and cruising around. Our timing was was perfect – after some quick consultation with his fellow locals, Pete steered us out to Divide Mountain for a beautiful day of spring skiing on the imposing Divide Mountain. After a stunning drive straight through GNP, a quick jaunt through the Blackfeet Nation, and some brief 4-wheeling, we were at the trail head. We set an easy skin track through a ghostly, burned forest, toward the largely treeless apron at the bottom of Divide Mountain. Armed with super-light Nordic touring gear, Pete and Lisa settled in for a PB&J lunch at the base of the apron, while Kelly and I pushed a bit higher. The snow, only recently emerged from the chilly shade, was at least pencil hard, and a tad sketchy at the steeper inclines. Kelly and I eventually bailed on the climbing in favor of the comfort of steel edges. We enjoyed a couple of quick descents with 270 degrees of spectacular views.
After topping out at our respective top-outs, Kelly took two quick runs and I took one longer run before we decided to pack up and head back to the car. Satisfied by our relaxing spring schuss, we cruised and bushwhacked back to the car where we plotted some further adventuring.
With plenty of strong daylight ahead of us, Pete brought us on a quick tour through a few nearby attractions. We hoped to go home via the Going to the Sun road – allegedly a spectacular traverse back through the park – but when we got there it was still choked with deep snow. Kelly and I wrapped up the day with a supreme BBQ feast and a can (or two) of Mountain Man Scotch Ale.
On day two with Pete and Lisa we woke to even milder temperatures and a bit of drizzle. Having filled our appetite for hiking, skiing and general toiling we went for the grand tour. Again, Pete and Lisa served as expert personal tour guides, stopping periodically to fill us in on all of the most interesting features of the land.
Thanks again for the great memories Lisa and Pete! We can’t wait to come back!