Brown Pass and Hole in the Wall – Glacier National Park

This is day three of our five day backpack through Glacier National Park. Click here to read day two, Or here to read day one.

We have lost the trail, it has started to rain, and the mosquitos are the worst I have ever seen. My wife and I whip out our rain gear, but not for protection from the rain….to deter the relentless mosquitos. We are standing out in the wide open, hoping the rain will drive them away. But It doesn’t. I give my head net to my wife and search franticly for the other one. But with my hands busy digging in my pack I have nothing to defend my head. I can literally see the mosquitos biting my face. And without the second head net…my only escape is to hike faster then they can fly. But thats the other problem…we don’t know where the trail is.

Bowman Creek

When we left Lake Francis that morning I had no idea the kind of day we were in for. I had expected to view spectacular scenery…and Glacier National Park did not disappoint. But that scenery would come at a price. Our third day in the Backcountry would be our hardest day yet. The most elevation change and the longest hike of our entire trip.


But we weren’t worried, it was still early and Thunderbird pond had us mesmerized. In Texas the word pond conjures a much different mental image. I half expected a small, stagnant, mirky watering tank. But Thunderbird pond is the complete opposite. I turn to our guide and say “this is a pond?” He just smiles and asks if he can take our picture.

Thunderbird Pond and Thunderbird Falls
My wife and I at Thunderbird Pond

The day has warmed up fast and the water is so inviting both my wife and I think about swimming. But there is no time…we have a long way to go today. We push on ahead and begin to switchback up toward 6255 foot Brown Pass. And as we climb higher we catch glimpses of Dixon and Thunderbird Glacier feeding two gigantic waterfalls. One thing is for sure…the further we hike…the prettier it gets. But even these begin to disappear behind the ridge as we near the top of the pass and the Continental Divide.

My wife thinks about jumping in Thunderbird Pond.
Looking back at Dixon Glacier
Heading up toward Brown Pass

At the top our Guide gives us a choice. We have made good time, so if we would like we can take a mile or two detour toward Hole in the Wall. I look to my wife. For the last couple of days she has been nursing two heel blisters which only seem to be getting worse. Every step brings pain and we have only come about a third of our journey today.

Our guide tells us there is some spectacular views to be seen and we may never get the chance again. “Its up to you” he says “but to me thats the reason you’re here.” He’s right and my wife knows it. Her heels may hurt but this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We head off to the northwest across a large snow field. My wife’s blisters are slowing us down and our guide is having trouble keeping our pace. He knows better than all of us the time constraints we are in so he stops and offers to stay with our packs. At first I resist…I’m not used to hiking with a guide and I feel bad leaving him there to babysit. But he assures us it is his job and that he has seen it all before. So we head off toward Hole in the Wall grateful to be hiking without the packs.

A snow field along the Boulder Pass Trail
My wife’s heel blister. Taken 5 days after this trip

Before long Bowman lake comes into view down at the bottom of the valley. Bowman lake is were we will camp tonight. It looks so far away and is almost discouraging. I know its not as far as it looks…but my wife sees something different…giant blisters. Its going to be a long way down. But right now the task at hand is getting a glimpse of Hole in the Wall. We continue around the ridge until the spectacular waterfalls come into view. Part of me wishes we were headed this way over Boulder Pass. But the Hole In The Wall campsite is closed under lingering snow. It’s one of the reasons why we are headed to Bowman instead. We sit on the edge of the trail and gaze down into the deep ravine before us. At least a dozen waterfalls our in our immediate view including Hole In The Wall which is a waterfall that originates out of a small hole in the cliff face.

Looking down Bowman valley to Bowman Lake. Bowman lake is were we camped that night
Boulder Pass trail with Bowman lake in the distance
Boulder Pass Trail just before we round the corner to Hole in the Wall
Approaching Hole in the Wall. You can barely see it in this photo.
Hole in the Wall is on the Left.
A better angle further down the trail. Hole in the Wall is on the left

It is so pretty here I think I could sit here all day. But my body is telling me its time to keep moving. It’s nearing lunch time and all our food is in our packs back with our guide. Plus a storm is coming in over Boulder Pass so we decide it was time to head back. We are glad we came. The extra miles were well worth the view. We rejoin our Guide and eat another round of cheese, crackers, and beef jerky before heading back to Brown Pass.

Looking down on Brown Pass. The large snow field in the middle of the pass is the remains of a large avalanche. 

At the Bowman Lake Trail junction we lose the trail altogether. Sometime last winter a huge avalanche came through the area completely demolishing the trail and the Brown Pass Campsite. A huge pile of snow, downed trees, and other debris covers this part of the trail. We at least know which direction to head but are forced to zig zag through a relentless maze of downed trees. Unsure which way to go we take a higher path and realize quickly that the trail is down below the ridge. We stop to assess our position when it starts to rain. We drop the packs under a couple of large trees as our guide heads off down the ridge to see if he can find a way back to the trail. My wife and I stay with the packs and before long the mosquitos find us. Or should I say attack us.

Hiking across avalanche debris toward were we think the trail is.
Still negotiating the Avalanche Field. This is the last picture I took of the Avalanche debris. It became too difficult after this to worry about taking pictures.

I have never seen mosquitos quite this bad. I look over at the back of my wife’s shirt which is covered in literally hundreds of mosquitos. With one swat I easily kill 2-3 dozen. I never find the other head net and I can’t hike to get away. I have no choice but to stand in the rain swatting at mosquitos till our guide gets back. When he finally rejoins us the mosquitos find him as well. Fresh meat. Later he tells us that was the worst he had ever seen. I don’t know why but for some reason it makes me feel better.

My shoulder covered in Mosquito bites. I received these bites through my shirt. 

in the mean time he has found the trail but its not going to be easy to get back to. We drop down below the steep ridge through some thick Huckleberry Bushes. the terrain is so steep we have to sit and slide down on our butts while gripping the Huckleberry Bushes to slow our decent. We are still dealing with the effects of the avalanche. Climbing up over and sometimes under countless downed trees. But then we see the demolished pit toilet of the Brown Pass backcountry campsite. With a little more looking we find a couple of tent pads and eventually the trail. A couple of hours have gone by and we have only moved about 1/8 mile. Its going to be a long day.

All the way down the ridge the mosquitos have followed us. But the good news is it has stopped raining. We stop to take off our rain gear which only invites the mosquitos to feast on the rest of our bodies. No matter…now that we have found the trail we have a chance of out-walking the mosquitos. “Let’s get moving” I say and before long we leave the mosquitos behind us.

Heading down Bowman Valley
A random waterfall along the Bowman Lake Trail
Some Bear Grass along the Bowman lake trail.

Bear Grass. Each flower is a tiny Lily.

All the way down the valley the trail is surrounded by Cow Parsnip as tall as my shoulders. The rain is coming and going and as it does it soaks the Cow Parsnip, which eventually soaks my pants, which eventually runs down my legs into my boots. Within minutes everyone’s boots are soaked. But there is nothing to do but continue.

Some tall Cow Parsnip along the Bowman lake Trail
Looking back up toward Hole in the Wall.

As we near the bottom of the valley Bowman Creek braids itself across the trail in multiple spots. The first couple of crossings have easy logs stretched across to help us stay dry. But before long we reach a section with no easy way to cross. Our guide asks if we want to ford the creek or hike up and see if we can find a log to cross. I ask him what he would rather do. He chooses to find a log and we follow him through thick brush up the side of the creek.

Bowman Creek

A short way up the creek he finds a rather thick log and starts out across it. But after a few steps he stops. The log has come to rest several feet above fast moving water and looks rather weak in the middle. Our guide isn’t a small guy and has a very heavy pack on (my guess would be close to 75 lbs, the dude was amazing).

He yells out to me “you guys don’t have to do this.”

I chuckle and respond “that log looks weak in the middle.”

“I agree” he says “you want to go back and just ford the creek”

“Sounds like a plan, besides, my boots are already soaked.”

We decide to take off our boots, however, and put on sandals. My boots might be wet but I see no point in dunking them in the creek, I do want them to dry out eventually. We cross the creek and sit down to put our boots back on. We have to repeat this several times as we cross different sections of Bowman creek. On our last crossing our guide and my wife cross on a narrow log. I follow them across but somehow manage to slip into fast moving water up to my thighs. I have my expensive DSLR around my neck which nearly meets its demise in the water. But I managed to gain my balance before it falls in. Now my boots are beyond soaked…I abandon the log and finish crossing through the creek.

Fording Bowman Creek

I look at our Guide and my wife. We are all tired, soaked and ready for camp. My wife is still dealing with bad blisters and wet boots have only made it worse. Camp seems like it will never come. But we keep on trekking and before long we arrive at Upper Bowman campsite.

A fog comes in as we cross Bowman Creek for the last time.
Bowman Lake Trail

It is nearly dark when the rain lets up. Our guide and I decide to set up the tents before it starts again. I rush to get everything set up and then sit down on a log in utter exhaustion. Our guide looks over at me and asks:

“You pooped?”

“yes”

“me too” he replies “It was a challenging day.”

“Yes” I say with a deep breath “but I somewhat enjoyed it.”

“yeah sometimes I like a good challenge.”

I think…me too…Thankful tomorrow will be an easy day.

The Hike:
Starting Location: Francis Lake
Ending Location: Upper Bowman Lake
Starting Elevation: 5250 feet
Ending Elevation: 4250 feet
Highest Elevation: 6255 feet
Elevation Change: Up 1000 feet, Down 2000 feet

Day three of our five day backpack through Glacier National Park
Our hike color coded by day. Blue = Day One, Red = Day Two, Yellow = Day Three, Green = Day Four and Five
Day three elevation profile


I used both the book and map featured below while planning my Glacier Trip. Buy them through these links and support MyLifeOutdoors

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6 thoughts on “Brown Pass and Hole in the Wall – Glacier National Park”

  1. The photography is great! I really enjoyed this post. Brings back memories. I don't miss those mosquitoes! It sounds like they were bad. The views made up for it though.
    What a challenging day. I couldn't have made it. Someday, I will be able to.

  2. Gumo,

    Even though we won this trip…it kinda turned into our 10th anniversary trip. I was glad to spend it with my wife.

    Jeff

    gee…*blushing* I don't know what to say…glad you enjoyed it.

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