A Belly full of Glacier

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  • Arrow-leaved balsam root blooms in the Belly River. The ranger station and Gable Mountain are in the background.

  • 1

    A hiker looks over Mokowanis Lake in Glacier National Park.

  • 2

    Canada geese in the Belly River.

  • 3

    Snowshoe hare in camp.

  • 4

    Common loons on a Glacier Park lake.

  • Arrow-leaved balsam root blooms in the Belly River. The ranger station and Gable Mountain are in the background.

  • 1

    A hiker looks over Mokowanis Lake in Glacier National Park.

  • 2

    Canada geese in the Belly River.

  • 3

    Snowshoe hare in camp.

  • 4

    Common loons on a Glacier Park lake.

You know youíre in shape for the hiking season when youíre chugging up the hill out of the Belly River Valley in Glacier National Park and you still feel pretty good, which means youíre not puking a lung out of your ear.

And thatís how we felt on this 36th mile of the 37-mile three-day trip ó pretty darn good. Litmus test passed.

Not that the hill coming out of the Belly is all that big ó itís not ó 774 feet. But the problem is the elevation gain comes in the last mile of a long day and there are no views and itís usually hot with no breeze and horseflies are the size of hummingbirds.

But on Saturday of last week it wasnít too hot, there actually was a breeze and the horseflies, well, they hadnít set up shop ... yet.

The Belly River, or as the guidebooks like to call it ďthe remote Belly RiverĒ is a great early season jaunt. Once trail crews have put the bridges in, itís pretty easy to get around and, in late spring, the flowers are blooming and the critters are active. We saw a cow elk and three bears in the first three miles.

The trip took us to the remote reaches of the Belly, some places the trails were cleared, some places they werenít. But so what? We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

There was just one couple staying in one camp at Glenns Lake the first night and save for a pair of loons, we had the head of Elizabeth Lake all to ourselves the second night.

Which isnít to say the Belly River camps canít get crowded ó they can. Weíve camped at the foot of Elizabeth in the middle of summer when there were upwards of 30 campers there and it was overbooked.

But the Belly River isnít much of a day hike destination. It is out of the way by Glacier Park standards and that aforementioned hill generally discourages the casual jaunt, so even when you do get back there most of the traffic is just hikers going from one camp to the other.

We probably wonít go back to the Belly this summer. Itís nice to stay just one step ahead of the curve of the crowds. But this fall, when things simmer down and the bridges are pulled and thereís a risk of snow, well, thereís a tree I found along a certain lake that will make a nice photo on a cold October morning.

Might just have to chug up that hill one more time...

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