I once had the good fortune to be able to immerse myself in this magnificent region for four months. Two days off each week weren’t nearly enough to do everything the 21-year-old me wanted to do, but I managed to do a lot with the time I had.
Through it all I found some special places — near-secret spots, hidden treasures the locals told me about, places few people go. One stood out above all the others.
For 43 years, in talking about it I’ve always said the same thing: “That’s where I left my soul. I hope to go back someday and get it.”
The trip to Kintla Lake, located in the far northwest corner of Glacier National Park, is a commitment. It begins with the route we followed yesterday — take the paved and scenic Camas Road to the unpaved and rough North Fork Road, turning toward Polebridge. From there, a rutted, rock-strewn dirt road leads east to a bridge across the North Fork of the Flathead River and back into the park.
That’s where the real journey begins.
If the North Fork Road is teeth-rattling, the Kintla Lake Road is downright bone-jarring. It runs 16 miles from the Polebridge entry station to the primitive campground at the foot of the lake, passing through dense conifer forest and enormous prairie meadows. The net elevation gain is only 600 feet, but the road careens up and down dozens of times along its way.
Oh, and the Kintla Lake Road is one lane wide — meeting oncoming traffic often requires a negotiation (and occasionally the loser of the argument has to throw it in reverse).
Deb and I got an early start this morning. We stopped briefly at the Polebridge Mercantile before re-entering Glacier and challenging the rough track up to Kintla Lake. The trek lived up to our expectations as well as my memories.
I want to mention, by the way, that she did all the driving today, her West Virginia backroads skills on full display. The woman totally rocked it (and so did our Jeep).
From wide-open meadows to dark forest passages to sections of road clinging to banks high above the North Fork, the scenery was breathtaking. We encountered only a few other travelers going either direction, and once we cleared the sign for Boulder Pass all we saw was a couple of quads headed south.
We had it almost all to ourselves. It’s that kind of road.
As we rounded the final corner, the realization that I was completing my quest to see Kintla Lake again swept over me like a wave. Deb, who’d never been there, knew what it meant to me, giving me silence and allowing me to absorb it.
We got out of the Jeep and walked together to the water’s edge. The significance of the moment, standing at last in the presence of my favorite place on Earth, overwhelmed me.
I sobbed like a child.
There’s no part of me that feels any shame in that. My reaction was one of joy, of requited love, of release from 43 years of pent-up longing to return.
My quest had ended. And I found my soul, right where I’d left it.
We lingered at Kintla Lake a long time today, about three hours. We set up our camp chairs on the gravel at the foot of the lake and ate the lunch we’d packed. We took lots of photos, talked with a few of the other folks who were there and walked along the shore.
The peace of the place is hard to imagine, much less describe. And I got to experience it with The Great Love of My Life.
When we packed up and rolled down the road again, I was content. I didn’t cast a backward glance. I had what I came for.
We stopped at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge for a beer before finishing the drive back to West Glacier. Later we had dinner at Eddie’s in Apgar Village, leaving just as it was starting to rain.
Tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the wet stuff, and that means we’ll be packing up in the rain. But we’re not done with Glacier — not by a long shot. We’ll pitch camp again tomorrow afternoon just a short distance down the road, still within range of The Last Best Place On Earth.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.