I complimented a park ranger in Two Medicine who gave a very entertaining talk on birds in Glacier National Park last night.
"Great job tonight," I said. "It looks like everyone left feeling really happy."
The park ranger responded, "Most people probably won't remember much of what I discussed tonight. But they will remember how they felt. If they leave Glacier National Park feeling happy, then I did my job."
I also will leave Glacier National Park tomorrow feeling very happy. It was an intense week. How does one summarize an entire week hiking in the back-country in one of America's crown jewels? I simply can't. There were extreme highs and lows both literally and figuratively. Any relationship begins with all sorts of fears and expectations both realized and imaginary. The Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park are no different. I am just beginning to learn their ways. It felt like they were trying to kill me in the beginning. Yesterday and today they have offered a gentle and friendly nudge to continue on.
Wildlife viewing has been fantastic. Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, giant beavers, moose, marmots, strange chicken like high elevation birds, giant deer. The presence of the Grizzly has been a constant one, although I never saw one, just some fresh prints and scat. Let me just say mountain goats are awesome! I was privileged to observe a group of mountain goats for a couple of hours from one particular campsite called Morning Star Lake. I wish I had binoculars. It gave me the same feeling as the first time I saw rock climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite: Amazed. Although I remember someone once remarking that watching rock climbers is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Maybe the mountain goats are more exciting, or I need to get a job as a painter. The goats were on these cliffs that seemed to go straight up from the valley a couple thousand feet. Not only were they not harnessed in by ropes or other safety gear, but they seemed to show absolutely no fear climbing onto ledges, jumping from ledge to ledge, running at times, and finding their way into cracks and crevasses.
The weather seems to have gone from winter to summer in a week. It also took about that long to once again feel wild or feral. I noticed it after hiking over Piegan Pass and eventually coming out onto the Going to the Sun Highway. I found a bench near the road where I could sit and eat a snack. The sky had darkened and it began to rain. Not too hard but enough to get a good soaking. Folks were driving by in the comforts of their vehicles, and I didn't care one bit. I was just glad I was off that mountain pass, and the rain at least felt warmer than the one the day before. Uncomfortable was the new comfortable. It was a pleasant epiphany.
I met some great folks on the trail this week, in particular Pyrite and Chinchilla. They are a married couple hiking the CDT. They gave me a burst of energy and renewed confidence while hiking over Piegan Pass. I had been hunkered down below the pass for 24 hours as a storm system passed through. I couldn't bring myself to go up there, it looked so intimidating in the bad weather. The park ranger had warned me a few days earlier that this was probably the most difficult pass as far as snow was concerned. In his words, "You'd better have an ice axe and micro spikes, because if you slip, it's a long way to the bottom." Pyrite and Chinchilla passed my tarp to say hello just as the rain seemed to stop. They told me they were doing the CDT and they were hiking over the pass. I was astounded by their confidence and simple statement despite the bad weather. I packed up my things and followed them up a half an hour later. Yes, it was intense.
A couple of days later I asked them if they would mind if I joined them up Triple Divide Pass, another sketchy area with supposedly steep snowfields. They agreed to let me tag along. The Pass wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. We parted ways at the top. They are now a day ahead I believe. I was and am still grateful for their company.
All in all, it was a fantastic first week on the CDT. I still don't have my hiking legs under me, but I will need to put in longer days this next week. My confidence is gaining as I learn these mountains and their ways. I love my GPS. It's been a super handy tool during tough intersections. So far, my systems seem to be working out just fine. This week I head into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, next strop Benchmark, then Lincoln. Happy Trails!