Mt Siyeh and Mt Stanton

I’ve been dealt a new work schedule, losing my usual trail comrades in the process, and I hadn’t yet hiked alone once this summer—which surprises me—until this past week, when I hit the trail twice on my own accord, attempting to climb Mt. Siyeh, one of the tallest mountains in the park, on Sunday, and then scaling Mt. Stanton the following Wednesday.

In order to start up the side of the goliath Mt. Siyeh—its northern side, not visible from anywhere I was all day, is structured from the tallest cliffs in the U.S.—I had to get to Siyeh Bend, a big U-turn on the newly reopened eastern half of the Going to the Sun Road. Luck graced me with a ride from my friend Sydney, who was headed the same way to spend her day with friends in Many Glacier.

Early on in our drive, we could see the Garden Wall towering ahead of us, and I explained how it’s an arête carved from two glaciers of unfathomable size. This wasn’t news to Sydney, who began to enthusiastically elaborate on my point, and I suddenly remembered that she studies geology. I grew inquisitive and learned some observable roadside terminology along with information pertaining to the fact the park once sat underneath a massive inland sea. There was a lot of traffic on the road, but I was enjoying the knowledge brought forth from its delay. Sydney was breaking down information I’ve been curious about all summer long but couldn’t muster the energy to find out for myself.

She dropped me off at the bend, encouraging me for my attempt to climb one of the highest mountains in the park. I started up the Peigan Pass Trail, which, three miles along from the road, runs into the start of the Siyeh Pass trail, forking off to the right and winding its way around the mountain’s eastern slope. I stayed on Piegan, as scrambling from the saddle it runs along underneath seemed like an intuitive route up while listening to different options earlier that morning. It didn’t take long for me to turn around upon seeing the saddle’s ridgeline, however, as its steepness, along with the jutting chunks of sheer rock to climb over and around, made me reconsider what I had been told. Perhaps I would’ve if I had a companion, one who could run, if something bad were to happen, until he or she could dial in a chopper to evacuate me from the mountainside. I turned back around to the fork and started up towards Siyeh Pass.

Until this day, I hadn’t hiked in this part of the park. Mountains towered from all directions underneath a blue blanket of a sky, sparsely dotted with clouds. I kept turning around, taking in the scenery I was behind, which only became more beautiful the more I left from the lush green valley I was walking through. Straight on from me was the giant gulf of air held within the saddle of Siyeh Pass.

I knew of the possibility to summit Mt Siyeh from this side, but not the preferred route. I was standing below the saddle and began to observe the gradual bare slope falling from the summit and wanted to be there. But it abruptly gives way to a belt of jagged, sheer cliff, from where loose sheeting and meadows merge with the valley floor. I eventually surmised that the gradual rise from the saddle was most appealing, even though it looked like it eventually got sketchy higher up, but I wanted to start somewhere, so I left the trail and started across the arid ground swarming with insects. Grizzlies are spotted here snacking on them.

What looked gradual from afar turned out to be demandingly steep. The flakey and gravely surface moved beneath each of my steps, bringing on pain to maintain upward progression. My view of the valley I had just traversed, along with its shadowing mountains, was growing more spectacular. I could now see the Jackson and Sperry Glaciers draped in the distance. An aqua colored lake nestled between Mt Siyeh and the saddle was directly underneath me and looked like a small puddle.

After about an hour of making my way up, winds strengthened as the ridge narrowed. Again, I’d maybe have kept on if someone else were with me. I wasn’t even sure if my chosen route could even bring my goal to fruition, and the peak only seemed to get higher and farther away. I had made my decision for this expedition earlier that morning and spent less than thirty minutes contemplating it, so I didn’t have a hard time with turning around and giving up the dream for good that day. Later, upon returning back to the lodge, I would learn that I was completely off track with this attempt.

I had climbed high enough for some great photos, ones that must be rare because of my unique trailblazing. Walking back down the ridgeline, I was flanked on either side by two massive valleys: the one I had just came from to my right; and one nestled between two multi-colored mountain chains to my left. When I made it back down the saddle, I decided to hike back over to Piegan Pass, this time all the way so I could view its other side. It was 3:45 in the afternoon, and the last shuttle back to the lodge would be stopping at Siyeh Bend at 6:00.

The hike to Piegan Pass is mild, and I quickly covered the five miles in just over an hour. I was floored by the view when I crested its ridge. Piegan Mountain towered behind from my left, giving way to a massive saddle connecting it to Mt. Polluck, which, still high above me, converges with the razor-thin, jagged cliffs of the Garden Wall running down the left side of the deep valley below. The towering Mt Siyeh and the mountain chain falling away from it comprises the other side. About a half-dozen more peaks and their unique frames contribute to the horizon. I was graced by yet another divine view.

I enjoyed some snacks while I sat for ten minutes and then hit the trail running. I had two miles to go until I reached the fork, with another three until Siyeh Bend, all of it downhill. The last shuttle would be stopping by the Bend in just over an hour.

I made it with plenty time to spare, as the shuttle was tardy. I hopped on and was surprised to see my friend Tony, who was on his way back from Many Glacier. He had his car parked at Logan Pass, where we hopped out and drove the rest of the Going to the Sun Road back to Lake McDonald Lodge.

…………

The following Wednesday, I got off from work at 3:30 with a plan to immediately start climbing Mt. Stanton, which towers over Lake McDonald directly across the water from the lodge. That day, however, the air was thick with smoke from the recently sparked Thompson Creek Fire in Two Medicine, halting my departure to see if new winds cleared the sky. I was eventually going whether or not this occurred, but by waiting, I could also see if my friend Tony showed his face around the property. He wanted to join as of the night before.

There was still no sign of Tony after an hour had passed, but the features of the surrounding mountains became more visible through thinning smog, the sparse boulders and trees at the top of Mt. Stanton suddenly glistening under the sun. I became very enthused over it all, even though I couldn’t find Tony anywhere—he would later inform me that he was golfing that afternoon, and nine beer-soaked holes carried over into eighteen.

I arranged my stuff, told some people where I was headed, then stopped by the restaurant’s kitchen to inhale some makeshift iced coffee. The time was 5:15. I had a quick drive ahead of me until the dreadful Trout Lake trailhead, which I would follow until cresting Howell ridge, where from I would follow a smaller, unmaintained trail until I reached a higher ridge to ride to the summit.

Along the way, I thought of how my bunkmate Jeff had just done the same climb a few days earlier as fast as he could. He finished the 4,700 ft. incline in only two hours and fifteen minutes, not stopping once. Until now, I hadn’t had a single competitive thought concerning this, for I was originally going with someone not as fit as me. But now I was alone, and though Jeff is a ball of muscle known to perform backflips on demand, I wanted to beat him and knew I could. I don’t know whether it was the caffeine or the beast within, but I turned up the music and tightened my grip on the wheel while convincing myself—at times out loud—that triumph was imminent.

After holding onto my car for a few half-assed stretches, I was off; and for the third time this summer, I found myself climbing up the burned eastern half of the Trout Lake trail, laid bare to the day’s punishing sun. There are over 750 miles of trails in the park to pick from, and other than this one, which I was now on for a third time, I haven’t hiked any of them twice. It was very hot that afternoon, with everyone telling me earlier I’d roast on this mountain, but it had now cooled a bit, and I kept moving along, not stopping once, not even at the top, for I found the unmaintained trail with ease and kept shoving along.

Debris and brush covered the narrow line, which I had trouble following at times. I was leapfrogging fallen tree-trunks, some of them surprising me when they’d give way downward and spring me back up. Soon, as the switchback trail began to dissipate, I veered off, and started a demanding scramble up a meadow dotted with various types of trees. Here, I envisioned Jeff climbing hand over foot, eating away the elevation. I held steady with a somewhat slow pace that I didn’t break. I was sore and breathing heavy, but my calves and thighs have ballooned over the summer’s course, along with feet that have hardened, while all conjoined by plenty conditioned knees and ankles. My mind wanted to stop, but I’ve never been in better shape.

After surpassing the meadow, I could see the peak looming straight ahead, with a narrow rocky ridge falling away from it like a twisted spine. I was happy, but still much work remained .

A break did come, as I was finally able to walk over the flat surface of the ridge’s beginning. I felt empowered walking along the narrow strip, especially alone, as thousands of feet of sheer mountainside dropped away from either side. Looking to my left, I could see both Trout and Arrow Lake, with Lake McDonald, the park’s biggest, on my right.

I began to move upwards on the last steep leg of hike left until I finished. An endorphin rush began to emanate from my brain through my body and limbs. I was almost there, and I knew I had Jeff beat.

I was steps away when I suddenly realized that it wasn’t the peak, nor was I near it. I had just been fooled by a “false peak,” and still had to surpass another ridge, which was longer and steeper than the one I had just finished. I sighed a few cuss-words at myself, and started back up again. Now, my race with Jeff was coming down to the wire.

I finally did conquer that mountain, losing to Jeff by five minutes. I wasn’t disappointed, for I was too exhausted for coherent thought, and I was hungry. I sat down at the top and took in the amazing 360-degree view of the park. Only a little haze was left in the air, so I could see peaks running on for miles in every direction except for into the west, where the landscape flattened beyond the park’s border.

I realized that I had cellphone service, and I texted my family a selfie—my first ever—and took advantage of the internet service. It was a perfect time for photos, the sun starting to settle over the distant horizon. I was eating my sandwich, taking it all in, when I realized that nightfall was coming. I was on top of a mountain, with no trail to guide me down until near the ridge. I stood up quickly and started back up again.

The beautiful sunset ten minutes later was bittersweet, for time was running out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find that narrow log/brush-ridden trail in the dark, so I moved as fast I could while still in control of my steps. Last thing I needed was to sprain an ankle or trip into a barrel roll. I was upset with myself for spending so much time at the top, but I was exhausted and needed the rest.

I was extremely lucky to have run into the trail from where I had left it on my way up. I was closing in on Howell Ridge, where I could hop on the Trout Lake Trail, which would lead me out in pitch-black darkness.

There was a sliver of moon, so I was guided onward by my headlamp. I was making a lot a noise, yelling pleasant phrases to the bears. I wanted to run but knew better, for joggers comprise a hefty portion of attack statistics. I was walking through the most bear-infested portion of the park, and it’s amazing what sort of things your mind conjures while hiking alone through a dark forest. I never looked away from the trail, regretting it when I did, my headlight illuminating just enough to confuse and then frighten me. I made it, though, minutes before 10:30, and sitting down in my car to drive back was very comforting.

Upon arriving at the lodge, I was greeted with relief that I was ok. Jeff was already asleep, but his alarm sounded off at 11:00, around thirty minutes after I returned, while I was reading in the common room just outside our door. He came out to make sure I was home, for he was going to notify the park rangers if I wasn’t. He’s already done this once on my behalf this summer, when a friend and I didn’t get back from the trail until past eleven because we had stopped at a steak house. He’s a good kid.

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Grinell Glacier

For my day off this past week, Joe and I hiked to Grinell Glacier, which is twelve miles round trip, accumulating 1,600 ft. of elevation along the way.

With the eastern half of the Going to The Sun Rd still closed due to the fire, we had to exit and loop around the southeastern end of the park in order to reach the trailhead, as I did last week when I drove to the Dawson-Pitamakan. This time, instead of stopping at Two Medicine, we stayed northbound on the Looking Glass Highway and re-entered at Many Glacier. All in all, it was a two-and-a-half-hour’s commute for a day’s hike, which leaves from the backdoor of Many Glacier Lodge we were eager to start upon reaching the trailhead.

The lodge grabbed our attention, as it was my first time walking indoors and stepping out onto its back-balcony, which, running the entire length of the main structure, overlooks a dramatic landscape of mountains. The pointed Grinell Peak is most immediate, rising from the shore across the way. Larger mountains flank it from behind on both sides, and massive valleys wind there way through, tucking away glaciers, such as Grinell, and lakes, such as Iceberg. Meanwhile the Garden Wall provides a jagged backdrop, at times towering above all that falls between. This year, the lodge is celebrating its Centennial (100th year in service), and its quaintness, along with the surrounding scenery, puts you in a fairytale.

The air was very smoky from the fire, limiting vision and fogging photos. It immediately affected Joe’s lungs and mine as we started ascending towards the glacier. We still maintained a quick pace, even while having to pass others as we went. The trail’s easy access and postcard-ready views bring heavy traffic during the high season, which we are now amid.

Walking up the right side of a valley, the bowl holding Grinell Glacier and Lake was straight ahead, though to high to see over its lip, which spills a waterfall into an aqua colored lake below. Jewel and Salamander Glaciers drape the cliff side above it, both looking much bigger now than from afar, which was encouraging, though they are still rapidly receding.

Big Horn Sheep graced our presence about halfway there, and due to the prevalence of people in the area, they are abnormally tame and didn’t run off. The bull was especially impressive, his broad build leading into a rack of spiraling horns, along with glaring dark eyes set above his snot-ridden snout that pervaded an intensity you respect with distance. A charge and buck from him could redefine your existence, if any is left at all.

The trail intermittently cuts its way through stone, at one point forming steps splashed by a waterfall from above. There are several places you step over smooth, rippling rock surfaces, which were once under water however many hundreds of millions of years ago, when an inland sea covered the span of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and a chunk of Canada existed.

We started to close in on our destination, but first had get up steep switchbacks closing the route. Due to the thronging crowds at this part, we ascended slowly until the person or group ahead of us stepped aside. Most annoying are the people who indeed see you behind them, but don’t get out your way and keep drudging along until you say something.

We arrived in less than two hours. Joe and I had made the occasion into a workout, if you couldn’t already tell, and I was drenched in sweat, ready to hop in for a dip; however, the floating chunks of ice made the water less desirable. Instead, we sat on the slanted rock-face that forms the shoreline. Plenty of people were scattered about, perhaps fifty or so, decreasing intimacy with the natural surroundings. Other than to party, when do you ever hike in order to spend time with a bunch of random people? I still enjoyed my lunch, though, and the views were stunning. You can’t expect fewer people, anyway, when pursuing such a gorgeous, yet accessible trail. Also, it was nice to see joy emanate from sets of eyes other than my own, those here to spend their precious vacation time, rather than working here for an entire summer, as I am. Yes, my current job is a vacation.

We snapped a few photos of the lake and glacier and got out of there. We passed by people whom we passed before still making their way up. Even through the smoke, our views of the valley and its lakes walking back down were stunning. We came across the same male big horn sheep we saw on our way up, this time in the middle of the trail. Once we got near, he would trot farther along the path, only to start back up again. This process lasted for a while. Finally he hopped off the trail and paused to stare at us as we passed, posing for great photos while he was at it.

Our way back down went faster than up, and we made it back to Many Glacier Lodge at 6:15. We left a half hour later, stopping along our way to grab a bite to eat. We didn’t get back to Lake McDonald until half past nine, just in time for the start of the employee talent show, which was enjoyable to kick back and watch over a few beers. I had work the following morning, so I didn’t get to rowdy over it all.

Thanks for reading. This week, I’ll do a another day hike. Stay tuned

Dawson-Pitamakan

This past weekend, Keith and I hiked the Dawson-Pitamakan, an eighteen-mile loop that takes you over two passes the trail is named after. We planned on meeting Joey, who was already out in the park on a journey spanning eleven days, covering eighty-eight miles, and accumulating eighteen thousand feet of elevation along the way. We added our names to his backcountry permit for a stay at Old Man Lake, where Keith and I would spend the night with him and part ways the next morning.

In order to get to the trailhead, located in the Two Medicine area of the park, we had to exit the park and drive along the Great Northern Railway, which tunnels and snakes its way alongside the shores of the Big Fork River, mountains towering over it all. We were out west underneath the “Big Sky.”

We had an easy day of hiking ahead of us, with only seven miles of trail until our campground at Old Man Lake. We set out from the parking lot and its conjoined campsite at 12:30, hastening to distance ourselves from the RVs’ buzzing generators. We started through forest until climbing into a large arid clearing with sparse vegetation and a dwindled stream flowing its way down the middle. The surrounding valley increasingly imposed itself the farther we walked. Keith, when not hungover, keeps his head down and doesn’t stop moving, so we were making good time. We crossed over a waterfall skirting sleek green boulders, and were back within forest, closing in our destination. The sun was breaking through a partly clouded sky and permeating the pined forest, dotting the floor with rays of light.

Arriving to our campsite at 3:00, Keith and I had a lot of downtime ahead of us before sleep. Wind was rippling the surface of Old Man Lake, which was glistening under the late afternoon sun settling behind the water’s enclosing bowl of cliffs. We thought that Joey would already be waiting for us. He wasn’t, so I talked with Keith about his writing, getting to hear the plot for his current novel, which he has only twenty-something pages left to finish. He also talked about the whereabouts and accomplishments by his teachers and peers from his creative writing masters program. The conversation lasted several hours, and I was enlightened to hearing the discipline and determination he exercises in trying to make it as a writer. Published by the likes of Shenandoah and founder of his own literary journal, he’s precise with his written word. Check out his blog/website at keithrebec.com.

It was soon 7:00, with still no sign of Joey. Knowing he’s more than suitable for his sorts of adventures, we also know that by scaling peaks and hiking off-trail, only one little thing needs to go wrong – whether in his control or not – and he could easily find trouble. Also, we only had one tent – mine – and although it’s built for two, it only fits one of me. I was most concerned over Joey’s safety, however, not a comfortable sleep that night.

The other campers who were staying at Old Man Lake started arriving to the dish pit area to cook their meals. There were seven in total: a young couple from Paris; two young cousins – one male, one female – from Michigan; and two flamboyant Colombians with their female accomplice, who was from Massachusetts.

At about 7:15, I saw a flash of orange in the distance, so I stood up from my bench for a clearer view and realized it was Joey – and his tent – lightly stepping his way down the trail towards us. He took a seat on one of the benches and immediately had everyone listening to his stories about his shenanigans in the backcountry. Captivated, the cousins invited him along for a hike the following week through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Joey, who’s sitting across from them, looks like a bat-shit, homeless grizzly-man, especially this far into his trip. The invite, which he accepts, goes to show how welcoming of a personality he is. Also enlightening, his thoughts concerning others are very rational and thoroughly considerate. I don’t know if it’s the wild that has made him this way, or if it’s innate and how he’s out there in the first place.

Darkness was settling when I took a few photos of the moonrise over the top of the lake. Later, while lying down in my tent, I began talking with Joey before nodding off. I was inquisitive about the rest of the country’s national parks, and he had all the answers. Plenty of trips or jobs were added to my bucket-list — Denali, Canyon Lands, Zion, Reiner, and Yellowstone, among others; moreover, there’s so much I must now see in Canada as well.

We woke at 9:00 the following morning and didn’t leave until well past 11:00. Light showers hit us before fifteen minutes of walking. With plenty of ascent left until Dawson pass, the first of two we were crossing that day, feelings of regret for sleeping in began to settle within us. Keith, who’s usually as stoic as they come, was even bitching over the conditions – not because he had to hike in the rain, but over the fact his photos weren’t going to look as good. Anything short of clear conditions is unacceptable, for his views must be “dynamite,” so that the photos he broadcasts on the web are as well. I was more worried about the cold. We were still more than ten miles away from my car, and hiking wet through the wind can be a real drag.

Joey split from us at the top of Dawson pass, continuing his journey north. Later, we watched him, far off descending a steep slope, veering off-trail, breaking switchbacks to cut distance. “Crazy fucker,” Keith said.

Already mesmerized by the scenery at the pass, we began to hook left around the mountain, maintaining roughly the same elevation along the way. Several miles long, this portion of the trail connects the two passes and is very narrow and carved from sheer mountainside, presenting dazzling views along the way. Luckily, the wind subsided, allowing us to quickly walk along through the light rain. The skies were dark grey, and several of the summits were fogged in, but the mountains, due to their unfathomable size, still left me awestruck and feeling belittled. We stopped to take it all in. An immense valley falls away from my feet, gathering itself far below and building upward into several glacier-laden mountains across the way. Distant scattered peaks fill the remaining horizon. I’m humbled by such a scene, which now sooths my mind wrought by the trivial.

Showers faded in and out the rest of our way around the mountain and over Pitamakan Pass. The rock was slippery, under which conditions you must come to complete stops for photography, for you hear those stories of distracted souls walking straight over into oblivion.

Keith and I, sick of getting rained on, maintained a quick pace, passing most of whom had left the campsite before us. The trail seemed to keep dragging on, the last few miles the toughest of the trip even amid a flat slope. After finishing, we grabbed a beer with dinner inside the Indian Reservation running along side the park’s east-side, and then headed back to the lodge, driving through scattered showers along the way.

The following night I joined two of my friends, Josh, who waits tables and hiked to Iceberg Lake with me earlier this summer, and KJ, who is a bartender in the lodge’s lounge, for dinner and drinks at a barbecue joint in Polebridge, which is an hour’s drive along a dirt road north of Lake McDonald. Off the power-grid, in the middle of nowhere, the town is known for its savory pastries and live music. I stopped here with my buddy Joe earlier this summer in route to the Quartz Lake Loop.

The food was good, all cooked by propane-fueled appliances. I had a pulled-pork sandwich, and a side of slaw – with no fries because there is no electricity for the fryer. They have IPA on draft, which I enjoyed a few of along with a shot of their house-made huckleberry moonshine. It was good bonding time with Josh, and KJ. We sat outside as dusk settled in and watched the moonrise in the distance. My weekend was coming to an end, and this was a great way to finish.

Heaven’s Peak and the Fire

This past week, four friends and I attempted to summit Heaven’s Peak, one of the most picturesque mountains in the park.

Along for the 2-night excursion was Keith; Joey, who was already out in the woods for several days and didn’t meet with us until we reached the campsite; and two friends I hadn’t hiked with yet this summer, Brady and Tip.

From Nashville, TN, Brady is on the maintenance crew with me. At first sight, he’s often perceived as a frat boy – much to his dismay – but he’s actually a southern hipster, a branch of evil in and of itself. A hike between the two of us was long overdue by this point, so I was glad we were getting to spend a few days together in the backcountry.

Tip’s from Tallahassee, FL, and cooks in the lodge’s kitchen, where you can find him manning the grill while enthusiastically bobbing his head to dub-step. Fully bearded with locks flowing, he calls his own shots, and I was stoked he was along for the journey. Equipped with a knife hanging from his neck, a bottle of single-malt, and two giant summer sausages, he was dialed in for this mighty occasion away from the grind.

We left to meet Joey at 10:00 this past Sunday morning. We planned to camp that night at Camus Lake, a 10.5 mile, 3000-ft climb from our starting point at the northwestern shore of Lake McDonald. The first leg of trail takes you to Trout Lake, where I’ve been and discussed earlier this summer. Like last time, getting there worked us over, as we hiked straight upward through burned forest with minimal shade. Just ask Keith, whose heart was pounding like a jackhammer, causing him to stop several times before reaching the ridge. He says he didn’t know what was going on, but I’m pretty sure it was the twelve-pack he finished inhaling eight hours prior.

Once we did get over that devilish ridge, we hung at the lake. Countless logs, torn down by avalanches, dwell along the shoreline and form a floating bridge bisecting the lake, across which Tip and Brady walked nearly halfway. We stayed for a comfortable time and leisurely strolled away not expecting the difficult, time-consuming walk ahead of us.

We came upon the shore of Lake Wilson about ninety minutes later. We stopped – again – and ate. We looked over the water at Heaven’s Peak and the valley below, surmising that we had a fairly easy hour or two of hike left until the campsite. The trail from then on was often overgrown, with shrubbery impeding our movement. Saturated by four lakes and their connecting streams, the valley’s shady bottom and thick foliage resembles that of a rainforest’s. We started to move at a brisk pace as the trail crisscrossed the stream flowing away from Lake Camus, our destination; but, as we started to climb away from the thick forest into more open scenery, the trail kept slipping further into the distance, playing tricks on us.

Again, we stopped and ate, fueling up under a hot sun. Suddenly, I realized that I was plowing through my food and might not make it unless I was rationed from there on. Never again will I leave without enough food to gorge my stomach with — especially while attempting to summit a mountain.

We finally arrived, and Joey was waiting for us. He was growing worried over our tardiness. Having just finished climbing up and over the ridge shadowing our campground, he’d spent the past five days alone in the backcountry. He only drove to town for some food following our last trek a week ago, then back at it in the wilderness filming for his Youtube channel.

As the sun settled and the forest awakened, we were devouring Top Ramen – of which Tip brought fourteen packs. That, along with his aforementioned provisions comprised his diet plan for the trip.

We woke up to rainfall and spent much of the morning inside our tents. The skies cleared at half-past noon, leaving us with a very late start to scale a peak without a marked trail to follow. Climbing a mountainside with no trail, on one’s own whim, is termed “scrambling.” Often difficult on your body, you’ll find yourself using all your limbs to keep from falling and breaking them.

Our designed route started us up a dried water chute made of loose rock and boulders and the occasional waterfall. Tip proved his adept climbing skills for the occasion, breezily slinging himself up and over ledges, not putting near the thought into his next steps as I was for my own. Our plan was to shoot upward a bit and walk across over to the recommended routes. Bunkered inside of our tents all morning, we were eager to start ascending towards the ridgeline leading up to the peak – but our hastiness began to backfire as we started our horizontal movement. More than halfway up the mountainside, after nearly three hours of incline, we were too high up from the trail to start afresh on a different route, so we became determined to make it from our elevated position. Tip stayed a steady fifty feet above, scouting the route for us as we made way. We were walking down the left side of the valley, my left hand holding anything protruding from the mountainside, often along with my right as well; it was a slow and careful process.

Heaven’s Peak’s summit was still formidable, towering in the far distance. The fact that we weren’t going to make it seeped into my mind, adding to the stress brought on by the steps I was taking. We came up to an area of steep rock face that had small horizontal lines of vegetation stepped into its face. This was when we should’ve called it quits, but the valley’s wall, now shaping into a cliff, turned sharply inward ahead of us. We wanted to see around that corner and whether or not our route would become easier from then on. Tip had just joined us from above, but was headed back up to see if there was an alternative route over to that tantalizing bend. Brady joined him.

Not keen on heading upward anymore, I let them dart off. Keith, who was taking his sweet time, was now just catching up to Joey and me. We received word from above of no safer alternative. Joey, who was very calm from much previous experience, coached me on some scrambling technique, and started across, his back to the mountain, sidestepping over the rock-face. Adrenaline-fueled, I shadowed his movement. Still, I felt in control, and Joey’s emphatic encouragement helped me over.

After crossing, I found myself standing on a steep-pitched patch of grass. No direction from there was desirable – it was either straight down or up, or back across that rock I had just traversed. My legs began to sore from holding onto the vertigo-inducing slope, and an uncalculated step in any direction could have ended me. Joey picked himself out a route moving forward towards the bend and had to drop his pack below to maneuver down the ledge. Hesitating, I followed suit as he conveyed where to latch my hands and find my footing. Not merely trembling, but full-on shaking, I made it. Joey gave me an enthusiastic high-five once I stepped down, all the while telling me I had just done a “class-5” climb, meaning it calls for harness and rope. I wasn’t as jazzed over the ordeal; moreover, I was ready to start a descent and get the hell off the mountain. A look around that bend proved discouraging, and Tip and Brady were ready to come down from above, asking me if I thought the space between us was right to climb through. They couldn’t see because of an obstructing tree line. I yelled back “no,” because of the potential for detrimental consequence; I couldn’t live with myself if something happened. They had to create their own “class-5” route down, which plenty rattled them as well.

Now, we were ready to go down – except for Joey, of course, who was much more content with our positioning; but he was also exhausted – we’d been scrambling upward for four-plus hours. Thunderstorms started howling in the distance. The ridgeline, all the sudden, appeared lonely. It took us another few hours to make it down, by which time it was half-past six – too late for another attempt, especially with lightening flashing in my periphery. We all felt unaccomplished, and I felt a little foolish. Talking it over, we began to realize how the weather had dictated our attempt, bringing on the late start and later taking away our second attempt for the ridge. We headed back to Lake Camus, picking trailside huckleberries along the way.

Two Rangers were at the campsite when we returned, and we were in deep if they noticed all five of us – we had a permit for only four. We were in one of the most remote areas of the park – we couldn’t catch a break. Walking in, I was trailing our group by about fifty yards, leaving me unnoticed. Next thing you know, I’m hiding out in my tent for over two hours. I stepped out for an occasional smoke; otherwise, I was either reading or writing bits for this post. Taking the hit, I now had sole-possession of the single malt – a useful companion after a mentally exhausting day.

We awoke the next morning and immediately headed home, back the same way we took in. Keith and Tip had work at 2:00, so we had Brady lead the way, his tree-trunk legs propelling us with quick pace.

The thunder overhead during our climb likely sparked the fire currently blazing five thousand-plus acres of the park’s eastside. As a result, the Going to the Sun Road has been closed east of Logan Pass and will probably remain until snowfall extinguishes the flames. Access to trailheads — many of which I haven’t yet pursued — has been mitigated. Rising Sun Lodge has been evacuated, leaving a refugee camp out at a company RV park.

Thanks for reading. This week, I’m headed into the park’s Two Medicine area to hike the Dawson-Pita Makin trail. I’ll either trek the entire twenty-mile loop in a single day or split it with another night’s stay under the glorious backcountry stars of Glacier National Park.

Gunsight Pass, Floral Park, and Sperry Glacier

This past weekend, I went on a two-night trek through the park’s east-side, accompanied by Joe, Keith, and Joey. This was my first hike with Joey, who doesn’t work for the lodge like the other two. His acquaintance is more than welcome for a haul through the backcountry, for he sort of lives out there. He’s constantly backpacking, shooting videos for his youtube channel – which is called “My Own Frontier.”

Until this trip, I had not hiked much with Keith. Concise with his words, he keeps to himself and stays quiet. He manages our camp store and writes a bunch – both fiction and non-fiction. Check out his blog at keithrebec.com, where you can find his published works. It’s worth the visit; he’s the real deal.

I’ve hit the trail with Joe plenty already this summer; we have the same days off. He’s still racing up mountainsides, leaving whomever in the dust when he wants.

This was my first time camping in the backcountry of the park, and our first step was to get up at 6:00 am and head to the ranger station for permits. They only allow so many people to stay in each campsite per night, and the spots fill quickly. We went back to the lodge afterwards and finished packing.

With our gear, we met at the shuttle stop. This was when Joey delivered his proposition: that he would carry as much beer as we bought, as long as he could drink half of them. It didn’t take long for me to take up his offer, as my pack was stuffed with food, a tent, cold/wet gear, a book, more booze, and so on. Keith and I each bought a six-pack of IPA, and Joey stuffed them into the top of his bag, which now weighed something like seventy pounds.

Our imbecile of a shuttle driver missed our stop at the Gunsight trailhead, leaving us off at the next one, where we waited to get driven back up. In the process of hopping on and off the crowded buses and vans, two beers popped in Joey’s backpack, saturating his tent in the process. The cans weren’t completely emptied, so him and Keith finished them off. Joe and I didn’t like watching them enjoy a cold beer, so we each had one of our own. So there we were, all standing roadside enjoying an alcoholic beverage before we even began our hike, headed into the heart of bear country with a beer-soaked tent.

Finally, the excursion started at around 1:00. After five or so minutes of walking, we came across a bear standing behind some shrubbery on the trail’s edge, his head steered in our direction. I could see its richly colored brown – almost red – fur, and immediately concluded that it was a grizzly. Little did I know, that black bears could also be brown, as this one standing in front of us was. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but people commonly refer to these as “brown” bears instead of “black” bears. Anyway, my intuition had me staring at the more aggressive, less timid grizzly species, so I wasn’t quick to grab my camera, but rather onto my bear spray as I effectively maneuvered my positioning until considerable human flesh was between myself and that beast. I was keen on outrunning every last one of them, but the “brown” bear itself wanted no part of us and spun around, darting from the path into hiding behind the thickness of the woods. None of us were able to get good photos, but we were all thrilled by the action arriving so quickly. It was the only bear we would see for the entire trip.

The hike went on for some time in the woods, and we started to break free from the trees as we walked along side a small marshland and then made our way up the side of a valley. Joey was now, and throughout the trek’s duration, filming us, along with the scenery, for a production for his Youtube channel. I myself am averse to someone filming me, but Joey is pretty easygoing, and all I ever had to do was converse with Joe or Keith, simply wave, or act like I didn’t know it was there to make it all seem candid. It was interesting to hear from Joey about his growing online following, his tireless work-ethic, and his plans as to which direction he wants to take his gig in the future. This mad-man actually wants to stay backpacking for 300 days next year! I tip my hat to him and wish him the best of luck.

Two glaciers – Jackson and Mitchell – graced our view from the east as we climbed the valley towards Gunsight Lake. The cliff’s sedimentary lines were spiraling away from them. Every fifty yards or so, you would remember to turn around and view the peaks you were leaving behind.

As we were walking, I kept staring at the sedimentary lines on the cliffs and wondering how they were steered in such non-intuitive directions. I was snapping photos when, suddenly, I looked ahead and saw something so unique and unlike anything I could imagine. Gunsight Lake, it turns out, is aptly named for the pass it’s shadowed by. Looking across the water from the eastern shore, you see a half-circle formation of cliff with waterfalls diagonally flowing from the edges towards a common apex at the bottom, somewhat resembling the crosshairs you see when your aiming to shoot. It looked more like an eerie CGI creation of the entrance to an underworld in some fantasy epic. We enjoyed the view from the shore and made way towards the pass, which we had to get over in order to camp at Lake Ellen Wilson.

The pass was windy and cold; the views, however, were nothing short of dazzling. We even got to hike right by a mother mountain goat and her baby. Carved out of the red cliff side, the demanding incline zigzagged and was intermittently grazed over by waterfalls, which soaked my feet with freezing snow and glacier melt. Walking over the top of the Gunsight itself, the illusion you just saw unfolds, as the waterfalls that previously sketched its crosshairs laterally line up across the valley.

We enjoyed a beer inside of a hut at the top and headed down towards our campsite, where we quickly set up shop. Joey and Keith decided to dip their tent in the lake to try and rid the hoppy smell. This didn’t accomplish much, as you can probably imagine. Later, while talking over hot meals and passing the flask around, I realized just how alone we were out there – away from it all. All that mattered was my meal, tent, and falling asleep, which came easy. I was dialed into my primal instinct for survival, accompanied by no distracting, pointless objectives. I enjoyed the reprieve, and I think it’s necessary to immerse yourself into nature – or life – here and there to make you stop and reflect on what it’s all about. Although Joey is somewhat bat-shit, he seems to have it all figured out with his video production fueling his passion for the wild. He’s just doing the damn thing.

We woke up the next morning and chilled out for its duration. I read and ate as much as I could. At half past noon Joey slipped me a caffeine pill and we were off, hiking straight up, before rounding our way out of the valley onto Sperry Chalet, where we would eat a snack and set up for the night. We then scrambled up Lincoln Peak, where we enjoyed views over the southern end of the park.

On our way down to our campsite, we had to decide whether or not we would climb up to see Sperry Glacier, which was four miles away and over the top of a pass. The clouds were darkening overhead, and a light sprinkle started, along with roaring thunder in the distance. But we knew we didn’t want to wait until the next morning, when we would rather just coast through the downhill for our hike’s finish. We didn’t leave our campsite until 6:00 that evening, but without our heavy packs slowing us down, we pretty much ran up the those four miles of incline, making it to the top in just under 80 minutes.

The last leg of trail to the pass is a steep staircase chiseled from sheer cliff. This only adds to your anticipation for the staggering views from Floral Park, which is a rolling rocky terrain that’s high in the sky, scattered with glistening creeks of snowmelt. The trail through the area is marked every fifty-or-so yards by piles of stacked stone. Sitting atop this desolate landscape, the glacier itself is a massive crackling sheet of white and aqua blue. Keith, enthused by the heavenly views of the park, ran over to stand atop of it for a photo.

It was getting dark and cold quick, so we ran back down to our campsite near the chalet, where we enjoyed a few beverages and dinner. The next morning we woke up to a bull mountain goat standing near our tent. This was the first male I had come across, and his size and strength was much more intimidating than the others I’ve seen. He was pretty skittish around us, however, as I’m sure that previous campers have harassed him while he’s tried to steal a salty, sweat-soaked shoe.

Our trek ended smoothly that day. I’m going to summit Heaven’s Peak this coming weekend. Again, it will be a three-day adventure into the middle of nowhere. Keith and Joey will be there, along with two others. Stay tuned!

Iceberg Lake

I only hiked for one day this past week. I was set to go on one for my first day off, but the weather forecast declared thunderstorms. The air was also smoky, limiting views. Joe and I decided to call off our original plans and head into town with Dan and watch Mad Max.

I had to hit the trail for my second day off. I was about to go at it alone until I finally came across someone who wanted to join when I was invited by some co-workers to spend the afternoon at a pool-bar in Whitefish. I then informed my friend Josh I wanted to hike instead. We were eating lunch in the employee dining room (which doesn’t dish the most savory of meals), and he quickly abandoned his original plan to liquor-up poolside, deciding to join me for a day on the trail. “I’m in Glacier for a reason,” he said. “I go to Vegas for pool-bars.”

We did not leave Lake McDonald Lodge until half past one. Our hour-and-thirty long drive over to the park’s east-side was nothing short of divine, as we traversed the Going to the Sun Road in its entirety, eventually making way to Many Glacier Lodge. Two glaciers graced our view on our drive in. One was the aptly named Salamander Glacier, and Gem the other.

At a quarter past three, the hike was on. The immediate incline wasn’t much of a challenge, but I was surprised by Josh’s desire to maintain a quick pace. Not that Josh struggled, but his physical condition “is not what it used to be.” The trail flattened and carried us four miles along the right side of a valley consisting of the dazzling views for which the park’s east-side is known. I was having fun figuring out my new camera and enjoying conversation with Josh.

Walking through a beautiful alpine meadow spotted with an array of wildflowers, our anticipation to reach Iceberg Lake only grew, as its cradling u-shaped valley of sheer jagged cliffs made the horizon.

Our arrival was not a disappointment. Iceberg Lake does, in fact, contain a significant amount of floating chunks. This is due to its surrounding cliffs, which allow sparse sunlight to hit the water. The covering ice sheet only fractures and breaks apart, rather than melt away.

We sat at the shore and ate, talking with other hikers. This was when I learned that Josh is a former D-1 outfielder. Now his effort during our trek’s beginning made sense – he has the heart of an athlete who pushes himself.

It was fifteen-to-six, and we were about to head back when I saw a trail to our left heading up to a ridge. I told Josh I needed to climb it and I would be back in fifteen minutes. The mountainside, however, turned out much taller and steeper than I had originally surveyed. I soon found myself, after jogging to the trail’s base, scrambling upward on all fours in order to maintain from sliding back down the slope. I was getting my ass handed to me, and I wasn’t even halfway up by the time I told Josh I’d be back. The mountainside’s height seemed to grow every time I tilted my head back for a glimpse of the top, and my stomach dropped at first sight of the steepness for my route down. The views from the top were worth the haul, though. From afar, the lake’s rich blue contrasted beautifully with the clashing greens of the meadows and trees falling away from its shore within the widening valley.

Josh wasn’t as enthusiastic about the vista point, for I had taken quite a bit longer to return than I said I would. We were two hours from my car, where we would still be at least another hour’s drive away from the lodge. It was a quarter to seven, and we both had work the next morning.

My tardiness didn’t keep us from stopping in a steakhouse on our way back. The place served mammoth-sized cuts straight off the ranch in its backyard. I enjoyed a couple of beers, and Josh took full advantage of the fact he wasn’t driving home. On our way back, he said, “This has been my best day in Glacier, yet.” I still don’t know if those were genuinely spoken words, or if it was the pale ale talking, but it was one hell of a day – a long one at that. We didn’t get back in until near midnight, and I had to work at seven the next morning.

Mt. Oberlin and the Highline Trail

I had only one day off this past week, but I managed to squeeze in two hikes. The first of which was Mt. Oberlin, which towers over Logan Pass and the Going to the Sun Road. My new Slovakian friend Monika and I hit the trail at around 9:00. From the start, we were veering around snow patches that dotted the hillside – we immediately lost our track. I became nervous, but then Monika pointed to the clearly visible summit and said, “We don’t need a trail.” I was a little confused, but I went with it. I had work later that afternoon and didn’t want to spend time looking for a trail that’s underneath snow. On a whim, we started scrambling up the mountainside. Over the next few hours, the surrounding peaks grew more and more prominent the higher we climbed. The Going to the Sun Road became a small thread across the valley, slicing the sheer mountainside in two.

At times, we were using all of our limbs to progress upward. I must admit that I grew nervous here-and-there, but I wasn’t about to let this girl out-tough me… no way in hell. Besides, it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle.

We enjoyed the staggering views from the top, and headed back down via the trail. Snowmelt was draining from the mountain all around us. Ice-cold water was sheening rocks and boulders, causing their turquoise, red, and orange colors to glisten. We were lucky to see quite an array of wildlife as well. A marmot, which looks like a multi-colored, miniature beaver, hung around us for a few minutes before diving into some pine shrubbery; a mountain goat and her young were nestled in a cliff-side crack off in the distance; and we came across two bighorn sheep, which ran away by first sight of us, but then remained for the second time we came across them feeding in a clearing. You definitely want to respect their space – they’re ferocious bastards. A fellow was killed by one last summer, as he got too close to snap some damned photos.

It was a morning well spent. I made it to work on time. It was my first shift this summer as a busboy, and the hard work took me by surprise. I’m too tall for it; my back was killing me by the end.

The next day, I set out for the Highline Trail with my buds Joe and Dan. It’s a fourteen mile haul, mostly downhill, and runs parallel with the Going to the Sun Road, although 500 feet higher-up. Joe and I have been on a few hikes together now, and we pestered Dan into coming along for this one. We knew that he would significantly add to the banter quality, so we fabricated the hike’s details as to its elevation gain and time duration. He was running on three hours of sleep and had just worked a breakfast/lunch shift in the diner, so he wasn’t too keen on the idea in the first place.

We didn’t set out until past 3:00 in the afternoon, which was an ambitious start-time for such a long hike. It’s a one-way deal, so we knew that hitching a ride back up to the trailhead was necessary. We maintained as quick of pace as possible.

The scenery minimized our pace, however, as we were constantly dumbfounded by the staggering views of every type of beauty that “Big Si Country” has to offer. The trail, for much of the way, runs along the Garden Wall, which is a massive arête (glacier terminology) that was carved, over the course of many years during some ancient age, by two massive glaciers simultaneously moving next to each other. The Garden Wall was the wedge between the sliding monoliths, and features a sharp, thin ridge as a result. I have pictures of it below, but if you were to open a geology textbook, odds favor you finding it featured there as well. The trail, at times, carves its way through cliffs, which added some excitement. Dan, however, wasn’t so into this aspect. About midway through, Joe and I did a side-hike up to Grinell Glacier lookout, which sits on the wall’s ridge and offers a view of a glacier draping the other side of the wall. It was a half-mile, straight upward, to get there, and Joe and I raced up to see a different view while Dan took a much cherished nap and waited for us at the bottom.

The trail features an impressive mix of wildflowers and a variation of trailside scenery. I should’ve kept an eye out for fossilized stromatolites, but I didn’t know of my chances to see them until I learned, since the hike, of their presence in the park. I’ll talk more about those in a later post, once I hunt some down with a camera.

Our hike closed out with some steep downhill, which wasn’t hard on the lungs (not that Joe would mind, anyway), but was on the knees and feet. From the bottom I had to hitch a ride back up to the pass to grab my car to drive us home. After about a half-hour wait, a red truck pulled over and a hippie, who looked as if he was experiencing life on different plane, asked me from the passenger seat where I “needed to go.” I was moderately unnerved over the prospect of hitching a ride with this dude, but the driver seemed plenty sober and sane. So, I hopped in the back and waved to my friends – who had previously been taking pleasure in watching me get denied by other passing vehicles – goodbye. The drive itself was an awesome experience. The stoned maniac was hollering back at me and at everything else as he was enjoying the staggering beauty. I got to watch the sun set into the mountains off in the distance as we wound our way back up to the pass.

We didn’t get back to the lodge until ten that night. We bought a couple sixers of IPA and talked about our excursion. Dan faded away rather quickly and hit the rack; he had work at five in the morning.