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“Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if your were a sponge, and the big days will go uncounted. If you are business-tangled, and so burdened with duty that only tweeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, then go to the Flathead Reserve; for it easily and quickly reached by the Great Northern Railroad. Get off the track at Belton Station, and in a few minutes you will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent – beautiful lakes derived straight from glaciers, lofty mountains steeped in lovely nemophila-blue skies and clad with forests and glaciers, mossy ferny waterfalls in their hollows, nameless and numberless, and meadowy gardens abounding in the best of everything ….
Lake McDonald, full of brisk trout, is in the heart of this forest, and Avalanche Lake is ten miles above McDonald, at the feet of a group of glacier-laden mountains. Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening it, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.”
-John Muir on Glacier National Park
As we are in the final countdown of days to our High Adventure trip to Glacier National Park, it seems that it’s all I can think about. I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about the train, making our meals en route and hopping out for a quick bite of sun before it pulls away to the next stop. Part dream, part memory and part giant to do list!
4 years ago, July 12 – 22 2013, we took a group of 24 adults and Scouts on the train from Minnesota to West Glacier. I was a new Assistant Scoutmaster in the troop, and determined to learn everything I could! It was my first backpacking trip ever and I was also leading it… I read books, researched, packed, re-packed, re-packed again, broke my toothbrush in half, weighed everything and still managed to have a pack 10-15 lbs heavier than I prepared for. I remember talking to lots of people, getting some good advice, some really bad advice and putting a lot of undue pressure on myself to prove myself as a female leader.
I also remember people eagerly telling me about how Grizzly Bears attacked or mauled menstruating women when I would mention the trip. Serious. Thanks guys, super helpful. I remember even a stranger on a plane felt compelled to tell me a “true” story that went something like: “My sister’s brother-in-law’s, cousin’s best friend actually knew someone who was related to the friend of someone who’s sister was actually eaten by a bear…all because she went hiking with her period”. Right. Did my research, and there is no statistical evidence that bear attacks have been related to menstruation, so I let it roll. Looking back, the bear thing seems so silly now. But the experience of planning my first backcountry trip despite my fears was a pretty huge growth experience for me and it laid the foundation for many future adventures. I am so grateful to those who walked along side me.
I have written about the importance of keeping an outdoor journal before in the Isle Royale posts, here are a few highlights from our 2013 trip:
Day 1 & 2: The train!
Boarded the train at 11:20 pm, stayed up talking until 2am and woke up with the sun. We are STILL in North Dakota, how is that possible? The stop in Minot allowed for a short yoga break after a lot of sitting. The scouts are having fun moving from car to car, playing cards and spending time together. After a 22 hour train ride, we arrived in West Glacier late at night. Our pre-arranged ride didn’t show up, but we still managed to get to Apgar Group Camp. Armed with 24 cans of bear spray, and with all of our tents up, we eventually got tucked in. When I finally settled into my sleeping bag, I was surprised to still feel the sway of the train well into the night.
Day 3: Our first day in the park!
Woke up cold at 4:30am, put on my bear bell and bear spray to find the bathroom. The blossoms are chewed off of the bear grass around our campsite and we are told that that is a Bear’s delicacy. The scouts were good about locking everything up in the bear box, but we still checked their tents the first day to make sure everything was good. It took forever to make breakfast and get going, but we were all pretty tired. First hike: Apgar lookout! Our hike took us past the river that flows out of Lake McDonald and we were surrounded by snow capped mountains! It was in the mid to upper 80’s and the heat, altitude and dehydration started to get to us, so we cut our hike a little short and headed back to camp and relaxed.
Day 4: Whitewater rafting and the importance of Bear Spray!
My grandparents came to visit while the rest of the troop went Whitewater Rafting. It was so great to see them and spend the whole day together, they are mountain people and I’m convinced it reverses the aging process! Right before bed, the scouts went to get ice cream (Huckleberry!) and watch the astronomy show. Scout #1 came running back in the dark and handed me scout #2’s bear spray. I asked why he didn’t need it? No answer.
A little later, someone heard on the walkie talkies that Scout #2 and #3 (our son) saw a bear with them on the trail back and NEITHER had bear spray. Then there was speculation that said bear had cubs along…it was dark, something about not having a flashlight…no bear spray…here was a lot of whispering on the radio, and I got so worried that I let my own inner mama bear out on the radio! Then the Scoutmaster did! Then Scout #4 did! Then Scout #3’s Mom did! Then our other ASM chimed in! They finally made it back to camp after a good nagging by 5 different people on 4 radios. It wasn’t funny then, but we all laugh about it now.
I put in my earplugs, pulled my wool hat over my eyes, slept in all of my wool and fleece layers including 2 pr of socks and cinched the REI Lumen 25 that we borrowed from the REI gear bank around my head.
…and woke up shortly thereafter, sweating.
Day 5: Into the Wild
Woke up early and drank coffee on the shore of Lake McDonald. Picked up our Backcountry permits at the Ranger Station and chatted with them for a bit. Learned where the bears were, any incidents in the park and what the weather forecast was supposed to be like for our trek. Spent some more time with the grandparents, hiking around Apgar and packing food, etc for our time at Snyder Lake and Sperry Glacier. Tried to get some sleep….and not get either too cold or too hot. Here’s a picture of me and my oversized pack,
Day 6: Snyder Lake
7 of us ventured out from Apgar group camp to the Snyder Lake trailhead. The shuttles are free from Apgar to St Mary on Going to the Sun Road, we still had to wait about 45 minutes for the shuttle, so its especially important to get there early. We gained 2,500 feet in 4.5 miles, and I started feeling altitude sickness creeping in again. Sort of breath, headache, too heavy of a pack…how embarrassing. I had to take few breaks and drink A LOT of water to eventually get past it. The views here are overwhelming. A photo from our Sperry site will have to do for now, I can’t seem to locate the Snyder Lake photo.
I was quiet for most of the hike and am still assimilating to the incredible beauty. Our campsite is set in a basin along Snyder Lake, it’s like being in a giant bowl. There’s still snow on the mountains and millions of Pines. We saw bear scat on the way here and hiked for miles in flowers that were taller than our heads. Weather forecast for tomorrow includes lightning, snow and hail… Tomorrow we head to Sperry Glacier!
So many more memories were made the remaining days we were on our adventure, perhaps there will be a Part 2 to this post…I need to start packing!