Five friends, four nights, sixty miles through the backcountry of Montana's Glacier National Park. If you've ever wanted to find solitude and simultaneously risk your life to get there, put this up on the list.
Our party was lead by two-thirds of the Cochrane triplets, Andy and Maddy. Maddy knew the park best. She had worked previous summers as a researcher hiking to alpine lakes with scuba gear to study the population of tadpoles and toads in these remote sections of the park. She was our local. Andy was our “okay-so-it-IS-possible" guy. Andy can run a 5 minute mile. And then run 49 more of them. He is fast as shit and consumes physical challenges like a kindergartener opening presents on Christmas morning, overeager, smiling, and focused. So at any point when the going got rough, Andy was first to test the (glacial) waters. He cut out steps across snowdrifts, he ran ahead to scout what was in store, he put his own weight on the sketchiest footholds before ever encouraging us to take the leap. If Andy hadn’t carved the path ahead, it would have gone uncarved and I’d have turned back after day 1.
Greg Balkin, Taylor Burk and I made up the remainder of the party. The camera crew. We were all experienced with hiking, camping and not showering. We were not experienced when it came to traversing Glacier NP. We were in pretty deep over our heads. Later on Andy and Maddy admitted that they were too. Our trajectory took us up and down 10,000' scree fields, over partially melted snow drifts, down mossy waterfalls, and along tiny goat paths hugging cliff bands that dropped far, far, far into the valleys below us. We had to change course on more than one occasion when a route proved impassable. We hiked up a saddle only to realize it looked worse than where we came from and begrudgingly begin the descent back down tracks we had laboriously laid less than an hour ago.
It would be inappropriate not to mention the primary occupant of my mind during the five days of arduous nature loving. Food. More so than my companions, it served as my greatest joy. We had daily rations of cheese, summer sausage and ‘fruit leather.’ On the afternoon of day four Andy surprised us with Peach-O’s. It was emotional. Meals were not just nutrients, they were breaks in physical labor, they were opportunities to sit together and laugh and take a minute to look up from our feet and enjoy our own private mountain ranges.
The sun was always still up when we finally got horizontal. We had all agreed to abandon our watches and phones but it had to be around 8 or 9 each evening when the metaphoric lights went out. I had vivid dreams. Despite the physical fatigue my mind was still processing. I was walking on a small sphere, as if the Earth beneath me had been shrunken to the size of a beach ball. As I moved along its surface, gravity betrayed me and let me fall away from the surface, tumbling into space, down into the blue sky below. Over and over again I fell off the Earth and jolted awake. And by many standards I had fallen off the Earth. We were away from all family and friends, completely immersed in our new reality.
From the cliffs of Moab, to the boulders of Joshua Tree, through the Redwoods and into Washington’s Northern Cascades - I’ve had the great fortune of seeing and experiencing a number of landscapes. No single place can be more beautiful than the last. They are too different. The beauty of each is reinforced by the contrasting characteristics of the company it keeps. Variety. The spice of life. Yada yada.
BUT Glacier. To live in it. Not to drive through it. Not to hike for an afternoon or pop into the visitors center. But to live by its rules and fight with its terrain, its plants, and its weather systems. To get so deep into it that we didn’t see another party of humans for three straight days. That is a different kind of appreciation for a place. I didn’t climb the Redwoods, or jump from the cliffs of Moab. But I hiked the mountains in Glacier. I swam in its rivers and lakes. I slept in its valleys. I cautiously paid respect to the animals and the rocks big enough to kill me.
When the time came I happily left, but I left happy.
Greg also cut together a video from the trip.
It's worth the minute and thirty seconds (IMO)
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