A Rocky Mountain Odyssey

Trip Members: Joe (Author), Justin, Sara, Suzanne, Lindsay, Matt 

Trip Duration: July 18-August 11

Sara met me on campus at around 5pm and we drove up to NIU at Dekalb, Illinois to spend the night and pick up Suzanne. We got food and supplies and left then next morning at about 7am and began the three day trip to Edmonton. The three of us made our way west and north through Fargo, and the rest of North Dakota which turns out to really be a flat barren wasteland and later dropped even lower on our favorite places list after encountering swarms of mosquitoes that threatened to carry the truck away if we stopped too long. Windshield wipers and wiperfluid proved to be useless against the mat of bugs on the windshield and were even thick enough to dim the headlights! We finally arrived in Winnipeg around 11 and got a motel room from hell with damp carpeting, hairy sheet and mildewy bathroom. The next morning we got out of there as fast as possible and after missing a poorly marked turn and a hour long detour headed west again, cursing Winnipeg and Manitoba all the way. After driving though 13 hours of topographically challenged country of canola fields we were extatic to stop and take pictures of the worlds largest coffee pot in Davidson, Saskatchewan before going on to Saskatoon to stop for the night. The scenery got a bit nicer by the next afternoon around the Alberta border when we started getting into river valleys and the worlds largest Ukranian Easter egg in Lloydminster. We finally arrived in Edmonton on the afternoon of the 21st and met up with Lindsay (and matt later that night after an evening on the town).

The five of us drove out in two vehicles to visit Lindsays two horses and head to Jasper national park. We got to the Park that evening and stayed in the Pocahontas campground that night after spectacular views of snow capped jagged mountain peaks at the park entrance. The next day we headed out to the ranger station to get our backcountry passes only to find out the ranger who issued our reservation gave us a campsite that could only be accessed by canoe and had no trails to it. We opted for another campground and headed out. The ranger warned us that they had the wettest June on record and the mosquitoes were vicious... we found out he was not exaggerating. The 12K hike to the campsite was beautiful, passing by several mountain lakes, through canyon-like passes, under several thousand foot peaks, fields of wildflowers, glacial valleys with waterfalls and mosquitoes swarming every time we stopped for pictures or lunch. We made it to the campsite, along Jacques Lake, set up camp, fought the mosquitoes, ate dinner, attempted to evade the mosquitoes, built a fire to keep the mosquitoes at bay and played some cards. We were told the next morning by other campers that minutes after we went to bed several moose came down to the lake. The next morning we all hiked back out to the trailhead and spent a glorious mosquito-free night at Wapiti campground near Jasper. On day 8 the group proceeded south, stopping every several miles to take pictures of breath-taking views of numerous waterfalls (including Athabasca Falls), glaciers and rugged mountain peaks. We arrived at the Columbia Icefield, ate lunch and took a tour of the Athabasca Glacier on huge glacier rovers (busses with 8 foot tall tires). Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in surface area and volume in the northern hemisphere south of the arctic circle. Athabasca Glacier, itself is over 1,000 feet thick and lies next Snow Dome Mountain, a triple point where water flows into 3 different oceans off its peak (Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic). After a quick detour across the continental divide into British Columbia and Yoho National Park, we spent that night near Calgary at Lindsay's Godmother's house (free place to sleep and a hot shower). The next morning we drove back into Banff National Park and hiked up to a cirque (a bowl shaped feature on the side of a mountain where a glacier starts). A family coming down said they saw a Grizzly bear up in the cirque, but all we saw were ground squirrels, Pika and a Bushy-Tailed Woodrat. We drove down to Dinosaur Provincial Park 2 hours southeast of Drumheller and camped for the night. The next day we headed up to Drumheller to the Royal Tyrell museum, a world famous paleontology museum, exhibiting many famous one-of-a-kind fossils including specimens from the Burgess Shale and many dinosaurs from famous bonebeds in southern Alberta.

On the 29th of July we finally left Canada and headed down to Glacier National Park in Montana. Suzanne and I stopped in at the Ranger station to get our backcountry permits while the other three headed to Fish Creek Campground to get our campsite for the night. We got our backcountry permits and drove up "the most scenic highway in the United States", the Going to the Sun road. We stopped to stretch our legs at Logan pass and hiked a few miles into the Alpine. We saw Hoary Marmots, Columbian Ground Squirrels and Mountain Goats (including babies). The next morning we dropped my truck off at our exit trailhead and Lindsay drove us up to the Jackson Glacier Overlook trailhead. Suzanne and I started in on a 3 night trip trough Glacier National Park. We got on the trail at 8 am. After about 8 miles, including a detour to Florence Falls, we were the first ones in to the campground at Gunsight Lake at about 2 pm. The rest of the afternoon was left to lounging in the nearly cloudless sunshine on the beach and growing tired of catching Rainbow Trout... which we had for dinner that night. The park ranger warned us that since they had been having a drought and a heatwave, mule deer at this particular campsite had been chewing on backpacks, boots and clothes to get at the salts deposited from sweat. This became evident when another camper returned to the cooking area carrying his wifes shirt that he had to pull out of the mouth of one particular mule deer. The rest of the evening was spent chasing deer away from the campsite and ourselves. Two other POCer alumni from the 80's were also camping there that night. We headed out the next day up 1500 feet to the Continental Divide with breath taking views of Gunsight Lake all the way up. We had lunch on the divide, fought off marauding marmots and ground squirrels trying to steal our lunches from us (one marmot stole a digital camera from one lady, she got it back after a frantic chase). That afternoon we enjoyed equally amazing views of our destination, Lake Ellen Wilson, which proved to be teeming with Lake Trout (which we again had for dinner). The evening was spent contemplating the possibilities of not going back to the mid west while watching the sun go down and the stars come out one by one over the sub-alpine lake. The next day would prove to be just as amazing as the previous two. We were greeted at the trailhead by a nanny mountain goat with a baby and several more along the way. We stopped for a break at the last pass before our campiste at Sperry campground which had views of the Sperry Chalet, Lake McDonald and the nearly 1,000 foot high Beaver Falls draiing Lake Ellen Wilson. We got to the campground and set up camp at 11 am, had lunch, patched up blisters and headed out for a 4 mile, 1400 foot gain up to Sperry Glacier by way of Comeau Pass. Our campsite that night was on a rocky ledge overlooking a deep glacial valley. We were greeted by a family of mountain goats hanging out by our tent after dinner and fell asleep watching them walk around the campsite (we left the fly off for the view of the stars). Our fourth and last day led us down to the Sperry Trailhead at Lake McDonald Lodge. We spent the night in East Glacier, enjoying huckleberry milkshakes with dinner. Suzanne took an Amtrak back to Illinois the next morning and I drove solo to Yellowstone to meet up with the rest of the group who picked up Justin in Red Lodge, Montana. The next three days we spent fighting the crowds of incredibly stupid, ignorant, future Darwin awards winners who would stop in the middle of the road, get out and approach the Mule Deer, Elk and Bison to take pictures; plus one guy who we saw bending over top of and peering INTO a fumarole (a geyser-like vent that spews out steam and scalding, noxious gasses).

Justin and I said good-bye to the rest of the group on August 5th and drove down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to get supplies for a 4 night trek in Grand Teton National Park. We got our backcountry permits and spent the night at a park campground. The next day we headed out from Jenny lake, up 3,000 feet and set up camp in the subalpine in South Cascade Canyon. I set up my hammock and spent the night reading Desert Solitaire and later watched Venus sink behind the moutnains. We headed up past Schoolroom Glacier the next morning and over 10,500 foot Hurricane Pass. Most of the rest of the day was spent hiking though fields of alpine wildflowers. The florist shop fragrances were like an orgasm for the nose! The campground for the second night was spent at the edge of a 500 foot cliff overlooking Death Canyon. Day three led us down out of the Subalpine ecosystem into the centuries old Pine forests of Death Canyon. We finished our 3000 foot decline for the day at Phelps Lake. A mother Moose and her calf greeted us by the trailside just before arriving at our campsite. We set up camp at around noon and Justin decided to go for a swim and clean up. Much to his surprise, the water smelled (and we later found out tasted) like fish! Justin even tried covering up the horrible taste by dropping two cinnamon Altoids in his nalgene bottle. Gross! We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing cards and watching the moose walk around the edge of the lake and upto our campsite. We got up before sunrise the next morning and were rewarded by breath-taking, colorful mountain reflections on the glass-like surface of Phelps Lake. We decided to cover the 12 miles and 1500 feet of gain and loss to the trailhead before noon. We would have made it to our vehicle by the deadline but Huckleberry patches beckoned to us and slowed our pace. We were delayed again taking photos of a black bear gorging himself on huckleberries at the side of the trail. We got to the truck at noon and rewarded ourselves with cold drinks and icecream bars at the visitor center. That afternoon and evening we drove to Denver, where we spent the night at a friends place. We got on the road at 6am and drove the rest of the way back to Indiana, dropping Justin off in Indianapolis after making only 3 stops the entire drive. I got in on campus at 2:30 in the morning after 6,500 miles and 24 days.
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