One needs a good reason to embark on a 2,000-mile drive across some of the most austere country in the United States.
For Joe Cardoza, Mike Sprengl, Joe Bledsoe, and I, five days hiking through what what we hoped was some of the most beautiful country in the United States, was a good enough reason. Our time spent hiking in Glacier National Park proved to be an experience characterized by aesthetic and less tangible qualities that made the drive, particularly through North Dakota, worth the while.
To call what we did in Glacier National Park "backpacking," would be a lie. In fact, we as a group hiked with backpacks in tow for only 8 hours of the five days we were there. After my navigational mistakes, denial of entry to mountain passes and space at backcountry campsites, and the discovery that I have asthma, we had spent most of our time at Glacier doing everything except backpacking. But we were determined to have fun and to make the most of our long journey to God's country under the Big Sky.
Long hikes, with or without 50 lbs of gear on our backs, led us to find crystal-clear mountain streams, post-avalanche debris fields, old growth forests, roaring waterfalls, and thriving wildlife. But the features that impressed us the most about Glacier were the lakes. Full of the bluest water any of us had ever seen, the lakes were rippling testaments to the beauty of untainted nature and were made all the more beautiful by the soaring Rocky Mountains that housed them. Every time we drove by, hiked past, or glimpsed of those lakes, we couldn't help but remark at how stunning they were. There was no getting over it.
When we weren't marvelling at the views, we were having conversations. These exchanges came out of necessity more than mutual perpencity for shit-shooting. Glacier National Park is full of Grizzly and Black bears. We were informed by the rangers that it is important to maintain noisy activity while hiking. Because clapping, hooting, and calling became something of a habit for some companions, and an annoyance for others, we resolved to run our mouths as much as possible.
This trip had a definitive theme in one of it's conversational topics. We talked about women, a lot. It's understood that in the company of men, specifically men in the POC, women will at some point be discussed. But, as Bledsoe was quick to point out, we talked about POC women, particularly one POC woman who may or may not be lucky as a result, more than anything else. But when we weren't enthralled with the opposite sex, we often touched on Bledsoe's adventures in the Tetons, Cardoza's poison ivy infection, Mike's irrational fear of bears and snow fields, or my apalling inadequacies as a navigator. Conversation was important on the trip not only because it kept the furry killing-machines at bay, but also because it allowed us to really get to know one another. I feel as though that's especially valuable in trips simply because it means we as a club will have tighter friendships, and therefore better trips.
Speaking of furry killing-machines, there is a lot a wary hiker must do to prevent encounters with these creatures. Black bears can be scared off by groups of humans. So much of the food-storing, shit-burying, and cautious teeth-brushing is done in an attempt to avoid hungry Grizzlies. Although we did not see it for ourselves, Grizzlies are reckless searchers of anything odorous that will bathe in the blood of the innocent and kill humans without remorse. The prospect of befalling such a fate frightened Mike Sprengl more than any of us. Don't let him tell you otherwise.
Undeterred by bears, Mike, Cardoza, and I drove around, day-hiked, and lazed around in campsites while Bledsoe managed to do the only backpacking of the trip. He spent three days and two nights in the backcountry, sheltered by only a tarp.
After Bledsoe hiked out of the backcountry, we felt and smelled ready to leave Montana. By the time we made it back to the tropical jungle that is Indiana, we were all of sick of one another, prepared for a shower, and yearning for a real bed. But despite the our miserable state, we all felt especially satisfied by the wonders of Glacier National Park. To say the least, we had an opportunity that many don't have. We were able to see the most beautiful country in the United States, nearly perfectly preserved in its natural state.