“You know what the difference between grizzly bear crap and black bear crap is?” The ranger said with a smirk. No what? “Grizzly bears’ have bear bells is theirs”. That was our welcome to Glacier National Park, along with towering snow covered peaks, vast plains of wildflowers and icy waterfalls. It took three years but I was finally here, I had passed by it before and have been in Montana twice without ever actually entering this park, but now I was packed up and ready to explore. The problem with National Parks is that besides having to pay an entry fee, you have to detail your whole route out to a ranger who approves it based on availability of camping areas. This is fine and dandy, except when your planned route is full and you have to pick from thousands of miles of trail another one. “You pick something for us, we want to be out between 3 and 4 days and about 15 miles a day” I said as he mulled over our trail map that we had just bought from the ranger. “Well its already late today, so…”
So our route was jotted down and we had it. The echo lake route, it looked like two mountains, a bunch of streams some lakes and a bunch of squiggly lines intersecting the smaller elevation lines on our topo map.
Berel, my accomplice this time is a friend of mine from Syracuse NY. He is an avid hiker mountain biker and snowboarder. He also works at EMS providing my pocketbook with long needed savings from the biggest outdoor gear shop on the east coast. Along with this perk, he knows people everywhere having attended Chabbad yeshiva all over the world, and having a knack for striking up conversation with just about anyone. Berel’s then girlfriend now wife had bought us bear bells for our trip, and even though we heeded the advice of the ranger we had tied them to our laces anyway. They made a racket and we looked like idiots, but Glacier is home to the only grizzlies in the lower 48 and its better to be safe then sorry.
Tonight would be a short walk to our campsite, about 5 miles, and then tomorrow we would hike some mountain come back down and then continue on. Sounded like a plan. Our initial hike was a flat slightly inclined 5 mile jaunt. Bursting out of the trees ½ mile from our campsite we came upon a rushing stream with a awe inspiring 360 degree view of towering snow capped jagged peaks and pine trees. It was insane man, I couldn’t believe the beauty. We set up camp and came back to just sit and chill. “Man I wish had some ice cold beer right now” Berel was saying, this is the constant dream of any backpacker, ice cold beer, oh how we long for that slightly bitter condensation covered beverage when sitting on top of a peak or in a magnificent valley like the one we were in right now.
Actually my buddy Matt was hiking in the Big Sur Area of northern California and he found an ice cold beer floating in the water. A miracle indeed. Well no such luck here I thought as a I ate my tuna, cliff bar and penuts, followed by some ice cold mountain water.
The next day we hiked to the top of a nearby peak, without our 40+ pound packs. What a relief I thought as we trekked straight up a 3200 foot of elevation gain in 2 miles peak. That is a ton of gain in that distance. At the top we were greeted with 100 mile views of nothing but mountains and non-man made goodness. The rest of the day was a hike through a narrow gorge following a stream. We realized at about 7:30pm that we had a long way to go and heeding the advice of the ranger that grizzlies roam around the park at dusk we started singing half screaming to scare them away. We looked like idiots but we were 30 miles from the nearest road. Luckily Berel and I can sing everything from the Beatles to country to the Marvelous Midos Machine. Yes it was a diverse “scare the bears away session”
We made it after dark to our campsite, the whole time praying some mad cool people would be there or maybe some hotties, of course it was empty to our dismay. The night before we drank tea with our campsite neighbors from Virginia. The borther and sister team was quite interesting. The brother was all about making his own lightweight gear and had made his own stove from a couple large cans of tuna. The sister was married with kids but her and her husband always take trips alone while the other watches the kids. Berel and I could totally relate to them since they were both extreme sports enthusiasts. Both of them being climbers, whitewater paddlers and mountain bikers.
That night we had quite good sleep considering we had hiked 21 miles total that day. My feet, knees and back were aching real bad, and the promise of a first thing in the morning mountain pass climb was not all that pleasing. In the morning we woke up to found the beauty we had missed since we arrived after dark. 100 feet from our tent was a beautifull albiet shallow completely clear lake, the back drop was a huge mountain with a ton of snow on top. The lake for some reason was green and blue probably because of algae buildup, and was not a very good swimming lake. Davening with that sort of view backing you up is quite awe inspiring, and I felt a real connection there. After cooking up some oatmeal and grabbing some water we were packed up and hiking again. Wow my knees really hurt, what was wrong with me? I could barely walk. We still had 15 miles to go and continued on despite the pain.
We began the long hike up the mountain pass, and came above the treeline quickly, we were hiking on soft sand with cliffs on both sides. The mountain looked like a desert all yellow and golden in the scorching sun. After a long strenuous climb we reached the top and passed out. Munching and cliff bars and drinking warm water we saw in the ditance three figures coming up the other side of the pass. We were too tired to even get up and look who they were. “Dude its three hot chicks” Berel proclaimed, no way man I thought. Sure a enough a few minutes later three beautiful girls with enough gear for a month in the woods dropped their stuff down and started chatting with us, their fellow summit relaxers.
All of them were great looking, in great shape, and didnt even seem to appear tired from the climb. Very impressive, I thought became jelous when I learned what they were doing up here. All three of them were doing internships for the Park, two were in Univ of Montana at Missoula and one at CU in Boulder. They monitoring the beer population by getting blood samples. They would dump beer food(fish bones and blood) by a tree and wrap the tree in barbed wire, the beers would eat the food and hair samples would get caught on the barbed wire. They were out on a two week jaunt now to do this. Lucky girls, and why couldnt we have these types of girls back east.
We had them take our pictures and bid them goodbye, to continue on the hike down. We hiked out the 10 miles back to the road, and realized we were about 20 miles from our car. The first car that passed us picked us up. A couple of dudes working for the cable company installing fiber optic lines in the rural areas of Montana. Suddenly we were baqck at our car dreaming of the first thing we would get when we found a store- the first of which was over an hour away.