Part III: Do Not Persist In Bad Decisions

Swiftcurrent Pass. You can see the trail zigzagging up the right side. That is the dwindling Swiftcurrent Glacier up top, and the incredible waterfall it spawns.

I am just over the crest of Swiftcurrent Pass, and it is very windy. In fact, it is clearly windy enough to blow a 150 pound man carrying a 35 pound backpack off of the trail and down the 1,000 foot cliff he is on. I decide it is a perfect place to stop for lunch.

I promised my wife that I would eat more on this trip, so I pick a little promontory off the trail and sit down beneath a ledge and slightly out of the wind. I lay rocks on top of my gear so it won’t blow away, and the re-hydrated granola with milk and blueberries is so good. I’m sitting there, eating this wonderful stuff that the wind is blowing out of my spoon before it reaches my mouth, literally on the edge of a most beautiful cliff, feeling this force that could care less whether it blows me over the side. A wonderful place and time.

That is Mount Grinnell to the left of Swiftcurrent Glacier

You see a lot of mountain goats in Glacier, but they are almost always up in some incredibly inaccessible spot, so as I eat I am scanning the mountain across from me, looking for those improbably perched white spots. I finished my lunch without seeing anything on the other side, and as I stood up to get back on the trail I turned to face a goat sitting barely fifty feet away from me the whole time. I had not considered that I was myself in one of those incredibly inaccessible spots.

I love this about being outside, the unexpected miracle. Looking back now, on this trip and all the others, I think “that was not so hard.” You do these things, see and feel these things, and at that instant and forever after you know it is worth it. But there are moments of doubt, of weakened resolve. At the very start, I always feel deeply guilty for doing something so selfish. And the first day or two, surrounded by mountains and sky and wind, I sometimes wish I were home in a comfortable bed. But then I tell myself “this is where you are, now. You have to be somewhere, and you are here, so be here, now.” Then I am where I need to be.

I have always been very fortunate outdoors. I make good decisions. I prepare, I adapt. I allow myself briefly to credit marvels, and to be astonished at the simplest transactions of the physical world. I let go of the complacent conviction that the world has been made for humans by humans.

And then the trail is covered in bear shit. Sections of the trail above Cosley Lake, and later near Granite Park, had piles of bear shit every fifty feet. Those bears were eating a lot of berries, and if I was their medical professional I would recommend that they cut back after seeing this. At one point, I would say there was either a pack of 20 bears regularly shitting on this one trail, or one bear that really had an issue. I was so proud to come upon a pile of bear scat that looked totally different, fewer berries, intimations of hair and bone. Proud because I was able to see the difference, to see grizzly. Looking at shit.

Bald eagle, just sitting there waiting on an osprey to do the work.

You tell yourself “it is what it is” often, and realize that is perhaps both the most inane and the most profound statement, underlying all of life. The trail is steep, or it rains, or you cannot eat because you are too cold, but it is what it is, and you have to be somewhere, so this is it. And then you are standing at the top of Triple Divide Pass, feeling so tiny; or you are watching a bald eagle steal a trout from an osprey that has just swooped down to grab it from the mirror surface of a silent mountain lake; or you come upon a tiny glacial runoff, draped in perfect tiny moss, just beneath these enormous mountains, and you are so deeply, deeply content.

A Japanese garden could not have made a more perfect moss-covered waterfall.

I was briefly worried that I would die, which does not happen to me often. Everyone has do die sometime, and I am 60 years old and ready, but please not just yet. You think “that was close; I have had enough.” You ask yourself if a view is worth risking your life. The Zen master intones “do not persist in bad decisions,” and I think perhaps to throw in my cards before I have lost everything. And then 24 hours later, after a hot shower and clean bed and two meals of meat and fat and beer, I begin to think “that was not so bad. If I just fix one or two little details, next time I will not have these problems.”

Old School motel, just outside West Glacier, where I got warm and clean and ate.

My last day inside Glacier was not easy, and then it was. After I met my bear, after I knew I would not lose fingers and would make it out, I had only a few miles to my last campsite, at Granite Park, a half-mile beneath Granite Park Chalet, the precise site of two of the three 1967 grizzly attacks in the same night that revolutionized the way the Park Service manages the bear/human interface. I had avoided the Chalet and its day-hikers on my way in over a week ago; now on my way out I considered stopping there for water, perhaps a dry bunk. But the Chalet was already closed unexpectedly for the season when I arrived, and the crew there heli-lifting out supplies informed me that my campsite farther down was closed due to bear activity. They said they would escort me to a safe spot to camp near the Chalet once the helicopter had finished the last lift, but I decided to hike on out the last four miles to my car at the trailhead, down an easy trail I already knew, past the closed campsite.

Campsite closed due to bears. That is so cool.

You have to be somewhere. It is what it is. And some views are worth it.

Part II: Let The Bear Come To You

Life is endless challenges, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. The difference between an ordinary person and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while the ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse.

Carlos Casteneda

The bear is standing in front of me, and I am cold and wet. I have been soaked and numbed by the cold for two days, and that is all I can think about. So when the bear steps onto the trail, what I think is “there is a bear, and I am cold and wet.”

When things go bad outdoors, they go very bad. Problems are normal on the trail, so anything less than very bad is just an inconvenience. But bad is very, very bad. Extreme semantics. Still, you need to understand how my bear and I arrived at this place together. It was not easy.

Millions of years ago this was a sea-level mud flat. It dried in the sun, and other minerals filled the cracks, and now it sits on top of a 9,000 foot mountain pass.

Faced with mountain geology, your notion of time alters. Everything you see seems forever, and you become aware of your own transience. A few days out from the trailhead, time the way you understand it stops. Your concerns are immediate: stay dry, get food and water, don’t get hurt, cover the distance. And when things go wrong, time alters again: everything flows into and out of the event. Now don’t freeze, now keep walking, now keep your sleeping bag dry.

Now I cannot use my fingers. Now my feet are very cold and wet, but I can still walk. Everything I own–everything–is soaking wet, except my sleeping bag. It has been this way two days now, and all I can think is “keep walking, and DO NOT LET YOUR SLEEPING BAG GET WET.” I had had one wonderful day to dry out at Mokowanis Lake after a wet day coming up the river. Everything was soaked, so I spent the day naked, swimming in the lake and sunning, while my gear and clothes dried on lines that would normally have been used to pitch my tent and hang my food.

Mokowanis Lake

The clouds were rolling back in the morning as I left the lake, so I knew it would be wet again. The trails here are tightly hemmed by wet knee- to shoulder-high thimbleberry plants that soak you as you walk by, but it is a pleasure to simply reach down and eat a berry just because it looks so perfect.


Well before I got to the top of Stoney Indian Pass I was completely swallowed by the clouds, walking within the steady drizzle. I only realized I had reached the top of the Pass when I came up to a sharp edge where the trail suddenly turned, with nothing but cloud beyond: land, then cloud. I couldn’t see anything, but I sensed a great void, just there within reach of my outstretched arm. Then the trail started downward.

Stoney Indian is a small campsite, only three slots, next to a lake which I could not even see until I had almost walked into it.

Stoney Indian Lake

When I arrived I found a group of four Romanians who were up in Kootenai the night before. “I want you to hear this,” one of them said, pulling out his phone. “A pack of wolves started howling last night all around our camp at around 2 a.m. They didn’t stop until almost sunrise.” It was amazing.

I was too cold and wet to eat, so I pitched my tent, stripped off my wet clothes, and curled up in my sleeping bag on my side, hands between my knees. It rained all night, and I woke occasionally as I became aware that my tent wasn’t able to keep up with all the water. When I awoke at 7 a.m. I realized that my tent was full of water, and only my air mattress had kept me dry. “This is not good.”

Packed the wet tent and headed for my next camp at Fifty Mountain, a little more than eight miles away up the Waterton Valley. Head the other way and you are in Canada within the day. Out of the mist I see a guy approaching, and for a second I am sure it is Willy Nelson. It turned out to be a wonderful, cheerful little man, perhaps in his 80’s but seeming quite fit. When he told me that he was headed for Kootenai, I told him about the recording of the wolves howling, and he said “oh, gee, that would be wonderful! I have always wanted to hear that. I hope I get to hear that.” I hope he got to hear that.

Fifty Mountain was bad; there is no way around it. All I owned was wet, except that sleeping bag. My heavy winter gloves had given up trying to stay dry, and I eventually decided my hands would be warmer without them. Unable to light my stove with frozen hands, I was just barely able to pitch my tent, strip off once more the wet clothes, and dive in.

Somewhere during the night I realized the temperature was dropping severely. Even curled up naked in my bag, I realized I was cold. Found the entire mountain face above me blanketed in white when I crawled out at dawn. It was not a choice to simply stay there and freeze, so I took down my tent with more difficulty than I had anticipated, and took the trail.

I have made some difficult hikes. Of course, a lot of things that may have been hard before look easier to me now, in my memory. But coming over the col above Sue Lake was the first time I have said “I am not sure I can do this.” Steep climb, thirty mile an hour headwind, heavy sleet and snow directly in my face, hands so cold, soaking wet. That enormous black mountain face, now covered in ice.

I obviously made it, although I don’t have any pictures of the rest because I could not hold a camera. The bear finally came to me, but it no longer mattered. My hands had thawed by then, and I had passed Ahern Drift (which looked more intimidating from afar than it was up close).

Ahern Drift, fairly narrow and steep but not as bad as it looked when I first saw it and said “shit.”

I was somewhere on the Highline Trail, only a few miles from Granite Park. There was something strange happening in the dark forest of the cirque down below this section of the trail. Something was making a loud, sharp chirp over and over down there, but I couldn’t tell what it was; a strange, otherworldly cry. I saw three marmots together, running away in a weird way (I actually thought “that was weird; I’ve never seen marmots run like that“). And then I looked up just as an adult grizzly stepped from the brush onto the trail about thirty feet in front of me. I instantly thought of the moose at Elizabeth Lake that was stuck on the same trail I needed to use. I laughed at myself a little when I raised both hands like I was being robbed at gunpoint and said “hey bear.”

My hands were still quite numb, but as I stood there facing the bear I reached around to my right side, where my bear spray canister hung on my belt, right next to the pocket that held my camera. “Get a picture, or get the spray? Get a picture, or get the spray?” I backed up gently as the bear took two steps toward me, and looked over my shoulder trying to find a spot wide enough for me to step aside and let the bear pass. He sniffed the air once, decided I did not matter, and disappeared silently into the brush he had come from.

Part I: Do Not Seek The Bear

Literally everyone I met had had a daily bear encounter by my fourth day in the Glacier backcountry. Everyone but me. Maybe I was trying too hard. Perhaps, it was just not yet my time.

The trail out of Elizabeth Lake (head)

I am hiking fast from the head of Elizabeth Lake, up the Belly River drainage and then a ford to Cosley Lake to my next campsite at Glenns Lake. “Avoid surprising a bear,” the Ranger said, which sounded like good life advice. Just let them know you are coming, and you avoid most of the problems.

I am striding along, looking out for bear, staying out of trouble, and BOOM I walk into the ass of a 1,000 pound bull moose. How I could not see this enormous thing, I do not understand, but the trail exploded and the moose took off down the trail in front of me. “Holy shit, George, that was stupid. You need to pay attention.” I am thinking “bear” so much, I do not see “moose.” I start walking again–there is only this one narrow trail out of there–and have just the time to tell myself “you don’t want to make THAT mistake twice,” when BOOM–same moose explodes a second time out of the trailside as I come over a little crest.

We’re both stuck now. With a steep slope down to the lake on my right or up the mountain on my left, this little path is the only avenue for anything larger than a chipmunk that wants to get away from anything. Clearly, this moose wants to get away from me, and I’d pretty much like to get away from him. So now I’m walking slowly forward, calling softly “hey, moose; hey, moose,” and every fifty feet or so there he is, shocked and offended that I’m still there. He’s bolting off, I’m trying to get to Glenns Lake, and I’m hoping he doesn’t decide he’d really rather get away from me by going the other way down the trail and over me.

My stressed-out moose, finally able to huff himself away from me.

We finally worked it out. I’d walk, he’d bolt, and I could hear him stressing, making these deep little “huff, huff” noises, but we both, together, eventually made it to the foot of Elizabeth Lake where he was able to get off the trail and let me pass. I was happy for him.

I decided to stop thinking “bear.” If I didn’t notice a moose standing right in front of me, how did I expect to see a bear half its size? “Do not seek the bear”–there’s this little Zen master voice I start hearing inside my head after a few days out–“let the bear come to you.” After a pause, I just shook my head and said “that’s the stupidest thing you’ve thought in a while.”

The trail up to and down the other side of Ptarmigan Pass

It’s not as if big animals are jumping out of the shrubbery every 100 yards, but after bumping into a moose once or twice you realize that you have probably already walked right past a couple of bears and mountain lions and mountain goats without seeing them. Conversely, the smaller creatures–the martins and birds and marmots–you have to wonder why you see them so much when there is so much else out there ready to eat them. Walking the trail up to Ptarmigan Pass, I came upon–wait for it–a ptarmigan! You’d think a delicious giant quail would fly the heck away, but this one just stood there and told its chicks to join it in the path of a giant omnivore.

I eventually had to shoo them away from my boots so I could continue. All I could think afterward was “I feel like a fraud right now. I really need to look in the dictionary when I get home. I don’t know if it’s the “p” or the “t” that’s silent in “ptarmigan,” and enunciating them both about half-way is cowardly. I need to stop thinking about this bird” Even typing both the “p” and the “t” right now feels dishonest. “Ptarmigan.” What a stupid word.

It’s All Bear Country

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(this is a long one, so grab a beer and break it up)

Two Medicine to Oldman Lake

They take their grizzly bears very seriously in Glacier National Park.  Up until now, my trip planning had always centered around not killing myself:  don’t get lost, don’t run out of water, don’t freeze to death.  Now, my entire visit was planned around not getting killed by something else.  It was disconcerting.

The Rangers make you watch a 15-minute video before giving you your backcountry permit, covering everything you could want to know about not getting eaten by a grizzly:  never store, prepare, or eat food near where you sleep (my mom had the same rule).  Make noise as you hike so you don’t surprise the 500 pound carnivore.  Carry bear spray ($40).  And never hike alone (Oops).  They let me know as I was leaving that a grizzly had been seen several times in the last few days on the first part of the trail I was hiking, said goodbye, and shuffled me out the door.  (For the history behind the NPS effort to minimize bears eating people, read the true story of what it was like before night of the grizzlies).

Near the Glacier trailheads, where you will pass people out for a day hike, you will not hear the roar of bears and the trumpeting of elk.  What you will hear is clapping hands and “hey, bear!” shouted so as not to surprise the 500 pound carnivore, and you quickly understand you will not see any living animal if you don’t get far away.  I had spent my adult life outdoors trying not to make noise so that I could see as many large animals as possible, and here I was bracketed by people making sure I wouldn’t see any, all on the theoretical and minute possibility that we might be attacked, torn to pieces and eviscerated, and then eaten while still conscious by a bear.  Disconcerting.

But then–having departed with the certainty that Glacier is crawling with grizzly bears, and then not seeing any within the first few miles–you gradually feel duped, as if it was all some sort of Montana joke they play on the tourists.  You stop clapping your hands as you approach a blind curve in the trail, stop wondering how your friends and family would react to the news of your being eaten.  Funny how the mind works.  You start seeing the land for its beauty, not its danger. GlacierSept2018 184I made it to my first camp at Oldman Lake in about 3 hours, an easy hike in for my first day with only 2,000 feet of elevation gain.  I had plenty of time to set up camp and familiarize myself with the food storage/anti-grizzly system:  stick everything scented in a stuff sac and hang it between two trees, far from your tent.GlacierSept2018 080Excited to see all there was, I hiked up tomorrow’s trail to Pitamakan Pass.  It’s nice to hike without carrying the tent and sleeping bag, just the minimum to not die should things go wrong–as they sometimes do–like water and a little food.  And bear spray.GlacierSept2018 017I meet the most wonderful people outdoors.  At the top of Pitamakan I met a young guy from North Carolina through-hiking the CDT.  It was sort of weird at first, because there was just me, standing at the top of this huge pass and looking down at the lakes and forests on the other side I’d pass through tomorrow.  And suddenly, out of nowhere, he was standing there too, about 20 feet away and also just looking quietly down the other side.  “Ahem, uh, nice view, isn’t it?,”  which is how you start a conversation when someone suddenly appears next to you atop an 8,000 foot pass on the Continental Divide.  We chatted a bit, and then this guy–who’d left the border with Mexico on April 2, had walked 3,000 miles, and was now within maybe 100 miles of the CDT terminus–this kid tells me that he’d heard Dawson Pass was pretty awesome and so he was going to head off in that direction for a look instead of continuing down my path on the CDT.  I realize an extra 20 miles or so is maybe no big deal after you’ve walked 3,000, but once again a CDT through-hiker had blown me away with his awesomeness.  I decided I needed to see Dawson Pass before I returned home.GlacierSept2018 013

At Oldman I shared dinner with two brothers–one who worked in the Park, the other who was the success of the family and taught “corporate team building” around the world–and within minutes of conversation we’d bonded over our mutual love of coffee.  Excited to wake up the next morning and drink coffee, we shared our meals and headed off to our tents–no one said it, but we all understood that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner we could wake up and drink coffee.  Life is much simpler, outdoors.


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The view from Pitamakan north down the other side toward Atlantic Creek and next day’s hike.

Pitamakan Pass to Triple Divide Pass

The next day’s trip down the other side to Atlantic Creek was easy enough, although as the descent continued I began to wonder just how far down I would have to go before I started back up another pass.  I believe that was the longest downhill stretch I have ever hiked, which sounds good but that downhill walking is pretty hard on the feet, knees, and quads.  I heard elk bugling in the trees, unseen but close, during the entire segment.  How creatures so big and so loud can be invisible is something I marvel at constantly outdoors.

I arrived at Atlantic Creek with plenty of daylight left, and so decided to hike up a few miles to Medicine Grizzly Lake.  It is a beautiful hike, and dead-ends in a glacial cirque, so it is not on the way to anywhere and is not visited much. GlacierSept2018 049 On my way in I stopped to look at a stand of dead pine trees, all inclined at the same angle away from the mountainside behind them, the result of an avalanche some time in the past.  Standing there, reconstructing in my mind’s eye the long ago avalanche, I suddenly noticed something moving in the background, and realized I was looking at a grizzly bear with two cubs, walking back and forth on the scree field between the trees and the mountainside.

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You can see the momma grizzly in the bare patch slightly left of and below center. One of the cubs is to her left.

On my way back out, the bears weren’t there anymore, but I realized there was a trail on the mountainside that the bears had been walking on.  “That must be a game trail they use all the time up there.”  It looked inaccessible, and so I guessed that they were able to walk around undisturbed on that mountainside for generations, gradually wearing a trail into the rock.

I did not realize at the time that they were actually walking on the trail I would take the next morning up and over Triple Divide Pass.

Triple Divide Pass and Beyond

When you have seen a grizzly bear the day before on the precise spot you are walking past, everything suddenly looks like prime grizzly habitat.  I was no longer embarrassed to clap my hands and yell “hey bear!” as I followed the trail up to Triple Divide Pass.  Once again, how something that big can become invisible the next day–I knew it was around there, somewhere–just amazes me.  Looking down from the trail toward Medicine Grizzly Lake, I saw moose and deer moving through the brush just off the trail I had walked the day before, unseen to me then.  Just amazing.

GlacierSept2018 064From the top of Triple Divide I stopped.  I stopped for a long time, which is not something I do often.  I do not have any pictures from Triple Divide, because my hands were too cold and I dropped my camera so many times that it wouldn’t focus.  But mostly I just wanted to stand there, in that precise spot.  I have never felt so perfectly in the place I was supposed to be–that exact spot–in my entire life.  I knew I could not stay there long, but it filled me up.

Down from Triple Divide you follow the Hudson Bay Creek drainage, and if you’ve seen the film “Grizzly Man” grizzlymanyou will feel little doubt that you will not make it out the other end.  The trail is tightly hemmed by thick brush and stunted trees, and my constant thought was “if I was a grizzly bear, this is exactly the kind of place I would live.”  GlacierSept2018 065GlacierSept2018 076The long trail out Hudson Bay Creek and on to Red Eagle Creek and Lake was uneventful, accompanied only by the tiny white specks of mountain goats, high up on the mountains both east and west of my path.  I cannot imagine what their days are like.  The moose, down in the bottoms with me, lounged down low in the willows, so much so that after a while I would stop a moment whenever I came to a low spot and see if I could pick out a moose, and in the right frame of mind I’d almost always find one.  GlacierSept2018 114

If you look at the map of this part of the trail, the feature you will see mentioned most often is “falls,” printed in glacier-melt blue.  So much water, falling, falling.  The time of my passage was inconsequential, without meaning in the long arc of time and place, but you could feel the water falling without end, even during the frozen white winter, the water poised in place waiting to continue its fall.

I met more wonderful people along this part of the trail.  A Welsh couple, wearing rain gear for the Scottish Highlands that they looked like they were born in.  The middle aged lady with the French press coffee maker, brewing up pots of coffee for everyone underneath the pines beside the fog enshrouded lake!  “Who wants another cup?  It’s really no problem. No problem at all.”   Jim and Tom, from Wisconsin, Jim being older than me and Tom quite younger.  I met them at Atlantic Creek my second night, and ran into them again at No Name Lake much later.  You knew Jim had had a full life, and wasn’t done yet.  And Susan, suddenly there beside me next to the water at Upper Two Medicine Lake, fog so dense it wanted to become rain.  Her red parka, no gear other than her camera, equipped only with an enormous smile.  She was so happy to have arrived at that spot.  “Oh, I envy you.  I want to stay here, this is so beautiful,” she beamed.  I didn’t understand the whole scenario, but her husband and son had continued back to Winnipeg with the tent but without her, it was too late and too far if she was planning on hiking out to a trailhead before dark, and she didn’t seem concerned about where she’d sleep.  A golden eagle flew over us, my first ever.  I tried to tell her that I was sure there was a moose just down the shore from where we stood, an easy picture, but she just wanted to stand there in the fog and mist and take it all in, smiling.

I will never see any of those people again.  The moose, the elk, the mountain goats, the grizzly.  The water.  None of that will be there when and if I return to Glacier, replaced by others.  But the place will always be there, and from this spot in time, I would like to return.  Perhaps up around Many Glacier, where I had originally planned to go.  Or maybe start up around Kintla Lake in the northwest corner, if I could figure out how to get there.  It is a beautiful thing, to want to get to a place that is difficult to get to, and know it is possible if I am willing to give up other easier, less important things.  I did not know that Kintla, which is on the North Fork of the Flathead River, is a major corridor for game as it migrates north and south.  What a wonderful world to live in, where game still migrates along corridors, north and south.GlacierSept2018 124



The Absence of Sound

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It was so silent, I found myself waiting for a sound to happen.

I had been having trouble in Glacier.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  Usually, there’s this precise point–I come around a bend, over the top of a ridge–and the bottom just drops out (see Letting The Bottom Drop Out).  You feel so small, so insignificant, so part of something grand.  But it just wasn’t happening.  I thought it might be geology, that here in Glacier I was down underneath all this grandeur, not up on top yet, but knew it was too beautiful to be that.  I thought about karma, that perhaps I’d brought some not worthy of the land I walked through: I hadn’t felt like taking my journal, knew I wasn’t going to take any pictures of myself, only of the place.  I thought maybe I was just out of emotions, too much in one short year.

And then one morning, I don’t even know which, I stood on the shore of No Name Lake and felt everything, absolutely everything, stop in total silence.  I have never known such silence, such stillness.  I stood there and it actually hurt, waiting for a sound to happen.

From that moment, I had more sound, more life, than I knew what to do with.  After I set up camp at No Name, I took a short hike to the bottom of the cirque, just because I was here to see, and had time and effort only to spend.  At the end of the cirque there was a plateau above a rockfall, and I figured there was probably a melt-pond on top.  I started to hike up for a look, aware that the distance was probably much greater than it appeared–you cannot imagine how truly small you are in such a place.  About 3/4 of the way there, I had just decided that the distance and the risk were too great when a group of bighorn sheep came down the mountainside and the sheep–9 in all–came right up to the edge to have a look at me.GlacierSept2018 178  We watched each other a bit, and then I turned back to my tent to leave them in peace.  Not five minutes later I heard an enormous crash of falling mountainside, dropping precisely where I had stood in the rubble field.  Lesson learned.

That night, almost as soon as I had retired to my tent, the elk began.  At first I heard only one, very close, bugling just at the edge of the campsite.  A Great Horned Owl called, and flew over close enough to my tent that I could hear each beat of its wings.  Then a second elk called from the other side of the campsite, and the conversation continued all night long.  At one point I heard a steady, rhythmic “wumpf,” “wumpf,” wumpf,” and knew something very large was walking past my tent.  “So this is what it was like to sleep in Noah’s Ark,” I thought.

I was happy to sleep with that.  And then . . . I heard something very, very large and very loud crashing through the forest behind my tent.  Toward my tent.  Whatever it was, it was destroying a lot of shrubbery on its rampage, and bawling in . . . anger? pain? fear?  I couldn’t tell, and had time only to curl myself into something tiny inside my sleeping bag as the destruction arrived and raced past.  I could tell there were two somethings, still not sure what although I knew it wasn’t an elk and so probably moose.  But what was it bellowing about?  The thought suddenly occurred to me, “Please don’t let that be the sound a moose makes when it is being killed by a grizzly bear.”

The sound receded, and, exhausted, I tried to go to sleep.  I could still hear the howling in the distance, and decided that if it had been a bear killing a moose it wouldn’t have lasted this long.  And then I heard it again, large and angry, right outside my tent, destroying shrubbery.  This time, the motive was clear–whatever it was, it was angry.

I decided to face my fate.  A moose or a bear or Bigfoot, it was right there, and not going anywhere.  It was big, and it was pissed, and it wanted me to know that.  I crawled out of my sleeping bag, armed with my tiny flashlight, and found my pissed-off moose, the other still crying way off in the distance now.  I did not need to understand animals any better than that, and so went back to bed.

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There’s a moose in there.

The next morning there were moose everywhere.  The next morning there were golden eagles flying over the lake, and snow-white mountain goats perched on the cliffs above the trail.  I cannot imagine what they find so desirable up there, beyond the view, beyond the freedom.  All of this, and I had not yet had my morning coffee.

I had a moment of unexpected fear:  I thought I had lost my spoon.  My pack carries no more than 30 lbs, including gear, food, and water, and absolutely everything in it is considered and important.  I cannot lose my glasses, to read a map.  I cannot lose my lighter, to start a fire and boil water for food and coffee.  But I had never imagined that losing my spoon, my only eating implement, would be catastrophic until I could not find it.  And the moment I found it, tucked inconspicuously exactly where it was supposed to be, I realized how wonderful it was to carry everything you owned on your back, and for each of those things to truly matter, for that to make you happy, and how monumental the loss of a spoon could be. GlacierSept2018 142

I did finally take one picture of myself.  I am not sure exactly why.  I had arrived at the top of Triple Divide Pass, which earns its name by the convergence of three enormous glacial cirques, and when you stand at its top you are on the knife edge between three worlds–three enormous, grand worlds, so very much greater than yourself.  I did not feel the bottom drop out; what I felt was competent.  I felt at home yet insignificant, and I felt that I mattered by being there.  The place gave me meaning.GlacierSept2018 068I suppose I took the picture of myself as a reference, a way to remember where I stood, what I felt standing there in that place and time.  It reminds me that we each have a visual horizon of our own, in the center of which we live and move and have our being.  And so to efface yourself from this scene–the remove the center–is immeasurably freeing.

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