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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Glacier National Park

The morning after our hellish ride through the gale dawned cloudy and cold but mercifully without rain. Our fears of having to cancel our trip through Glacier National Park weren’t realized and we thankfully rode north through the tough scrubland that we hadn’t been able to see the prior evening.

Glacier National Park straddles the border between the US and Canada, crossing the Rocky Mountains and encompassing over 1,000,000 acres of land. It is a maze of backcountry trails through the mountains and is home to a healthy population of grizzly bears, black bears, lynx, wolverines, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and all manner of other interesting large mammals (some which you’d like to see and others that you’d rather avoid). We entered with high hopes.

Despite some major and obvious differences, the Going to the Sun road through Glacier Park reminded me a lot of the Pacific Coast Highway in California. It ascends to dizzying heights above the valleys below and crawls along narrow ridges that quickly drop off for thousands of feet. The views are breathtaking and rapid-fire. It is a beautiful sight to behold. There are even old-style red buses that still give tours.

The land is both a grand epic of massive peaks and glaciers and a friendly vibrant park filled with signs of life. Although the view from the road was incredible, I longed to spend days getting lost in the valleys and canyons that I could see melting tantalizingly into the distance. We were going to try to one hike but, though the sun had finally broken through and the day was starting to feel warm and inviting, time ran short and there were reports of both bear and mountain lion sightings on that trail so we opted to catch it the following morning instead.

We stayed in a KOA campsite in West Glacier, MT and had another quiet evening. In the morning I awoke shortly after dawn, fired up to get in a good hike before we hopped on the bike for the day. The girlfriend was varying degrees of unresponsive so I headed out on my own down the Avalanche Creek Trail, a 5 mile loop to Avalanche Lake.

The trail cut through a high, dense pine forest but it was well worn and the going wasn’t difficult. I was very early on the path and the sun hadn’t even crested the mountains yet so I took care to bang a rock on my water bottle, whistle loudly, and clear my throat a lot to make sure the bears could hear me coming. It may not be much, but I really missed my KA-BAR knife, which had fallen off my pack at some point during the ride a few days earlier. Instead, I whittled a good spear to pass the time and dragged it loudly along the path behind me.

I arrived at Avalanche Lake just as the sun began to break over the mountains and its light traced a crisp shaft of illumination down into the basin. If you stared hard enough, you could actually see it moving along the ground as dawn found the east shore of the lake. It was, in a word, peaceful.

On the return trip to the campsite, I passed among alpine streams and rivers with water of a vibrant and glacial azure. It was a shame to have to begin the long journey back south through Idaho with so much of the park left unexplored.