This post is a month overdue in celebration of my 3rd Anniversary as a Whitefishian (August 14th), however, as today is the last day of summer I thought it was appropriate to post at least one epic adventure I enjoyed this year. Here’s to mountain enigmas, escapes, escapades, and and another season of life in the books.
“Oh! My back!! My back! I think its broken!” she screeched as her partners congregated around her and jumped back and forth wondering what to do other than scold and laugh at her. Eventually one jumped to her aid and freed her from her agony as the imposing pressure was lifted and she scampered away, breathless but seemingly all in one piece. She would live to eat another nut.
And so on a perfect, bluebird sky morning, I began my much anticipated, dreamed about, read about, planned for, trained for, prayed about, stayed up late waiting to get on the much prized waiting list for – journey across the infamous Floral Park Traverse. You see, I have had more than visions of sugar plums dancing in my head during my last three years of living in paradise. From the first time I heard about it, the Floral Park Traverse has captivated me to the point of nearly reaching an obsessive quality in my mountainous pursuits. Tales of deaths, grizzlies, cliffs, glaciers, even just the name – inspired my wanderlust to go wild with want. And finally this was the day, on my 3rd Anniversary of being a Whitefishian no less, that my wanton wanderlust would be fulfilled!
The sun was just starting to warm the cold mountain air as it made its way around Going to the Sun Mountain. Cars filled with die hard explorers and nonchalant goat watchers were already filling the Logan Pass parking lot and it wasn’t even 7am! The busyness of human beings preparing for the business of conquering this sanctuary interrupted the sanctity of this mountain morning and in the heat of it all, a family of ground squirrels found themselves dancing and darting around me until one sorry squirt of a squirrel slipped under my swiftly stepping foot and got squished.
Just like that, within 200 feet of our transport vehicle, I had my first wildlife encounter of the day. Squealing myself, I instantly felt the weight of the world hang itself on my back pack – no way could that little lady have survived a squishing like that – and yet she did! Her sibling or suitor- I couldn’t really tell which, squealed right along with me and they both shot out from under my step with impressive speed.
Was this a sign of things to come? Perhaps. Alas, I had visions of my own mountaintop squeals – of delight mind you – spurring me forward, even as my cohorts had already shot ahead of me on the boardwalk, climbing to the Hidden Lake overlook.
Surprisingly, I found myself already sucking air – something I have never experienced before – I am a distance runner for goodness sake- the 20+ miles that lay ahead of me should be a walk in the park – no pun intended. Heck. I swiftly clamored up the boardwalk to Hidden Lake in the dark just last fall to watch the eclipse! Finally, as my lungs gasped in relief, the lake came into sight and it was time to shed my jacket – as fast as I could as my hiking mates were already heading down the trail in the shadow of Mount Clements.
I met up with two other blondes – one a fisherman and fellow Scandinavian I am sure with his long flowing locks and handsome outdoorsiness and the other – the first goat of the day… looking sublime in a meadow of flowers. The Norseman and I kept pace together all the way down to the lake far below and then parted ways as he took his place along the shore and I proceeded to ford the Fjord! Sigh… for a moment there I was in a fair maiden’s heaven!
But THIS is where the story gets interesting. Once we crossed the inlet to Hidden Lake (which I did with aplomb!) the trail came to an end and the real adventure began. Bearhat Mountain loomed over us to our right and Reynolds Mountain soared high to our left. We made our way along Hidden Lake and then began our grassy, bushy, sappy-tree-filled ascent up from the lake basin. We emerged above a cliff band and were treated to a view of a massive slope of scree – yippee.
I hate scree.
I haven’t mastered but will tolerate scree skiing down a mountainside but climbing up or worse, side-hilling across what seemed like an endless expanse of unforgiving sharp rocks was not what I had emerged from the trees in hopes of seeing. My crew was much more adept at navigating across the goat-trail-less rock field than I and I soon found myself alone- just me and those ragged rocks – oh and a stupid creek in which I fell face first in my graceless glory. At that moment, I thanked God for my solitary state. It was after one massive downhill slide which was not the direction I was aiming for, that I had to sit down and have a good cry before I could pick myself up, brush myself off and do it all over again!
Pulling myself together with my sap covered hands, I made the final push to the ridge where the group sat, in the distance, basking in the sun and watching my every stumble, I just knew it. But I made it, with a smile on my face no less – and found the perfect rock on which to rest my sorry self and devour my first PB&J of the day.
It was at this peaceful moment when I got the great idea to have our awesome crew leader Sue snap my photo because I needed to prove I was actually on this hike. Removing my camera from my back pack and nestling my pack into the hillside I posed with a happy smile and…… my pack began to roll, and roll, and roll right over the cliff edge and down, down, down the embankment over and over and over again until it finally came to rest at a spot that seemed a mile away.
I just stood there in shock – everything – my much needed PB&J, my water, my extra clothes, my keys, my license, and my cell-phone were now at the bottom of the basin! Sue sat with her mouth agape and I started laughing because it was all I could do to keep from crying…That was when Paul, the uber-hiker who had completed a 17-mile hike and 2 peak summits the day before jumped into action. He could see it and I could make out the speck of it with the zoom on my camera. At least my beloved camera wasn’t inside! He made his way down the steep, cliffy slope and I watched in adoration as he swung it over his shoulders and began the trek back up. Overjoyed, as he came over the edge I noted that my water bottle was gone, as was my bear spray – but not to worry – my thermos of coffee would hold me over and the bear spray – well I was with everyone else, bears wouldn’t dare bother us!
Paul asked me if I had my keys in the pack… and I glanced at the open pocket and the empty key fob that had supposedly secured my keys safe inside. I almost threw up. My keys were gone! Lost forever on those rocky slopes. Then Paul pulled his hand from his pocket and produced not one but both sets of keys! I could have kissed him – but I settled for a great big bear hug. A glimpse of silver had caught his eye – my house keys some 600 feet from my bag and as he made his way up and he came across my car keys another 900 ft. or so away. It was a miracle!! A sheer miracle, I tell you. Amazingly- everything else in that un-zipped compartment stayed put including my phone. And Paul remarked that this was one of the nicest packs he had seen— one that I no longer despise so much myself! Paul assured me he had enough water to share just as Jason (not one to be outdone in heroism) emerged over the edge with both my water bottle and an exploded bottle of bear spray – what a mess that created- and I was once again complete.
I quickly devoured my no-worse for-tumble sandwich and we were off to our next point- the cliffs overlooking Avalanche Lake. This is where people have died I was told, and the scenery certainly supported that reality.
From there we ridge walked a ways to a point overlooking Lake Mary Baker and the Floral Park basin we would descend into… a long unforgiving adventure in scree again that ended in a grassy flower-filled expanse of beautiful flat land!
I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder coming down- not falling once in the scree and letting loose in the grassy sea – only to fall flat on my face and tumble head over heels in the meadow. Once again, praying I was far enough behind that no one witnessed my graceless feat, I righted myself and joined the group for lunch on the shore of Lake Mary Baker. It was a brief stop, at least for me – as the bugs were relentless and the climb up to the Sperry Glacier loomed long and large.
Did I mention it was a climb UP? Still looking for my lungs that were obviously waiting for me back home, in the comforts of my bed I presumed, I once again fell far behind this exuberant hill-climbing crew. This scree slope was intermixed with grass and shoe-lace pulling bushes making for a literal trip up the mountainside. We finally made it above the cliff bands and I breathed deeply as I looked at what lay ahead – a beautiful expanse of red slab rock, glacial melt ponds, and fast flowing streams. It all looked so pleasing to this weary wanderer’s eye. Apparently that red rock is also deadly when wet….
We came to a fast moving water feature – I’ll call it a waterfall- as it cascaded down several levels of rock. I have a paralyzing aversion to wet rock due to a few bad experiences on prior hikes, but my crew made it look so easy – hopping across with an anchor rock in the middle – surely I could do this! And so I launched with the full certainty of Peter Pan that I could fly- but no… this graceless wonder bombed again and fell hard on even harder rock covered by the rushing water. Try as I might to get out I kept slipping on silt slicked rock. I scrambled for anything dry to grasp as I saw myself going over the approaching edge. Finally, after what seemed like forever I was able to roll up onto the edge and found dry rock. Soaked and shaken I got to my feet. I still had to get across!
And there were my fast but trusted friends ready to help me across. God bless them for their encouragement and empathy! I made it across this time and we began our ascent up a moraine of clay, sand, snow, and rock… this was worse than scree and much steeper with a snow field below it! My hip screamed with every step and it seemed like every step I took I took 3 slides back.
As I emerged at the top, the wise group decided I needed electrolytes and caffeine. I readily accepted! Normally I don’t pop pills but these were surely needed. I was done – mentally and physically. Before us lay an expanse of more melt ponds and more slabs of rock, then a hilly climb to the snow fields of Sperry Glacier and I needed energy…. That’s when we heard the thunder. Yes, thunder AND lightning! Just the excitement we needed to spur us to the highest point in the area. God help us.
The snowfields proved to be easier for me to traverse than I expected. We were finally at the boulder fields that I had crossed and proved my mettle on 3 years ago when I was still a newbie to all of this – but that is another story…. Comeau Pass’s intriguing if not magical staircase hewn out of rock led to a welcome sight- a trail! We had a trail and even better it was all downhill from here! I have never felt such a spurt of energy pulse through me – a second wind! 6 miles of downhill bliss but then it started to rain and then hail…. There would be no leisurely reflection on our grand adventure at the mirror-like glacial lakes as planned.
The rain insurance policy inside my pack ($90 rain pants) eventually came through for me and the rain let up and the sun came out. The long Sperry Trail enveloped us in the trees for the rest of the hike, with early evening dappled sunlight warming us now and then. It was a quiet descent. One filled with lots of contemplation while scorning the tiny pebbles that kept working their way into my socks. The Lake McDonald Lodge parking lot welcomed us back some fourteen hours after we left. A wonderful end to an epic tale in the form of our hiking group’s traditional trail tailgate ensued with some of the best tasting chips, salsa, and chocolate chip cookies this girl has ever tasted (of course I always say that at the end of a hike!)
The sunset was one that brought tears to my eyes as I made my way along the shore of Lake McDonald. Sighs of relief and I’ll admit, exhaustion filled the air of my Santa Fe.
I had done it! Battle wounds be damned. I could mark Floral Park off my bucket list – 20+ miles of epic Glacier Park adventure. It was everything and more than I imagined and I can’t wait to do it again …. after I get reunited with my lungs and make amends with my legs.