Total Miles: 2536.7
Mace said it best when we had reached the crest of Piegan Pass, some 3,000 feet higher than where we’d left our camp this morning, saying: “This is why I do this. It’s places like this that get burned into your mind.” He couldn’t have been more right.
The night had been cold, and the shaded initial slopes of the climb hadn’t been any warmer, but the promise of clear, sunny skies to illuminate what lie ahead made the chill nothing more than a temporary nuisance. Besides, it made for a comfortable companion to the effort of climbing from deep in a wooded valley back into the jaw dropping high alpine.
The park’s namesake glaciers were tucked into the shaded northern faces of mountains no two of which looked the same. Perfect triangular fins, ragged ridges, and soaring walls with bands of differently colored rock running through them assembled this perfect jumble of stony shapes as if a sky of stained glass had long ago shattered into random shards that had since fallen to earth and hardened into what we now saw. It was—simply—a mountain paradise.
Sitting at Piegan Pass and staring out at the rock wall topped by a row of tiny minarets with a mountain goat grazing at its foot, a small glacier clinging to its ribs, it felt like that one view alone embodied the heart of what Glacier National Park is. It was mesmerizing in that way that you have to be snapped from a trance to be pulled away from it and continue on down the trail.
The descent was no less spectacular as the Cataract Valley lived up to its name. Little rivulets spilled down from the mouths of glaciers and down every drainage before plunging over the edge of shelves of red rock. High above, the Garden Wall towered like the massive dorsal fin of a serpent that had long ago been petrified.
And all that water fed a valley of verdant bright green grasses, deep green firs, and ripened huckleberries whose red leaves made it plain that autumn is right around the corner.
When the day ends on trail wrapping itself around a lake with views like this, you know it hasn’t sucked...
Cap it all off with a dinner of real food (read: pizza) next door to where we collected our resupply box for the final push to the US/Canada border and it’s hard to find a flaw. Years ago on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d written about one of my favorite quotes from the American mountaineer Alex Lowe who said:
"There are two kinds of climbers: those who climb because their heart sings when they're in the mountains, and all the rest."
Today was the sort of day where you find out which kind you are.