You may have picked up through reading my previous posts that I really enjoy nature. I think most, if not all people can say that there are places outside in creation that they think are absolutely beautiful and could spend hours looking at it. I enjoy gorgeous views of mountain massifs, mist that rises out of a calm forest lake and the horizon where the sky meets the ocean. However, nothing can really compare to when I actually get to experience it…
During the last day of my family’s visit a few weeks ago, we were making our way up from the Oregon coast towards Seattle where a flight would take my parents and sister back home to Sweden. My dad is also a great nature enthusiast and suggested we would go to a viewpoint of Mt. Reinier. It was only a smaller detour to see it, so we all drove up in our rental car along the winding road towards the lookout. It was truly a gorgeous view. We had to hike a little bit to get to the actual panorama viewpoint, but it was only long and steep enough to make the sweat appear on your forehead. Even though I had the rare privilege to grow up in eyesight of some of the tallest mountains in the world, it was still a bit breathtaking to see a mountain of even this magnitude.
Unfortunately we had only time for a shorter visit that lasted perhaps just around an hour at the mountain. We still had some ground to cover to reach out hotel, so we had to go. On the way down back to the parking lot I observed three people at the ranger station. They had their pack packed, gear stowed, sturdy boots ready to be put on and ice axes available used. I was not sure if they were planning on reaching the summit, but they were mountaineers for sure. With my critical eye I noticed that one of the members of the three-man team had a smaller backpack than the others with a waistband that would not support a lot of weight. Forced to carry all the weight of your backpack on your shoulders alone will be quite miserable on a prolonged trip, so I wondered how this person would do up on the mountain. However, in terms of experience this person was doing much better than me in terms of experiencing Mt. Reinier. To actually get to get up on the glaciers, to feel the exposure of a windy ridge, or the feeling when you can look down on heights you thought were so untouchable before was more than what my experience of that natural wonder. Even though I wished I had the opportunity to get to know the mountain a little more intimately, I reminded myself that I after all was not there for the nature, but primarily my family.
A few days later I was sitting in my freshly painted room, trying to figure out how I best would spend the remaining time off before school started up again. I pretty much contacted every person I knew who would be interested in going hiking if they had time off and wanted to spend some time in the wilderness. For some time it didn’t look like I had much luck, but then a friend I knew from the aviation program said that he and his wife were planning a trip. Long story short we ended up going to Glacier National Park where I have for a long time wanted to go but never really have until now.
The trip to the park itself was quite long. We headed out at 8 am and didn’t start hiking until 6 pm. We had managed to reserve some promising camp spots and the first one was about 8 miles in. When we first booked the site the ranger was skeptical whether we would be able to make it there before nightfall or not, but we felt pretty confident that we would. So off we went, and man, we went fast. I knew beforehand that my two companions were beasts on the trail and that the wife had out-hiked many of the men that had gone with them on other hikes. Good thing for me was that I still was in good shape and walking with others is always easier than walking alone. I remember hiking in Hell’s Canyon earlier this year (see older post) and was really exhausted after 15 miles. This seemed to go so much smoother this time and we reached our designated camp ground well before dark.
The park is absolutely gorgeous. We started out walking through some tall fur tree forests that transitioned into beach trees. We came down and followed a lively creek which the trail followed. From time to time the path took us out on grassy meadows that were sprinkled with wildflowers in vibrant colors. As we treaded further into the park the mountains started to grow higher. The steepness became more significant and I had to start putting my head as far back as possible against my pack to get a proper orientation of the surrounding peaks. The 8 miles were covered within about three or four hours and we set up camp, cooked and stowed away food items before going to bed that night.
The next day we had about six miles to our next campsite. We got there before noon and set up our camp so that it was ready for us for the evening. After a simple lunch and viewing the map we decided to venture out bushwhacking further up the valley we were in, into a bowl with a couple of alpine lakes. From there we planned to climb up on the ridge surrounding the bowl to reach more gradual slopes on the other side which would bring us down on the other side of the massif and from there catch a trail back to our campsite. We packed our packs light so that we could tread swiftly. Excited about some off-trail hiking we set out towards the lakes.
As we started out up the valley along a decent sized creek we were scanning for places to ford and cross the water to the other side to set us up for the ascent over the ridge later on. With no good place in sight we continued up the valley which took us through some dense woods. I had to start making a habit of yelling out noises as we were covering ground. It was a new concept for me to keep being loud in the wild to make your presence known for any bears that may be lurking around. Occasionally the trail took us out to the creek, and gazing up towards were we were heading we could see massive amounts of water being thrown off the cliff ahead. Unmarked and unnamed on the map it continuously threw itself free in the air towards the rocks below. As if the water droplets had that chance in a thousand years to be launched off a mountainside to give it all it had fur just that moment. A metaphor for life. So make the most out of the moments you get.
We continued past the waterfall and still hadn’t had the chance to cross the creek. We paused up in the bowl, where the water of the lake was so blue it could be mistaken for a piece of the sky that had forgotten where it actually belonged. The surrounding slopes were in fact more like cliffs, which we hadn’t anticipated earlier that day. After observing our options we started out on an effort to find a way up, despite the mountains looking like they were too steep for us regarding preparation and equipment. We found a spot to cross the creek, so we waded barefoot into the ice-cold water to the other side. Numbed up to the knees we put out boots on again on the other side and started the ascent up the steep slopes.
Not having been exposed to many mountaineering excursions including scaling of mountains of this steepness and terrain, I was a little bit nervous as me made our way up the first grassy portion of the slope. As the grass ended and the rocks started domination the surface it got even steeper. If I had been alone I would have turned back at that point, but I was confident in my companions’ decisions and risk calculations that I felt safe to continue. It is extremely important to either know what you are doing yourself or knowing that your friend knows what he or she is doing to venture out like this. Having been around mountaineers and adventurers in the past I could see how these two I was with surveyed the situation, took all possible factors into account and made decisions thereafter. Not being carried away by the thrill of reaching the summit, or the prestige of scaling a dangerous cliff, we actually turned around only a short distance from the summit.
We had actually climbed higher than we had planned. The terrain we wanted to reach to descend on the other side was now visible below us on our left. The route we had chosen did not in fact lead us up to a more gradual slope on the other side, but we feared that it might even be steeper there instead. Not knowing what conditions laid ahead and the time running away, we decided to not risk anything, but to return the way we came. Turning around on the mountainside, scanning the valley from where we came, we met a breathtaking view. Words not pictures can’t ever justify the real thing, and knowing that this experience would soon be a memory in the past we took our time to soak in this beauty.
What makes those moments so much more special is not just simply the view and what the eyes could see. Feeling the wind flowing from the south makes you feel even more exposed on that rugged and rocky mountain phase. Having too look for footholds to stay balanced and feeling out grooves in the rocks for fingers to grip, making sure the hold wouldn’t come loose before committing your weight to it adds to the experience of the very nature we dwell in. Not only did I see nature, but I felt the freezing pain of fording the streams on out way back down, I smashed some of the mosquitos that tried to suck fluid out of my body, we were forced to avoid mama bear with its cub by adjusted our route back to camp and initially not knowing what animal made noises outside my tent in the middle of the night I lay there still as I could and hoping that I hadn’t accidentally left any foods in my tent.
This trip did it well for me. To finally get to experience the wild. Almost as if me and it now have a bond. I got to feel this place and got to work hard in order to see some magnificent nature. Like a precious gift I receive from a friend I received this experience so intimately from the one who had made it available for me. It may seem that this is about the relationship I have to nature, and in some way it is true, but I cannot neglect that I enjoy these things so much more by knowing that God gives me these opportunities and experiences ultimately because He loves me. Away from daily life He brings me out to be with me, reminding me that the symbolism in how I experience and know nature is somewhat like how tangible He, God Himself, can be to me. Part of why He created humans with senses is to get an idea of that we can experience life with Him with even more intimacy than what our outer senses can pick up on.
Credit to Joel and Summer Chitwood for pictures and taking me on to join them on this awesoem trip!