ACT 1 SCENE 2
SCENE: Mount Brown, Glacier National Park. Sunday, May 28, 2017. 10:30 a.m.
- Sara – our fearless line leader and choir conductor.
- Jen – our amusing conversationalist and in-house animal expert/eye candy.
- Anna – the laggard bringing up the rear and company photographer.
- Those two guys who made us feel bad about ourselves because they were sprinting up the mountain – they also showed us mountain goats.
- Pink Shirt Guy – at first, he was amused by our quirky antics but soon got really annoyed and quickly passed us by.
- The Elderly Snientist – an optimistic gentleman who showered us with words of encouragement, which we ignorantly believed, and also made us laugh with his tales of lost chainsaws. We also think he may have been a snow scientist, but this fact was neither confirmed nor denied.
- The Pesky Mountain Goats – so cute! But so annoying, as we are humans in their territory and are advised not to approach. Hard to do when they are standing on the trail and won’t leave.
- Special Guest Star: The Snow that Wouldn’t Quit – first made it its appearance as a small patch along the trail and we were like, aw look at that snow and then it became 6 feet deep and were like what in the actual heck, snow. Why.
Narrator: (Dramatic voice) On this day, three girls accidentally climbed a mountain. You may be wondering, just how dumb do you need to “accidentally” climb a mountain. Well, all you need is a bit of blind ambition and a lot of blissful ignorance. Mount Brown is home to a rather formidable trail, one of the most difficult in Glacier National Park. It ascends over 4200 feet in 5 miles, so you can imagine that the trail is steep. What you may not imagine is the fact that there is also snow on top of a mountain. Or maybe you can imagine that. If that is the case, then you would have been better prepared than these three girls. Good for you.
It’s not as if these girls did not have the means to be prepared to climb the mountain. In fact, they had a magazine (which they evidently did not read very closely before attempting to climb said mountain) that stated Mount Brown was indeed a difficult hike; in fact, it was labeled as “strenuous” in the magazine. Now, these are relatively smart girls, two with college degrees and the other beginning her junior year in college this fall, but apparently they decided to interpret the word “strenuous” as “oh, this will be a super nice hike with awesome views of the mountains and stuff” rather than “yeah you’re about to hike up a mountain.” It’s all about the context, I guess.
This is their story, the story of Mount Brown and how they potentially possibly could have maybe died but didn’t.
Oh sorry, spoiler alert.
We started our day with a hearty continental breakfast from the hotel. We made our way to the Glacier National Park visitor center, located on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, where they told us that parking at Avalanche Lake would be extremely limited. We were feeling optimistic, however, and decided to try parking there. Apparently everyone else wanted to park there too, so we were forced to come back and park at Lake McDonald. This worked out just fine, and we decided to hike up Mount Brown. You would think, with a name like Mount Brown (emphasis on the “Mount”) we would have realized that it would not be a simple hike up a hill. We were literally in the mountains of Montana, for God’s sake!
We began our hike at the Sperry trail head, which started right across the road from Lake McDonald, and went up a fairly gradual incline for a solid mile and a half. We found the Mount Brown trail head and thus we began our ascent. Within 10 minutes we had to stop again, our butts and thighs were dying. But this was just the beginning. We hiked for a long time, back and forth up the switchbacks (thanks, expert hiking [aka mountain-sprinter] guys who helped us figure out the mountain lingo) and stopped periodically for water and air. We made it to a lovely little overlook, and we figured we should be fairly close to the top. Boy, were we wrong. We hadn’t even encountered the snow, yet!
The snow started out as a small patch in the woods by the trail, and we thought it was just the cutest little patch of snow we’d ever seen. And then said snow patch multiplied in number and size, and soon everything was covered in a six-foot snowdrift. We learned later that this snow does not disappear until mid-July. Lucky us. It was during this snowy trail era that we ran across (whom we believe to be) the snow scientist. He was sitting in the snow using a little saw to cut into the snow drifts. So, he was either a snow scientist or an elderly guy who liked to sit on the side of a mountain and investigate the snow. Rather curious. He told us we were doing a great job, climbing the mountain. He also gave us directions to get around a particularly giant snow drift which was coming up in our path. This snow drift was probably close to 10 feet tall. We had to skirt around it, so thank goodness there had been people going on the trail before us so we had footprints to follow in.
We trekked through the snow, slipping and sliding as we went along. Luckily we had started our journey early enough in the morning so the snow was still pretty solid during our ascent. No one had any major spills down the mountainside, but Sara and I did fall much more often than Jennifer (and I fell more often than Sara). Jennifer does parkour (hard-core parkour!) as a hobby and thus has fairly decent balance and footwork, which I am sure contributed to her lack of falling. She’s so fancy.
We were so full of optimism and blind ambition. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started our journey up Mount Brown. However, I think it was this total unpreparedness that allowed us to get as far as we did. If we had 100% knew we would be climbing up a mountain, we honestly probably would have given up. It was the lack of us knowing just how steep and arduous this hike would be that allowed us to almost reach the top. I say “almost” because we did not actually make it to the top. We were probably about half a mile from the top, where it apparently became pretty flat and there was a nice building in which to sit. However, to get to said “top,” we would have had to
hike crawl up the mountain side, by holding onto the snowy footholds made by previous (and more courageous) hikers. We stopped because we honestly feared for our lives. In fact, Sara was sitting in the snow for some time, contemplating her life and was about 83% sure she might die. However, the odds were in her favor and she survived. We all survived, in fact, and we are stronger for it. I also got a few super sweet photos, so that was a bonus!
Sara and Jennifer refused to go any further, but I decided to try, and climbed about 200 feet up the mountain before calling down to my companions that yes, they were right, it was absolutely terrifying and if they could be so kind as to not rub it in my face that would be great. So I channeled my inner mountain goat and crawled back down. It was a bit of a struggle, to be completely honest, but I made it without dying! Now it was just the rest of the mountain we had to descend.
Going down the mountain was much easier that going up. It helped that we were fueled by adrenaline and had just been staring our almost-death in the face. We traipsed our way through the snow drifts, and finally (finally!) got back to the no-snow-trail. At this point we started full-out running down the mountain path, which was actually a lot of fun and probably pretty dangerous, but none of us died or twisted an ankle or anything so that was good.
We also made some friends on the way down the mountain; the two guys who sprinted up the mountain also sprinted down (how, we still don’t know) who introduced us to the pesky mountain goats who just would not get off the path, and the guy in the pink shirt, who we later developed an undeserved (yet extremely personal) vendetta against. Unsure why this vendetta became so strong, but it provided a solid source of entertainment for the rest of the week.
We finally made it down the mountain, feeling more than a little sore, tired, and hungry. We reconvened at the Jeep, determined that we had hiked (or bear-crawled) approximately 10 miles in 5 hours, and grabbed some water and food to replenish our bodies and souls. We meandered down to Lake McDonald to rest our feet in the cool mountain water.
Along the way, we paused to appreciate Mount Brown from a distance. It was really high. We were like, wait we just hiked up that?
We fell, we laughed, we wanted to sit down and cry, we almost made it to the top of the mountain and we have no regrets. Having never climbed a mountain before, I think we did a bang-up job of doing it.