The words “Montana” and “nature” kind of go hand in hand. Why? Well, Montana is the 4th largest state in the USA and contains the 44th largest population so, you see, there is a lot of room and not a lot of people. Lots of cattle, though. But maybe that’s beside the point.
When I went to Montana a couple of weeks ago for a music festival in Missoula, (see my post Travelers’ Rest Fest for more details on this glorious and wondrous time), we made time to visit two of Montana’s state parks: Travelers’ Rest State Park, in Lolo (a small town 10 miles south of Missoula), and Lost Creek State Park, in Anaconda (a small town 20 miles northwest of Butte). We would’ve liked to have popped up to Glacier National Park for a day or so, but alas our schedules did not allow for this. We made due with visiting the location at which Lewis and Clark made camp during their expedition west, which is now a state park, as well as a super off-the-wall state park that was rather hidden back in the mountain-y hills.
Nothing too thrilling happened at either state park, we just spent our time wandering around, collecting rocks, and taking photos of the beautiful nature surrounding us.
First up, photos from Travelers’ Rest State Park:
We spent a good hour or two at Travelers’ Rest before heading back to Missoula and to the second day of Travelers’ Rest Fest, the music festival put on by The Decemberists. Which was amazing. But I’ve already mentioned how utterly stupendous the festival was in this post, plus I have a whole separate post dedicated to its awesomeness. Check it out, if you’re keen.
On Monday, after we packed our things and headed out of Missoula, we drove through the curves for about 80 miles before exiting I-90 and heading southwest, toward a little state park called Lost Creek State Park. Sara and I speculated that the name came about because some person found the creek, and then was unable to find it for some time, and maybe even had his/her children or grandchildren out searching for it (much like what happens in the movie Holes, when Sigourney Weaver’s grandpa makes her search for the treasure which is why she has the juvenile delinquents digging holes all the time.) before they finally found the “lost creek” and then they thought that would be a good area for a state park so the gave the land to the state. One theory among many, I’m sure.
Anyway. Lost Creek State Park was a lovely little place that had no other people in it while we were there. A good place for a potential quadruple homicide, if one had been in the mind for it. We parked the car and walked around a bit. We decided not to venture off of the main road, for fear of there potentially being an individual lurking in the woods who had quadruple homicide on the brain. It just seemed like the logical thing to do.
The hills here were not obscured by smoke, which was nice, and the flowers were oh-so-pretty. The following photos are those that I took at Lost Creek State Park:
We spent a decent hour or so exploring this little state park. It was a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after driving for two hours and with only ten more to go… Seriously, what a jaunt! Attending the music festival was worth it, though. Totally worth it. And the state parks and flower photos were a nice added bonus. 🙂
We began our long and arduous journey home at 10 am, Pacific time, after a weird and somewhat cryptic conversation with the store keeper. We preferred his wife, she was a nice woman. This dude was odd as heck. Anyway.
We woke up at 9 and packed up the tent and repacked the car, and then we were off! On the road back out to Ilwaco, we saw A MAMA BLACK BEAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Oh boy did we get excited. And then, we looked to the right and there, in the tree, just chillin’, was a little black bear cub! We died, he was so cute. We sat there for about 3 minutes, and then he climbed away and we also climbed away, except we were in a car so it was more like we drove away.
We drove north on Highway 101 for a while, and then I think we took something that may have been a highway 18 or a highway 7. Either way, it took us to I-5, which led directly to I-90. After that it was a straight shot west; it could not have been any easier. We stopped on occasion to use the bathroom, to get some food, and to stretch our legs, which usually happened because the one of the first two were occurring. I drove from literally the coast of Washington all the way to Billings, Montana. A solid 17 hours of driving through two and a half states (I’m totally counting the 80 miles we drove in Idaho as a state) under my belt. After a brief stop in Billings, we continued on our merry way. Jennifer drove from Billings to Dickinson, ND, and then I continued dirving all the way back to Grand Forks. In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, me driving for like, a bazillion hours with little-to-no sleep. But hey we didn’t die, so score one for us!
We made it back to Grand Forks around 5 pm on Saturday, and by 8 pm we were back on the road. Sara was driving this time; we packed her car and took off for the cities. I curled up in the back seat and slept for about an hour and a half or so, bringing my grand total of hours slept in the past 36 to about two. Woo!
The three of us made it to the cities around 1 am, and after Sara and I said our goodbyes to dear Jennifer, we made our way south to our MN home. We arrived around 3 am, and we didn’t even bother to unpack any of our things. We practically fell into our beds and passed out until 1 pm on Sunday.
The following week was one of rest and recuperation. Sara and I didn’t do much, other than go on long walks and watch American Horror Story: Hotel. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. Lady Gaga is queen.
And with that, the saga of our super epic road trip is done. It was a really freaking awesome week, full of mountains and forests and oceans, and while I did put 3700 miles on my Jeep I’m gonna go ahead and say it was totally worth it.
Thanks Jen and Sara, for proving to me that we are adult enough to handle a road trip on our own. Till the next one! 🙂
Oh yeah, here are some more photos of flowers. You’re welcome.
On Thursday morning we awoke to a wet tent. It had rained during the night, and our pillows and most of Jennifer were decently damp. Mildly annoying.
We ate a spot of breakfast, and then we got dressed and ready for the day. Since this was our only full day at Cape Disappointment we decided we were going to do every trail. Which is exactly what we did.
We started out with the coastal loop trail that brought us next to the Columbia River outlet, and we could see the town of Ilwaco, Washington, from across the.. bay? River? Giant water puddle? Unsure, but the logistics are unimportant. What is important is the fact that my camera died during the middle of this hike. I was quite saddened by this, but I quickly moved on and started taking photos with my phone instead. Thank goodness for the fancy cameras that smart phones have these days!
After moving through this trail, we headed over to a parking lot, where we parked the car (who would have thought!) and hiked up to the old Cape Disappointment lighthouse. We passed by the Lewis and Clark interpretive center, and we might have stopped there if it hadn’t been for the two-bus-fulls of smallish children who made a bee-line straight for the center. So we avoided that place like the plague. Which was fine, we did a bit of interpretations regarding Lewis and Clark on our own. I don’t think I’ll get into that on here; some things are just better left un-typed.
We made our way to the lighthouse, and it was a lovely old lighthouse.
So we hung out with the light house for a while before making the trek back to the car. We headed down to the beach to sit on driftwood while Jennifer ate her apple. At least I think it was an apple. Was it an apple, Jen?
So after our brief hiatus on the driftwood of the beach, we decided to move on and do the last trail. This trail would be the longer of the three that we were doing, and it definitely proved to be the most difficult as well. This trail would lead us to the North Head Lighthouse, and the path was fraught with salamanders and mud. The trail was in the process of being updated, and by that I mean there were piles of lumber hanging out in the woods. So in the mean time, we had to forage our way through this trail which had more tree roots sticking out than was necessary.But! We survived! It was only about a 2.5 mile hike, but it took much longer than it needed to because of the less-than-ideal trail conditions. The rain the night before also did not help to make the trail more ideal. Oh, well.
As we approached the ocean, we heard a curious barking noise, and then we all got so super excited because we were hearing SEALS! The fellas must have been hanging out on the beach, and were just chattering away! We ran about 10 feet in our excitement before realizing that running was a dumb idea, as it would likely result in us not getting there any more quickly and just ending up with a twisted/sprained/shattered ankle and/or knee. So we continued walking at a pace that was appropriate for this somewhat awful and slightly dangerous trail. After some more time passed, we did make it to the lighthouse. Which was also under construction. How typical.
There was a couple sitting on a bench near this area, and they had a pair of binoculars and were “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” at something. They turned to us and told us that there were a couple of whales out in the distance, and proceeded to borrow us their binoculars so that we too, could “ooo” and “ahh” at the whales. They were quite lovely; having never seen a whale in the flesh before, I thought they were quite extraordinary, as well. The couple (hailing from California) also pointed out the seals to us, frolicking down in the waves. Oh they were just so cute! Gosh.
After we had our fill of whale- and seal-watching, we decided to head back. We made a solid attempt at going down the cliff-side to get to the beach, which would have ended up being a shorter route back to the campsite, but the path got real sketchy real fast, so we just went back the way we came. That’s right, all 2.5 miles of death-trail.
That may be a bit melodramatic. In reality, heading back did not take nearly as long as it did heading to the lighthouse. That’s usually how it ends up being, though.
We made it back to the car, and with muddy shoes and wet socks we headed back to the campsite. Two-thirds of us took showers, and then we hopped back in the car and drove on down to the great state of Oregon. Astoria, to be specific.
I had made the connection between Astoria and the fun-loving, adventuring-having 80s movie The Goonies, when we were eating Mexican food on drive from Sol Duc. Oh man, did we get excited. Because the movie was shot in Astoria, the house that Mikey and Brand lived in is actually still there, and is currently occupied by some crotchety people who don’t allow visitors.Once we crossed the excessively long bridge that linked Washington with Oregon, we made our way down the somewhat confusing streets of Astoria to the Goonies House. Where we immediately became intimidated by the signs that said “DO NOT APPROACH WE WILL CALL THE POLICE” and so we parked about three blocks away and got as close as we dared. Which wasn’t very close.
After our excursion to the Goonies House, we needed to find food. We ate at a place called the Wet Dog Cafe; not a super appetizing name, but that didn’t really matter because the food was absolutely amazing. I had a salmon burger. Super double yum.
To top off the night, we decided to get some ice cream, so we found this little place that puts potato chips on top of their ice cream sundaes. An odd yet delicious combination.
After the ice cream, we decided to get gas, because it was cheaper in Astoria than any place we had seen in Washington. So, I pull up to the pump, get out, and proceed to put the card in the thing. Then all of a sudden, this guy jogs out to my Jeep and was like, “I’ll get that for you.” Which leads me to stare at him blankly, because I am perfectly capable of filling up my own gas thank you very much. Had this happened like, 5 years ago I would have been like, heck yeah you can definitely fill up my gas and I’ll just take you with me so that you can always fill up my gas. But it wasn’t 5 years ago, it was right now, and I was confused. The man, his name was Stephen (but may have been pronounced like Steven), said to me, “Did you forget you were in Oregon?” Like I was some sort of person who forgets where they are. No, I did not forget I was in Oregon, I was apparently just very ignorant of the state-wide law which banned civilians from pumping their own gas. They have special people who do that for them, to prevent explosions I think.
Needless to say, I was mildly embarrassed and thoroughly confused when I got back in the car, which caused Sara and Jennifer to also become thoroughly confused. Jen used her handy-dandy phone to look up why in the heck I was unable to pump my own gas, and that’s when we discovered that we were in one of two states that ban people from this activity. Weird. The other state is New Jersey. Who knew!
After the gas-pumping fiasco, we made our way back to the campsite and promptly went to sleep, on our more-damp-than-dry pillows.
On Wednesday morning, we awoke to the toasty sunshine beating down on our tent through the trees. It was a gorgeous, albeit rather chilly, morning. We (and when I say “we,” I am referring to Sara) packed up the sleeping bags and tent, and reorganized the car. Jennifer and I wanted to take showers, but due to the fact that there were no actual showers in the vicinity, we had to improvise. I filled Jennifer’s water bottle with ice-cold water from the pump outside of the bathroom and, with much diligence, poured it over her hair inside the bathroom, as it was around 50 degrees outside and 9:00 in the morning. Not to say that the bathroom was all that much warmer, but at least we didn’t look like weirdos to everyone in the camp. There was also a drain in the bathroom floor, which is another reason why we chose to go in there. When Jennifer’s hair was sufficiently wet, she shampooed, during which time I filled the water bottle again. I rinsed her hair, and then she conditioned, followed by another rinsing. She then followed the same procedure with me. It was cold. But effective.
Aren’t you a better, more well-rounded person for knowing these minute details of our salon-camping experience? You’re welcome.
Sara had the car packed up when we finished washing our hair, and then we took off, south down Highway 101. Remember when I said that Highway 93 in Montana was the curviest road I had ever driven on? Yeah, I take that back, because Highway 101 in Washington definitely takes the cake. Curves for days.
Incidentally, we realized that Highway 101 going south out of Sol Duc would lead us into the little town of Forks, Washington. That’s right, home of Edward, Bella, and the rest of the gang. I’m not sure if you should know just how excited we got when we found out that we would be driving through this town. Or maybe you should. We’re not ashamed, Stephanie Meyer managed to captivate millions of people with the Twilight Saga, whether you ended up being Team Edward or Team Jacob. I think our general consensus, after a lengthy and rather in-depth discussion, was that we were Team Edward for the books and Team Jacob for the movies. I mean, is it anyone’s fault that Edward ended up being really creepy in the movie? Other than Robert Pattinson’s, of course. Not to say he’s a bad actor, he was just a bad vampire. Also, helloooooo, Taylor Lautner! 😉
We found Forks, Washington, took a hurried and somewhat embarrassed photo in front of their welcome sign, and continued on our trip south, toward the ocean.
We reached Cape Disappointment (yes, that’s the cape’s real name and we’re not entirely sure why it was named that – we have several theories regarding Lewis and Clark that may or may not be historically accurate) around 4 pm on Wednesday the 31st of May. Sara and Jennifer jumped right out and started setting up camp, while I stood there watching and eating Cheerios. I also climbed a pine tree, which was in no way beneficial to the group, and resulted in me getting tree sap on my hands.
Camp was successfully erected sans my assistance, and then we went off in search of the ocean. But first, it was necessary to climb this giant rock. Obviously.
We heard the ocean well before we saw it; it sounded like a busy highway but was way better than a busy highway because it was the Pacific Ocean.
After exploring the black-sanded beach and playing in the what we later learned to be “dangerous” waters (thanks, cryptic store keeper), we headed back to camp for food and sleep.
Washington, another state I had never been to before this trip, has officially stolen my heart. Sorry, Minnesota, you may have a bit of competition! The mountains, the forests, the lakes, the fog, the rain, the everything. My photos did not do this state justice.
We drove the last six hours to Sol Duc, the campground where we would be spending the night. Sol Duc is located in the Olympic National Forest, in Washington’s beautiful Pacific Northwest region. Or, as Sara liked to call it, the GNP (Greater North Pacific), which should not to be confused with the GOP (Grand Old Party). We pitched our tent, a feat which all should be thoroughly impressed with. It took a bit of effort, but we did manage to make it stand up (by itself!) in the end.
We then decided to hit up all of the trails that we could. Sol Duc is home to a gorgeous waterfall, appropriately named Sol Duc Falls. We wanted to make our way to the falls, and then on the trail to Deer Lake. To reach the falls, we went on a path called Lover’s Lane. Not sure why it was named this, as the path was terribly maintained and would likely cause lovers to unlove each other due to it’s ability to cause tension and arguments regarding which way to go. Luckily for us, we didn’t like each other very much to begin with, so Lover’s Lane did not have the disastrous effects as it would on people who do actually like each other.
After what seemed like an year and a half, we made it through Lover’s Lane and out onto the super-fancy, super-nice path that led to the falls. We followed this path for about a mile, all the while hearing the falls roaring in the distance.
It was a bit chilly and rainy on our walk, and the spray from the waterfall only assisted with making us more damp. It was a lovely waterfall, however. Even though it got my camera all wet. Sad day.
Just past the falls was the path for Deer Lake. We had read about Deer Lake in little pamphlet that the park ranger had given us upon check-in. It was about a 4-mile hike, which sounded like a good way for us to get out and stretch our legs after driving for the last 9 hours. We started the hike, and it was really uphill and rocky. The path was essentially a dry creek bed that they had somewhat improved by strategically placing rocks and/or building some steps and bridges. And I use the words “dry creek bed” lightly, as the majority of the creek bed had some water running through it, i.e. wet socks, wet shoes. Everything was so squishy damp. So squishy damp.
So we hiked uphill on this dry creek bed for a long time, and eventually we were like, “Wait, is this another mountain?” And sure enough, we doubled checked the pamphlet from the ranger and it said that Deer Lake was indeed a mountain lake. Meaning that it is a lake hidden in the mountains. The snow was a bit of a give-away, as well.
Okay, so the elevation was only about 1700 feet vs. the 4200 feet of Mount Brown (refer to my post “The Story of Mount Brown” for the full story of Mount Brown), but seriously who accidentally climbs a mountain, not once but twice in one week? Apparently, we do.
We really need to start reading the fine print when people give us information.
So we made it to the top of this mountain, and we found Deer Lake. Sara, our line leader for this expedition, shrieked with excitement when she saw the lake, which spurred Jennifer and myself on. We were thrilled to be off this weird trail.
The lake was absolutely gorgeous. We sat on the wooden bridge for some time. Jennifer ate an apple and a granola bar. We all took a few hearty swigs of water. After a few moments, there was some fog that began to form. It was lovely fog, all heavy and wispy at the same time, and it came down from the mountains and covered the trees across the lake. I had never seen fog descend on a place like that, so that was pretty neat. I got a few neat photos too.
Sara and Jennifer had continued on the path; we were going to attempt the trail to Mink Lake, which would then lead us back to out campground. I think. I wasn’t 100% sure on the logistics of this hike. I was more focused on taking photos of the trees and the moss and the water. Which I did. I just followed Sara and Jennifer, and trusted that they knew the way. Or at the very least that they could interpret the map.
So I was busy taking pictures of the fog while Sara and Jennifer forged ahead on the path, and about six minutes later I hear Sara yelling at me, asking me what the hell I was doing. So I was like, yeah yeah I’m on my way when in reality I was still snapping a photo or two. Oops. 🙂
I did make my way to them, however, and the path had effectively disappeared under the snow. So much snow. We made our way across a slough covered in snow on the south side of Deer Lake, and then there was just an open field of snow with no tracks from previous hikers. We were effectively screwed. Sara and Jennifer really gave it their best effort, in their attempt to find the trail.
We wandered around for about half a mile before resigning ourselves to the fact that we will just have to go back down the dry creek bed trail. I groaned inwardly and sighed outwardly, but since going downhill is easier than going uphill I was mildly okay with it. I tried being the line leader for about two minutes, and I ended up falling down and getting my shoe severely stuck in the snow. Jennifer had to retrieve it for me, which was harder than it sounds because my shoe was really stuck in there. I was a little embarrassed so I just went back to my usual spot in line, bringing up the rear. We ended up running down the mountain path again, but this one was much more rocky and dangerous so we stopped after about half a mile.
After what seemed like a forever amount of time spent walking (you know, it’s really hard to keep going when your butt and thighs and calves are sore and you haven’t slept more than an hour and a half in the 28 hours), we finally made it back to the waterfall, but then it was still quite a jaunt back to the entrance of Lover’s Lane. Apparently we were feeling quite spry when we began our hiking adventure earlier, and practically sprinted through the path because it seemed much shorter the first time. We reached the entrance of Lover’s Lane but we had already decided that we were not going through that shit-show of a trail again, even though it was quite lovely and very Jurassic Park/Star Wars-esk. It was fun to traipse through the woods and rediscover the lost path, but we just did not have the energy for that. Hiking up and down a mountain in squishy damp shoes with sore butts, thighs, and calves can really put a damper on one’s attitude for adventure. We were also hungry. So, we walked out to the parking lot and decided to walk along road back to our campground. Which was fine, it just took an extra mile or so to get back, bringing our total for the day up to approximately 12 miles. Woo!
We found the campground, and we cut through the small bit of woods between the road and the campground to get back more quickly. I saw a giant log on the ground, and of course I decided to sit there and count the rings on the stump to see how old it was.
262 years old, in case you were curious.
So after this brief tree-ring-counting-detour, which took about 10 minutes, I made my way back to the campsite, where Sara and Jennifer were preparing their food for supper. I tucked right in, and after a hearty meal of sandwiches and s’mores and Cheerios and chickpeas, we went to bed. I was pooped. Which makes sense, because by that point I had slept for approximately an hour and a half in the last 36. Not a great track record.
We fell asleep listening to the sound of the breeze rustling through the moss on the prehistoric-looking pine trees.
And subsequently awoke to the same prehistoric-looking pine trees.
We woke up later this morning, due to the fact that we had just climbed 10 miles up a mountain the previous day. We packed the car in record time before heading out to the Glacier National Park visitor center. We caught the free shuttle to the Avalanche Lake trail head to do some more hiking before moving on with our journey west. We spent a fair amount of time hiking to Avalanche Lake, as we were doing our best to waste as much time as possible. I was allowed (Thanks, guys!) to take photos with my camera, and so I took full advantage of that. 🙂
We finally made the 2.5 mile walk (5.5 miles round-trip) to Avalanche Lake, and boy was that a sight to behold. Crystal clear water surrounded by trees, mountains, and more trees. I could have stood there all day.
Alas, we eventually had to move on, and get back on the road. We stopped in Whitefish to have a picnic in a park and eat some delicious ice cream. My flavor was Montana Huckleberry. It seemed fitting.
I was the driver for the four hour trip to Spokane, Washington. We drove along Highway 93, and that was seriously the curviest road I have ever driven on, I felt like a NASCAR driver. With a Jeep. In the mountains. Montana really is something, landscape-wise. We merged onto Highway 200, which turned out to be a neat little drive through the Montana countryside. It brought us right into Idaho (the panhandle, to be specific), a state I had never been to until this trip. It seemed oddly like western Montana to me. How curious.
The sunset we were chasing was absolutely gorgeous. I had been begging to stop at almost every scenic turnout, but I was turned down by my passengers, and was told to “take a mental picture.” Even though I was driving. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that the sunset, silhouetted by the mountains and reflecting off the water, was lovely. Everything about this trip has been lovely so far. I was (grudgingly) allowed to take a photo of the sunset, and so here it is, in all of its sunset-y glory.
The three of us made it to Spokane (a rather surprising feat, for there were some foreboding signs on Highway 200 in Montana about big horned sheep and 433 killed and 55 mph. We’re still not entirely sure what they mean; 433 big horned sheep killed? Or have the big horned sheep caused the death of 433 humans? Also, this was over the course of a 19-mile stretch, and so that seems like a very specific area to have had so many deaths. The deaths per square foot must be incredible. Additionally, what is the time frame that we’re looking at; for the last year? 10 years? 50 years? So many questions, so many theories and speculations, so little knowledge about big horned sheep and their death rates.) around 10:45 p.m. Pacific time and stopped at Walmart for a couple of camping necessities. We also stopped for gas and coffee, found I-90, and headed west into the night.
It was just Sara, me and the semis awake on the road. We drove for two hours before needing a brief nap. We stopped at a rest area, saw that there was a homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom in a sleeping bag and decided to drive 40 miles to the next rest area, where there was no homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom. We managed to sleep in the car for a solid hour and a half. After shutting my eyes for what seemed like a second, it was 4:30 a.m. and I figured we should probably keep going. So, we kept going.
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.