Recently I was part of a photography and hiking adventure, courtesy of Backcountry Journeys. I had the time of my life. It was a blast hanging out with a group of strangers, all in Glacier to take pictures, and a couple guides who knew all about the park, the light, and a wealth of photography knowledge to pass along. On the final evening together we hiked Grinnell Glacier up and away from Many Glaciers Lodge. It was 3 miles, 1 way up, to a lookout, over the lake, where the sun would be amazing to photograph as it set behind the mountain/glacier, and over the lake below. I knew there was a virtual Geocache along the trail, and the guides knew it is something I would be setting my sites on, once at the top. Turns out, 3 miles to the lookout is only half way to the top, where I ultimately wanted to be.
Our guide Michael told us that we made it to the overlook spot much quicker than the last hiking group he brought up here. So much so, that we would be another 2 hours before the light was any good for taking pictures. I knew what I must do, grab a can of bear spray from our guide Kenton, dash all the way to the top, get my pics, claim my virtual geocache, then brag to everyone how much cooler I am. I had 2 hours, it was another 3 miles 1-way, so 6 more miles round trip. I set my telephone alarm for 1 hour and started moving up the mountain. If at an hour (the half way point) I was not close, I would reassess and maybe come back down to the group gathering spot. Jumping way ahead, I was actually on my way back down as the 1-hour alarm sounded. No possible way this story could go wrong from here.
I make it to the top of Grinnell Glacier. It is going to be 12 miles round trip now. the last 3 miles was almost all up, the entire way, along the ridge line of the mountain. It was stupendous, some of the most amazing views I was treated to during my trip. As I get close to the top, I pop off my 40+ pound water and camera backpack, and place it gently on the ground. As I do this, I exclaim, ‘shit!’ I could have left this entire pack down below with the group, and just brought my single camera. Oh well, too late now, smooth move Exlax. I snap a bunch of pictures, take a ton of mental memories, and set off back down to the group. It is all downhill from here, I can jog quite a bit. Almost immediately when starting down, I get roadblocked by a mountain goat. I wait him out for a few minutes, then another group comes up from behind, looking to pass. This guy didn’t hesitate, he immediately tossed some rocks, and went toward the goat with a big stick. I was so prepared to photograph and film a man get murdered by a mountain goat. There was a pretty intense stare down, but ultimately, the human won and we were on our way down again. The newcomers downhill were a young couple from Montana, they were making a great pace downhill, so I stuck close behind. Conversation picked up almost immediately, pleasantries exchanged, and a nice rapport was set quickly. A few more minutes in, I am asked if I had a first aid kit. I was embarrassed to say I did not, but I was only meant to have been separated from a larger group (which included a first aid kit) for at most, 2 hours. I inform them that I did not, but at this pace, they were going to pass a group of 7 photographers, with first aid kids there. Tell the group Jimmy said to ask for a bandage. Or, if we keep up this pace, we will get there together, very soon. About 30 minutes goes by, we all know that downhill is easily twice as fast as uphill. I blurt out, “We are almost there! Just around this corner!” We get around that corner, everything looks kind of familiar, except there is no humans to be seen, other than our small group of 3 travelling quickly downhill. In the back of our minds, it was sunset, daylight would be leaving us very soon and we were miles from the trailheads and parking areas. I had the luxury of knowing there was a group of 7 waiting for me below, I would not be nearly alone traveling down this mountain in the dark. You know the old joke…I don’t have to outrun a bear…
I must be wrong. It is the wilds of the Rockies, a lot of spot looks alike. It must be the next corner, or the next corner, or the next corner.
That corner never came.
About 10 minutes past the spot I thought to be the correct photography gathering spot, I stop and looked around. We are far below the overlook view, which means I was correct about the spot I should have seen 7 photographers setup to take sunset pictures over Grinnell Glacier. A bit of panic sets in, how could I have missed 7 people?! I ask my new best friends, they assure me that we did NOT see any other people since the top. I politely tell them, I am a bit unsure what happened, but sorry, I have to abandon them and start to run down the hill now. They completely understand, given the circumstances.
A few different possibilities ran through my mind, as my body ran through the bear-infested forest of Glacier National Park. First, they hated me. This was their excuse to get rid of me completely. Second, they forgot I existed. That is about the correct impression I am sure I leave behind. Third, someone got hurt, and they had to evacuate to the bottom. That one I ruled out pretty quickly. Most of these thoughts were going through me rather quickly. My final possibility was the most likely. As I looked around the sunset was a complete bust for photography. Just a miserable scene. They packed up the site and headed back to the Sprinter Van, or a bar for drinks more likely. The guides had full confidence in me as an outdoorsman, and a man who could handle himself if the need arise. They were basing their decisions on knowing me for the past week. I did a good job presenting myself as a mostly normal person. Not someone riddled with social anxieties and fears of judgement.
Turns out that final option was exactly what happened. One of them wrote a note for me in the dirt, but I didn’t see it as I jogged past. In all honesty, leaving me is possibly the hugest compliment I have been paid in my adult life. Other adults thought I was a competent human being, and could care for myself. I was 100% completely flattered. I caught up to the group just a few minutes after starting to jog on my own. I caught the group just in time to do a naked cannonball, off a boat dock, into glacier water! Very refreshing.
All the pictures from my wild west trip can be seen HERE if you are interested.