Today I woke up to a horse trotting quite loudly, and three labs sniffing around my tent. They probably smelled the gummy bears I ate right before I went to bed. I got out of my fleece liner and looked around the top of the tent…no dew! Clearly we aren’t in Indiana anymore! I thought to myself. Peter woke up shortly after I did, and we packed up the tent, threw it in the back of the car and started driving back into Glacier.
Today our goal was to accomplish hiking one of the most breath-taking hikes in the park, according to the guides. The Dawson Pass/Pitamakan Pass loop, or as they call it, Dawson-Pitamakan, is over 18 miles of mountainous terrain that gains 3,000 ft., only to drop you back down 3,000 ft. steeply. It’s a sizable goal, even more sizable due to the fact that we only had 6 hours to do it.
We started around 9am, and rolled into the parking lot where a fellow hiker looked at our window sticker that says ‘Purdue University’. He said, ‘Look, they go to Purdue’ to his friends, then came over and proceeded to ask about our majors, when we were graduating, etc. To make things seem even more like a small world, one of the girls asked bluntly, ‘Do you guys love Jesus?’ We were taken aback at first, and then answered with a resounding ‘Yes!’ She then apologized for being so forthright, and explained how she had been to J-House before, pointing at my shirt. There was no way you could miss the bright green shirt I was wearing with the unique J-House logo.
Once again, God was reminding me that He is everywhere, and when you feel alone and somewhat stranded, He is right there to pick you back up. It was motivating to meet some folks from back home and to hear their stories, even though most of it was very short due to time constraints. It’s crazy to think that a bunch of Boilermakers had to go to the mountains of Montana to meet each other. Truly, our God works in mysterious ways, in which we will never be able to predict or understand.
We started the hike with our new-found friends. Once again, Glacier did not disappoint. The trail starts at a mouth of a creek that flows into a glacial lake surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks. I could have sat there for hours just looking at it, but then a voice popped into my head and reminded me ‘18 miles, 6 hours‘. It was tragic, but that was just how it was at the time. All I could really tell myself was that I would be back some day, and to move on.
As we moved forward, we started to enter the backcountry in the valley. It was extremely green with lots of pines. To warn potential bears of our oncoming presence we talked a lot. Peter and I had a particularly interesting conversation with one of the Purdue grads about his grandparents who had apparently owned land in Glacier National, just off one of the lakes. His grandfather had visited the park in ’38 for their honeymoon. They fell in love with the park and bought property a couple of years later. Their log cabin quickly became the default location for family vacations. So he had pretty much seen the whole park, and was able to give us some insight as to the sights around us. Then their group stopped to take a break.
Peter and I decided that we should continue in the interest of time. We said our goodbyes and sped off down the trail. It took us around a mountain and over a creek, at which point we realized we were surrounded completely by mountains. The trail then proceeded to slowly and gradually ascend up the side of a series of mountains where it finally leveled off and allowed us to look down into the valley and behind us. The valley was gorgeous, a rocky stream ran right through and the middle was surrounded by pine tree on both sides. The floor of the valley was just littered with wild flowers in bloom everywhere. It was hard to leave behind, but the rocky high pass was calling, and I couldn’t wait to be up there.
Eventually, the trail took us into an amphitheater, where three mountains converge to form a ‘U’ shaped valley with one opening, which is where we had just come. There was only one option…up. That’s exactly where the trail took us, 3,000 feet up, through a series of steep switchbacks. By the time we reached the top, we were exhausted. We stopped and ate to refuel, snapped a couple of photos, and even took a nice asian couple’s photo for them. Then we continued up towards the next pass.
The trail, from the top of Pitamakan, goes straight up a mountain face and over a steep sloping snowfield to the north side of the face. We climbled slowly, watching the weather look significantly worse as we neared the snowfield.
We weren’t informed that the mountain section of the trail went through snow, so I was forced to kick-step with Chaco sandals. Yep, Chacos. Mark it down as the official ‘stupid mistake’ of the trip so far. By the time we got to the snowfield, the wind had picked up and was now strong enough to knock you off balance if you let it. The clouds looked menacing at 9,000 ft., but over where there were no mountains, it looked clear and sunny. It was a very surreal moment, to be a part of something so immense that it had its own weather patterns. Either way, there was no turning back now- we were halfway there!
As we entered the snowfield, I dreaded kicking my first step in. Peter went before me and cleared a pretty well-defined step. Regardless, the second I kicked in my foot, it was covered with snow. It was freezing and the wind didn’t make it any better. We trudged through as quickly as possible and finally achieved the pass through the north face, and began traversing the backside, or the northwest side.
The northwest side of the mountain was extremely rocky, bare and kind of scary. The trail simply traversed the face for a good 3 miles. The view from that elevation was amazing. We could see most of the peaks in the park. Unfortunately, the weather and our time constraints didn’t allow us to stay long. We traversed quickly over the bare rock, and achieved the second pass where we started the long descent down. It seemed like we descended all 3,000 ft. within the same mile a half. By the time we were done, it was now raining and we still had 6-7 miles to get back to the car.
Let me tell you, they were the longest 6 miles of my life. The trail took us through dense mountain valley forest that afforded us absolutely no view of the mountains looming around us, one of which we had just descended. Eventually, after 2 hours, we made it back. Peter went to soak his feet in the creek, and I went back to the car to get some much-needed food and water. Gummy Bears never tasted so good!
Shortly after recuperating we set off for Seattle. We made it back to the highway and punched it. Right now we are camped out at a rest stop just an hour and a half outside Seattle. I can feel the looming presence of Rainier. Our maps say we are close enough to see it, but it’s dark and cloudy so we will just have to see it in the morning. Either way, I thank God for getting me through this day, and pray that as the mountains get bigger and the risk greater, that He keeps us safe. Not only from elements, but also from my own stupidity and ignorance. God created the mountains, they are no place for a man to merely conquer. I learned that today. With Christ’s blessing, we can stand on their summit for a short time.