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on September 30, 2016
By Greg Balkin
Glacier National Park. I've heard stories of the mountains and lakes and bears and goats. So many goats. It only takes a couple good stories to get you imagining what it’s like to wake up to sunrise along the water and watch the peaks turn vibrant red at night. The opportunity to spend five days in the backcountry of Glacier and that's all I could imagine. Reality check - we spent the first night (before hiking) sleeping under an overpass. And there’s a lot of time to fill between sunrise and sunset. Long days about to be filled with some of the hardest hiking any of us had ever done. This was no ordinary place. This was no ordinary trip.
For 4 nights and 5 days, we walked 60 miles across Glacier NP. We saw no bears, we saw no moose, but the goats delivered. In numbers. We saw one pack running from behind a ridge and down a steep slope. Bear? Maybe. Probably.
Our path diverged from a steady trail and dropped straight down heavy scree fields into a valley, through overgrown brush, up to high ground to gain a better perspective, and along (sometimes) sketchy goat trails. We mapped our route based off the land, walked along the Continental Divide, stood on the top of one peak (I think), and slid down mossy waterfalls to set up camp right before a thunderstorm hit. At night, we listened to Adam play the guitar and in the morning, we woke up to Andy making coffee for everyone. Whatta guy.
My phone moved on to a better place after it was accidentally packed into a wet tent on our second morning, so I had no sense of time throughout the days. Everyone else joined and kept their phones off. We fell asleep when it was still light out, woke up who knows when, and walked a lot each day. 15 miles the first day, 18 miles the last day, and whatever else in between. I have a lot of respect for off-trail travel and the skill that's involved to make sure you're on the right route. It's a completely different experience than following a well-groomed trail and I think everyone ought to find a friend who knows what they're doing and give it a shot. It might kick your ass, but it'll be worth it.
Andy, Maddie, Taylor, and Adam. These are my people. Here are a few things I learned from the crew of foolish toms Don't take yourself seriously. Act like a little kid. Run across frozen lakes. Use a frisbee as a sled and ride it down mountains. Moon helicopters. Carry a guitar so your friend can play. Keep a bag of gummies a surprise until Day 3. If you're not going to filter water, say "Freedom isn't free" each time you go into the unknown. Laugh when the trail is kicking your ass. Yelling is a good boost to make it over that pass. Don't use rocks as spoons when you eat peanut butter unless you like it extra crunchy. Do make sandwiches with apricots and peanut butter. Being weird is okay.
This video pretty much sums it up.
Greg Balkin is an outdoor commercial photographer based in sunny Seattle, Washington. He's a lover of dogs, owns a T-Rex costume, and lived out of a Honda CR-V for 8 months last year. You can find more of Greg's work and stories at www.gregbalkin.com, or on Instagram at @gregbalkin.