Sunday, May 17, 2015

Up to the Edge

L. and I climb up the verdant valley towards towards Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier National Park, Montana.  The snow line is receding.  How far will we make it?  Does that even matter?
The forest bursts with spring wildflowers.  Intricate shapes and varied colors.  Trillium in every shade of white to pink-purple; they change color once they are pollinated. 
Trillium "blushing" after pollination.
A lone runner passes us heading back down to the parking area.  The only other car parked there.  Now we have the place to ourselves.  Just us and the bears.  L. mentions that Backpacker Magazine rated this as one of the most dangerous hikes in America due to high grizzly bear densities.  Its too early for huckleberries, so all the grizzlies are elsewhere, right?

We ascend the south-facing slope on well-graded trail.  Into the sub-alpine landscape of glacier-lilies.  The valley opens up.
Glacier-lily lined path.
Montana continues to amaze me with its beauty.  I want to know everything about this place.  Are the intense green slopes across the valley larch trees?  L. says in the fall they change color and light up the slopes.  What must that look like?

I put on my microspikes at snowline, after 4.5 miles where the trail pops over the saddle and shoots around to the shaded edge of a hillside.  A different world here, up in the clouds.  Snow is falling lightly.  The snow pack is thick.  The slopes are steep. 
Snow line (on the way back down).
We follow kicksteps cut into the hillside.  Their tracks show they were wearing real crampons, and we think they had an ice ax.

Alarm bells going off in my heard, stomach lurching at the steepness of the slope.  I automatically think, don’t look down, don’t look down, my mantra that has gotten me through so many miles of terrifying trail.  But I do look down, to see how far we’d slide if we slipped.  Those mental calculations, weighing the price of broken bones (or worse?) against the lure of the trail ahead, to the beckoning tower, the potential exhilaration of traveling those snow-covered slopes and reaching the lookout tower.
Steep slope where we turned around.
I am glad when L. hesitates.  Do we want to continue?  I know we could make it.  I’ve done harder, and so has she.  But there is that possibility that we wouldn’t.  Is it worth it?

An hour is spend going up the snow along the ridges above the saddle in either direction.  Looking for another way around.  Views open up of mountains beyond.  The snow lets up, clouds part, sun glistens on peaks.  We try the trail again, going out to the steep part for another attempt.  Decide again to turn around.
Shifting clouds revealing distant peaks.
I love being here at my edge, knees shaking a little as my heart pounds loudly.  Here, I am fully aware of my balance and how the snow feels beneath my feet, the grip of my hands on my hiking poles, the rhythm of three points always in contact with the snow.
Up and down the ridge above the saddle.
Views opening up.
 Being at the edge, you find out things about yourself.  In moments where you are well beyond your comfort zone, that is where they say “the magic happens” which I think means “where you can grow and find out what is meaningful in your life.”   I am so glad we’ve come out here today.  It gives me the perspective I’ve needed.
At the edge.
I think about climbing Whitney last year.  I think about how heart-wrenching it felt to turn around so close to the summit.  Now, I am more comfortable in not making it to the top.  I know what it feels like to not hike for 10 weeks while broken bones heal.  I am happy for the hike that has brought me to this place where I can see so far, where I get to push my comfort zone.  It is so satisfying to be exactly in this place. 

More info on this hike:

Huckleberry Lookout Trail

Backpacker Magazine's writeup
Meadow rue.


  1. Gorgeous write-up, Joan! I'm loving your explorations.

    1. Thanks so much Misti! Haven't been writing as much lately, but hoping things calm down soon so I can share more of my Montana adventures.

  2. It was fun. Clearly I need to work on my posture while hiking.

    1. Certainly was fun! I think I was catching you when you were in motion. :)