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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Highline Heaven

Today was amazing. Our itinerary had us doing 20 miles from the Granite Park campground to the Kootenai Lake campground. We noticed 3 stellar side trips we could do today to scenic overlooks. In total, they would add 5 miles and a lot of beauty to our day. We of course did all three.

First, we decided to climb Swiftcurrent Mountain. This 8400 ft. peak promised great views of the entire northern part of the park. Eric left camp early to eat breakfast in the sun at the top of Swiftcurrent Pass. I ate breakfast in camp and started up later. We planned to rendezvous at the pass and climb the peak together.

Just as I was about to start up the trail to the pass, I noticed something moving in my peripheral vision off to the left. It was a Grizzly maybe 150 yards away digging for moths right on the trail. It stopped and looked at me for a second, then went back to digging. The bears are up high this time of year. They apparently like to turn over all the rocks near treeline
looking for a species of moth that they like to eat. This particular moth lives off of flower nectar and thus has a high carbohydrate value. These moths and berries make up the bulk of the Glacier National Park Grizzly diet.

I wasn't about to disturb this bears breakfast, so I just waited for him to
move on. Finally, after many displaced rocks and moths eaten, the bear moved on and disappeared in the trees to the right of he trail. It was fascinating to watch him feed on moths. Who would have thought? Luckily, he seemed to have no interest in the dried fruit in my pack. :o)

I decided to give the bear a wide berth and took a path far to the left of the trail to get up to the pass. I made noise the whole way up to where Eric was waiting. We walked up the trail to Swiftcurrent Mountain a short ways and looked back to see Mr. Grizz strolling right on the trail over the pass below us. We watched a little nervously as he reached the trail junction between the pass trail and the trail up the peak which we were on. Fortunately, he continued on the pass trail. It was super enjoyable to watch the bear from above like that. This was the way I had always wanted to see a Grizzly.

We climbed on past a Mountain Goat grazing on the tundra grasses and reached the top of Swiftcurrent Mountain in high spirits. The view up here was amazing. We had 360 views out into the land of a hundred Grand Tetons.

There was actually a fire lookout station on the top manned by a fellow named John. Just before we reached the lookout, there was a sign that said, 'Private Residence.' Talk about an amazing place to call home. John had about 2 hours of work to do each day, then he was free to write or read or whatever. The park service used pack mules to bring his supplies up, so he didn't have to pack up water or food or anything. The woman who was the lookout before him held the job for 20 years and raised her kids up there. I assume those kids were homeschooled. :o)

Next on the side trip agenda was Ahern Pass. We reached this lookout in time for lunch and sat down to enjoy the view of Helen Lake below. After lunch, we walked down the pass a bit to the east and stood on top of the snowfield/glacier that graced the mountain walls above Helen Lake. Eric walked up and to the east to get a picture of me on the snowfield with Helen Lake below. As he was walking through the talus to a good spot, he started freaking out and said, "You gotta come check this out." I walked up and freaked out myself. We had worked our way around to the east on the slopes south of Ahern Pass to the point where we could see the Ahern Glacier high above Helen Lake. Three or four 1000 ft. waterfalls flowed off the glacier down into Helen Lake. Holy amazing!! It was a scene like no other I have ever witnessed.

The last of our side trips was the Sue Lake Overlook. We crested the divide and looked east down on massive Sue Lake. This lake seemed to sit in the middle of a huge basin surrounded by towering peaks covered with snowfields. Conical Pyramid Peak was east of us on the other side of the lake. The view of the glaciers in this basin from that peak must be amazing. It was such a beautiful spot, that we decided to have an early dinner and spend some time.

After dinner, we packed up and rejoined the Highline Trail which led to our camp. We immediately passed through a large alpine tundra field before dropping into the trees of Waterton Valley. Some friends of mine who hiked the CDT in 2003 southbound had been bluff charged by a Grizzly in this area on the first day of their trip. And we'd heard from some folks up at the Sue Lake Overlook that 4 Grizzlies were sighted in this tundra field last evening. This was a big Grizzly feeding area, as there were abundant rocks around which held little moth treats for the bears. We were a little weary as we walked through this prime Grizzly feeding area, but we didn't see any bears.

We strolled into camp at Kootenai Lake around 9 p.m. for the days Grand Finally. Four Moose were standing in the middle of the water grazing on grasses which grew on the bottom of the lake. They would stick their head under the water for about a minute to chomp on grass, and then come up for air. It was quite a sight to watch these magnificent animals graze as the sunset colors lit up the sky. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Grizzly Bears, Moose, 1000 ft. waterfalls, beautiful alpine lakes. I can't believe this day. My words seem so inadequate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mosquito Gifts

A journal entry last night was out of the question. We walked out of Anaconda yesterday afternoon in good spirits. We had a 20 miles road walk ahead of us to get back to the Continental Divide, but it didn't matter. It was a beautiful day and I felt so blessed to be doing this.

After about 10 miles of paved road walking, the paved road turned into a dirt road. We were glad to be off the paved road, but hordes of mosquitoes greeted us as we walked through irrigated farmland. It was the worst mosquito area yet. We were literally swarmed. We each had clouds of mosquitoes around us as we walked, and the little suckers were dive-bombing us. I just kept walking. There was no stopping to put on clothes. There were too many of them. Our hands, arms and legs were bloody from swatting them. I just walked, hoping we'd get away from them in a few miles as we turned up towards the mountains and began our climb up towards the divide.

As we made that turn, the numbers of the little buggers did diminish. After only a mile or two of climbing though, we ran out of daylight. We climbed off the road high on a ridge hoping for some wind to keep them away. No
such luck.

Setting up my shelter on the rocky ground was out. We climbed in our bags. I put my balaclava on and my hat over my face. Now I was safe. There were probably 25 mosquitoes on my hat right above my face alone. I fell asleep with the white noise of mosquitoes buzzing all around me. I would have been eaten alive had I done a journal entry.

It was a broken sleep. I woke up 20 times itching like crazy on my hands and face. What a night. The last time I woke up I could see dawn on its way. The numbers of mosquitoes were down to tolerable levels because of the cold of the morning. We ate quickly and walked out of there at 5:30 a.m. A few hours up the road and we crested the divide. No mosquitoes up here. How wonderful.

We walked north along the divide with pretty views back down in the valley towards Anaconda. When we got to Cold Spring, we filled up our water bottles, ate lunch and took a long siesta. It was such a beautiful spot - grassy meadows, the perfume-like scent of lupine flowers wafting around us, a gentle breeze and no mosquitoes. We slept for 2 1/2 hours. It felt so luxurious and pleasant to nap in that spot with no mosquitoes. I appreciated it so much. It may have been my favorite nap of my whole life.

To appreciate the comfort of things like sleeping, going to the bathroom, or eating a meal without mosquitoes, you first have to have to do these things with hordes of mosquitoes. This is the gift of all suffering. To fully appreciate health, you have to go without it for a time.

Sometimes, suffering is necessary in order to slow us down and openthe heart. When your heart fully opens and you greet the dawn on that first day of your Greater Life, you will have immense gratitude for every experience that helped you get to this place of freedom. I say, side-step suffering when you can. But when it comes, embrace it with gratitude for the gifts it brings you.

After our nap, we walked on nearly mosquito-free after our nap to a camp high on a ridge with nice sunset views. We walked our marathon today, but the little bastards were there to greet us at the finish line in abundant numbers. :o)))
Another marathon tomorrow and we'll be into our next resupply town in Elliston.

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