Maine Man was already long gone by the time we woke up. We packed up our stuff in the same mindless order; sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent fly, tent body, poles, stakes, and finally the ground cloth. Something about the smell and density of the air entering our lungs told us that today would be a good day. The smoke had seemingly dissipated from the night before. We waited a few minutes for a few of the others to get ready and then we all left towards our one and only climb for the day; Piegan Pass.
As we began our climb, we passed a small waterfall with a perfect punch bowl swimming hole below it. If we had gotten to this spot mid day, we would have definitely stopped to swim. As we continued, we crossed over the Going to the Sun road. On the other side of the road, a notice exclaiming recent grizzly activity blocked the trail. Beyond the sign, we began a rather steep climb and transitioned from walking and talking to the quiet zone of steep climbing. We each got into our individual paces and marched quickly to the top of the climb. At the top we began to walk towards less wooded trail. From here we saw that the clean breezy air we had breathed this morning had also cleared the smoke in front of us. Steep rocky mountains topped with small yet present glaciers surrounded us from every direction.
We could not quite come up with words to describe the view we were seeing. We tried briefly to explain and then resulted to simply exclaiming “wow.” It was the first day that we could see what surrounded us. As we approached the pass, wind raced through the saddle. The other side of the pass looked like a set of jagged broken sedimentary teeth with a gum line of white rock hundreds of feel below the ridge. At this point we realized how fast we had hiked. We had lost track of time on our ascent. It was still early in the morning and the rest of our short day of hiking was all downhill to Many Glacier. We felt fortunate to be able to take the rest of our day to meander and observe the towering palisades on either side of the trail.
As we began our decent down the mountain, huge gusts of wind came roaring in from the saddle. A few times we momentarily lost our balance and fell into the hillside. We began running down the mountain as the wind took the air from our lungs. Laughing with every step, we flew down the trail. About halfway down the mountain a huge gust stole Garbelly’s hat from his head and slingshotted it into what seemed to be a jet stream. The wind carried and carried his hat until it was merely a tiny speck in the sky. Garbelly stood still staring at it leave his sight, trying to imagine where it was heading. We both scrambled down the mountain with hopes of seeing it down trail, but after almost an hour of searching and becoming cliffed out by the steep shale terrain, we gave up. Even though it was just a hat, it was fairly heartbreaking. Not only were we one day away from finishing the trail, but this hat had travelled a few thousand miles with Garbelly. In our normal everyday lives, things are simply things. However, when you carry and use a small set of items everyday for five months, you develop a strange attachment to this objects. Your backpack and all of the items inside it become an extra appendage. Just like an upset stomach, when you pack your pack in a different orientation that usual, you can feel the unsettling feeling of the contents jumbling around. You can feel your cook pot digging into you back reminding you to take more time the next day as you load your only possessions into a forty liter bag. In addition to the loss, Garbelly felt terrible that he littered in a national park. We both just continued to hike, surrendering our minds back to the mountains and forgetting all of our worries about the hat. Garbelly yelled over the wind, “Do you think a Grizzly will find the hat and wear it?”
As we continued down the trail, we passed a huge waterfall and the the turnoff to the infamous Grinnell Glacier. We thought about hiking up the side trail, but our internal compass told us to keep pushing north. We walked alongside Lake Josephine, now seeing our first signs of other tourists to the park. People passed us in flip flops and swim trunks. We must be getting close to a campground. A couple miles later, we walked through a wedding party adorned with bear-bells and a few with bear mace. The earth beneath our feet transitioned into hard pavement and we quickly saw Liam and Kate in the distance. We were so thankful to spend the end of our hike with friends. We then saw QB, Endless, Ian, Maineman and a few others. We all went and reserved a spot in the campground and then headed to the small restaurant by the gift shop. We were celebrating the eve of the end with some of our closest friends. Garbelly bought a phone card to use the phone booth to get ahold of our friend Cheetah in Calgary, then the group headed to the tents. Winds continued to howl, ripping through camp. Our tent was set up very close to Liam and Kate’s, which felt familiar at this point. It was peaceful inside the walls of our Copper Spur. Everything was still enough for us. We held one another close after we had positioned our sleeping bags in such a way that we could. We knew our life here, and we didn’t know anything different. We found happiness in our same clothes and home that we had built out here, for we had built it together.
Just when the sounds of our camp site settled, a very Canadian voice called out, “Belly, do you smell it?!”