A Northern Traverse

Funny looks: Nansen, Kate, me, M.

My family has been in town this week, and with mom’s knee making backpacking out of her picture, it was up us kids to see Glacier in prime summer.  Permits are hard to come by, and Kate and I woke up early last Sunday to be at the office by 630.  They open at 7, and we had close to 20 people lined up in front of us.  They know me by sight now, and we got good sites (Mok Junction, Lake Francis) for a great route (Many Glacier – Stoney Indian – Browns – Bowman).

Can you see the three Grizzlies?

It may have been a bit too ambitious a route (20, 20, and 15 miles, roughly).  Nansen’s first backpack was several weeks ago, and having the novelty of a committing route adding to the stress of cutting mental comforts to go light (he was very worried about running out of food) is a lot to ask.  We still brought too much stuff.  Compounding that, we got a 1030 start, and were shortly thereafter delayed a further hour by a Grizzly family eating berries far too close to the trail.  A ranger was on hand to supervise the hoards of dayhikers, and shepherded us past at the earliest possible moment (far closer than I would have gone in a small group).  Nonetheless, the climb to the Tunnel wore on us in the heat of the day, and we were behind schedule.

Ptarmigan Lake.

I’m not a good person to bring along as a backpacking guide: far too many things that shouldn’t will get taken for granted.  Kate’s shoes were either a bit small to begin with or had shrunk after their trip down the Narrows a few weeks ago (or both), and started to pinch her metatarsals, with the medial being particularly hard-hit.  We pulled her insoles, but that just gave her heel blisters.  I did not appreciate how bad her feet were sure to get.

Yep, that’s the tunnel opening in the background.  

It seemed like a bad idea for the big picture to keep pressing on late, and we crashed Lower Glenns a little after 7.  Fortunately we found two solo hikers, a woman from Spokane and a guy from Akron, who let us share their sites.  We saw a moose in the lake, cooked dinner, and went to sleep.

Heading up the lower reaches of Stoney Indian Pass.

The next day was a long one, a hard one for everyone, and a bit of a blur.  Kate finished the final six miles with taped feet and no socks in her shoes, the best solution we could find to her trashed feet (and our lack of passports to bail into Canada).  I’ve now hiked the 5 miles from the Stoney junction down to Goat Haunt three times this year, which is 2.5 more than is necessary, with the trees in that stretch hiding the most dramatic valley in the park (you can see it perfectly from the river).  Especially as slow as we were going Tuesday afternoon.

But that’s backpacking.  It wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t occasionally suck horribly.

Nansen and Lake Francis, with Porcupine Ridge and Mount Cleveland in the background.

Wednesday was out day.  The weather dawned perfect, as it has (disconcertingly) been all month.   Waking up at Francis lightened the mood a bit, as did the always-quick ascent up the final stretch to Brown’s Pass.  The pass had an impressive avy debris field still in place, and some mosquitoes, and the stretch I’d been dreading for 24 hours: the big 2000′ drop to Bowman Creek.  We could take as much weight as we wanted from her pack; short of carrying her, Kate was just going to go damn slow.  There was a chance we’d find a boat ride at Bowman campground, but not much of one.

Ouch.

At the camp, with 7 miles left and no boat in sight, we made a plan: M and I would take ourselves (and most of Kate’s gear, which I was already carrying) and sprint out, coming back to meet Kate and Nansen with Kate’s sandals.  They would go as fast as they could.  Amazingly, M and I managed that stretch in 110 minutes (M pulling the last mile when I started to flag) with largish packs.  We met my parents in the last mile and they continued out to find Kate.  We met all four on the way back, 2 miles from the TH, and three hours after we all left the head of the lake.  A very impressive performance with feet so bad Kate needed ice packs to sleep through the night.

After that we did the only thing reasonable; adjourn to the Northern Light Saloon in Polebridge and celebrity our family’s quixotic pastime with bison burgers and pitchers of OPA.  Backpacking: there’s nothing like it.

Postscript:  Between this and Paige’s trashed shoulders and hips during the Classic, I’ve realized one reason I’m obsessive about gear: I’m too wimpy not to be.  No way would I want to deal with those sort of wounds, I’m not tough enough.

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11 thoughts on “A Northern Traverse

  1. Damn, those bears are close!

    Taking other people backpacking can be pretty stressful. You want them to have real adventure but you don’t want them to have a harrowing nightmare. It can be a tough balance to achieve, especially when leading people down the path of UL. One person’s ‘minimalism’ is another person’s ‘suffering’. I’ve got the balance wrong plenty of times!

    Glacier sure is pretty. I loved the blurry B&W image too. Movement and texture.

  2. Were there any thoughts of cutting the shoes to relieve pressure? I’m not 2nd guessing your actions just trying to give myself more options should I ever find myself in a similar setting. I had read that Kerkove did that to his shoes in a HAB filled ultra.
    The hops are always a bit sharper when you’ve earned them.
    Cheers,

    1. We debated it numerous times, but always decided against it. Kate thought it wouldn’t do enough, and I was worried about dirt getting in and causing new issues.

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