One step, two step, three step- into the clouds we go. The draw of the long, breathtakingly beautiful hike along the Garden Wall, is a calling I feel year after year. I cannot heed the call every summer, but I do as often as I can. I never grow tiered of seeing the familiar rocks that pass below my feet and tower over my head. They were laid down millions of years ago, and tossed around by glaciers as they ebbed and flowed, but for me, in my tiny time on earth they are concrete reminders that time can stand still when we let the beauty of nature surround us, and calm us.
This year I hiked the 16 mile trail with my husband and oldest brother who are both stronger and faster hikers than me. As the elements pounded at my thin rain jacket and obscured my views, I steadily walked on knowing that the only way I was going to reach my destination was to carefully put one foot in front of the other. The clouds boiled up from the valley below and slowly curled upward along the Garden Wall and with them came more rain, and a visibility of only about 15 feet. But when the cloud finally lost the war with the wall and had to fall back to the valley below, the view was that which dreams are made of.
At mile 8 we took a break at the Granit Park Chalet and escaped the wind and rain for a short lunch and shared laugh. The Chalet was built 1914 to be a place for visitors to the newly formed Glacier National Park could hike or ride horses to and see the rugged splendor of the glacier carved valleys and peaks. 100 years later, visitors are doing the same as they did back then, just with better clothing, hiking shoes and a camera in every backpack.
As a child we use to hike to the Chalet and enjoy home cooked meals while warming by the wood-burning stove. I remember on more than one occasion watching grizzly bears from the front porch. I was never afraid of the giant omnivores when I was a child, and I still don’t fear them, but I respect their power and grace. I find that fear make people do stupid things around wildlife; while respect allows people to pass through that fear and live as one in the space that they share for that moment.
Mile 9 is a grinder up and over the Swift Current pass and the wind picked up with a vengeance. But the views from mile 10 to 12 are the best in the world and worth every painful step. The Swift Current Valley spreads out before us in sunbaked reds, golds, greens and blues. Five small lakes dot the valley floor and on this hike, from our high vantage point we spotted a young bull moose slowly walking in the shallows of Bull Head Lake. The trail that hugs along the side of the mountain is not for the faint of heart and at times is only a thin ribbon of dirt and rock with shear cliffs casting down below and a wall of rock on the other side.
36,000 steps later we reach our destination, but not before we spotted a grizzly bear feeding on the slopes above Red Rocks Falls. The bear is a nice addition to the list of mega fauna such as big horn sheep, mountain goats, and moose that we witnessed earlier on in the day. My dad waited patiently in the parking lot to gather us and quickly transport us to the Many Glacier Hotel for well-deserved drinks and a dinner fit for a king. The journey takes almost 9 hours to complete and 2 full days to recover from. For me it is over too soon and as we depart the valley I hear again the calling, and back to the misty mountains I wish to go.