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Hiking Glacier National Park – Five Days and Seventy Miles

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What my wife and I truly love about hiking can be distilled down to three critical components: (1) hot coffee in the morning, (2) lunch with a view, and (3) a hot shower to close things down. Sure, warm clothes, a soft sleeping pad and beautiful weather are not frowned upon, but for us these are the three legs of the stool. We’d structured our trip to Glacier National Park, a stunningly beautiful, inconceivably photographic hiking mecca at the northern end of the U.S. rocky mountains, around this checklist and we had, with much focus, determination and perhaps a bit of inflexibility, managed to check all three boxes off each day on the first four days of our trip.

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On the fourth night the rain had started early enough post shower for us to skip the campfire conversation and hot chocolate and retreat to the protection of the tent.  After covering fifty miles in four days, the soft patter of rain on the Nylon Ripstop fly and the synthetic goodness of a Big Agnes down sleeping bag on top of a Paco Pad had quickly ushered us to sleep.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a “Paco Pad” is the Rolls Royce of sleeping pads, more expensive than most tents they’re used inside of and more comfortable than a soft sand beach with marshmallow pillows. We had been graciously loaned these pads by the company we’d hired to show us around the park, Glacier Guides. The pads are, I am told, the choice for most river guides because they have an invaluable ability to float, they are extremely waterproof, and they do come in sizes large enough for a small band of refugees (and maybe one small terrier) to flee Cuba on. I’m also told you can use them to pad the sharp edges of your beer cooler, which may be their most important feature of all.

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As the world slowly came back into focus inside the dusky blue glow of our tent many hours after falling asleep on one of these treasures I realized there was an inquisitive voice floating questions at us from outside.

“Guys…are you okay in there?” our guide Jen asked with a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Uh…yeah, all parts seem to be moving as expected” I responded without much consideration.

“That’s good.” A pause as she moved on to the more important question. “Are you dry in there?”

When waking up after a night of steady rain this is typically not the question you’d like to hear from someone standing outside of your tent. On this particular occasion the question was asked with the hint of concealment and punctuated with an intonation of impending revelation. I reacted how one would expect a person inside a tent to respond to that particular question, with a quick police-style pat down of my sleeping bag, the smelly clothes scattered around my head, and the floor beneath my sleeping pad.

After a second pat down I accepted that all important items were perfectly dry, but an interesting thing happened as I continued to investigate.  Really, the best way to describe what happened next is with a sound; that sound would be BLOOP.  I’m not sure if that was really the sound the water made as I poked the bubbled-up floor of my tent with an index finger and watched a ripple expand from the water bladder surrounding all sides of my Paco Pad island, but that’s not important.

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After a second and third gratuitous poke we decided to evacuate the tent.  As we unzipped the circular mesh tent door we discovered that our shelter was positioned ever so perfectly in the middle of a pool of muddy ankle deep water.  A quick splash through the pond, a photograph, and a jerk of the tent to higher ground put us in good standing again.  As we dragged our gear out and broke down this 10 year old, heavily used tent we didn’t find an inch of damp cloth, not a single bead of moisture on the inside (thank you, Kelty).  Some trips, against all odds, manage to avoid all attempts at unpleasantness and this trip to Glacier had succeeded at accomplishing just that.

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We ended up spending that last day circling Rising Wolf Mountain, a massive, glacially-carved hunk of granite overlooking Two Medicine Lake.  Our mandatory coffee was sipped at a small diner in the company of local farmers, lunch in the company of a chilly, low sitting cloud on top of a ridge, looking down at two alpine lakes thousands of feet below us. After lunch we’d headed higher, disappearing into the clouds that had settled on the mountain top. We’d traversed the pass gingerly, across narrow ledges dusted with snow from the previous night’s storm. On a rare occasion, when the clouds felt like we had earned it, they’d break and give us a peak at of the U-shape valleys below and the glaciers sitting like cream colored throw blanket on the peaks across their expanses; and after 17 miles, when the choice was given to us to take a boat or hike two more miles, we’d hiked.

James is a serial day hiker, backpacker, camper, traveler, hobbyist and gear junkie. He and his wife moved from Oklahoma to Seattle five years ago in pursuit of a passion for the great outdoors. James has lived and hiked extensively in Colorado and Washington. He's also hiked a bunch in Oklahoma, but that's nothing to brag about. James' most recent obsession is photography; he maintains a photographic hiking log with trail trips for northwest hiking on Instagram (you can follow him @hikinghabit ).

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