"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dances With Moose

In August of 2011, I went backpacking through Glacier National Park and it changed my life forever.  While on the trail back from Gunsight lake where we had camped the night before, I received the clear message from the universe that it was time for me to leave Maryland and move on to a new phase in my life.  

It was on that trail that I said to my friend, Holly, who was with me at the time, "I think I'm going to do this full time."

"What?" she asked.

"Travel.  Have adventures.  Spend time in the wilderness.  Not just on spring and summer breaks anymore, but all the time.  I don't know yet how it will work or how I'll make money but it's time.  I know it for sure now.  It will be hard to leave my school but I've put in seven good years and I'm ready for something new."

That was not some pipe dream.  I went back and finished the school year as best as I possibly could (but probably not as well as the school deserved.  It was often hard to keep my body there when my heart was so clearly elsewhere.)  I spent the whole year planning, saving, getting rid of belongings, and oh yeah - getting married and subsequently separated after three months.  Ya know, run of the mill trip preparations.

So after over a year of talking about it, thinking about it, and longing for it, I finally had the chance to get into the backcountry of Glacier once again.  Katie, the friend I made out here last year, invited me to come back and stay with her anytime.  I took her up on her offer and she - being the incredible, strong, adventuring woman that she is - whipped up an amazing backpacking trip for us in no time at all.

We took three days to backpack an 18 mile loop that really could have been done in one day.  But we wanted to take our time to drink in the sights, do some fishing at the lakes where we would be camping, and let's be honest - I'm just not in the same backpacking shape as I was last year, for lack of use mostly.

The first night, we stayed at Oldman Lake.  Seriously.  That's what it was called.  And it was two mountains away from Bad Marriage Mountain.  I'm not making this shit up, y'all.  We arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon and spent several hours by the lake.  Katie taught me how to flyfish.  We didn't catch anything, but feeling like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It was worth it to me.

Katie showing me how it's done

Me looking awesome doing it totally wrong
The next morning, I woke up before Katie and walked down to the lake to read.  On my way back up the trail to our tent, I was lost in thought, gazing absentmindedly at the ground in front of me, at about a 45 degree angle.  All of a sudden I saw four legs on the trail.  My eyes followed the legs up to see a huge cow moose that I was about to walk right in to.

I let out a little yelp and began to slowly back up.  I had my kindle in one hand and my bear spray in the other.  I awkwardly tried to put them down and fumble for the phone in my pocket to get a photo, all the while talking soothingly to the moose and looking furtively around for which tree I would get behind if she charged me.  (That's what you're supposed to do with charging moose.  They usually run into the tree and knock themselves out.)

She scampered off the trail during my clumsy fussing.  Immediately after, I heard a deep snorting, guttural sound to my right.  I snapped my head over and saw her companion emerge into the clearing as if he was posing for this shot.

This is not zoomed in.
What a way to start the morning!  Katie was quite disappointed that she missed the excitement (as was I, because it was freaking scary to be that close to them while all alone!).  But later that day, the same exact scenario happened again, and Katie was with me.  A cow moose was blocking our trail, eating her lunch.  She wouldn't move for quite awhile, and then her bull moose emerged from the trees next to us.  He was not happy that we were there and began coming towards us, so we quickly got off trail and bushwhacked for a bit to give them enough space as we passed.

But before the second moose encounter, we spent the whole day hiking along a ridge, enjoying view after view after view.  The wind was insanely loud, whipping at our faces and threatening to tumble us down the mountain (like Katie's mug, which the wind picked right up from the side pocket of her pack and threw violently down the slope).  Here are some shots of the incredible view from the ridge hike.

The second night, we stayed at No Name lake, and Katie's friend, Emily, came to join us.  We had a great girl's night - talking, laughing, counting mountain goats and bighorn sheep on the cliff wall next to the lake, listening to elk calls from the valley, and watching the full moon rise and scatter its light over the lake.

Three mountain goats

Katie and Emily relaxing by the lake

Goodnight moon
A beautiful hike.  A wonderful way to come full circle from my insight in this place last year.  My heart is full.

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