The birds wake me – two-fluted and buzzing. The sky is grayish blue and filled with clouds. Glacier makes its own weather, and I’m not concerned about the exposed climb we’ll make over Redgap Pass. I can see the deep umber gap from our stony beach, last night too when the last of the sun set it glowing.
Oceana and I agree to leave at 9 for the shortish, but steep hike. I am concerned about my legs handling what’s ahead, but I feel better than I have in days and I slept well in our packed tent site.
We eat at the set-aside area of long log seats and bear boxes, then linger all morning on the beach, skipping stones and doing yoga. At one point, we turn upside down in plow to look at the glacier filled and eroded walls reflected in the lake. I roll the thigh muscles with my fingers.
The clouds make odd shapes, shifting from one character to another. Light glows seemingly within and fierce black ones muscle their way in. Still, I’m sanguine and ready to leave.
Normally, I’d leave early and linger more on trail, but it seems prudent to hike together in bear territory. A large brown rump appears ahead sauntering up the trail. “A bear!” I yell which brings on our practiced-by-now cacophony of “Hi Bear!” and a round of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” to the tune of “She’ll be coming ‘round the Mountain.” We need to trade lines to keep breathing as we ascend.
Fresh moose tracks appear and this bear appears to be not so much a bear, leaving silently from the trail. That doesn’t quiet our vigilance – and ridiculousness as we walk through thimbleberry and ‘nature’s toilet paper’ bushes up to out necks – giving them ‘bear’ warning we’re in their ‘bearitory.’
We met a hiker at our first campsite who told us he’s been coming here for decades, but never walked the pass because he’s ‘vertically challenged.’ It’s long and high, but a superb super highway of trail leading us high above the lake, the still monstrous mountains seeming to lower to our level.
We catch Sid at the trail junction for the Ptarmigan Tunnel – which surprises the hell out of me thinking maybe I’m moving pretty well. It is a more direct route to Many Glacier but is still closed this early in the season. He double checks since his permit takes him there today, then plows on as we linger for a while, eating Cheesits and staring at the glorious view.
I love walking alone, but I love this forced slow start and sharing it with new friends. We probably won’t hike together anymore because I can’t possibly keep up, but I’ve seen all this through others’ eyes, the grandeur and the little adventures.
As we leave the treeline, I tell Oceana to go ahead and pick my way up the rocky finale, a deep glazed red like kiln-dried clay. The wildflowers are spectacular, fed by dozens of waterfalls, deep blue and indigo, pink, orange, yellow. I rise above an alpine lake surrounded by thick grass. No one goes there, I’ll bet.
Ground squirrels lumber past and hide in low juniper. The mountain across the valley has a glacier seemingly suspended on the sharp edge of the rock. I see our lake far below in a bowl, but not our beach and know I’ve arrived at the ‘gap.’ There are two snow fields to cross with obvious steps and little fall line. Still, I step gingerly across without slipping.
I keep my air steady and my legs feel good and that’s when I realize I’ve been gifted myself back to me. I may not be as strong again, but at least I recognize myself. Up and up to a rock pile in big wind, the others parked on the side looking at where we’re headed. The first pass of the CDT! I did it.
We snack, then head down on steep and crumbly rock. Oceana heads on and promises to wait at the trees. I see the others below me on switchbacks as if on separate floors. At first all we can see is a massively eroded hump of mountain, but soon a lake is revealed in a glaciated bowl, water pouring out and on its right another wall of rock and glacier.
I come to a snow-filled section and lose the trail momentarily, but someone makes an arrow with a stick. At a waterfall, Oceana waits for me and we pick up our bear talk as we cross and recross two waterfalls, their channel filled with bright yellow Avalanche Lilies.
Down is not so easy. My body feels pounded and my muscles seize. It’s also hot and dry on this side and I’m enervated. The slope drops into a valley, flat through trees, but the sun courses in. I need to stop and get water, rest but I feel I’m letting Oceana down.
I tell her I came to do this hike and to do it, I have to go at my pace. She says it might be tough to get through ‘The Bob’ (Bob Marshall Wilderness) this slow, but maybe we can take more food.
I just can’t keep up the tempo, though I try. In an open meadow, the sun is just too much and I try to affix my sun umbrella. It’s a disaster and I can’t make it tilt back enough, so I can only see my feet. I feel tired, rushed, hot and finally say, “Look, people are hiking alone. I can hike alone. I want to hike alone! Go ahead and I’ll be fine.”
She heads on as I fuss with the umbrella, this Blissful Hiker a whole lot less blissful dropping f-bombs in a meadow. I give up and stuff the thing away, pulling my hoodie and gloves on and pressing forward. I feel a meltdown coming on, bit it stops. “No!” I say. “I will not be rushed and I will walk this thing in the way I want!”
It’s only a few miles to camp and I hoot and sing and call out all the way around the lake. When I arrive, I’m all smiles having done the trail as I needed to. I set noodles to soak, Bunny generously fetching me water and try to figure out the umbrella attachment again.
A two-piece big of gear, it allows the hiker to use an umbrella hands free. Oh damn! In my un-blissful moment in the meadow, I must have dropped one of the pieces!
Oddly enough, I’m pretty relaxed about it, knowing I’ll figure it out. As I eat my glorious Italian pasta with olive oil and cheese, another thru-hiker shows up to eat. He tells me he’s headed onto the next site in Many Glacier, where we’ll go tomorrow. His partner arrives and asks about the woman yelling on trail. Oh dear, that would be me!
He then says he really only stopped here to deliver a bit of gear someone dropped. My umbrella holder! I thank him and ask if he might offer a lesson in how to attach it since I spy the same silver umbrella in his pack. We manage to tie it on pretty well, so I finish my meal, set my tent in our minuscule space, accepting my role this time as the ‘centerpiece.’
I meet Oceana at the beach and proceed to slowly inch my rump down the stones into the ice cold water, hopefully bringing down any swelling. She tells me she doesn’t want me to feel like I’m holding anyone up and I tell her I really liked being alone and meeting up only at hard spots if the need arises.
Later, the five of us – Bunny joined us yesterday – do yoga in an empty campsite, led by Emily, then climb a ridge in the waning light to look at the lake and the massive falls tumbling out. The rock is white and lichen-covered, sticky and fun to walk on. We all find our spots to meditate on our perfect day, knowing two more CDT hikers will join us here on out through the park.
I reflect on what a perfect day it was. I succeeded in climbing the pass strong and happy and mater, not totally falling apart when my gear refused to cooperate. Everyone brings something special to the mix, including me, even if I’m still a bit unwieldy and haven’t found my hiking legs.
Is this a foolish thing I’m doing? I don’t know and I worry it’s too much too soon. But this is the time I have and I am moving forward. Even on my other hikes, I went at my own pace and made it work.
Truth is, today was extraordinary and the first big pass on the CDT, a kind of threshold, has been crossed – with mostly all smiles.