Glacier National Park Part 3
We climbed off the bus at Logan's Pass, instantly hit by the brisk winds that are ever present at these altitudes. We were starting to regret only having a shirt and shorts on, so we set off quickly before we could catch the chills.
We were following along the same boardwalk that we'd taken on our nutty adventures the first night, except now it was daylight, and this time we were actually intending to follow it - at least until we saw this small waterfall.
We followed the path until it reached it's highest point - where it ended abruptly at a jutting out terrace that overlooked the lake. Beyond this, we staggered down a rocky path that lead down to the lake.
Whilst I don't want it to sound like I am a super hero with heightened senses, I find being a Photographer has made me far more aware of the things around me, and I will often spot something long before others. It's not that I have better eyesight or anything like that, it's simply that I am constantly scanning my surroundings - like a google street view car. It's also somehow the way you look at things, taking in every detail and pausing on anything unusual.
An example of this, was when I spotted this muskrat lying in grass, about 40 yards away. It was almost unnoticeable, but for whatever reason I spotted it, as it crawled up onto this small rock and settled; presumably using the rock as a watchtower to spot any predators or prey around him.
We finished the descent down to the lake, bursting out of the trees onto the thin strip of pebble beach. Seeing the water, my first instinct was to peel off my broken shoes and run into the water. I waded up to my thighs before I realised how ridiculously cold this water was, far colder than Lake McDonald, the water in this lake was freshly melted ice off the glaciers. Remembering I had only one set of clothes, no towel and no way to warm up, I thought better of going for a swim. Instead, Cam and I stood with our knees submerged in the water, and got fiercely competitive at skipping stones. There were great vibes all around the lake, as other young, small groups of hikers larked about.
Once we became cognisant of the fact we could no longer feel our legs, we laid out a spot on the pebbles and lazed against a tree. We unwrapped our sandwiches, gratefully wolfing them down after the long hike. I heard a soft rustling behind me. Alarmed, I turned around, and saw this minuscule fur-ball bouncing along this branch over to me.
He hopped off the branch, and scampered up onto my bare foot. He sat, perched on my toes for a few seconds. That moment felt like a scene from the Jungle Book, where I was just another element of nature. This sensation fell apart when I realised the chipmunk was simply after the crumbs I had scattered around me!
Once again with a gnarly backdrop, I set up the SunGod's to show off their capability to take all sorts of adventure in their stride.
I was still frustrated that the smoke from the fires was blocking out the sky and causing a blanket of general indistinctness to smother the landscape. Still, I had to be thankful that I wasn't one of the animals or fire fighters amongst the flames.
As with all of the waters in the park, I was struck by their pure, pellucid transparency. It opened up a whole new possibility - to make objects underwater part of my composition. In this case, the glinting, scattered array of rocks filled the foreground perfectly.
We rambled 'round the lake, clambering over fallen trees until we reached an outcrop in the shore line.
We were cutting it fine to catch the last shuttle home, so we headed back. Crawling uphill, our legs were really feeling the strain now after several consecutive days of relentless use.
As the path flattened out, I spotted another muskrat about 60 metres up ahead. As we approached it, we heard a piercing cry from above us. '
'That sounds like an eagle?' I muttered.
We turned around, looking straight up to the sky. Seeing nothing, we turned back and carried on walking. Seconds later, we felt a rush of wind inches above our heads. A blur of feathers flicked into our vision. It rushed along the ground, talons outstretched, heading for the blissfully unaware mammal. Fortunately for this little guy, the eagle had misjudged it's approach and pulled up at the last second. As it slowed down and circled, I could clearly see that it was a bald eagle. The muskrat however, remained oblivious to it's near death experience.
I found myself a cliff edge to survey the smokey valley below, dangling my legs over and setting up my tripod beside me. As I waited for the camera to complete it's exposures, I got out my pan flute. Blowing a few notes, the delphic whistle it emitted seemed to resonate off the mountains, filling the landscape. I carried on playing, enamoured with the mountainous vibes this instrument produces. I turned back to check what Cam was up to, and spotted a mountain goat walking slowly towards me as I played the flute. It kept walking closer still, until it stopped just metres away, staring at me with fascination. I had just called in a goat. Once again, I had that Jungle Book feeling.
We ran onto the final shuttle of the day, just before it pulled away. We were the only ones onboard, and I had made the mistake of jokingly saying how much I loved the music the driver was playing. She took this to heart, and for the remaining 20 minutes we sat getting our eardrums blasted by a Disney love song compilation, accompanied by her varying attempts to hit the high notes.
We got back to the camp before it got too dark. First things first, we knew that our tent had to be moved to a better spot, our bodies couldn't cope with another night on the rocks. We dragged it over to a softer patch a few metres away, and pegged it up. We sat around our bench, which had started feeling quite homely by now, and dumped out the last of our food. Putting our maths A levels to good use, we calculated how many more meals we could make with the remaining bread. This came to One and a half each. We still had over a day left in the park, so we knew we really had to get some food or we would be in trouble.
Our trusty Welsh neighbor walked into the camp, so we spelled out our problems to him. He said he could offer us milk, but he had no spare food. When we asked him if he knew about any food shops nearby, he said there's 3 within 50 miles - one in Canada, the other in Yellowstone. The nearest was a very small service station just outside the park, by the end of St. Mary Lake. As we had planned to head that way the following day, we figured we would try to find it then. We settled down to our 6th consecutive sandwich, now with a single wafer of ham inside. It feels like an ignorant comparison, but I could now relate to how it feels having to live off very sparse amounts of food each day, and coping with the constant stomach pain from hunger. We cracked open a can of sardines, tugging a fillet out with our fingers and slurping them down, crunching the bones.
After dinner, Cam hibernated in the tent, lying comatose in his sleeping bag, most likely immersing himself in the sounds of King Krule. I was still way too awake to call it a night, so I wandered over to the Welsh guy, who was sitting at his bench, which was coated in inner tubes, stove parts, charger leads and coffee cups. We started chatting, and I sat beside him. Tony had been cycling across the U.S for something like the past 5 years, covering 1000 miles over several months each summer. This guy was well weathered, who clearly hadn't shaved since he came to America. He was somewhere around the age of 70, so I had tons of admiration for him persisting with his goal of cycling from coast to coast.
He handed me a soup bowl full of coffee, which I gratefully accepted, taking a sip. "It's cold?!" I exclaimed, surprised. For whatever reason he was keen on cold coffee, and actually went out of his way to make it! I drank it anyway, as we laughed about the skirmishes each of us had gotten up to during our time in the park.
After nearly an hour, a man walked into the hike and bike camp. He came over, introducing himself as Nick Ryan, the owner of the vacant tent next to ours. He took a seat opposite us on our cluttered bench, explaining that he had been out on a 30 hour hike up on the mountains. He'd slept out in the open overnight, just lying his roll mat on a rock.
He went over to his supplies, picked up a pack of dried ramen noodles, and heated up some water on his camp stove. He shouted over to our table:
"Hey Tony, are you looking for a bit of action?"
Tony and I exchanged a look, to say 'did we really just hear that right?' He continued:
" I met this 55 year old cougar on the walk last night, said she was up for a bit of fun"
We both burst into laughter, and Tony politely declined, responding that he had a wonderful wife back in Wales. To this, Nick responded with some savage humour:
"Well I suppose when you're that old you can't afford to risk it because it's not like you'd have any other choices!"
That pretty much set the tone for the evening, as we set about brutally taking the piss out of each other. Nick turned his focus to me:
" Well actually she said she would be up for a couple of 18 year old's as well, so if you could find another friend then you're in!"
I also declined, explaining that I wasn't quite that desperate yet.
Nick brought his soggy pack of noodles over, and sat down again. We talked about a whole load of wacky stuff, with this kiwi guy mercilessly taking the piss at any opportunity. After a solid few hours of chatting, sitting in the dark, with just the light from a head-torch looking back at me, it started raining. I gave Nick a brief warning about the chipmunk food problem, but he was confident that his goods were untouched because of his careful bagging. We said good night, and dived into our respective tents.
15 minutes later, Cam and I were lying in our tent half asleep when we hear Nick yell in his thick accent "Those little bastards!".
Earlier, Nick had told us about these special teabags that he gets imported from a specific corner shop in Canada. At this very moment, he had just discovered that the chipmunks had nibbled through each and every of his precious teabags.
The next morning, everyone was milling around and chatting as we had our breakfast - which by this point was just the end of a loaf dipped in peanut butter. Tony stacked his bike up with 6 bulging pannier bags, hanging off every available modicum of bike frame. He was halfway through telling us about his high level university education when Nick broke in:
"Well you obviously didn't fuckin' do maths, look at the size of those panniers!"
Whilst we were left in creases of laughter, Tony headed off to continue the rest of his journey across America.
I asked Nick to model the SunGod's for me, painfully admitting that his rugged, unshaven look was exactly what I was after. For whatever reason, he was less than impressed by the shades.
"Bloody hell mate these look like a 50p set of sunnies you get at the airport!"
Cam and I headed out to St Marys lake on the 2 stage shuttle journey. This area had been ablaze no more than a day before, we could see the devastation through the fogged up bus windows as black charred trees and flakes of ash streaked past.
We jumped down off the bus, our eyes watering from the howling, cold wind. We headed off in what we hoped was the direction of this elusive shop, walking for a mile, we passed through the gates to the national park. Like a mirage, a shop flickered on the horizon, except fortunately it didn't disappear as we edged closer.
The shop was small with only about 5 sandwiches left, so we grabbed a couple each, along with a bag of M&Ms. Feeling relieved to have a supply of food again, we headed to St Mary Lake. We picked up a trail that lead around the lake, but I wasn't keen on it so we bashed our own path down to the shore line. The strong winds had swept up some big waves, which pounced at our feet as we walked along the narrow rocky beach. We walked up the shore, climbing over fallen trees until we reached a miniature headland, finding a spot behind it that was sheltered from the wind. There were three large tree trunks, devoid of any branches, that reached from the bank down to the water - forming a triangle with the beach. I sat down on a trunk, it flexing slightly under my weight.
After a few minutes of sitting in the sun, watching the water, I got restless. I started to drag large lumps of driftwood over to the trunks, wedging them firmly in between two tree trunks, starting to form a frame of a shelter. Cam turned round, "What the hell are you doing?".
"Err building a fort I guess"
Cam joined in, dragging piece after piece of washed up, oddly-shapen logs. After a while, the roof was fully barred up. Taking our heads out of fort creation for a second, we were confronted with enormous, dense, black clouds that were rapidly approaching. I suddenly realised that if we improved our shelter, we could try to wait out the storm underneath.
We found smaller branches, wads of moss and leaves, matting the top of the roof with layers of whatever we could get our hands on. We had built a pretty respectable structure by the time the first drops started to spill from the clouds. We dragged our bags under the shelter, and lay down underneath it. The rain gradually got heavier, until it was hailing so hard that we could barely see the water 10 metres away. Flashes of lighting and thunder echoed all around. Cam and I however, were almost entirely dry with just the occasional drip falling on us.
After 5 minutes, the storm had passed, so we climbed out and set about making improvements to the shelter - we could see the next storm blowing in and knew we only had minutes before we were blasted again. Extending the roof, and doubling up on the roof lining, our shelter had become an incredible feat of engineering. The second storm hit, even harder than the first. Despite the gale force winds, our shelter didn't falter in the slightest. When the torrential rains came this time, the fort was so dry that we pulled out my phone and speaker. We had picked up a bag of peanut butter M&Ms at the shop, so we lay stretched out under our shelter, unfazed by the storm, munching chocolate and listening to the latest Foals album. It felt primal to have made something in 30 minutes that could survive repeated batterings by extreme weather.
Several more thunderous clouds came and went. The shelter continued to stand strong. We wanted to try to head back to the bus stop in a gap in the weather, but halfway through one of these erratic storm clouds, we knew our time was up. We braced ourselves, and leapt out from under neath the shelter, into the rain. We realised then just how effective the shelter had been! Because of the rain I never got a photo of our little shack, but you will have to take my word for it's existence.
Soaked through, we crawled back into the relative safety of our tent. We peeled off our damp clothes, and mummified ourselves in sleeping bags. The rain was pounding down on the roof of the tent, deafeningly loud. We ate our sandwiches, and tried to sleep, trying to shake-off the ever present worry that the tent will leak. We had gotten used to the hard grounds now, our backs just accepting the pain.
The next day we trekked out of the park, to get picked up by John. We found a diner, where we devoured massive burgers and plates of chips to make up for the past few days of undernourishment.
Hopping into Johns car, our camping trip had finished, and we were surprisingly still alive.