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The Last Best Place - Day 3

Triple Divide Pass and Double Blisters.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” –John Muir

Another reason I love the Village Inn – your room comes with complimentary Montana Coffee Traders coffee, quite possibly the best coffee on the planet. I drank my coffee watching the changing colors of the early morning sky over Lake McDonald.

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It was time to ready my pack.

Oh dear.

I am not a minimalist. I consider items like hair glossing cream and at least 3 shirts per day (so that I have choices, people…) a necessity on vacation. My typical vacation toiletry kit will include: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, glossing serum, hair spray, brush, comb, elastic bands, hair clips, deodorant, body lotion, nail polish, nail file, face wash, face toner, nighttime face lotion, daytime face lotion, tinted moisturizer, lip balm, foundation, blush, powder, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara – both regular and waterproof, multiple lip glosses, perfume, and anything else in a mini size that I have come across and can stuff into my already overstuffed cosmetic case.

Faced with the knowledge that I had to carry everything I needed for the next 2 days on my back for 26 miles, and that my camera gear alone weighed 7 lbs, my toiletry kit was reduced to this:

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That's enough to make someone like me start having heart palpitations.

All said and done, my packed weighed a little over 25 lbs. Given that I have comparable muscle mass and bone density of your average 93 year old woman, I was fairly certain that my spine would snap in half before the end of the day.

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To reach our trailhead, we drove the length of the Going to the Sun Road from the west end of the park to the east end, exited the park and drove south to the Cutbank Ranger Station, re-entering the park and driving another 5 miles down a gravel road. We made lots of stops to enjoy the scenery on the way, because the GTTS Road is one of the most spectacular drives known to man. It took several hours and it was about 10:00 a.m. before we reached the starting point of our hike.

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“Are you sure you want to wear those boots?” Matt asked me one more time as our friends dropped us off at the trailhead. “You’ve got your old boots in the car. You could wear those.”

I have a pair of old, worn out boots that I love, but my beloved boots let me down on our last trip. They are not waterproof and I spent 2 days hiking in wet boots because of it. The low point of that hike was when I was forced to pull on wet boots that had literally frozen overnight while having plastic food baggies wrapped around my socks to try to keep my feet dry. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I had bright, shiny new boots. Yes, I know you have to break in hiking boots, I’m no dummy. I broke them in……well…….sort of.

Okay, the truth is that I knew then and there that I had not broken in the boots. I had worn them around the house a few times. BUT I WANTED TO WEAR THOSE BOOTS. When a woman gets it in her head that she is going to wear something, nothing short of an act of God will change her mind.

If you don’t believe me, look around the next time you are out and pay attention to the 4 year old girl that you’ll no doubt see walking down the sidewalk in a pair of cowboy boots, polka dot stockings, and a purple jumper with a bright pink tutu pulled over it….and it ain’t because her mama put her in that outfit.

“Yes, I want to wear these boots. They are F-I-N-E,” I said one more time.

You have no idea how I would regret those words later, especially since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, no threat of rain for the entire week, and my good old trusty boots sat forlornly in the back of the car just waiting for me to grab them up.

We all know what they say about hindsight.

Matt and I set out on the Pitamakin Pass trail. Our plan was to hike 4 miles back to the Atlantic Creek campground, set up camp, and dump our heavy packs. We would then hike 3.5 steep miles up to Triple Divide Pass, enjoy the views, and hike 3.5 miles back to camp. We would overnight it and on the following day, we’d do a grueling 15 mile hike that would take us past Morningstar Lake, up a steep climb over Pitamakin Pass, down a steep descent, and eventually lead us into Two Medicine where our friends would meet us.

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The day was glorious and the 4 mile hike back to the campground was easy. The views were spectacular, taking us through valleys with sweeping mountain views in the distance and through dense forest, where the dappled sunlight peeked through the tall trees.

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This is why I hike. It is all worth it when you are surrounded by such beauty.

We made it to camp in time for lunch. Adhering strictly to Mr. Backcountry Video Man’s instructions, Matt suggested he set up the tent while I took the food over to the food area and hung it. No problem.

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I set off for the food area. Backcountry campsites have a food hanging cable and a food prep area set well away from the tent sites. This prevents bears from being attracted to where you sleep. That sounded like a very good idea to me.

When I got there, the cable was impossibly high. I tossed the rope, with my weak, pathetic breadstick of an arm, not sure what I thought I was going to accomplish. The rope fluttered limply about 10 feet and thumped back down on the dusty ground.

Dang that was weak. I looked around to make sure no one had seen that. There was no one around with the exception of a fat ground squirrel that had stopped to eye me warily.

I looked around. Aha! I found a big stick, tied my rope to it and chugged it over the cable. Yes! I had done it! I looked around hoping someone had seen that. I wanted trumpets to sound and a grand round of applause to erupt from the woods.

I saw nothing but that dumb, fat ground squirrel staring at me.

Feeling powerful and mighty, like I had just invented fire or discovered that the earth was round, I tied my bag and pulled. It went up about 3 feet and stopped moving. No matter how hard I pulled…nothing. That was it.

Okay, all this was going to do was give the bears something to play tether ball with.

I lifted the bag with one hand and pulled with the other until I was on my tip toes. Now the bag was about 6 feet in the air, but it still wouldn’t go any higher.

Stupid little weak arms. Stupid heavy bag. Stupid rope. This.Was.Just.Great.

I wriggled and tugged, grunted and pulled, jerked and danced that bag all the way up to that cable. I have never worked so hard for anything in my life. Ugh. I was sweating and I had blisters on my hands, but it was up there. Mr. Backcountry Video Man would be proud.

It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t gotten our lunch out before I hoisted the bag.

Damn it.

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Eventually, Matt had our tent set up and I had our lunch ready. We had smoked trout with cream cheese and capers on flatbread and homemade oatmeal raisin bars. I told you that I am not a minimalist. Don’t expect me to eat anything while camping that I wouldn’t eat on any other day. I don’t do freeze dried.

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After lunch, we changed into shorts because it had gotten hot. We headed up the pass. It’s a steep 3.5 mile climb up to Triple Divide Pass. The day was warm and there was no shade on this hike, as we were hiking on the exposed side of a mountain.

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It was about 30 minutes into our hike when I felt the hotspots.

For those of you who don’t know what a hotspot is, it’s where you can feel your boots rubbing a spot that will later become a blister if you don’t put some moleskin or a gel pad on it.

I had forgotten the moleskin. It was still in my pack back at camp. I could tell Matt we needed to go back and we could lose an hour and a half, or I could ignore it and convince myself that I wasn’t going to get blisters.

I don’t even have to tell you what I did. You know exactly what I did, don’t you? Stubborn as a one-eyed mule, I tell you. I just don’t know when to admit I am wrong.

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Although it was a little hot for my liking, and despite the fact that I had two blisters working their way onto my heels, it was a great hike.
A very high-strung, typical type A overachieving, never resting, always on the go personality, hiking is the closest I get to peace. Nothing exists but the trail and the mountains. The conversations that Matt and I share during those hours are the best talks we ever have and sometimes, we just listen to the sound of our feet crunching along on the gravel and think about nothing at all.

It is truly a place to revive your spirit.

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Matt tends to hike in front of me (I think that is so that he can see/hear the bear first, in order to more effectively knock me down before I know what is going on), but we always take the passes together. The pass is the highest point you can hike to unless you want to climb the peaks (which I most certainly do not), and you work hard for it. It’s an accomplishment. It’s the climax of the hike, and we like to do it together.

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Please, people, clean up your thoughts.

Matt waited for me and took my hand as we took the final steps to the pass. I forgot about the way my boots were eating my heels as we slowly moved around in a circle, taking in the 360 degree views that seemed to go forever.

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Triple Divide Pass earns its name from the fact that its peak is a hydrological apex and water falling could flow into either the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Hudson Bay.

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Then it was time to make the long hike back down.

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We hiked back to camp, and by the time we reached our tent, I had two large blisters on my heels. Matt could tell I had blisters, but I didn’t let him see them. I didn’t want him to know how bad they were. Each was over an inch high and stretched the entire width of my small foot. I quickly bandaged them up so he wouldn’t see them.

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“It’s not that bad,” I lied.

We headed down to the creek to collect some water and I did an extremely cold “creek bath.” The creeks and lakes in Glacier are an extreme tease on a hot day. They are clear and beautiful, but the temperature in these waters rarely gets over 50 degrees. So, I perched myself on a rock, careful not to submerge anything, and wiped down the best I could with a wet washrag. It would have to do. I didn’t have room to pack my lavender body wipes, after all.

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Cooking dinner on our camp stove is a challenge. This is what we cook on:

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You have one tiny pot and have to choose carefully so that you can get everything cooked quickly and efficiently with very little clean up, but still be edible. After hiking 11 miles, I want something good to eat.

I had packets of Knorr pasta sides. While our pasta boiled, I made two small salads and topped them with packets of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We ate those while we cooked pasta. When the pasta was ready, I dumped one of those foil packets of cubed chicken breast that you can find in the tuna aisle. The hot pasta heated the chicken up nicely. We had two rosemary cheddar biscuits that we had gotten at the Polebridge Merc. Dessert were homemade brownies and a small bottle of red wine that Matt had generously toted in his pack. Hey, nothing says “classy” like a plastic cup of wine! Mmmm mmmm good!

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Compared to the other campers who were eating what they described as “cheesecake flavored gray gruel” out of a plastic bag, our meal was practically gourmet.

Matt pretty much crashed as soon as his head hit the pillow in the tent. I played Angry Birds until the sun finally set and I was able to drift off to sleep, wondering how I was going to hike 15 miles the next day with my heels already badly blistered.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:51 Archived in USA Tagged hiking west camping backpacking outdoors montana glacier_national_park

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I wanna know when you are gonna go across the pond and hike the Swiss Alps. It would REALLY float your boat.

by JMQ

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