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Over the Mountains and Through the Woods: Part II

Back to Glacier National Park

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER. OKAY, SOMETIMES IT KILLS YOU.

We started the day with oversized omelets and stuffed French toast at the Whistestop Restaurant.

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Okay, I know what you are thinking. This trip has been really boring so far. French toast? Cute restaurants?

Where is the excitement? Where is the adventure? Where are the inevitable mishaps that lead to events like nearly crapping in a shopkeeper’s basket in the crowded streets of Oia, Greece or finding oneself trapped at the end of a long dead-end alley in the slums of Rome? Where is the catastrophic food poisoning on the way home from Honduras?

Apparently, I had saved it all up for one glorious disaster.

An epic fail.

And it was called the Firebrand Pass Trail.

On every trip, I like to do some hikes we’ve never done. The Siyeh Pass hike had been new, but that had been a day hike. I needed a new overnight trip to notch into my hiking belt.

I had settled on the Firebrand Pass hike, a 9 mile journey to a remote backcountry campground with some serious uphill and downhill to tackle along the way.

Our first hint that maybe I hadn’t done enough research was at the trailhead.

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Steve and Al pulled up to the railroad tracks in The Middle of Nowhere, MT and looked at us dubiously as we pulled our packs out of the vehicle and strapped them on.

The location was so unremarkable and poorly designated that we drove past it three times before we finally pulled over and decided this must be it.
“Are you SURE?” she asked. “This doesn’t look like a trail head. There aren’t any signs.”

Matt and I looked across the tracks at a rickety old fence with a paper sign on it and no sign of a trail.

“I’m sure,” I said, waving them off like this was all part of the plan, although I was sweating bullets on the inside. This looked like a place to get lost and poop yourself to death after becoming paralyzed from eating poisonous berries, not a place to hike into the backcountry toward an awesome night at an amazing campground.

“You guys go on and have fun, we’ll see you tomorrow,” I said with more confidence than I actually possessed.

Why had I picked this hike again?

Information on this hike had been hard to come by. It was located in a remote area, far from all of the other trails. It didn’t seem very popular. Yet I had read descriptions of “outstanding views,” “a hike to escape the crowds,” “lightly trafficked,” “a long way away from civilizations,” and “hiking in extraordinary isolated seclusion.”

I was drawn to the Firebrand Pass hike by its promise of beauty and solitude, the two things Matt and I crave most on a backcountry hike. Now I was starting to wonder if I had made a mistake and simply put us on a dirt trail in the middle of nowhere on the way toward nothing.

Because this hike was far outside the “typical” boundaries of the park for most visitors, it doesn’t get much traffic despite its epic scenery. It also requires a steep 2100 foot ascent to the pass, which can experience wind gusts up to 50 mph. Then there is the matter of a heavy pack required if one intends to make one’s way all the way to the lake to camp overnight.

But none of those are the real reason most visitors skip the hike beyond the pass to go all the way back to Ole Lake.

It’s the descent from Firebrand Pass to the lake that gets them. Apparently, not many people are interested in a steep, 2680 foot descent in just a couple of miles on a narrow ridge trail comprised completely of ankle deep, loose scree.

I knew this going in, but felt Matt and I were up to the challenge.

I really should have read the fine print.

The hike started off fine. The first few miles were very pleasant, passing through valleys, meadows, fields of late season wildflowers, and traversing aspen groves. A little way in, we found the sign so we knew we were headed the right way.

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The day was overcast, which kept the heat at bay, which was nice because most of the hike afforded very little shade.

As the trail started to ascend, we passed 2 of the only 3 people we would see on this hike. They were coming toward us, headed out, as they had only hiked as far as the pass early that morning and turned around.

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It was two 50-something women on a day hike and they stopped to ask us a strange favor.

Apparently, they had passed a very young woman, hiking alone, with no gear, no water, only a dirty jacket and a book in her hands. As Firebrand Pass is a long hike with no water sources, this struck them as odd. She handed them her phone and asked them to take her photo. As they passed her, they became increasingly worried about her lack of proper clothing and water.

We promised to watch for her if we passed her along our route. Surely she wasn’t headed all the way to the campground.

Odd.

Who hikes alone on a remote trail with no water and a book?

We continued on and at a little over 4 miles we reached the basin below Firebrand Pass. The views were stunning. We could see the route to the pass above and took a moment to enjoy the scenery before heading up.

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It was here that we encountered the young woman, about 18 years old by my best guess. She was out of shape and inappropriately dressed. She was indeed hiking alone with no pack, no food, and no water. She carried a filthy puffer jacket in one hand and a ratty paperback in the other.

WTH???

We had only a moment to make a tough decision. We still had a 1.5 mile steep climb to the pass in the August heat followed by about 4 miles of steep descent before reaching the lake. There were no water sources that we knew of before reaching the lake, so the only water we had were the 2 bottles that we had in our pack….bottles we had counted on having with us until we reached the lake. One was full and one wasn’t.

And there was this young woman, so ill prepared with absolutely no business being out here.

We gave her the full bottle.

I could only hope that God would reward me for my giving spirit by not letting me die of dehydration before finding more water.

I still wonder if she made it out okay and what her story was. In my dream, she met up with Mister Fabulous on her way out and he threw her dirty jacket aside, wrapped her in his billowy scarf, and they hiked off into the sunset, taking selfies and drinking my water.

We will never know.

It was time to make the long slog up to the pass.

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When we finally reached the top, we only paused for a second. The wind was so fierce it was hard to stand upright. All we could do was immediately start the hike down the other side.

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Which turned out to be absolutely HORRIFIC.

I don’t consider myself a wimp. I’m no sissy. I have slept in the snow with wet feet, hiked 7 miles down a rugged mountain face in flip flops because my heels were too blistered for boots, pushed a golf cart out of the sand with my bare hands because it was stuck and I was alone with my girlfriend who wasn’t any stronger than I was, and spent several days on a deserted island in nothing more than a glorified tent.

I can endure a certain amount of adversity.

That scree slope, however, was my undoing.

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First, it was crazy steep. That’s bad enough if you have firm ground beneath you, as opposed to loose gravel so deep it’s like walking in quicksand. Second, the trail was narrow and dropped off on one side. One misplaced step and you’d fall off the edge and plunge several hundred feet below. Third, a trail in loose scree is hard to see. There were countless animal trails that crisscrossed the mountain going every which way and, at times, I wasn’t even sure which trail was THE trial.

And it went on FOREVER.

And FOREVER.

It was like a small planet. A planet filled with nothing but loose, shifting rock. It was certain death.

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I WAS SCARED, PEOPLE? OKAY?

And then I fell.

Oh, dear sweet baby Jesus in a manger, I FELL.

My feet literally slid straight out from under me, like I was trying to walk down a slope of ice or snow, rather than gravel. I landed on my butt and slid for what felt like an eternity, but that was probably about 1.6 seconds in reality, and managed to grab onto a small branch to stop my descent.

I was so shaken up by this point that I took itty bitty baby steps the rest of the way down.

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By the time we reached the bottom, my legs were a quivering pile of overcooked spaghetti and my nerves were shot.

Certainly that had to be the worst of it, no?

No.

We started trudging through the woods.

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We trudged.

And we trudged.

It was supposed to be a mile to the lake but we walked well over a mile and still found ourselves deep in the woods.

It was getting late. I had jelly legs And I was pretty sure we were lost.

We stopped to pull out the map and, as best we could tell, we were still on the right trail, but it was much farther to the lake than the map showed.

We had no choice but to keep walking.

We walked.

And walked.

And walked.

We were seriously contemplating simply pitching our tent in the woods and turning around to go back the way we had come the next morning when the trees broke and I saw the lake.

And then the sign for the campground.

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I nearly cried.

I was so relieved. The day was over. We had a couple of hours of daylight left to enjoy the lake, have a nice camp dinner, and cozy into our tent for the night.

My sigh of relief might have been premature.

As we unloaded our backpacks onto the dirt, we realized one significant item was conspicuously missing.

I hadn’t packed the tent.

We literally stood there in silence and stared, as though we could force the tent to materialize before us. Just maybe, if I stared at that bag of beef jerky long enough, it would become a tent.

On every trip with me, there is at least one moment that earns Matt yet another gold star in his “He Didn’t Kill Her Yet” book.

As Matt simply shook his head in disbelief, I spoke up, “At least I packed the fly.” I shrugged. I was struggling to find something that would make this horrible situation less horrible.

See, there is the tent, your wonderful enclosed capsule of nylon that separates you from the “outside.” Then, there is the fly, a thick cover that spreads over the top and sides of the tent in inclement weather conditions.

Do not make the mistake of thinking the fly is in any way an actual tent. It is essentially a domed tarp.

I had also managed to bring the tent poles and stakes. Just not the ACTUAL TENT.

“Isn’t this the point of camping?” I asked, “Adventure?”

Matt ignored me as he stared at the tent poles, a bag of clothes pins, some rope and a tarp and tried to figure out how to make them into a proper shelter.

Our first attempt was an utter failure.

It stood for a few minutes before starting to deflate, like a sad little balloon, until it was nothing more than a pile of blue and yellow plastic on the ground.

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That’s when Matt figured out that there were loops inside the fly and hooks on the ends that would actually hold the tent poles. What he constructed was a giant shell with no floor that we tied down with rope.

It would have to do.

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While it allowed us to feel like we had shelter, the reality was that it would not keep us warm and that anything with 4 legs ….or eight….or NONE….could scamper, crawl, or slither inside during the night.

At least we were alone at the campground that night. It was a small victory that our calamity could remain a private shame.

The other positive was that the forecast didn’t call for rain.

Now THAT would be a calamity!

We spent the evening enjoying the solitude of the small lake, having a simple dinner, and drinking enough wine to ensure we wouldn’t even know we were sleeping in the open woods without a tent.

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Sure, to many this toilet simply screams, “Hell no,” but when you have just hiked for 10 hours without a bathroom break while consuming approximately 3 months’ worth of water, this is practically heaven. An actual TOILET in the woods is a miracle. It eliminates the problems of the butt hover or the half-squat, both of which are completely ineffective at avoiding getting pee into your pants which will be around your ankles unless you take the time to remove your boots and take your pants completely off, which you won’t BECAUSE YOU’RE ON A TRAIL IN THE WOODS. Even better, there is a spectacular view and actual toilet paper (provided you remembered to put it in your pocket).

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Granted, there is the lack of privacy to deal with. You never know who is going to be watching.

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And, thoughtful as it was, this toilet brush seemed quite pointless.

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Finally, the sun dipped behind the mountains, leaving behind a glowing sky that would quickly turn to pitch black.

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It was time to head to our “tent.”

We had barely placed our heads on our pillows when I heard something LARGE moving around in the woods, just feet away. Maybe it was just that deer. But what if it wasn’t???

We both shouted and flipped on our flashlights, only to hear whatever it was moving away in the darkness.

And that’s when the storm started.

Bolts of electricity from the sky immediately replaced bears in the dark as the scariest thing in Montana.

When referring to “things that pucker your butthole”, the fury of Zeus takes a big poop all over the lowly bear.

We could hear the wind blowing the trees above us harshly, as the thunder cracked and lightning bolted through the sky.

“Really??” I said to Matt, “After everything else today….THIS??? Really???”

“It will be fine,” Matt said, “As long as the wind doesn’t blow our tarp away.”

I immediately reminded him that we were far more likely to die by lightning strike than by being attacked by a bear.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website, YOU ARE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE OUTSIDE DURING A THUNDERSTORM. Being under a tarp on the dirt does not qualify as being inside.

We held onto the edges of our tarp and suffered through the night.

SPAM: THE OTHER WHITE RED PINK MEAT.

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Weary, we decamped and had a breakfast of cheese grits and Spam. Perhaps a breakfast made from a giant vat of whipped pig that has been pummeled and poured into an inorganic geometric shape seems unappetizing, and just a little creepy, but after our long night, being alive and eating Spam seemed amazing.

It had been, of course, a miserable way to spend the night, but when we had some time to dry out (and eat some mysteriously cubed meat), we couldn’t stop laughing.

The truth is, it’s not the pleasant nights we spend under the stars that we remember for years to come. Instead, we’ll reminisce about that time we almost died under a tarp in the woods during a thunderstorm. Sure, it’s miserable and hateful while it’s happening, but it’s legendary when it’s over. It’s the experience that sticks with you. Getting lost, getting cold, getting hungry, getting wet, getting scared, and coming out on top; that’s the stuff that makes life worth living.

That’s the stuff we’ll remember.

I’d like to say that, once the night was over, the worst had passed.

In the past 12 hours, I had feared death by falling off a mountain, death by random bear, and death by lightning.

But they were not the worst of it.

In reality, my most terrifying, life-threatening, wildlife event turned out to be the hike back up the scree slope to Firebrand Pass.

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I realized I shouldn’t have worried about bears and sleeping in the open during a thunderstorm. I should have been worried about that piece of pie I ate and trying to haul it along with a stuffed French toast belly and that extra glass of wine up a steep gravel slope. It wasn’t a bear encounter that was going to kill me.

No, I was going to die by sliding painfully down a mountain of gravel into a tree that was waiting 400 feet below me.

All because I ate that extra pancake.

I literally did a death march up the mountain, bent at a 90 degree angle, hands on my thighs, backpack parallel to the ground like a turtle shell, pausing every 90 seconds to gasp for breath, curse, and cry.

Periodically, I would simply stand and groan loudly, so much so that Matt said I sounded like an elephant giving birth. Matt ,naturally, was practically dancing up the mountain.

For the first stretch, I was cranky. By the middle, I was wretched. Before we reached the top, I wanted to punch Matt in the nose. I probably would have if I could have caught up to him.

The word “miserable” took on a whole new meaning for me. This was not the Firebrand Pass trail, it was the Mount Misery trail. The only reason I didn’t cry is because I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

I should have stayed at home, binge-watching the Real Housewives of Orange County in my sweat pants with my dogs.

I consumed more water on the way up that mountain than I have the rest of this calendar year. Sad, but true.

Somehow, by a combination of stubbornness, the grace of God, and guttural screaming, I made it to the top.

I would have stopped to revel in it, but couldn’t for fear of being blown back down by the 50 mph winds.

We made our way through the golden fields back toward the trailhead.

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Yes - even in the wilderness, Matt checks his cell phone.

He was probably sending a message to Steve and Al to bring the car fortified with alcohol and painkillers.

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I’m sure Steve and Al were surprised to see us climb out of the woods intact. After dropping us off, I am pretty sure they expected to come back to find us dismembered beside the tracks, everything stolen except our packet of Spam.

And you know you have great friends when they immediately open the back of the SUV to pull out cups, champagne, and OJ.

God bless ‘em.

Friends show up to give you a ride from the trailhead. Real friends show up with mimosas.

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They had no idea how much I needed it.

We made a short drive and stopped at Johnson’s KOA for a hearty lunch. The mile high huckleberry ice cream pie was amazing.

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As we started our drive back across the park, we noticed that, in just the few days we had been here, the smoke had grown so thick that if we hadn’t been many times before, we wouldn’t have known any of the magnificent peaks were even there.

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It was about that time that I received a phone call from the Lake McDonald Lodge to tell us that they were closing due to the fire.

Understand that they are only a few lodges in the park with limited rooms. We had booked almost a year in advance to even have rooms. Now, we had to find rooms for THAT NIGHT? Impossible.

As luck would have it, the Village Inn at Apgar had a cancellation.

For one room.

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While it wasn’t exactly the 2 deluxe queen cabins that we had reserved at Lake McDonald, it was the only room left in a 60 mile radius and we took it. Besides, it was a definite step up from the previous night.

We spent a beautiful, if slightly hazy, night on the shores of Lake McDonald at the Village Inn with a spectacular dinner at Belton Chalet.

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Steamed PEI mussels with verde chorizo broth, burrata and heirloom tomato salad, spicy bisque, rich porcini and ricotta mac and cheese with bacon, and bison meatloaf followed by a delightful little jar of banana pudding.

It was almost good enough to make us forget about the awkward sleeping arrangements.

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GONE FISHING

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We enjoyed the sunrise at Lake McDonald followed by a fat loaded breakfast at Eddie’s of Apgar.

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The guys really wanted to do some fly fishing, and we were all exhausted, so instead of hiking up a mountain, we did nothing more than hike the shores of the Flathead River.

It was a beautiful day to do a whole lot of nothing.

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Fishing was a hardship for Al and I, but we endured somehow.

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I am happy to report that no life threatening events occurred that day.

Our final night in the park was at Belton Chalet. I love the vintage rustic rooms. It’s like stepping back to a gentler, quieter time.

A time without tents and Spam.

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We cleaned up and made the long drive down a mostly dirt road through miles and miles of nothing to have dinner at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge.

Polebridge is an electricity-free community cradled between the Continental Divide and Whitefish Mountain Range. It’s 27 miles from the entrance at West Glacier, with 13 of those miles on dirt road. Made up of a handful of houses, cabins, a hostel and a few small ranches along the North Fork Road, Polebridge is mostly made up of rustic locals and a scattering of hardy visitors. The hub of the area is the historic Polebridge Mercantile (the Merc) and the Northern Lights Saloon—both powered by generators. It’s a haven for hippies and random dogs, and isthe best place to find freshly baked pastries as big as your head.

I can’t come to GNP without making the long, arduous trip to Polebridge.

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You know that dream you have about living way out in the woods? You have that dream, right? Don’t we all have that dream?

Every time I drive out to Polebridge, the dream is alive. In it, I live in a cozy farmhouse where all of the furniture is made out of logs and planks that look like they were wrenched off the side of an old barn. I grow my own food and even MAKE PIE CRUST FROM SCRATCH. I wear flannel shirts and have a golden retriever. In it, I raise fat chickens and goats, even though my parents live on a farm and have that stuff and I know better because that shizz requires a lot of hard work and is full of perpetual animal poop. But in my dream, the animals are self-feeding and cleaning and simply look cuddly and give me eggs and cheese.

Polebridge can do that to you. You can see yourself getting “off the grid” and living in simplicity with a 3 legged dog and a wood burning stove, making your own clothing out of hemp and brewing beer on your back porch.

It’s deliciously authentic.

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Speaking of delicious, it was pizza night at the saloon.

Yes, please.

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And I’ll have a piece of pie with a blue eyed cat on the side.

A huckleberry bear claw to go? Why not?

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SHOPPING: FISHING FOR GIRLS, EXCEPT THAT WE ACTUALLY COME HOME WITH THINGS.

It was our day to leave the park, but it was good timing, as the Sprague Fire had grown in the past couple of days, covering much of the park in a thick haze and forcing several early closures.

We were heartbroken to hear that the historic Sperry Chalet, a hike-in only lodge high in the mountains above Lake McDonald that we had visited many times, had been lost to the fire the night before.

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The guys has a fishing trip planned and Al and I had a date with some shopping in Whitefish, so we fueled up at Montana Coffee Traders before going our separate ways.

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Whitefish is the quintessential mountain town, replete with rough-hewn logs, fur throws, and lots of plaid things. We managed to do some credit card damage before the guys called to be picked up.

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We grabbed lunch at Backslope Brewing before heading in for the afternoon to tackle the laborious task of taking an SUV full of dirty clothes and camping gear and trying to fit it into a few suitcases.

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It literally took all afternoon and involved an inordinate amount of swearing.

Finally finished, we rewarded our hard work with cocktails in the rustic bar of the Tamarack Lodge.

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Because this only whetted our appetite for small glasses filled with brown liquid, we made a trip to the Glacier Distilling Company before dinner. Glacier Distilling is a locally owned, small batch distillery where all of the spirits are hand crafted and hand bottled in their adorable red Whiskey Barn.

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Then it was time for dinner. I was super excited.

While I was planning our trip, I ran across an article titled, “The Most Romantic Restaurants in Every State.” Montana’s Whitefish Lake Restaurant was listed and we were staying only a short drive down the road.

Built in 1936, the 75 year old restaurant is considered by many to be the best in the Flathead Valley. Housed in an original tamarack log building with cathedral ceilings and fireplaces, it promised to be as romantic as it was delicious.

Not that we would ever know.

I Google Mapped us to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, where we promptly entered the restaurant and provided the name for our reservation.

The hostess gave us an odd look, but showed us to a table immediately.

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The room was sleek and stylish and had a spectacular view of the lake, but it didn’t exude the historic atmosphere that I had expected. No matter, the menu looked amazing and the place smelled divine.

We dove enthusiastically into the duck nachos and ordered a bottle of red wine.

Everything was delicious. Maybe not quite as romantic as I expected, but the sunset view over the lake was a nice touch.

It was about halfway through my crispy fried quail over butternut squash and fingerling potatoes that I got the phone call.

From the Whitefish Lake Restaurant.

Asking me where I was.

“I’m here,” I said, stupidly.

“You’re where, exactly?” the gentleman on the phone asked.

“At the restaurant. At the Lodge. On Whitefish Lake.”

He sighed. “We aren’t on Whitefish Lake. You are at the Boathouse. No worries. It happens all the time.”

We were at the wrong restaurant.

Sometimes, even I am amazed at how stupid I am.

In my defense….who names their restaurant the Whitefish Lake Restaurant when there is only ONE restaurant on Whitefish Lake and YOU ARE NOT IT?????

Apparently, the Whitefish Lake Restaurant is not on Whitefish Lake, but is at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, in which case it should have been named the Whitefish Golf Club Restaurant.

So close to eating at the most romantic restaurant, but….NO.

As we dove into the giant slab of huckleberry cheesecake, we felt we had made a good mistake.

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There was nothing left to do but catch a few hours of sleep before our 3:00 a.m. wake up call to head to the airport.

We were dusty and tired. We had blisters and back pain. I love the backcountry and leaving the wilderness, with all its untouched and pristine beauty, is hard every time. It’s a vacation that is intensely challenging at times and it isn’t always comfortable, but being alone with your thoughts, being alone with your spouse, and being one with the big wide world is indescribable. You solve all of the world’s problems on a dirt trail. You come out a new person. A better person.

The Sprague Fire that burned while we were there ended up burning about 18,000 acres of the park. As a lightning fire (SEE HOW DANGEROUS LIGHTNING IS????) I realize that it is simply part of nature’s cycle and it must happen, but it is still a devastating loss to someone that visits the park to see that natural beauty.

As much as we love it, we’ll probably look to new mountains for our future adventures. In addition to the ravaged landscape, the popularity of the park has exploded. When we first visited, annual visitation was about 1.6 million people. While that sounds like a lot, the park felt vast and empty when we were there. Now, with over 3.2 million visitors per year, it’s just too crowded for us.

I think we plan to step away for a while and let her heal. In the meantime, there are new mountains to climb, new trails to conquer, new tents to forget.

“And into the forest we’ll go, to lose our minds and find our souls.”

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Posted by vicki_h 06:59 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (6)

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods: Part I

Back to Glacier National Park

When we are in the mountains of Montana, we forget to count the days. Nothing exists but the crunch of the trail beneath our boots, the fresh air that smells of pine and wildflowers, and the big blue sky that stretches endlessly above us. We forget about alarm clocks and schedules. We go to the mountains to fill our spirits with good things. We come home refreshed.

Going to Montana feels like going home. I can’t explain it, other than to say that I feel like I am my best self when I am there. I feel the most complete and at peace. As much as I love my island home in the Bahamas, my heart truly lives in the mountains of Montana.

In Montana, I feel wild and free.

It was time to go over the mountains and through the woods.

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ARE WE THERE YET?

A series of airline mishaps got us to GNP in the dark, rather than our original noon arrival time. We did nothing more than crash in our simple cabin at the Apgar Village Lodge when we arrived. It was not the day we had planned. We went to bed grumpy and frustrated, having missed out on a half day of our plans.

We did enjoy a beautiful evening at Lake McDonald, however. We just caught the dying rays of the sun. We spent the night in a simple cabin. Accommodations in the park are pretty basic, but we can't help but love them in all their terrible simplicity.

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When we woke up the next morning on the shores of Lake McDonald, all was forgiven.

This place had a magic that soothed the soul. As we gazed across the water at a spectacular sunrise, we simply felt blessed to be in this place.

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We had a quick breakfast in our cabin on our circa 1951 yellow formica table, sipping coffee from our brown diner mugs, and contemplated our day.

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Losing our leisurely entry day meant we had to hit the ground running. No lolling around looking at the scenery to get acclimated. We were hitting it hard with the demanding Siyeh Pass Loop hike. Not truly a loop, the hike would take us 11 miles, ending about a mile from where we began, requiring a shuttle ride back to where we started. In addition to the stunning views, we’d get to enjoy 2300 feet of elevation gain, one reason why this hike was considered one of the more strenuous hikes in the park.

We were worried that the nearby Sprague Fire, which had been sparked by lightning about 2 weeks before our arrival in the park, would create too much haze and smoke to enjoy the hike. The fire had already grown to 1500 acres. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little smoke at all. It was a beautiful day for a hike!

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And what a hike it was. Considered one of the most scenic day hikes in the park, it didn’t disappoint. Despite the fact that it was labeled “strenuous,” it really didn’t seem that bad at all. A walk in the park, really.

The trail meandered along Siyeh Creek for a short distance before turning sharply into the forest.

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After a long series of moderately inclined switchbacks, we reached a flat area called “Preston Park,” a glacially carved valley filled with soft meadows and what remained of the season’s wildflowers. Each meadow became larger as we approached Siyeh Pass.

We were surrounded by giants. Matahpi Peak, Piegan Mountain, and Heavy Runner Mountain towered above us as we made our way through the sunny meadows.

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After several miles of meadow, we crossed Siyeh Creek. The views were outstanding.

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It was then that my least favorite part of any hike began, climbing to the pass. We had about 1.5 miles of steep climbing to reach Siyeh Pass.

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As we made our way up the endless switchbacks, I really didn’t think it was all that grueling, considering the descriptions of the hike I had read: “significantly challenging,” “really difficult hike,” “bring plenty of water and strong knees,” “very steep scree slope.” I could see the summit and it wasn’t that far away.

When I reached it, I realized why it didn’t seem that bad. It was a false summit. We had only just gotten started. From there, the trail rose steeply upward for what seemed an eternity.

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With every new switchback, I became more certain I should have just stayed at the motel for the day and watched daytime TV in my pajamas, eating vending machine chips.

Unfortunately, I was 5 miles from anywhere in either direction. Fueled by determination (and a strong desire for the Italian Hoagie wedged deeply in Matt's backpack), we powered up the mountain.

The views at the top were …..just…..magnificent.

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Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and I generally find going steeply downhill more painful than going up. Thankfully, we were distracted from the steep trek downward by big horn sheep scattered on either side of the trail and views to forever.

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When we finally got low enough to be out of the wind and were able to find a spot that wasn’t so steep we’d surely slide to our deaths if we stopped moving, we sat down for lunch.

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From this point, it was a long hike through Sunrift Gorge back to the Going to the Sun Road where we would shuttle back to the car and meet our friends as they finished up their Highline Trail hike. The high point of the afternoon was finding a pool of ice cold water we could soak our aching feet in.

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As we neared the bottom, we noticed the thickening haze from the wildfires. The afternoon winds had blown the smoke our way. Thankfully, we were “out of the woods” and headed to Many Glacier Hotel, where we could grab some showers, some dinner, and rest our weary feet.

Many Glacier is a beautiful historic property on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. One of my favorite moments on any trip to GNP is sitting on the expansive deck in an oversized Adirondack chair, a drink in my hand, reliving the best moments of the day as the sun sets behind Mount Grinnell.

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Sunset gazing was followed by dinner at the best steakhouse in northwest Montana. The Cattle Baron supper club looks like a total dive from the outside, complete with a parking lot full of pick-up trucks and more than its share of neon beer signs adorning the windows. Once you walk inside, you are transported, greeted by gleaming wood, white tablecloths, and candlelight. It’s filled with everything a fancy Montana steakhouse should have: giant wagon wheels, barstools made out of whiskey barrels, antler chandeliers, and Indian headdresses. What’s not to love?

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And the steaks? Prehistoric.

And so fresh you might drive past tomorrow night’s meal on the way home.

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GUESS WHO CAME TO DINNER?

It’s hard to beat waking up at Many Glacier Hotel, grabbing a cup of coffee, and watching the sun come up. Sure, the coffee isn’t very good and it’s terribly overpriced, but …that view.

Sunrise over Swiftcurrent Lake is majestic.

The sun crawls slowly over the edges of the mountains, first red, then gold, and the water is still as glass, turning every beautiful image into a double vision.

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Afterward, we headed a mile down the road to the Swiftcurrent Motel where we grabbed a hearty breakfast at Nell’s.

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This was also where Matt and I needed to pick up our backcountry pass. Oh yes. We were doing it again. We would be hiking into the backcountry and camping overnight.

So I got 3 pancakes instead of 2.

And I stuffed a few packets of jelly into my pocket.

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We did the Cracker Lake hike on our very first trip to Glacier National Park and I was awestruck by the turquoise lake hidden far back in a cirque of mountains. It has always remained my very favorite hike.

While we had returned to do the hike several more times on subsequent trips, we had never obtained a camping permit to spend the night there. This time, I had managed to secure an advanced reservation for one of the 3 coveted tent sites at Cracker Lake for the night.

This broke the 12 mile hike into 2 days. Only 6 miles of hiking in a day was practically leisurely compared to the Siyeh Pass hike, even though I would have a full pack on my back. Steve and Al would hike in with us, but would hike back out on their own while we set up camp to stay for the night. We’d rejoin them the next day back at the Many Glacier Hotel.

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The hike back to Cracker Lake started with a trek high around the edge of Cracker Flats. I always look for bears here. It just seems like a place they would be. If I was a bear, I’d definitely be down there.

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"No, I am not easily distracted...oooooo.....is that a bird?"

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The trail then entered the forest where it climbed endless switchbacks up and up and up for what literally seems like an eternity. Even though I had hiked this trail at least 5 times before, I didn’t remember it being this difficult. Oh yes, the backpack. There’s a really big difference between walking somewhere and walking somewhere with a bag the size of a small European country on your back.

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Around mile 5, the trail broke out of the forest into a canyon. We still couldn’t see the lake, and the trail wound around and around, over one hill after another, never actually getting to the lake. We were certain at each rise that we’d see the lake on the other side.

The anticipation was maddening.

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Just before mile 6, we reached the top of a hill and the lake came into view in all its cerulean splendor.

The color of the lake is the result of “glacial flour," fine rock particles from the glacier grinding on the mountains above” suspended in the water, reflecting the light.

It was simply breathtaking.

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We spread out on a warm rock for lunch, soaking in the sunshine like a bunch of lizards, and feeling too lazy to move.

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That’s when Mister Fabulous arrived.

In all my days of hiking in the backcountry, I have never seen anything like him.

A young man in hiking attire that was far too fancy to be practical strolled up to our spot and made it clear that we were exactly where he intended to be. He was alone and carried a billowy white scarf (what the???) and a camera with a selfie stick. Despite our obviously invasive presence, he proceeded to flutter around the meadow photographing himself with his scarf in a dramatic fashion, all while shooting daggers at us with his eyes because our hiking and becoming one with nature was apparently interfering with his Instagram photo shoot.

He was starring in his own movie, and we were bad extras.

I did my personal best to ensure a Cheez-It ended up in the background of every shot.

With lunch over and Mister Fabulous hallway back to the Many Glacier Hotel with his billowy white scarf, it was time for Steve and Alison to hit the trail back while Matt and I finished the last mile to the campground and set up camp for the night.

I was giddy. I had never gone past the overlook point on the trail. For all the times I had been to Cracker Lake, I had never actually been TO Cracker Lake.

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The trail took us to a hill overlooking the lake where we found 3 tent sites, each as spectacular as the other. We chose the one that seemed to offer the most privacy from the other two and set up camp.

I couldn’t believe the view from our tent.

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Sure, backcountry camping requires a long walk with a heavy pack, a lot of organized planning of gear, meals that are less spectacular than crap you ate in your college dorm room, and there is that whole “setting up camp” business before you can relax, but this view was exactly why we suffered through it.

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A backcountry campsite beats front country camping any day. My experience with front country camping was that the only thing “camplike” about it was the tent, but that it was mostly screaming children, the smell of burnt hot dogs and chili, and competing radios with Toby Keith trying to out sing Nascar.

Not this place.

This was pristine. This was perfect. The silence was complete and the air smelled of nothing more than fresh wildflowers.

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We spent the afternoon walking the shore of the lake, laying on the warm rocks and listening to the water trickle down from the mountains above, and simply taking off our shoes to walk barefoot in the water.

Oh, and chilling our wine in the ice cold water.

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Why wine? Because I don’t hike unless there is wine at the end of the trail. Backcountry camping is why wine comes in plastic pouches, people.

Dinner was cheese and crackers (i.e., pasteurized processed cheese food and Triscuits) followed by gourmet noodles (i.e., Ramen noodles with foil pouch chicken and veges), which we almost got to eat hard and raw because I forgot the matches. Thankfully, we were able to use the barter system (which is all you have when you are 6 miles from anything) to secure some matches from our tent neighbors in exchange for sunscreen, which they had forgotten, as evidenced by their bright red faces hiding inside their tent until the sun went down.

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We thought that being this far out in the wilderness would prevent unwanted dinner guests (like screaming children with hot dog sticks and pockets filled with half melted chocolate), but then this guy showed up.

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Within seconds, the other 4 campers (all young women) had moved to our tent and stood with me and Matt while we watched to see what the bear would do.

It was only then that I realized the benefit that having small children at a campground would offer. Sure, they seem to only have one volume – SCREAMING – and one speed – RUNNING - but they are also bite sized and typically covered in BBQ sauce and melted marshmallows. I’m no outdoor expert, but if I was a bear, that would certainly sound more delicious to me than a 47 year old pre-menopausal woman coated unapologetically in DEET.

As we watched, huddled together, the bear continued walking at a leisurely pace around the shore toward our side of the lake. I really didn’t want him to keep walking toward us only to be surprised when he discovered his path was covered with smelly humans who had just eaten dinner and probably had some leftover chicken on their pants, so I stood at our tent and yelled, “HEY BEAR!”

Seriously. That’s what they tell you to do in the backcountry camping orientation video you are required to watch when you pick up your permits. It tells you how to pee properly, how not to die of exposure, and what to do if you see a bear.

The answer to that third item, obviously, is to yell, “HEY BEAR!”

I can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, it was my hope that by alerting him to our presence, he would run away.

Instead, the bear just stood there looking at me while I looked at him.

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He stared.

I stared.

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He walked a few more feet and stared.

I stared.

We did this until it got too dark to see him anymore.

Well….hell.

Rather than all 6 of us sitting together in our tent all night (which we seriously considered), everyone eventually made their way back to their own tent, zipped up tight, and hoped their tent didn’t simply look like an airy crepe filled with a delicious meat snack.

“Your odds of getting attacked by a bear are, like, 1 in 2 million,” Matt said as he dozed off to sleep. “Stop worrying, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than get attacked by a bear, and do you know anyone who’s been struck by lightning? I didn’t think so. Go to sleep.”

I went to sleep, stars blazing above….imagining that every crackling twig or swish of grass was most certainly the bear on the hill above, catching a whiff of the pasteurized processed cheese product I had smeared on my sweat pants.

It doesn’t matter that the bear was probably miles away by this time, it is amazing the volume of irrational thoughts that the darkness of a backcountry campsite can generate. When you are sleeping in a tent in the wilderness of Montana, every unidentifiable night noise is clearly a bear coming to eat you in your sleep.

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WHEW. WE'RE OUT OF THE WOODS.

Bears or no, waking up at Cracker Lake was a magical experience. Although, the first thing I did was use the binoculars to make sure the bear was gone.

The light was soft and the air was still and quiet. A lone mountain goat stood sentry on a rock outcropping above us.

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We enjoyed hot coffee, loaded oatmeal, and crispy bacon before breaking camp and starting the long, and thankfully uneventful, hike back out.

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We made it back to the Many Glacier Hotel before lunch, met up with Steve and Alison, and drove back toward Babb. Our goal was to drive all the way to East Glacier, about 2.5 hours on the curvy Montana roads.

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We stopped en route at Two Sisters, a funky little place just outside of Many Glacier, near St. Mary. They make a mean burger and some amazing pie a la mode.

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From there, it was a long and lazy drive to East Glacier Village to the Glacier Park Lodge for the night with a real bed and a real shower.

Matt and I chose to stay in the adorable Gardener’s Cottage which was as cozy as it was cute. Set apart from the main lodge, it gave me a chance to clean and organize our camping gear and repack our backpacks for the following day’s overnight hike.

Because one miserable night sleeping with one eye open in the woods wondering if you will die before sunrise is simply not enough.

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We fortified ourselves with cocktails in the lodge bar before heading to our favorite East Glacier restaurant for dinner. Serranos is a quaint little dive that serves killer margaritas and delicious Mexican food.

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The platter of nachos was big enough to feed all four of us, but that didn’t stop me from making a valiant attempt to eat them by myself.

I failed.

That night, I was happy to sleep in a real bed with nothing to hear but the sound of a box fan that meant me no harm.

Want to know what else happens in Montana??? Stay tuned for Part II!

Posted by vicki_h 05:49 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

Photo Blog: Fall Camping at Max Patch

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After my horrific experience in Napa Valley of falling down the escalator…..TWICE…I decided the best kind of trip would be one that was as far removed from modern technology as possible.

CAMPING!

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We decided to go to Max Patch near Hot Springs, NC. An easy 1.5 hour drive from home, Max Patch affords all of the awesomeness of backcountry camping with only a 20 minute hike. Of course, the hike is STRAIGHT UP, but one can endure anything for 20 minutes.

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Max Patch is a grassy summit at an elevation of 4629 feet. It has a tremendous 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail. It is also dog friendly, which certainly made the Roobs happy.

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We decided to pack up some friends, the pups, and do nothing but lounge in the sun, drink boxed wine, and sit by a crackling campfire while nature put on an amazing display for us.

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10 Things I learned while camping at Max Patch:

1) Invite friends with kids. They are very good for carrying stuff you don’t want to carry, cooking, and generally assigning tedious tasks to. It’s easy to trick small persons into thinking that picking up sticks for firewood is a game.

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2) Taking dogs can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a good thing because you don’t have to worry about any strange animals or weird people getting close to your tent while you are sleeping. It’s a bad thing because they literally bark each time the wind blows…because…you know….they want to keep you safe.

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3) Camping on a bald during a full moon is an extremely cool visual experience. It is, however, not an extremely cool bathroom experience. No shrubs, no trees, lots of bright light all night long. Do you see the problem?

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4) Feet expand when removed from hiking boots. The same law applies to tents and tent bags, clothing and backpacks, and sleeping bags and stuff sacks. Nothing that comes out of a backpack can ever go back in.

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5) When one is in a zipped up sleeping bag, the urgency of the need to relieve oneself is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn. It is also inversely proportional to the outside temperature and the degree to which the sleeping bag is completely zipped up.

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6) 98% of the stuff you lugged up that 20% incline that was called a “hiking trail” could have been left at home. The 2% left at home is what you really needed.

7) The agony of the hike up, the misery of setting up your tent and trying to remember how all the pieces go together, and the frustration of trying to cook an entire meal on a stove the size of your fist completely vanishes with the first glimpses of sunset.

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8) The agony of trying not to pee in the middle of the night when it is 40 degrees and the wind is blowing at 20 knots, difficulty of sleeping with every rock and stick on the mountain ending up under YOUR sleeping bag, and the worry of waking up every 37 minutes because you are certain you heard something outside completely vanishes with the first glimpse of sunrise.

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9) All food tastes better outside. Ditto for wine. Even boxed wine. Especially boxed wine.

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10) You will not sleep well. You will go home exhausted. You will be dirty and your hair will smell like a campfire. But it will be the best weekend ever.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:37 Archived in USA Tagged mountains camping north_carolina nc wnc max_patch Comments (4)

Almost Roughing it in Ellijay, GA

A glamping anniversary

Have you ever thought about camping but decided that a weekend in the woods in a leaky tent that smells like plastic and mildew with absolutely no creature comforts and just the clothes on your back does not sound like a good time? Maybe you’re not really into eating just what you can carry on your back, hunt, or catch? Foraging for food and clean water, building a fire from twigs and rocks, and finding your way with a compass does not sound appealing? And you definitely draw the line at pooping behind a tree?

Do you crave a oneness with nature but are too afraid of literally becoming “one with nature” (as in becoming bear poop and decomposing under a pine tree) that you just take a pass?

Is this how you feel about camping?

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Well, I have found the answer.

It's called "glamping."

Yes. You read that right: GLAMPING. As in Glamourous Camping.

Gone are the days where a campsite is simply a place to pitch a tent and dig a hole to poop in. These days, camping can mean plush bedding and gourmet food.

Glamping is not for the die-hard, freeze dried food eating, REI shopping, ultralight backpacking group of outdoors-people. No, glamping is for those of us who love nature, but do not love sleeping on the ground and trying to pee while holding oneself upright with a tree branch and praying you don’t dribble on your pants leg.

I have paid my dues. I have hiked 15 miles into the wild with a pack loaded with crap on my back in the snow with wet feet and blisters only to sleep on the ground with one eye open all night wondering if a bear was going to smell the cherry chapstick I forgot to take out of my pocket.

I learned the hard way that a two man pup tent does not come with two men. Or any puppies.

THIS is not fun:

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Neither is this:

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Nor this:

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Okay, this is a little fun, but not when you are doing it because you are in so much pain that you decide 6 miles of drunk hiking is worth the risk:

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I was ready for a different kind of camping experience.

Sleeping bags and granola bars are so 20th century.

Glamping is nature served on a silver platter.

Pack the fur throw and champagne, friends…..we’re going glamping!

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For as long as I can remember, the Resort at Paws Up just east of Missoula, MT has been on my wish list. A ridiculously indulgent blend of unsurpassed luxury and pristine wilderness, this glamping resort offers guests a stay in a posh safari-style tent with jaw dropping views and a plethora of wilderness experiences, not to mention a private chef and butler to draw your bath in your outdoor copper bathtub and lay out the s’mores while they pour your wine.

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Stolen Shamelessly from the Paws Up website

However, the $1800 a night price tag is likely to keep it on the wish list for a while.

Like, forever.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered a glamping resort just 93 miles (as the crow flies) from home, thanks to JoAnn Antonelli and Rick Lucas, who have created a whimsical retreat in the north Georgia mountains called the Martyn House.

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The Martyn House was born when JoAnn and Rick first stepped foot onto the 18 acre property in Ellijay, GA in 2007. The 1930’s farmhouse became their home. Later came Rick’s photography studio. Later came JoAnn’s art studio, lovingly built from the old barn that was in the final stages of collapse.

A trip to India provided the final inspiration, as Rick and JoAnn decided to bring their experience with the luxurious sleeping tents they stayed in in southern Rajistan to Georgia. Their bohemian chic tents are made from intricate Indian fabrics, with details like hand sewn mirrors and meticulous embroidery. The colors are bright and festive, giving an air of magic to each unique tent. Each tent is complete with antique furniture, cozy linens, working lights, bathrooms with on-demand hot showers and running water, a propane heater for extra cold nights, an in-room French press along with a supply of coffee and tea products, wine glasses and JoAnn’s handmade pottery mugs, and soaps that JoAnn makes herself. Each tent also has a covered front porch with twinkling string lights, perfect for curling up with a glass of wine at night or a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning.

Rick and JoAnn are also amazing cooks and make incredible meals for guests, using many of the ingredients from their own garden.

I ran across the Martyn House totally by accident in my never ending search for “someplace new” on the interwebs. As soon as I saw the fairytale destination that Rick and JoAnn had created, I knew it was the perfect place to spend our 15th anniversary.

“We’re going GLAMPING!” I shouted enthusiastically at Matt as he came home one evening.

“For our anniversary. GLAMPING!”

He stared at me, obviously not comprehending how stupendously awesome this decision was.

I heard crickets.

“GLAMPING!” I said again, arms wide and waving with all the enthusiasm I was trying to shove from my brain into his brain.

“Huh?”

He blinked.

It was like I was speaking Chinese.

“Fancy camping. We’re going fancy camping.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said as he went back to checking the mail.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as inspired as I was, but that was just because he didn’t know yet.

Martyn House was going to be perfect.

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The first thing I saw as we pulled down the driveway was the lion that was charging our vehicle.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted to Matt. “Roll up the window!”

It was too late. Within minutes, I saw nothing but giant golden paws and fur and teeth mauling my husband of 15 years.

As I looked over at Matt’s grin, I remembered we were not, in fact, on our way to our Abercrombie & Kent campsite in the Serengeti, but were in Ellijay, GA and this was not a lion, but the biggest golden retriever in the universe with his wiggly body halfway inside our rental car while giving Matt a tongue bath.

We had just met Hank, the 91 lb. baby of the Martyn House family.

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Just behind Hank were Maya, the yellow lab, and Grace, the black lab…just as wiggly and welcoming.

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Off to the side, a flash of yellow caught my eye. No, not a tiger, but I don’t think he knows that.

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Milo the cat was hiding in the grass watching from a distance.

Otis, the other cat, was not as shy and immediately came to say “hello.”

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Throw in some heirloom chickens, one giant rooster, and a couple of unconventional artists and you have the wonderful cast that makes up the Martyn House.

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It was the opening weekend of their glamping season and we were the only guests. We had the entire place to ourselves.

As Rick gave us the grand tour, a parade of dogs and cats trailing behind us….I knew this was going to be a wonderful weekend.

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On the way to our tent, we stopped at Rick’s studio where he had Matt sample his new beer making project. As Matt two fisted some craft beer, I knew Matt thought this was going to be a wonderful weekend too.

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Rick also gave us a tour of JoAnn's studio, where she makes pottery and handmade bath products, or whatever suits her creative fancy. The studio was warm and inviting. As it turns out, guests can even stay in the studio.

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We also visited the chicken coop and the outdoor tent where JoAnn and Rick have created an amazing outdoor living space. They host many of their group dinners here. It had an outdoor bar, a dining area, a cozy hammock, and a living area with vintage pillows and throws. Next to it was a colorful fire pit for chilly nights.

Seriously, could this place be any more awesome?

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Even the port-a-potties were cute. I never thought I'd find myself thinking the words, "I can't wait to use that outdoor toilet."

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As we wandered down the wooded path away from the main house, I could see 4 tents scattered at a distance from each other in the woods. Each one was placed to allow it ample privacy from the others.

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I immediately fell in love with our tent: Ridge Roost.

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The gorgeous black and white striped tent stood in fanciful contrast to the early-April forest around it.

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With a cozy porch, a king sized bed covered with beautiful linens, a free cat, a full bathroom with running water and a hot shower, and a jovial guard dog to keep the raccoons at bay…what more could we want?

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How about an outdoor bathtub?

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The spell was complete. We were enchanted. Even Matt was excited. Probably because he realized at some point I was going to take off my clothes and get in a bathtub in the woods…but whatever. He was excited.

Unable to tear ourselves away from our glampsite, we did nothing but chill out in our tent for a while.

No TV. No internet. No sound but the wind in the trees and an occasional bird.

It was perfect.

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We were having dinner at the Martyn House that night, so we decided to grab lunch in the nearby town of Blue Ridge. We have eaten at Harvest on Main, a wonderful little restaurant there, on several occasions and always try to stop in when we are anywhere nearby.

Blue Ridge is a charming little mountain town. It’s adorable streets are lined with quaint shops, art galleries, and cafes.

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Harvest on Main is a cozy, rustic restaurant that reminds me of something we’d find in Montana, not in north Georgia. The first things you smell when you walk inside are their house smoked meats. The scent mingles with the smell of fresh baked bread and creates the most welcoming atmosphere you can imagine.

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We started off with their baked brie, blue crab, and cilantro casserole served with warm corn chips.

Just as we were licking the last of the warm, creamy melted sour cream, cream cheese, and brie from the dish, we were brought two house salads with their delightful pickled green beans.

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For entrees, I had the amberjack over their house chickpea stew topped with sauteed spinach, and Matt had the local trout served on top of their house-made corned beef hash (house-smoked corned beef, sweet potatoes, & onions) and topped with lemon-pickled onions and arugula.

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Just to make sure we didn’t leave before eating everything on the menu, we had the chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream. The moist cake was layered with what tasted like a hazelnut cream cheese filling and topped with caramel drizzle and pecans.

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Because a day of sloth and gluttony is best enjoyed with a glass of wine, we headed back to the Martyn House and took a take a pre-dinner walk down to Grace’s pond with a bottle of wine to find the “outdoor living room” Rick had told us about.

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Rick and JoAnn have taken “creative loafing spaces” to an entirely new level. In every nook and cranny of their property, there is another cozy place to curl up with a glass of wine, a good book, or a wet dog as the case may be.

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Maya was obviously embarrassed by her overly exuberant leap into the pond, so she put herself in time out in the corner until she was dry. Sweet Maya.

We had opted for a private dinner on the farm that night, but the weather forecast was calling for storms and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d get rained out. We pulled on the wellies, grabbed the umbrella, and hoped for the best.

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We shouldn’t have worried. Rick and JoAnn had us set up in the dry on their porch, complete with vintage linens, a glowing chandelier, and the romantic flicker of candles.

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The rain held off as we enjoyed a starter of roasted red eggplant with feta cheese. The eggplant was perfectly charred on the edge, soft in the center, and topped with savory cheese.

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This was followed by what Matt referred to as “the best salad I’ve ever had.” The salad had pickled garlic, local smoked bacon, olives, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green beans.

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This is Matt’s “stop taking pictures of me while I eat” face:

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For our main dish, Rick brought us a deliciously fried chicken breast on top of rustic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

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Dessert? Of course we did. A raspberry sorbet with chocolate.

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As we scooped the last of the sorbet from our dishes, Rick was lighting a fire for us where we enjoyed champagne and roasted marshmallows as we watched the distant lightening grow closer and closer.

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We ran back to the tent when the thunder started, wondering if we’d make it back before the storms. The tent looked even prettier at night.

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We turned on our electric candles (because real candles and cotton tents go together like Kanye West and Taylor Swift) and climbed into the big, cozy bed. The sheets were soft and smelled like fresh laundry. The down pillows were perfectly plush. The tent had flaps that could be lowered with ropes and secured for windows and a door if we wanted the tent secured, but we wanted to feel the cool night air so we left them open, leaving a secure mesh screen to keep the bugs out.

When the rain started, I worried we might get blown away. This was no 10 minute rain shower. This was a full-on, raining-like-there-was-no-tomorrow downpour that lasted for hours with wind and thunder and lightning. We couldn’t have ordered a more magical experience if we’d had the weather gods on speed dial.

It was remarkable. The sound of the rain pounding on the roof of our tent and the fresh-electric smell of the storm outside while we were cozy and warm under piles of soft blankets was simply mind blowing.

The best part of glamping vs. camping in a rainstorm? The story doesn’t end with ….”and then the tent blew away.”

We were snug as two bugs in a rug.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rain beating rhythmically on the roof.

It was around 2:00 a.m. when I was awakened by a sound under the bed. My first thought was, “Rooby and Bella might need to go outside,” and then I remembered I wasn’t at home.

I was in a tent.

In the woods.

And something was thumping around under my bed.

It’s all fun and glamping until you wake up with a possum under your bed.

I did what any strong, modern, capable woman would do.

I woke Matt up.

“There is something under the bed,” I hissed, shoving the flashlight from my nightstand at him.

“What do you want ME to do about it?” he hissed back.

“Get it OUT,” I whispered.

As I sat holding my electric candle, prepared to beat something off his face should he come back up with fangs and claws attached to his skull, Matt peered cautiously over the edge of the bed.

And laughed.

“It’s Hank,” he said. “He must have snuck in after we went to sleep.”

I never thought I’d be happy to have a 91 lb. dog under my bed. At least I didn’t have to worry about possums.

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The next morning was a chilly 48 degrees. We had slept with the windows open so that we could enjoy the cozy bed and the storm. The morning air was crisp and cool, so Matt fired up the heater. The tent was warm in minutes.

Our tent had an electric pot for heating water and a French press with coffee, hot teas, sugar, and creamer. We had coffee and cocoa on the front porch watching the sun peek out through the trees.

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Breakfast is provided by Rick and JoAnn every morning, so we made our way to the farmhouse around 8:30. Because it was only the two of us, Rick served us breakfast on the cozy porch again.

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He started us off with homemade smoothies and fresh fruit.

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Then it was hot coffee and toasted English muffins with jam and butter.

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Finally, he brought omelets made with cheddar cheese, spinach, and mushrooms and a platter of local bacon. There is no picture of the bacon because I ate it all.

I really like bacon.

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We didn’t have a very ambitious itinerary, which was good because I was lethargic from all the bacon.

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We strolled around the quaint town of Ellijay, checking out its cute shops.

There are a lot of things to do near Ellijay – countless wineries, farms, orchards, and scenic drives….but we managed not to do ANY of those things because we really just wanted to get back to the Martyn House.

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There was an outdoor bathtub with my name on it.

But not before we had lunch. What? Do you think we are CRAZY?

We stopped in at 1907 for a wine-fueled lunch of smoked trout dip, a fried green tomato burger with bacon and pimento cheese, and apple crumble with salted caramel sauce. No, that was not shared. That was just MY meal.

Matt had some more trout. I was starting to think he had a trout problem.

When in north GA.....have the trout?

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This is the owner, Wayne Sloop. He came out to pose for a very enthusiastic photo.

Whew.

I was worried that he knew I had stolen 10 of those delicious burgers and had them in my pocket.

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Oh wait. That was only in my head. Kind of like when someone runs over you in the grocery store aisle and you cuss them out in your head but in reality you find yourself apologizing to them for being made of actual matter and for not being able to read their mind so that you wouldn't be standing where they wanted to walk without looking first.

All I really had in my pocket was my lens cap. Darn it.

When we got back to the Martyn House, the sun was shining on a beautiful 80 degree afternoon. We took advantage of the beautiful weather and just enjoyed our surroundings.

With wine.

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And then there was that bathtub.

I could not pass up the opportunity to take a bath in the woods.

Bathtub in the woods + bubble bath + champagne = best bath EVER

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Seriously one of my favorite life experiences of all time. It was like skinny dipping, but with bubble bath and warm water. And without my irrational fear of leeches.

A couple of years ago, Rick and JoAnn bought an old building in downtown Ellijay that became one part coffee shop, one part art gallery, and one part live music venue. On Saturday nights, they host live music and dinner in their “listening room.” We had decided to have dinner there that night because it gave me a reason to pack boots with 4 inch heels on a camping trip.

Seriously, what's the point of glamping if you can't pack heels?????

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In Towne, their coffee shop and bistro, was as charming and visually appealing as the Martyn House. Each space was unique and eclectic, filled with original art, their own special style, and a sprinkle of sunshine.

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On Saturday nights, they offer a small menu for dinner to be served while you listen to a 2 hour live music show. It’s BYOB, so we were able to take our own wine for a modest $5 corking fee. We ordered at the counter in the coffee shop, dropped off our bottles of wine, grabbed some lemon infused water in colorful mason jars, and found our way to the cozy listening room. When we ordered, we were given a table number. The tables were covered in brown butcher paper with the numbers on top and warm, inviting candles beckoning us inside.

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Still pretty full from that mammoth burger at 1907, I thought I was “ordering light” (yes, I know – Vicki Ordering Light is as much an oxymoron as Vegetarian McDonald’s) when I asked for the “fish stew.”

The hearty stew had 3 giant fillets of meaty fish in it and was topped off with a crazy good slab of buttery toasted bread.

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That's when I remembered that eating light is for wimps.

So I ordered dessert.

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Matt had the trout and double chocolate cake, but I didn’t get a picture because because all the trout was getting weird (and maybe because I had whipped cream all over my hands).

Nate Currin, the artist of the night, entertained us for two hours with his warm stories and wonderful music. Maybe it was the second bottle of wine talking, but we thought he was pretty darn good.

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When we cozied in for the night in our tent, we decided to close the windows and zip the door because it was going down to 32 degrees. While we liked sleeping in the cool air, 32 degrees crossed the line from “cozy” to “crazy,” so we turned the heater on low enough to keep it cool, but ensure we didn’t wake up with icicles in our noses.

The zipped door kept Hank out, but it didn’t keep Otis out. Otis made it immediately clear that he'd be sleeping with us thankyouverymuch.

I guess he doesn’t like icicles in his nose either.

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We woke to another perfectly beautiful day. Our days had been warm and sunny, our nights cold and crisp, perfect glamping weather!

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Rick had breakfast waiting for us on the porch again.

More homemade smoothies:

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Then it was stoneground grits, local sausage, focaccia bread, and scrambled eggs with avocados.

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Martyn House had been everything I hoped for. It has been magical, fanciful, and enchanting. It had been luxurious and indulgent. It was romantic and private. We ate meals on a fantasy porch, we sipped wine in fairy tale tents, we snuggled under fur blankets while listening to the sound of the wind and rain whipping through the trees, we woke to the sounds of birds and had coffee with the forest, we followed paths to secret corners with tree stump tables and crystal chandeliers, we found our way home at night guided by twinkling string lights and the full moon.

I ate slowly, not wanting to break the spell.

It was almost midnight and my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin. A quick flight home would bring work and deadlines, a house that needed to be cleaned, and groceries to buy.

But it was still morning, and I was still Cinderella and I was going to live like there was no midnight.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:00 Archived in USA Tagged camping georgia glamping blue_ridge ellijay martyn_house Comments (3)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park

Bonus! Video!

Posted by vicki_h 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

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