This is normally the time of year I book the next plane outta Mudtucky – sometimes we need a break from what we love the most, to love it most fully.  But what with the continuing incubation of It’ll (36 weeks tomorrow!), I ain’t going nowheres.  I figure the eventual 150 mile trip to my “local” labor and delivery room will be trip enough for Spring 2011.

But I digress.  Spring Fever for this near-Babb gal can only be cured in three ways: hiking in Glacier, planning a hike in Glacier, and talking about planning a hike in Glacier.  At this point in my 22 year love affair with Glacier National Park, I’ve hiked most of the “on trail” hikes that I’ve had a hankering to do.  And some of those trails, like the dusty, well-worn path to Iceberg Lake, I’ve hiked dozens of times.  But no trip is alike, and there is no trail I’ve tired of yet – oh, certain portions of certain trails, to be fair – does anyone really harbor deep affection for that very last mile down from the Loop/Highline Trail/Granite Park Chalet, when it’s buggy and thronged with tourons and the sun beating down on your head intensifies the ache in your twelve-miles-in-shins?  Not me.

One of my very favorite trails is the Dawson-Pitamakin Loop, out of the southern Two Medicine area of Glacier.   It’s about 3,000 feet in elevation gain over 18.8 total miles, but don’t let that intimidate you.  Much of that 18 is a walk-in-the-Park ridge walk, and nearly every moment of the hike is breathtaking, as you circumnavigate Rising Wolf, Flinsch, and Morgan peaks, walking a narrow scree trail between Dawson and Pitamakin passes.  If 18 miles makes you nervous – and I’m not trying to suggest that you should go from your couch to doing an 18miler! know your limits – you can shave about two miles off the trip by catching the early boat across Two Medicine Lake, and tackling Dawson Pass first, or by doing Pitamakin first and keeping a close eye on your watch to make the last boat back across Two Med.  To me, the elevation gain to Dawson is more challenging than that of Pitamakin’s, but it is certainly doable.

Also, if peak bagging is your thing, Dawson-Pitamakin allows for fairly easy summits of Flinsch and Helen – at least, those are two that I’ve tackled from this loop.  Adds a little extra mileage to an already challenging day, but the views of Mt. St. Nicholas, to the south, are completely worth it.

Anyway, I’ve done Dawson-Pitamakin a number of times, but am posting a few pictures from the Hot Buns‘ 2006 trip – this trip being especially memorable because in our rush to get to the dock and catch that last boat across the lake, saving ourselves the last couple miles, we picked up the pace a little too much, as we hiked quickly through the deep forest ringing the lake, and had ourselves a little Incident.

In the thousands of miles of trails I’ve covered in Glacier, I can count on one hand the issues I’ve had with bears, and they’ve all started out the same way: hiking through deep forest or brush too quickly to carry on conversation or in any other way make enough noise to alert the natives that you’re comin’ through.  This particular trip to Dawson-Pit proved much the same – in our rush to make that last boat, the Hot Buns focused on breathing deeply and stretching our legs, saying very little to one another.  And soon enough, we heard deep breathing that was not our own.  And it got closer.  And louder.  And then it began to snort and it felt like it was close enough to spit on us. And we were flat out terrified.

Layla Jane was bringing up the rear, and ever sensible, she sternly commanded the rest of us to stop, pull our bear sprays, and turn to face the bear.

And I wish I could say that is exactly what we did, because that is exactly what we should have done, as we assessed the approaching Bear Issue.

But hiking in Glacier has taught me a lot about myself, and hiking with random groups of people has taught me more about the human condition than perhaps any other experience I’ve had outside of tending bar.  And I’ve learned that sometimes the human condition, properly conditioned about Proper Bear Behavior though it may be, reacts in the most basic and instinctual of ways, and there is nothing to be done.  In this instance, the Fight or Flight Instinct flooded several Hot Buns’ bodies and some of us, who shall not be named, took off running hell-for-leather down the trail, bear spray in hand, leaving Layla Jane in our dust.  Not that you’re slow, honey.

And as the Incident came around the corner, snorting mightily and stomping its feet, we collapsed in near tears and collective relief that the Incident was an Equine.  And we tried mightily to wink back at the solo Cowboy clearly having a fun afternoon at our expense.  I laughed until I cried nervous tears of relief, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that from that day forward, whenever I hike with Layla, I make sure she’s in the back.

Because I now know that I can outrun her.

Hot Buns at the Pitamakin trailhead

Flinsch to the left

Flinsch and Old Man Lake

Pitamakin Overlook

lunch break – time to figure out which peak is which

glamour shots are de rigeur when hiking with the Hot Buns

Rising Wolf

Dawson Pass, overlooking Two Medicine Lake

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