There were a few months of my pregnancy with Howard that I was literally unable to walk up a simple flight of stairs without resting.  Those were not good days for me.  Whether it was the IVIG or my severe anemia we don’t know, but each time I paused to breathe on the stairs to Maggie’s room, I thought about the mountains I had climbed in my pre-neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia existence and wondered if I would be able to do so again.

I haven’t reached a summit in the 12 weeks since Howard’s arrival, but I did carry him up to Iceberg Lake last week, and I felt just as joyful as I did the morning I first reached the top of Divide, in 2000.

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Thanks so much to my sweet friend Suzy for going with us.  Glacier, it’s good to be back!

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2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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Chances are good that you know someone who is managing diabetes  – it affects 8.3% of the population.

tj fallon

Well, if you didn’t before, now you do.  Please meet T.J. Fallon, an insulin dependent Type 1 Diabetic who plans on hiking about 250 miles in Glacier National Park this summer in an effort to raise awareness about diabetes.  Glacier County Honey Co. is impressed by his mission, so we’re helping to sponsor his cause, and he’ll be hiking with our honey stix.

T.J. is 33 years old and a resident of Kalispell.  He has been successfully managing his diabetes for 18 years now.  If you’d like to learn more about his cause, T.J. has a great website — check it out here.

Good luck, T.J.!  We’ll hope to bump into you on the trails this summer.

2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Photo credits to T.J. Fallon.  All Rights Reserved.

Hard to believe that we were still climbing big mountains two weeks ago.  The snowstorm that dumped about a foot of snow on the Warehome this past week has shut down the high country, and I believe winter is on its way.

At any rate, Sunday’s dawn found the mountains encased in ice, glimmering in the pure October sunshine, a mighty west wind pluming snow off the peaks.  Neither Brother Dear nor I really felt like hiking, but what with the sunshine and the sparkle and the late date and the fact that I had a babysitter (not sure if it’s Honeydew or the NFL, but I’m grateful either way for fall Sundays), we decided we had to do something.  And it turned out that something was driving to the end of the Many Glacier road and heading up the Swiftcurrent Pass trail.

It’s funny how a pair of neighbors can still find plenty to talk about, ambling down a trail.  Our daily conversations generally revolve around whether or not Brother Dear wants to come to my house for lunch, if we’ve seen each others’ dogs, whose turn it is to go to the post office, and if I want to come to his house for dinner.  On the trail, we caught up on each other’s college exes and law school roommates and high school buddies and mutual Montana friends — although we attended different universities and law schools, we’ve been lucky over the years to meet and befriend each others’ friends, and I love how many pals we have in common these days.  Anyway, I enjoyed the quiet rhythm of our steps and our conversation as we walked up the valley.

About a half hour after our departure, we arrived at Red Rock Falls, a mighty pretty spot about 2 miles from the trailhead where my younger self drank plenty of cold beer, and where Maggie Rose’s mom now accompanies many neighbors and guests and their small children.

The trail, already more icy than not, turned into an ice skating rink after Red Rock Falls, and we decided to turn around and get on with the day.

It was Sunday, after all – football to watch and weekend Glacier County Honey orders to prepare for Monday’s mail run.

The return trip was over in minutes, and I wondered when we would be back.  In two weeks or in July?

As we drove out of the Many Glacier valley, I kept making Brother Dear pull the truck over so I could take just one more picture … it’s so hard to say goodbye.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

I woke at 4am on Saturday, September 22, my heart in my throat.

For years, Brother Dear has talked about doing the biggest off-trail “day hike” I know of in Glacier National Park – the route from Little Chief to Mahtotopa to Red Eagle – summitting all three.  He thinks the route involves about 10,000 vertical feet of elevation gained and lost, and about 25 miles, but he’s not really sure.  We know a couple of people who have done it, but they don’t really know the stats either, just that it’s a phenomenal day, and for those physically able, an awesome accomplishment.

I’ve never really worried about Brother Dear attempting such a feat, as he’s already done plenty of other huge “day hikes,” like the Skyline Traverse, which links Siyeh, Cracker, and Wynn, from Many Glacier to the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

I’ve climbed a fair number of peaks in the park, and been on some awfully long “day hikes,” but I’ve never even considered doing Red Eagle-Mahtotopa-Little Chief.  At least until this past week, when Pseudo Sista was convinced to go along with Brother Dear, Keith, and Neil.  Upon hearing that Pseudo Sista was in– and despite the fact that Brother Dear had not invited me along — I decided I was, too.

Why not?  Howard climbed Little Chief, and I promised myself I’d climb everything he ever climbed.  Plus, I’d just summitted Rising Wolf without issue.  Finally, a thought that frequently crosses my post-30 mind when weighing Glacier National Park adventures kept drumming through my head: I would be younger on September 22, 2012, than I ever would be again.  With strong, smart climbing partners and a perfect forecast — high of 74, sunny, winds of 7-9 MPH — it was now or never.

But I woke at 4am filled with doubt.  I tiptoed to the Warehome living room and tried googling everything ever written about the traverse.  Pretty much, there’s one reliable entry on summitpost.org, and while inspiringly written, it’s thin on detail.  Deciding that ignorance was probably bliss, and trusting Brother Dear’s guiding abilities completely, I made a pot of coffee at 5am and was in the truck with the rest of the crew at 6am, headed down the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the Virginia Falls trailhead.

At 9,541′, Little Chief loomed over us in the pre-dawn darkness, quickly broken by a smoky red sunrise over Red Eagle, our final destination for the day:

We flew down the trail, passing St. Mary Falls in first light, and Virginia Falls a few minutes later.  The one thing we did know about the day before us: every minute of autumnal daylight counted, and there was little time for photos.

The bushwhack up to Little Chief begins shortly after the Virginia Falls trail merges into the trail ringing the south side of St. Mary Lake.  A glance at the sign was sobering: even hugging the lake shore, more than 15 miles stood between us and our final destination, and we were headed up, up, and far away from said shoreline.

As we began the bushwhack, a bit of trail magic appeared before our eyes: the route through the overgrown underbrush and downed trees had recently been marked, and marked well, by some rogue climber with a roll of hot pink ribbon.  No, this is not legal, nor will it last through the next windstorm, so if you’re reading this post anytime after September 2012, don’t count on finding it.

But that doesn’t mean we weren’t tickled by our good fortune.

With fresh legs, we tromped right up the side of Little Chief, emerging into a dry waterfall at the base of the first tiered basin of scree and boulders that we would need to ascend.

Eye level with Almost-a-Dog Pass at about 9:30am.

Neil, foreground; Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, background

For the first time all summer, smoke from the many neighboring forest fires began to fill the St. Mary Valley, and we lightly cursed our misfortune while still mostly bubbling over with joy at the very fact of the day: no one was working, and everyone was doing what they like best — climbing in Glacier National Park.

After getting through the first big slog up Little Chief, we welcomed the more level goat trail that would lead us around the base of cliffs blocking the north and west faces from ascent.

At last, we came to a fun little chimney that led into the next big scree slog before the summit ridge.

But after the chimney … I don’t know if my knee had swollen up without my realizing it, or if the smoke was getting to me, or if overall I’m just not as strong as I used to be, but I did know one thing as I slowly picked my way up: just about everyone was far, far ahead of me, and getting further away.  The oldest ones on the trip, and the Hot Buns, Pseudo Sista and I brought up the rear and stuck fairly close together, shouting occasional words of encouragement to each other as we alternated losing purchase in the steep, rotten talus and shale, and tearing our hands to shreds in the process.

But I kept glancing at the watch I had worn for the sole purpose of making an intelligent decision about summitting and returning safely to my Maggie Rose and my Honeydew — after ascending the first basin, I had thought we’d be on the summit of Little Chief by 11am, maybe 12.  That would give us seven hours of daylight to navigate the gorgeous ridge between Little Chief and Mahtotopa, and then on to Red Eagle, and down.  From my limited research, it seemed to me that getting up Little Chief was the bulk of the day, and so that time frame seemed reasonable to me.

Except that it was 1pm when I glanced at my watch, and the tiny figures of Brother Dear, Nancy Reagan, Neil, and Keith kept getting tinier.  They were keeping a careful eye on us, and leaving good cairns for us to follow, but they were a little too far away for a discussion about aborting the mission.

And so we kept going, Pseudo Sista and I finally making the nearly-smoked-out summit around 3pm.  We did not even sign the register, so great was our exhaustion and anxiety about the balance of the day.

Looking north and east from the summit, high above St. Mary Lake, Mahtotopa, and Red Eagle.

South, at a sea of smoky peaks.

West, at Almost-a-Dog, Mt. Jackson, Dusty Star, etc.

It was, we knew, far, far too late for a late September ridgewalk to our intended destination, though we did, in all our enthusiasm and depletion, discuss the possibility, and even head in that direction before making the right call: to descend Little Chief the way we’d come up.  Even with this decision, we knew we’d be hiking out in the dark.

Though it was his dream trip, Brother Dear took the change of plans in complete stride, gallantly leading us down exactly the way we’d come, picking out the easiest routes for Pseudo Sista and I, singing Corb Lund songs, and passing around salami and crackers at our brief breaks.  He is very fine company in the mountains, as were all of our companions.

The sun slipped behind Dusty Star at about 6:30pm and I got frustrated in the loose scree for a moment and promised to come back in my next life as a glacier and PULVERIZE the rocks the previous glaciers were too lazy to finish off.  Everyone laughed, and that powered me through the next big steps down through a dry waterfall, steps I took on my rear end.

When my feet finally touched the spongy, alpine vegetation edging the rocks at dusk, I wanted to kiss the ground, but didn’t think I could get back up if I tried.  We continued as quickly as we could until we found the start of the pink ribbon trail, where we paused to chug water, inhale the last of the guacamole and coconut macaroons, and strap our headlamps onto our foreheads.

Scrambling through alders and false huckleberry, twilight tumbled down the mountain, and we were in the full on dark before we even thought to turn the headlamps on.  To ensure that we’d woken up every bear in the area, we sang:

Almost heaven, Little Chief mountain

Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park

Life is old there, older than the glaciers

Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Pink Ribbon Road, take us home, to the place we belong

Near Babb, Montana, Mountain Mama

Take us home, Pink Ribbon Road

and

Day-o, daaaaaaayooooo

Daylight gone and we wanta go home.

Oh, did we.  Even with the ridiculously closely placed pink ribbon ties, we lost ’em more than once, and were happy to have 6 headlamps to catch their flourescent flutter.

When we finally staggered out onto the actual trail, every critter in the park surely heard our cries of delight, and again, when we hit the impossibly smooth pavement of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  It was 9:15pm, but the smoky red moon cast the park in an eery, midnight glow.

Too tired to even lament the beer cooler, waiting 15 miles away at the Red Eagle Lake trailhead, we headed for home.

The next day, I marveled over the fact that I was able to get out of bed, and on a lighter note, that my two week old Shellac manicure had survived the hand-over-hand, digging-for-purchase, at-times-hanging-onto-the-side-of-the-mountain-by-literally-my-fingernails adventure.  A little off topic, but for the one-special-occasion-per-year that calls for a manicure — I officiated a weddin’ on Lake McDonald two weeks ago — I’m a Shellac devotee!

The day after that, my right knee resembled a cauliflower, and I really almost couldn’t get out of bed.  As a result, I am at peace with the knowledge that I will admire Little Chief for the rest of my life from the valley, and from the tops of other, less worthy mountains.

If your knees are strong, your lungs are deep, your companions are solid gold, and your Glacier National Park abilities tested and primed, go do Little Chief.

Before you turn 30!

photo credit to Jim Egan/SummitPost.Org 

And take climbing helmets when you go – we keep meaning to buy them, and we keep forgetting.  They would have made our ascent/descent of Little Chief a little bit less stressful.

This has been your occasional public service announcement from Glacier County Honey Co – have fun!

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Some photo credits to Sanford Stone.  All Rights Reserved.

As I wrote last week, I took a few precious hours off on what would have been Howard’s 28th birthday, to go hiking — after all, my baby brother loved Glacier National Park in that same marrow-deep way that I do, so I thought my time couldn’t have been better spent.

I don’t remember the first year we hiked the Highline Trail as a family, though I suspect it was in 1989.  We probably parked at Logan Pass, with the throngs, and ventured a few feet down the trail, gawking at goats.  Howard would have been almost five years old at the time; Brother Dear six and a half; me, just turned 9.

As the years passed, and our hiking in Glacier National Park increased in difficulty, I’m sure we hiked various parts of the trail together many times, though I’m sad to say I can’t recall those details.  But at any rate, I always love placing my feet where I know Howard’s crossed, and on this particular trip, my heart was light as I cruised to Haystack Butte with Maggie Rose on my back, Brother Dear, Nan, Chuck and dear family friend Bruce and his daughter, Kara.

Chuck, Nan, me, Maggie Rose, Brother Dear – September 19, 2012 at Haystack Butte

The Highline Trail is insanely popular for many reasons: it’s more level than it is not.  The Sound of Music could easily have been filmed on it, and it’s not uncommon to hear hikers singing “The Hills Are Alive” as they drink in the endless views west of Logan Pass, where the trail begins at the apex of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The Highline Trails also offers entre into a number of excellent destinations, depending on your abilities and desires.

You can hike just a few feet from your car, and commune with the mountain goats, or you can hike all the way down down to the Loop, not quite 12 miles.  You can hang a right 7 miles in, at Granite Park Chalet, a incredibly special spot in an already ridiculously singular national park, and hike over Swiftcurrent Pass and out to the Best Porch in the World, in Many Glacier.  Also from the Chalet, you can keep heading north to famed 50 Mountain campground, and on into Canada, if you have a backpack and a permit.  Or you can just hike the 4-ish miles to Haystack Butte, and have a picnic, and turn around, which is what we did.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is currently closed west of Logan Pass for construction; the Highline Trail parallels the west side of the Road, just above it, and as a result of the road closure it was wonderfully silent as we hiked along.

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Whereas normally the Trail is throbbing with people, and passing on its more narrow stretches can be frustrating, especially when hiking behind slower people lacking in trail etiquette (i.e., let those faster than you pass – duh – why is this such a hard concept for some folks?), on September 19th we hardly saw another soul.   These odd circumstances especially pleased Chuck – isn’t this a great picture of him?

When we arrived at Haystack Butte, we picnicked with only the Columbian ground squirrels and chipmunks for company — unprecedented in all the times we have collectively hiked the Highline.  If possible, I will never hike it again in any month but September!

Looking north and west from Haystack Butte.

Looking east.

Because in addition to all this unusual solitude, Autumn has painted the Highline Trail in colors that a Canon just can’t capture, and my heart wept a little at the beauty of it all, beauty that will change by the hour until it is all covered up by the first snow – surely not long off now.

After our hike, we took Kara to see the famed Best Porch in the World …

… and at her request, on a bear hunt.  Well, Many Glacier is the spot to see bears, and she did not disappoint on September 19.  We saw the fattest grizzly I have ever laid eyes on — this time of year, bears are in what is called hyperphasia, as they finish fattening up for winter, and I have no doubt that the griz in question will make it through just fine.  No pictures of Fatty, but here’s another griz we saw, a few minutes later.

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Isn’t she lovely?

The best thing we saw in Glacier National Park?  The absolute joy on Nan’s face on what is normally a very sad day:

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This picture is such a keeper.

Thanks, as always, Glacier — we love you so.

2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Some photo credits to Charlie Stone, Sanford Stone, Bruce Valley and Kara Bestler.  All Rights Reserved.

For years, I’ve admired the red hulk of Rising Wolf, guarding the prairie from southeastern Glacier National Park, and visible from many angles in Glacier County.  At 9,513 feet, Rising Wolf — or in Blackfeet, Mahkuyi-opuahsin, the way the wolf gets up — is the tallest mountain in the Two Medicine area, and for whatever reason, Pseudo Sista got it in her head this spring that the Hot Buns needed to climb it.  So, we all set aside August 25 on our calendars and did our best to get in some smaller climbs and bigger hikes over the summer, to prepare.

Rising Wolf, looking from slightly below Dawson Pass

Like most mountains in Glacier, there are several routes to the top of Rising Wolf, and the one we wanted to do was easiest in terms of gradual elevation gain and loss, but hardest in length, at about 23 miles.  As the 25th approached, that 23-mile-figure kept running through my head, and I doubted my post-Maggie ability to make it all the way.  Mentally, I prepared to be the Hot Bun on the ridge, taking photos of everyone on the summit, a position all of us have found ourselves in — or will — at one point or another, for various reasons, and no big deal.  The Hot Buns have few maxims: (1) always keep a Steve Lee cooler in the car, for apres hike, and (2) always make decisions that will allow you to go on the next Hot Buns adventure.

We left Two Medicine campground shortly after 7am, breathing in the cool, late summer dawn, and chatting aimlessly in an attempt to let the critters know we were on the trail.

Pseudo Sista, Layla Jane, and me: the Hot Buns of this particular adventure

I arrived at Dawson Pass shortly before 10am, and then spent the next several hours staring at the endless ridge to cross between Flinsch and Rising Wolf:

But as with the unnamed peak in Many Glacier that I found myself on top of, carrying Maggie Rose, earlier this year, my doubts about making the summit turned out to be unfounded.

Pseudo Sista, beginning the final ascent of Rising Wolf.

I just kept putting one foot in front of the other — and eating lots of double-cherry-cobbler at rest breaks — and I arrived on the summit of Rising Wolf just before 2pm, joining my joyful companions, and a grizzly bear.

Apparently, there are lots of tasty moths under the rocks of Rising Wolf’s summit, and this grizzly was seemingly unperturbed by our presence at 9,513 feet.  It was, as Brother Dear said, by far the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me on a summit that I would be just fine with never happening again!

On the summit, with Pseudo Sista, Brother Dear, Hanky Pie, Shaun, Neil, and Keith.  Shaun escorted the Hot Buns up, and the rest of the boys took a different route, and met us on top.  We loved hiking with our latest honorary Hot Bun!

Do you see the griz?  After this shot Brother Dear put the camera down, as Griz decided to summit, too.

See ya on the flip side, Griz.

As Saint Grizzly wrote in the SummitPost.org entry for Rising Wolf, the drainage looks like a 3D model from the summit!

Crazy frozen springs near the summit.

Brother Dear’s panoramic on the way up, looking down on the Two Medicine valley.

I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma Betty, and her magical yard, when Layla Jane pointed out the hens and chicks growing far above tree line, on Flinsch.

Pseudo Sista descending through the rock chimney — much less scary than it looks, I promise!

Post summit, we hoped to catch the boat and shave off the last couple miles of our adventure, but we are not as young as we were when we first came to Glacier National Park, and we missed it.  The last couple of miles, we were all out of anything worth eating, and as I am known for doing — much to many’s annoyance — I filled the silence between our slow footsteps with a litany of all the food I wanted to eat the moment we were off the trail: Grandma Ivey’s rice casserole, Grandma Betty’s lace cornbread, Park Cafe coconut cream pie, my mom’s cioppino, my mother-in-law’s fudge, Honeydew’s fried paddlefish, my sister-in-law’s shortbread cookies, Wasabi sushi, Brother Dear’s lamb chops, fresh trout and twistas at Two Sisters, ice cold oysters on the half shell, a Sanford Stadium hot dawg, my aunt Cathy’s hold ’em eggs, crab legs and a ribeye at the Cattle Baron, Donna’s mama’s chicken-and-dumplins, the Big Salad at Moonstone Bistro in Redding, Pseudo Sista’s Knock You Naked Brownies, fried chicken at Johnson’s, Campbell’s cuban burgers, Dixie Pig BBQ, Sissy’s anything and Serrano’s chicken-feta-spinach stuffed poblano peppers in a jalapeno cream sauce.

At the mention of Serrano’s, Layla Jane and Pseudo Sista interrupted me and pointed out that while that particular pepper dish is only served twice a summer, we could easily talk the boys into driving us to East Glacier for margaritas and enchiladas at Serrano’s.  Upon hearing that, I quieted down, picked up the pace and made it through that 23rd mile with aplomb.  Thanks, Hot Buns, and Serrano’s.

Rising Wolf, you were wonderful.  I’ll be back.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

We try to take Sundays off this time of year, and when we do, Honeydew and I trade choices – this past Sunday, I decided that we should take Maggie Rose to Iceberg Lake, the easiest 10 miles in the park, and generally overrun with people for that reason.  In my pre-baby life, I would have avoided Iceberg Lake on August 5 like the plague, but I suppose this is the new norm.  Maggie loved gawking/waving at every person we passed, anyway, and I always love meeting ghosts of myself and my loved ones in the Many Glacier valley, particularly along the Iceberg Lake trail.

This is the trail to Iceberg Lake – Mt. Wilbur is the tallest mountain to the far left, and below it hangs a shelf keeping Shangri La secret from most of the world.  Behind the shelf, tucked between Mt. Wilbur and the beautiful castle-like wall, is Iceberg Lake.

Maggie Rose first went hiking in the Many Glacier valley when she was three weeks old, and her affection for it hasn’t changed.  Especially now that she’s discovered that hiking means eating snacks reserved only for hiking – like Lay’s potato chips.  Mmmm!

4.9 miles from the trailhead, we reached the lake, still nearly fully encased in ice.  I love this shot of Maggie Rose and Honeydew – back in Honeydew’s trail crew days, he spent a lovely afternoon widening the trail they’re standing on, and digging the water ditches you see on either side.  He says they used jackhammers, to the consternation of most who were there.

Requisite family shot.

Looking at the lake, you might think there’s just a thin layer of ice and snow covering it, but if you look at the middle of this picture, perhaps you can get a better perspective on just how thick the layer is – I was zoomed in 20x when I took this!

Maggie Rose is our water baby, and the temperatures of the liquid-snow-lake did not deter her.

Wearing my old sunbonnet, playing with a chunk of ice.

My favorite shot – 14 month old Maggie is so independent, so unafraid of the world.  As her parents, this is a little bit frightening — but then, we can relate to her perfectly.  Never be afraid of the world, baby girl – your curiosity will bring you so many choices, and so much joy.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.