Hard to believe, but I've been in Montana for over a month now. Even harder to believe, I am still in love with the scenery around here. There's always a new spot to see, always another mountain to gaze at, always another angle to see Lake McDonald. Plus, my beard is starting to grow in nicely… sorta.
The workload seems to be steadily increasing, more phone calls throughout the day, more to do when the phone isn't ringing, more upset customers when you can't accommodate their 300 pound uncle. But I still love the people I work with, and the environment is hand over fist better than the Army (for one thing, there's horses everywhere). By the end of the work day I'm tired and don't have a lot of energy, but I feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense that what I'm doing actually amounts to something more than just making my boss happy. Tangible results.
And oh the trails!
There's so many around here, it's hard to choose just one. I recently hiked up to Sperry Chalet, about six miles east of Lake McDonald. The same trail is used by one of our corrals on a daily basis to haul people and supplies up to the hiker's resort located atop a gorgeous view. Built in 1913, the Chalet serves as a hub for hikers along the various trails around the glacier and offers rooms, dinner, and friendly conversation.
The first time I visited the Chalet was on horseback during the company ride, days before the wranglers started taking guests up to the chalet. Before this particular ride, I'd ridden only once in about 10 years… and that was about week before when my parents came up for the Fourth. At 6.5 miles one-way, you spend about three hours in the saddle, which is tiresome for most new riders. Needless to say I was sore the next day.
The views from the Chalet are simply breathtaking. On a clear day you can see Lake McDonald, the Apgar Lookout, and several other smaller hills and mountains to the east. The best part though, mountain goats. As soon as we tied up the horses, there was a family of them wandering around the grounds, three adults and two kids. I inadvertently may have spooked them a little as I was trying to pull my phone out of my pocket to get a picture. What can I say I was excited.
After experiencing the trail by horseback, I decided the only logical thing to do is to hike up with a test load. In hindsight, this might have been a slight mistake. I've hiked longer trails with steeper climbs, but I don't remember them specifically. After being frustrated by the pictures my phone was taking, I took my good camera, and the Ridgewalker Brewing Company growler I had. I figured there might be one or two decent pictures that they might want. Total my pack weighed right around 25 pounds with about two days worth of food, three liters of water, and most of my base weight gear.
The first two-thirds of the trail is relatively flat, a little steep in the beginning but then levels out for the next two or three miles.
Then the fun starts. The first serious switchback starts at mile 4 and slowly gets steeper until about mile 6.25. If you combine Stairway to Heaven and Highway to Hell into one song, the music video could and should be filmed along this trail. It's absolutely gorgeous, but it's hard to catch your breath. I'm still not sure if it was the views or the hike that took my breath away.
I hiked the first four miles in about an hour, and the last two in about the same time. Of the 3,300 feet in elevation gain, 2,000 are in the last two miles and you feel every step. You feel each step even more when you realize you forgot to put a memory card in your camera.
But the view from the top made it all worth it… that and the lunch at the Chalet. Not the least bit decadent, the soups and sandwiches at the top of the trail hit the spot.
The real treat of the Chalet is the people who work there. Those in the dining room, always with a smile, always with a kind word or friendly conversation. It's truly inspiring to see a group of people who love what they do, love helping people, and sacrifice so much to make others' trips to the wilderness that much more enjoyable.
People might say, of course they love their job, look at where they work. To which I would reply, look at where they work. There's no cell service, no roads, no cars, no medical facility, limited human contact. The only people you can be yourself around are the same people you have to work with, the same people you see day in and day out. In a lot of ways they are sacrificing so much for so little. They simply love to see other people smile.
It is one of the most beautiful things I've seen since I've moved here, and I continually see it in the people I work with and the people I see. Montana may truly be the whole package.
Keep your feet moving
Army Veteran, outdoor enthusiast, writer, and world traveler. This blog will give a small glimpse into my travels, experiences, and insights while hiking through the West Glacier Mountains, thru hiking the Te Araroa in New Zealand and wherever life decides to take me.