We are awake and heading out of camp before the big groups (mainly the 14 boy scouts) have organized their breakfast. Somehow the hike goes faster this time. Perhaps because it is a bluebird day and we see clear skies and sunshine at the pass. A rare day. We revel in it, finding the sun at the first push and stripping down to our base layer once we reach the shelter.
As hikers come over, they too are inclined to linger. there is no urgency to get to safety – safety is here in the sunshine, napping on a warm rock, eating lunch with a long view of Canada spread out before you. T-shirts and bare feet are the rule. There is no ned for hot drinks and extra layers today. We wait for everyone to pass over, chatting with Annie about working in New Zealand and Big Sky, sharing our extra fuel with Andrea, the girl with the broken arm. New friends on the trail.
Eventually, the boy scouts (Troop 82) and their entourage arrive. Satrina has so much to record she fills 3 postcards. Her friends and family in Miami will never believe she is up here. Her daughter Mackenzie vows to never do it again (but she is glad she did). An emotional moment for Tom, a heart-attack survivor, hiking with a pacemaker, two knee braces and his grandson. The postcards solidify the moment.
We have a quick lunch and then hit the trail ahead of the boy scouts. Crater Lake entices us for a 10-second swim at the edge of a snowfield (mostly for the sake of the pictures), then we cruise through the high alpine valley, soaking in the sun and water everywhere. Canadian warden Kim, who we meet on the other side, tells us she can’t remember a day so gloriously clear and warm since May 26 of last year! Such a beautiful day.
Late dinner at Deep Lake. Mosquitos join us, as does Andrea, and we discuss politics (Canadian and American) while eating pasta (us) and viking stew (Andrea). The bugs don’t seem like they plan to abate as the sun dips behind the mountains, so Thom and I dive into the tent.
To the summit and back with light packs. On the trail at 6:30 – a later start this time but we seem to be on track with the rest of the camp, passing a few groups and making it to the top ahead of nearly everyone in just shy of 3 hours. The white cloud is here to welcome us, ebbing and flowing with the 39 hikers and day runners (this must be a new fad) coming up the Golden Stairs and through the pass.
After our arrival a familiar face comes through the door. It is warden Stephanie with thermoses of hot water for the coming hikers! Canadian hospitality abounds. We hang out and talk to hikers. Hot cocoa and tea is welcomed and postcards are written in return. Thom and I learn about bear bangers and the recent rogue bear issues at Lindeman. Soon the last group of hikers has hurried off into the mist, but we linger, hoping for a break in the weather.
At 2:30 the cloud breaks and Canada apprears. Lo! There is a lake below! Blue and extending in long fingers with little rock islands and secluded swimming spots – if you can brave the icebergs! We linger a while longer, enjoying what the hikers did not have the luxury to wait for. Then down the golden stairs. How many people in modern times have walked down these stairs. A handful of rangers and trail crew. The occasional runner or hiker going salmon-like against the flow. A bear, heading to the coast. Not too many see these views of waterfalls and hanging glaciers on both sides of this steep valley. The way up is always looking forward to the top of the stairs. But going down, the valley expands on all sides.
Back at camp at 6pm to meet Annie, the ranger, and a flurry of preparation and activity from those who are going into the unknown. We get lots of questions and try to set at bay the worst fears with fresh information from the trail ahead.
Over dinner, Thom and I peruse the journal of a 19-year young man from Chicago who joined the stampede in 1898. Travelled by rail through the great state of Montana ending in Seattle where he and his buddy bought their kit and booked first class passage to Skagway for $50 (“avoid steerage at all costs”). Gear hauled by wagon and tram to the Scales, then packed over to the lakes… rugged work for a city boy. They arrive at Dawson City on July 26 to find “no employment of any kind, no claims to be had, nothing can be done without a permit, not even cutting a tree to build a cabin.” With no prospect of surviving the winter, much less make his fortune, by August 14th he was working his way home as a cook on a steamboat down the Yukon and back in Seattle safe and sound by September. Smart cheechako. It is nice to have the luxury to go home, even if you end up in steerage on the way back.
Back home at last in Big Sky, MT. It is a bit sunnier here than on the trail and I am soaking it up!
I am sorting through postcards and footage, feeling like an old miner beginning the long process of sifting through his paydirt, hoping to find a fortune hidden within the dregs of the river bottom. While on the trail I collected:
72 from the USA
41 from Canada
17 from the wider world
an unknown amount still coming from the trail
3 hrs 20 min 34 sec of sound recordings
While I’m sorting, I thought I would share this beautiful bit of timelapse from Deep Lake.