There are places I have been to, and places that I have plans to see, and places I will never forget. One of those places held an adventure that will remain in my top ten events of this lifetime.
Our extended family takes cross-country trips like not many others. Two grandparents, three daughters and their spouses, and a slug of kids – eight – all plan destination vacations to see the sights around the United States. The families arrive by train, plane, and/or conversion vans; the travel mode becomes part of the adventure. Glacier National Park in Montana was the destination a few years ago. The month was August. The ultimate experience was to climb Mount Gould and touch Grinnell Glacier, before it sadly melts away forever.
From the first morning, the weather was perfect – cool mountain breezes and air so clear you could see the pine trees swaying on the mountains a thousand feet above us. Driving deeper into the Park, the calm lakes were an indescribable color of aquamarine blue that looked more like a substance to be held rather than a flowing liquid that moves.
The plan was for those willing and able to start early in the morning at Many Glacier Valley and climb for three to four hours to reach Grinnell Glacier. Eight adults and two kids, ages 8 and 7, were committed to the hike.
Grandpa is the planner, and the hiker. He plotted the route and got us to the start of the trail at Many Glacier Valley. The hike is 6 miles each way, with 2 miles of relatively flat fields and then a moderate incline up 1600 feet. We could see the glacier as our nirvana in the distance as we began our trek.
The trail was well defined, starting with woods and quickly moving to buttercup fields with mountain wildflowers everywhere. We crossed streams and skirted mini-waterfalls falling from the cliffs that at times we held on to in passing.
The day was bright yellow with the rising sun warming us as we climbed. We knew one of the first rules in the mountains was not to surprise a grizzly bear, so we talked and sang and made noise most of the six miles up. The trail on this day was surprisingly ours alone, with no one to hear the off-key renditions of kid songs, rock song and whatever else we could remember. Shortly before we reached Grinnell Glacier, the air became markedly cooler and with a few more steps we were there. We stood on the glacier, thinking of how long it had been stationed in that spot. After cheering for our accomplishment, we had just a little further to go to reach the summit.
As we approached the domed rock looking back over the valley, we were not alone. Two tribes of big horn sheep were in front of us, with the two rams at the center of the groups standing each other down, ready to do battle. They gave us a show of a lifetime. The two sized each other up, snorted and huffed, and started to clash horns as they pushed each other backwards and forwards closer and closer to the edge. The other bighorn sheep watched from the sidelines, like us. The thunderous sound of the horns clashing echoed down the canyon that lay in front of us. Our senses were overloaded; there were layers of colors as far as we could see, as well as the layers of sound waves crashing into the absolute stillness around us.
The beauty of looking out at the valley with the jewel-toned lakes and flowers of every hue, the cliffs all around, and white glacier waterfalls was awe-inspiring. To have that as the backdrop, and the national geographic exhibit of immense animals a few feet away from us performing their centuries old routines was an event none of us will ever forget. It was only a few moments but it felt as though the earth literally stopped revolving for a second or two and in that stillness we had a kaleidoscope view of all that nature had to offer.
I think we floated back down the mountain.