The Journey is the Destination

From August 3-7, Communications Coordinator Katie Siegner participated in Climate Ride’s Climate Hike through Glacier National Park, hiking 43 miles through the park’s iconic – and threatened – environment. This reflection is based on her journal.

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On the 17-hour drive home from Glacier, Megan and I listened to a podcast interviewing the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, about the power of the pilgrimage for personal transformation. “The road is an instrument for making your life better,” said Coelho. I feel like I have just returned from a pilgrimage, to see one of our country’s iconic, majestic wilderness areas and renew myself by journeying through its depths. Like so many good trips, this one was all about the journey, which encompassed an epic 4-day road trip out to West Glacier, incredible hosts and new friends met along the way, and the miles traversed through the park while getting to know the wonderful people who had also chosen to undertake the challenge of Climate Hike. The journey was defined by both the people and the place. I’ll do my best to try and take you back, via my trail journal:

Day 1: Apgar Lookout hike – 8 miles

It was overcast and chilly as we began our walk in the woods, but the company and the uphill climb soon warmed me. It rained a bit on trail, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of our guide, Jeff, who stopped periodically to enthuse about various plants and wildflowers. He also told us about the fire damage still apparent in this area, from the Roberts fire during the bad fire year of 2003, when 13 percent of Glacier’s 1 million acres burned. Looking over the sea of dead trees, it was saddening to think that, because of climate change, the park’s fire season now extends an extra 76 days.

Once we made it to the fire lookout, sweeping panoramas of Glacier, the valley and Lake MacDonald greeted us. I completed the day with a brisk dip in that lake, making a pact to myself to go for a swim every day of the hike. That night, a staffer at the National Parks Conservation Association told us about his efforts to protect the Crown of the Continent ecosystem that surrounds the park, calling Glacier a “cultural touchstone” that people in the area resonate with regardless of their political views, profession, or walk of life.

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Day 2: Highline Trail to Swiftcurrent Pass hike – 16 miles

Our hike today began at Logan Pass, straddling the Continental Divide a good ways up Going-to-the-Sun Road. Throughout the morning, we hiked along the ridgeline, with sweeping mountain views to the left and the smell of spruce in the air, all the way to the Granite Peak Chalet – one of two remaining lodges built in the early days of the park. Post-lunch, we trekked up to Swiftcurrent Pass, then descended into the eastern half of the park, which was much drier and more arid than the western side. On the way down, we passed a few crumbling snowfields and waterfalls: our warming world in action. We stopped at a lake down in the valley for a refreshing plunge, but soon had to yield the beach to a moose that lumbered towards us along the shallows, gangly but majestic. Seems like we both had the same thought of looking to cool off amidst the hot alpine sun.

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Day 3: Grinnell Glacier hike – 12 miles

This was the day we were going to see one of the park’s most iconic remaining glaciers. Little did I know, that was only a small part of the adventure that awaited. A few miles in, we ran into a cluster of hikers with their eyes trained on the water. As we took in the scene, we saw below us that a mama grizzly and her two cubs were swimming and frolicking in the water, roughhousing and generally having a grand old time. From our safe distance, it was incredible to watch this family of bears just being bears, in a completely non-threatening and lovely counterpoint to the fear of grizzlies that is instilled in many visitors to the park.

Moving on, the trail began its ascent, and for three sweaty miles we climbed towards Grinnell Glacier. When it came into sight, perched above a glacial lake littered with icebergs, I was stunned that something so blue and vibrant could exist in such a hot, dusty place. Naturally, I had to complete the experience with a polar plunge. It felt like a good way to honor the life-giving cold of the glacier, which was rather small and sad looking, and could be gone in the next few years.

That night, Megan and I led the group in a climate storytelling workshop. We asked the group to think about the question of what had led them there, to Glacier: “the poster child of the National Park Service for climate change,” in the words of NPS director Jonathan Jarvis. It was so powerful to hear the various motivations and backstories of people in our group, who had all converged in this one place to take action and to bear witness to the climate change impacts in the park.

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Day 4: Rockwell Falls hike – 7 miles

On the mostly flat hike today, I had the chance to talk with several fellow hikers, digging in deeper to their personal histories, life experiences and hopes for the future. I think most people felt more connected and open after last night’s workshop. Stopping at the falls for lunch was lovely, and a few of us took a secluded swim in the upper level of the falls, letting the waters rush over us. Once the glaciers dry up, will these waterfalls as well? A line from Mark’s climate story came to mind: “It breaks my heart to lose the things I love to climate change.”

For our last night in camp, we stayed at a teepee village on the Blackfeet reservation. Amid the beautifully painted teepees, we learned from the owner, a tribal member, about Blackfeet culture, which, like the land surrounding them, has faced threats and mistreatment for too long. Later, around the campfire, people shared what they would be taking away from the experience. So much beauty, wisdom, and peace in these reflections.

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Day 5: Rafting, and goodbyes

Despite never having rafted before, I found myself at the front of the raft today, paddling next to Kate and having the time of my life. The rapids were an exhilarating experience, and our guides instigated splashing wars, jumping off the rafts, and all kinds of good times. By the time the rafting was over and we were back at the Glacier Guides headquarters, the group was happy and love-filled, and saying goodbye felt far harder than I’d thought it would. The community that we formed in 5 short days was unbelievable. And when I think about the communities that we all drew on to support our fundraising for this hike, the reach and people power of the climate movement feels seriously formidable. I will also take that away from this experience, and the miles I put between myself and Glacier will not dampen that hope.

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