Tag Archives: Hiking

Montana Death March

A little over five years ago my Rent-a-daughter Jenn and her new husband Ryan (I guess that makes him a Rent-a-Son-in-Law) visited Montana for their honeymoon.  In celebration of their nuptials I arranged a couple of ‘must do’ Montana things, hey I just wanted to see them have a good time; okay, I’m a bit of a closet sadist, but that’s beside the point.  What follows is Ryan’s take on what happened:

Montana Death March

For our Honeymoon, Jenn and I traveled to Montana to meet our good friend John Zunski. John built the hockey rink that Jenn and I eventually met each other at, and he was also our “Priest” during our wedding.

The trip there was pretty rough. The night before our flight we went to our friend Ben’s 30th surprise birthday party. We left that party directly to the airport and flew to Washington state. I ended up being awake for around 4o hours straight. From Washington we had a 4 hour drive to Montana to meet our friend John at the Bar he owned.

The scenery on the way to Montana was very impressive but I just couldn’t appreciate it too much. Even if my eyes left the road for 2 seconds, by the time they returned to the road I was driving in the middle of two lanes. It took every bit of consciousnesses that remained in me to drive the car without falling asleep or crashing.

One thing that surprised me was the speed limit. I think it was either 75 or 80 mph. This is unheard of in Pennsylvania. So I was so excited the ride would go faster than expected. But the funny thing was… everyone was doing like 60 mph. As an east coast driver this resulted in my raging the fuck out. In PA everyone goes over the speed limit…praying for the limits of Washington and Montana. And over here, everyone loves driving 20 under. At least the rage helped wake me up.

After about 4 hours of driving my GPS tells me to finally turn off the highway as I was only about .5 miles from John’s bar. So I turn off this road and was doing about 35-40 mph. For the last 2 hours of driving 90 mph on cruise control I was just use to driving fast, but I had a gut feeling I might have been driving too fast on this road. So I say to Jenn, “I wonder what the speed limit is here?” Just as I am getting the word “limit” out of my mouth I see the lights…. ugh! I just traveled across the country, I have been awake for 40 hours straight and driving for 4 hours and I could literally throw a baseball and hit John’s bar. And now I am getting a speeding ticket 100 feet from the start of my vacation.

Cop tells me its 25 mph. Now in Pennsylvania you would get fist-fucked for speeding in a 25 mph zone. Factoring in that I am out of state, I am sure the rape will be harsh. Cop writes me a ticket and says to me, “You can either fight this in court, or you could pay me the money right now.” I asked how much the ticket was…. $25 dollars. You couldn’t punch the smile off my face, I actually ended up thanking the cop several times. Definitely the happiest person in the history of the world to get a speeding ticket. No points either! So I paid the guy and parked.

Now many of you reading this know John. But for those who don’t, John is… unique. Easily one of the best guys you will ever meet. Life of the party type guy. If there was anyone to ever own a bar it was this guy. Well as we arrived at the bar it happened to be one of his “topless” nights. How can I say this politely… there were about 10 “Montana” type women at the bar. Playing different games, maybe wrestling? I don’t remember, this happened over 5 years ago and I was half asleep. Definitely an interesting night. We headed back to John’s place and crashed around 9 pm.

The whole week was a lot of fun in Montana. John got us tickets to white water rafting which I loved. Explored his huge property. We also ate at one the best restaurants I ever had the pleasure of eating at.

The big moment of the trip was when John took us to the Glacier National Park. There was a trail by the name of “Highline” that he wanted us to hike. On the drive down we actually got lucky and caught a family of bears crossing the street. We hopped out of the car and watched them run off. John told us that we were VERY lucky to witness that.

Shortly before going on this trip I suffered a severe shoulder separation. At the time I was regularly taking Percocet for the pain, which would often make me loopy. Before our trip we spent the day in NY City, and just from walking a couple miles, my shoulder was in so much pain that I had to sit on a bench for an hour to just get moving again. Oh yeah… I have a fear of heights.

Now begins the story of the Death March. So we get to the trail that John wants us to hike and informs us that it would be a total of 12 miles. Now I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention to the details of the hike, or John was withholding information so he could enjoy the punishment that was about to be laid upon me. But I said at the very least I was willing to try and do all 12 miles. Little did I know… there was no trying. You either did it, or died.

First I think I should describe the trail that you are hiking for 12 miles. It felt like the trail was made with grenades and dynamite. If you weren’t constantly looking at your feet for every step you took, you would probably trip and fall. Now this is bad because unbeknownst to me, a lot of this hike is spent walking along a cliff edge. Imagine this if you will. The path is only 2-3 feet wide. If someone wants to pass you, you need to lay your body flat against the mountain so people can walk by. Now there is a rope going along, but its between you and the mountain, not between you and your inevitable death. And I really do mean that, if you take one step over, you will fall down a cliff, and you will die. There is no, “ehh, I think I could survive that fall.” 100% death. The entire path has sharp rocks sticking out of them, as if the person that designed this trail was intentionally trying to kill people. So being forced to look down a cliff side while being afraid of heights was a lot of fun. John also informed me, that if you get hurt there is no helicopter. No rescue crew. Leg is broken? Suck it the fuck up and drag it behind you.

Now the entire hike wasn’t all just jagged death trail, there were many parts where you actually had to climb up some rocks and sharp inclines. About 2.5 miles into our hike, one of these spots was nice enough to tear the living shit out of my groin. At the same time my shoulder is in horrible pain. Now you might be saying, “Ryan, just take your Percocet!” Well reader… I can’t. Since Percocet made me loopy, I wasn’t able to take any because a single slip of my foot would result in my death, so I had to be as clear-headed as possible.

Now that my groin is torn to shreds and continually gets worse with every step I take, and each rock I climb, I allow John and Jenn to pass me by in the event that I start to break down and cry, they wouldn’t see me. Just before the tears start to flow and while I’m imagining blood flowing out of torn lacerations in my crotch, and experiencing shoulder pain that makes me wish my arm was amputated, I was lucky enough to experience Altitude Sickness! I could barely breathe, eat, or drink. As I laid there on the path, my morale took another hit. Why? Well an approximately  85 year old woman with one arm in a FUCKING SLING and a CANE IN THE OTHER PASSES US! I just got fucking lapped by geriatric cripple!

Eventually when I am able to breath again, we continue our march. Oh yeah… we’re about 6 miles in. John tells me to cheer up because there is a rest stop at the 8 mile mark. I cannot explain how happy this made me. Because in my mind this rest stop was near the road and I could take a bus back to the car and let John and Jenn finish the last 4 miles. Well, after another 2 miles of hell, we reach the rest stop. Its in the middle of a fucking mountain. The food and water that was sold here was backpacked in by employees. I immediately start searching for a rock that was heavy enough to crush my skull, and light enough that Jenn could lift it. Before my mental breakdown started, John told me the last 4 miles were not near any cliffs and it would be the easiest part of the hike. After 5 Percocets and an hour of laying down I was ready to go! I was shadow boxing, that crippled woman was there and I was tempted to knock her down and talk shit. The last 4 miles I spent skipping and running. It ended with a really nice stream and small pond that we got to rest a bit at and put our feet in. We made it to the parking lot to get the car and there were Rams all over, it was pretty cool.

In the end I am happy we did the hike because it makes a great story, but that first 8 miles was a living hell.

If you like Ryan’s take on life, you can visit his website at www.madhookup.com.    Now if you’ll excuse us, Ryan and I are going to dress up in bras, wear tinfoil caps, and play Sarcastoball.  We both know how to lay down a compliment.  (If you’re not a Southpark fan you won’t understand our complimentary behavior.)

It’s Always an Adventure!

The climb towards Pitamakan Pass

I had the feeling it was going to be an adventure, but than again, whenever my friend Joe is involved, even a drive down a mountain road can turn unpredictable. Heck I have it on good information that Maistoinna, the lovable lummox in Shangri-la Trailer Park, might be influenced by Joe and his exploits. But this story isn’t really about Joe, other than he was there and the hike was his idea. The real star of the story was the hike itself.

From the moment I first stepped into Glacier Park in the late spring of 2000, Rising Wolf Mountain and the trail that circumvents it, the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop, has called out to me. For whatever reason, I have ignored its summons until this year when Joe suggested this hike.

From the moment we agreed to give the hike a stab until the first steps from the trail head my gut was telling me this was going to be one for the ages.  Not to disappoint, a half-mile into the nearly twenty mile hike a movement caught my attention.

“Bear,” I called out, breaking the silence.  To our left, a black bear was foraging on a bench – the geological term, not a resting place for a tuckus, though I’ve rested mine on this type of bench before. We immediately slammed on the brakes, that’s when I noticed a second bear, a much smaller cinnamon colored cub in the middle of trail. “Second bear, a cub,” I remember commentating.

As far as Mexican Standoff’s go, this one was disappointing, and I wasn’t disappointed that it was disappointing. After a few seconds mama scurried off into the woods, affording us the chance to watch junior stand on his hind legs watching his mother before taking off after her.

It’s too bad I’m not the photographer I used to be, because I may have reached

Old Man Lake – Little did I know the challenge that would be encountered on the other side of the mountain.

for my camera.  I think years of bear encounters have taught me a thing or two, whatever the excuse, the real reason that there isn’t any pictures  is I was too busy reading Mama bear’s body language.  We were a few steps away from being in that most ugly of situations – getting between a sow and her cub. Usually such an encounter is the highlight of any hike, this time around it was one of many treats Mother Nature had in store.

About two hours in.

Soon we were trudging through sub-alpine meadows climbing towards our first goal – Pitamakan Pass.  Little did we know that the breeze would soon morph into the real story of the hike.  Was it my imagination or was the wind resisting our every step. As we climbed higher and higher the wind  talked a little louder and shoved a little harder.


And then, when my heart rate was about to match the elevation, the wind

Shangri-La Garden

stopped.  We entered what I dubbed Shangri-La Garden.  I felt calm places before but never anything quite like this – the place felt like good medicine. Maybe it’s my age, in as much as such exertions don’t come as easy as they used to and the climb was really kicking my ass.  Or maybe it’s because the terrain leveled out a bit and the reprieve was appreciated.  It was about this time my mind started thinking woo-woo.  I had the idea that when I die, this is where I want some of my ashes spread, which got me thinking about the area, and its significance to the Blackfoot. They call the  general area the backbone of the world and the particular region is called Two Medicine and it is the tribe’s holy land. I toyed with the thoughts through the remainder of the climb over the pass into the teeth of the strongest wind I’ve ever experienced.

Pitamakan Lake

As  we climbed the views got more breathtaking, or maybe it was the wind, whatever it was the hood went on. Suddenly the trail wandered upon a shelf in which a part a Glacier laid beneath us like a map. Beyond an alpine lake which I later learned was Pitamakan Lake rose Medicine Grizzly Peak which loomed over another great hike from my past.  If you ever have a chance,  hike to Medicine Grizzly Lake and Triple Divide Peak,  you won’t be

Pass resident

disappointed. There’s a good chance you could encounter a Griz on that hike. I encountered a Griz on the trail to Medicine Grizzly Lake and since been told the area has the highest concentration of the bear in Glacier.

But I digress, Turning away from the Marmot pictured to the right, the final climb to the Pass stared us down, and the wind was getting crazier. Up here it swirled, blowing hard in one direction, stopping, giving a moment of calm before slamming back in the other direction.  Half-way up the final approach it knocked me off my feet. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been knocked over by wind before, I can tell you for me, the experience was humbling.

Paydirt… Looking from Pitamakan Pass at Rising Wolf MT.

At the top of the pass, we took a breather, hunkering behind a boulder to hide from the wind.  I swallowed hard when I glanced around the boulder. The trail was carved into the side of the mountain, its widest part maybe three feet.  I didn’t say it, but I was sure thinking about turning around. Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the wind and onto the Continental Divide. During this segment, I understood, no felt, why airplanes take off and land into the wind.  It provides more lift, more control.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed this part with the wind at my back.  I know this because, a mile or so later, as we turned a corner and rounded the backside Flinsch Peak the wind again shifted and we were met by the swirl.

My hood was flapping so loudly it sounded like helicopter rotors and about

The trail along the Continental Divide.

then I realized an arm to my sunglasses was bent by the pounding it was receiving.  When we came to a wide shelf, I did an experiment: I threw myself backwards with my arms splayed and I was held upright by the wind. I know if the wind would have suddenly stopped, I would have landed hard on my keister.

“Against the wind.”

As we approached Dawson Pass, I couldn’t watch Joe anymore. It was too frightening.  He’s a tall, clumsy guy who was really struggling to maintain his balance. I was convinced the wind was going to knock him off a cliff. Every time he stumbled, I closed my eyes expecting when I opened them he would be gone.

After the hike Joe claimed that prolonged exposure to wind can screw with one’s mind. Of course I poo-pooed the idea, but I can tell you for me it stirred creative thoughts. It was then I went inside my mind and philosophical thoughts about the wind which were inspired by the aforementioned Blackfoot mythology.  They went something like this:   If this is the backbone of the world, it must mean this is the home of the Gods, and if this is their home they’re dreaming up their intent for everybody – everything.  And how is it delivered? By the wind of course. So the wind is blowing so hard because it’s so close to its source. So if you stay up here long enough, you could catch the wisdom of the gods.

I think Joe’s right, prolonged exposure to the wind can fuck with your mind.

Once we dropped off Dawson Pass and dropped back into the treeline, the wind

Above the Treeline

resided and the sounds of the forest replaced the constant blowing. It was no longer necessary to yell to communicate.  It was then the real challenge began. Say what you will, but I much prefer the climb to the descent. I’ll take a racing heart and burning lungs over screaming knees and gimpy ankles that protest every downward step. The next eight miles were bespeckled with great sights, minimum conversation and the knowledge that that was one hell of an experience, worth a day or two in the pain-cage.