The true English version.
Sure enough with a 6.00 a.m. alarm we found ourselves in the hotel foyer eating a basic breakfast of cereal and cake. Clearly this wouldn’t suffice for the day and so half an hour later Mike pulled into a cafe in Columbia Falls where we stuffed ourselves with a hearty breakfast. A purchase made at the adjoining shop was a canister of bear spray. My view was that Mike had bought this on purpose to wind Mark and I up. The price tag of $49 however, made me realise that it was no toy and it must have a serious use. More worrying for me was the sight of rain on the windscreen as we wound our way up the Logan Pass towards our starting point. The rain came and went and all I could think, was, “how would I get by on a big hill in a rainstorm without a waterproof?”
The starting point not only had the benefit of an altitude of 6,420 feet but also an immediate clamber onto the snow. Would you believe it, it started raining almost as soon as we left the car, perhaps my worst fears would be confirmed. All of a sudden as we plodded over the deep snow and through the many pine trees I stopped abruptly and gawped at what looked like a great paw print in the snow. Mike and Mark were with me in no time, a great silence followed as Mike bent low and inserted his outstretched hand easily into this great indentation. Not only would his hand fit well within this paw print, but you could also clearly see the claw marks beyond. There wasn’t just one, but a whole series of them and they all looked fresh. Matters became worse still when we realised that they were heading in the same direction as ourselves. Perhaps the lack of a gortex wasn’t that big a problem after all? Still wearing a stern expression Mike advised that the most important concern was not to scare the bear. Therefore on his guidance we nervously proceeded up through the snow and trees shouting “Hey Bear…., Hey Bear….., Hey Bear…..”. This would no doubt have sounded really daft and perhaps could have been taken for a great big wind up, however both Mark and I were prepared to look a pair of complete plonkers rather than risk an encounter with a 650 pound grisly. We had set off in a bowl and all around us were slopes that seemed to increase in gradient. The extra effort of clambering up this mixed terrain of snow and rock meant that eventually all our energy was needed to climb rather than shout. Perhaps if a bear had been nearby it would have heard our heavy breathing and cussing. This was now an entirely different walk to anything that we had been used to and having watched Mark cut steps to cross an icy snow patch I could certainly see not only his concentration but also the look of concern across his face. The next obstacle, a rocky escarpment with melt water flowing over diagonal rocks increased Mark’s look of concern even further. In his defence he was wearing his old boots that had practically no grip on them, so much so that you could almost see your face in them.
Above this obstacle and at long last we could now turn around to look at the view and take a well deserved drink. Mike must have been feeling pretty good as his sense of humour reared its ugly head when he introduced Mark to the trails of rocks that had been formed by the “Side Hill Gouger” (apparently a secretive creature with two left legs shorter than its right legs and a strange habit of circumnavigating the steep slopes of Montanan mountains. Whilst Mark was thinking about this Mike then introduced the story of a Hoop Snake and totally blew any credibility he had possessed. Again to be fair to Mark, there is that much strange wild life roaming the North American continent that it just might have been true! Our plod continued with Mike and Mark taking a longer but more angled route whilst I took the direct route. During this spell the weather worsened and started to rain again. By the time it had stopped I’d almost become soaked, however with the effort of the climb up through the unstable rubble and rock I soon dried out. Mark meanwhile had made his way towards my choice of ascent whilst Mike continued towards the col and his perceived easier route. As I had previously broken my altimeter I wasn’t sure of exactly how high we now were. With the weather really coming in the wind started to pick up and blow around the rain. Not only that but it had now started to hail and I was still in my wicking t-shirt. Although I didn’t know how high we were I’d gathered that we must be above 8’500 feet. This altitude was great on the one hand, however for all I knew this climb could have had a further one thousand feet to go. Even wearing my light fleece I had to take shelter behind the only rock of any size I’d seen in ages. “Why Oh Why” had I not only left my gortex in Missoula, but also left Shirl’s waterproof in the hotel? “You alright down there?” I could hear Mark yelling through the wind, hail and rain. “Of course I bloody well am. I’m trying to stay dry”. “But we’re on the summit”. Now, I’d heard that one before, but as I didn’t really know my position I had to trust him and low and behold twenty yards further up the hill we were all stood on a small platform that formed the summit of Pigean Mountain. Would you believe it? There was even a small cairn to mark the spot.
Having borrowed an extra fleece from Mike for a brief spell I was almost able to forget about the weather. Yes, it was miserable, but lurking out of the clag was a great collection of snow-clad mountains. They all seemed to be craggy, full of plenty of potential ascent routes, in the region of eight to ten thousand feet and interspaced with glaciers. If only we’d had better weather. Anyway a couple of photo’s later we were all on our way down and trying to escape from the worst of the weather when Mike suddenly remembered that we’d not toasted absent friends with a tot of whisky. Off came the rucksack, out came the hip flask and believe it or not a couple of swigs later the rain stopped, the clouds started to clear and the sun started to shine. What was this miracle liquid? If truth were known it was a fine Speyside by the name of Springbank. Without thinking about it I left my sack where it was and ran off towards the cliff face to get a better view of Cateract Creek. It may have only been fifty yards or so, but at that altitude I soon realised that it wasn’t a smart thing to do. My recovery time seemed to go on forever. A couple more pictures and would you believe it my digital camera batteries ran out. As if I’d not done enough ascent and with the weather continuing to improve further, yet another trip down to the bag to exchange for a spare set of batteries was required. Back in situ on the summit this was just what I’d wanted to do. We had the place entirely to ourselves, the scenery was absolutely stunning and at 9,220 feet I was standing on by far the highest mountaintop I had climbed to date.
On our descent, this time there would be no need to return uphill again. We also chose to make the most out of the now excellent visibility and descend via Mike’s ascent route. This was certainly a little easier on the knees, had the added advantage of providing an excellent view towards the northern mountains and would take us towards the top of the great snow bowl. Before we could reach the snow we would have to negotiate an outcrop of rock. It was at this point that nature eventually took its toll, as I rather desperately needed a dump. What on earth would this say about me? Certainly it wouldn’t appear to show any gratitude to Mike and his countrymen. Well I suppose if it’s good enough for the English, Welsh and Scottish hills then it’s good enough for the Americans. This problem arose when I was out in front of Mark and Mike. I spotted a gully and in order to promote decency I chose to carry out this deed out of sight in this gully. What I honestly didn’t realise was that this gully proved to be the only way through this outcrop. The rest of the story doesn’t really need telling, however neither Mike nor Mark were particularly happy at the idea of having to clamber down immediately past the site of my relief. With apologies going unappreciated I continued my stumble through the rock and rubble towards the head of a great snow shoot.
Looking down this gully it was clear that if I just jumped onto the snow within thirty yards I’d meet with a great rock that was protruding through the snow. The way around this was to make my way horizontally across the snow to the far side of the gully. This was easier said than done, as I had to kick holes in the snow in order to traverse this really steep gradient. Just as I was getting ready to jump on top of my bivvy sack (alias the great orange condom) my footing gave way and off I went. The immediate rush of adrenalin was followed by some degree of relief, then enjoyment, then shock as I started to cartwheel and then finally relief as I started to come to a halt. It had been brilliant and I wanted more, but first I’d have to wait for the other two to have their turn. Down came Mike rather fluently showing that he was more used to this type of environment and then came Mark, legs wide open using his nuts as a break showing that he wasn’t used to such antics. As I said I wanted more of this sort of fun and so the next time I decided to climb inside the great orange condom and see if I could gather more speed. That certainly worked as I flew off down the snow between two rock outcrops, bouncing away on the rather uneven snow until again I started doing cartwheels. It was quite an experience and in my struggle to slow myself down I ended up puncturing the sack and coming to a gradual but safe stop. Eee, I was having a cracking time. Mark and Mike followed and that was the way we continued until we reached the last patch of snow and trees. Only at this time did the memory of the bear prints come back to us. In fact when we found them the sun had just about melted away all definition. Why on earth had I not taken a photo to show the folk back home?
A hundred yards later we were back with the car at the roadside rejoicing in the top-notch day we’d just had. Somehow I’d survived without a gortex, thankfully avoided contact with a grisly, the weather had changed for the better at the summit, Mark and Mike had survived the close encounter with a rather smelly object on their descent and the snow slides had really topped off the day. All we needed to do now was return home in an hour and I’d have a happy wife and child. There were however, a few obstacles that would get in the way, Mark’s intended rendezvous with an ice-cream maid by the name of Sophie, the need to return the unused bear spray to the shop and a rather British disease, the need to tackle the Sunday afternoon tourist traffic. All in all and absolutely brilliant day. Thanks Mike.
The alternative American view.
Now, to the more serious facts of the trip. You last heard from me Sunday morning before we set out for the long-awaited Glacier (pronounced "Glasher" in MT, as opposed to what the Frenchies call it) Park hike. What to tell you . . . weather was a combination of sun, clouds, rain, sleet and wind, depending on the moment. Mostly sun and clouds, though. We started just on the "other side" of Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun road (which winds its narrow way up and through and over the mountains). High snow drifts by the road. Water running off the cliffs. We packed up our gear (Chris left his gortex back in the hotel, so we bundled him up in polar fleece - somewhat the appearance of a red and black wooly mountain goat) and stepped onto the snow/trail (the trail was fully covered with a foot or more of snow for the first section of the hike). Not ten yards along we came across some pretty nifty tracks in the snow. My entire hand fit inside the pad of the track. My fingers couldn't reach out far enough to touch the claw marks. Yup. Grizzly. Fresh. Ahead. A moment of looking at each other in wonder, and then we were hollering at the top of our lungs "Hey Bear" to let it know we were determined to chase it up the mountain. It must have gotten the idea, because we moved up to the top of the 9100 foot mountain (we departed at 6400 ft) within two hours without seeing hide nor hair (no pun intended) of the bear. Upon arriving at the top we encountered a wild wind, sleet and cold conditions. Chris hunkered, shivering under a rock, whining about not having any gortex. Mark and Mike stood proudly at the top of the mountain, taking photos, and then figuring we'd better get the hell of the mountain before it REALLY got to be bad weather. We had a glacier sitting below us (10 feet) with two apple cores on it and a full slide off the side of the mountain to several thousand feet below. We retreated to Chris's rock shelter, had a nip of lunch (Chris wouldn't share his scotch), then put some warmer clothes on for the descent. Not 5 minutes off the top and the weather cleared up. This, we believe, was due to the fact that Chris finally broke down and shared his scotch. Soooooo, we dropped our packs and went back up the mountain to the top whereby Mark and Chris took photos of every imaginable mountain from every imaginable angle. Mark refused to take a photo of me providing a moon shot over the mountain. Go figure.
We made our way over to the saddle (beallach in Scotland), then made our way down toward a looooong snow slide. The first slide was a 100 meter drop. But before getting there, Mark and I had to manoeuvre (manuever in American lingo) our way around a big stinky dump that Chris left right in the middle of the only way down to the snow. We smelled it 15 feet before we saw it. Go figure that one. Number 34? Check with Chris.
Chris put on his giant orange condom bag (he says its an emergency bag of some sort). Mark and I wore our gortex pants. And off each of us went down the slide, hooting and hollering all the way down, snow spraying in our faces. Great way to descend. End of part 1.
Part 2 of this story finds Chris scooting down the second series of snow slopes, breaking through the tip of his giant orange condom. Needless to say, he was prematurely ejaculated onto the snow. Good thing - he would have gone off a rock face and stream to the 3rd series of snow slopes. As it was, he "manoeuvred" his way around the obstacle and waited for Mike and Mark to join him for the quick trip down to the road. Successful trip.