Keith's friend is an ultrarunner named Danni, who works as an attorney for a firm in Kalispell. She used to be a lawyer for a high-powered firm in Chicago, with prestige, salary, and everything that goes with it. Then, one day about four years ago, she attended a "Woman-to-Woman" conference put on by her firm, where topics ranged from "What Not To Wear" (basically, the things she wore to work most every day) to "How to Balance Work and Family," where a woman talked about forgoing dinner in favor of "nighttime snack" with her kids. Danni went home that day and immediately plotted her escape to the mountains, and landed in Kalispell, Montana, where she still has a good job, a beautiful historic home and a husband who cooks beingets (New Orleans fry bread) for Sunday brunch. Oh, and sometimes she goes out and runs 100 miles. And she's super funny. By the end of the weekend, I wanted to ask her if she'd be my new BFF, but I didn't want to seem too forward, given we'd never met before I showed up at her doorstep late Friday evening.
Danni took me to her favorite spots in Glacier National Park, starting Saturday morning with Gunsight Pass.
The one-way hike is 20-21 miles (depending on what signs you believe) from the east side of the Continental Divide to the west. We parked at Lake McDonald Lodge and took the shuttle over the precarious, narrow, cliff-edge road to the Jackson Glacier trailhead.
The park's Web site had warned of lots of snow on the pass, and we were prepared with ice axes, but it turned out to be nothing more than a few short snowfields, not even long enough to glissade. We especially had to laugh at the minimally dangerous conditions after we passed a couple of backpackers near the trailhead who told us the snow had turned them around, and basically implied that we were probably doomed if we chose to continue on our epic attempt to traverse the entire trail in a single day.
I do think 21 miles is a decent day hike, but certainly within the grasp of most fit people. While we walked, Danni indicated which parts of the trail she would normally walk and which parts she would run. It was a little eye-opening, actually, to see that ultrarunning doesn't necessarily have to be about logging eight-minute miles for 100 miles straight. Many ultrarunners do a lot of walking, which makes it seem more obtainable for those of us who have leaned heavily on wheels for most of our "fit" lives.
While Missoula melted in the sun, the weather in Glacier was absolutely perfect, 70 degrees and clear.
Danni crossing under a waterfall below the pass.
We started to see lots of mountain goats right on the trail. This kid goat was so adorable. Both Danni and I wanted to reach out and pet it, but of course we did not. Funny how strong the urge is, though, when you see a cute fuzzy baby animal.
Then we encountered the billy goats who did not want to get off the trail. We herded a small group for several yards until they finally relented to letting us by. We finished the hike in about seven and a half hours (hardcore ultrarunners probably wouldn't even let you call that a day hike; more like a "half day.") We cooled down in the lodge with Diet Coke and beer in front of a sparkling Lake McDonald.
The next day we were able to enjoy a relaxing breakfast in Kalispell while we waited for Keith to make his way from the eastern half of the state, where he had been visiting friends. We all met up in East Glacier at 11.
Our Sunday hike was the Dawson and Pitimakin Pass loop, another favorite of Danni's. It wasn't hard to see why.
Starting at noon was a bit rough on both of us, tired as we were from the day before and struggling a bit as we climbed in 80-degree heat.
But it was minimal work for jaw-dropping views the entire time.
Keith lives in Banff, Alberta, and feels his home is the most beautiful place in the world. But he was willing to allow that maybe Montana is maybe kinda pretty, too.
The Sunday hike was strikingly different from Saturday's, just by nature of its location on the front range of the Rockies. Even though it's only a few dozen miles east of the Divide, it's a much drier and rockier place.
From the saddle where we perched to eat our lunch, we could even see the beginning of the American prairie, a flat expanse on the far horizon. I hadn't before really realized how close I am to the plains here in Western Montana. I'll have to get out there for a visit someday soon.
Instead of mountain goats, the Dawson-Pitimakin loop had bighorn sheep. We saw two separate groups — one all rams and the other all females.
The females were especially protective of the trail, but they eventually let us by.
The Sunday loop ended at about 17 miles, for a 37-mile weekend. I'm sore! But Keith agreed I could count it as a good training weekend, because there will be plenty of hike-a-bike in TransRockies. Only two more weeks! I'm officially in taper mode now. I'm hoping I can use that as an excuse to volunteer for the Swan Crest 100 next weekend. After spending 37 miles on my feet this weekend, I have this whole new fascination with Montana trail running and the possibilities therein (not that I'm going to start running on a regular basis all of the sudden, but I do admire the possibilities it creates, especially when you have the ability to travel 37 miles in one day as opposed to two.) But what a fun weekend! Thanks Danni and Keith!