Many of the people who work at the lodge come year after year learn the park like the palms of their hands. They hike hundreds and hundreds of miles, and once they’ve done all the trails, they bush whack and summit mountains. On mornings before work I’d tag along and book it up these glorious peaks, to get some wind in my face and sun in my eyes and light my calves on fire.
View from summit of Mt. Brown, West Glacier
(Sketch of Mt. Stanton)
Mount Stanton is a peak right across the lodge and the bellman has been scowling at it since he came, waiting for the snow to melt so he can climb it. He’s a peak bagger (wants to ‘get’ as many mountains in the park as he can) and that mountain nearly cost him his life the summer previous. His white whale, of sorts.
One morning in June a few of us wake up early and head up Mt. Stanton. We hop over downed trees and whack through brush, carefully stepping over orchids and moss. The farther we get up past the tree line the rockier and slippier it gets– there were silvery gnarled snags everywhere, like twisted metal gleaming in the powerful sun. The rocks were like sunbaked gardens of lichen, in amazing hot oranges and citrons.
The mountaintop was incredible. It came to an actual point, like in a picture you would draw of a mountain as a child. I was totally jelly-legged and winded, my limbs buzzing and humming at me. I was surrounded by sky, blue and green topography, and clouds unfurling into infinity.
There were clouds like huge white castles and clouds like silky soft nothings. One was whisping around the peak where we stood– it was so dense and opaquely white you could hardly tell where snow ended and the cloud began. I kept looking at it and trying to understand that white blankness, what it was.
In one moment all the scenery– the blue mountains and lakes, the sheer amount of space– suddenly melted away as the cloud folded over and enveloped us. We couldn’t see anything except for solid white.
(It’s incredibly strange, looking at nothingness.)
And then again a minute later the cloud breathed itself away and the scenery rematerialized around us.
My breath caught in my throat. It’s lovely, how fantastically surreal life can be.
It was the first of several summits I’d hike that summer. I recommend it to everyone, it’s such a purely luminous experience.
(View from Mt. Brown)