Home > Uncategorized > Getting to the point

Getting to the point

This looks easy

August 12/Day 26. Cobalt Lake sits 5.9 miles (11.8 miles round trip, for you products public schools) from the marina at Two Medicine on the southeast side of the park, 70 miles from my campground. The hike begins as an easy packed earth path meandering through the woods. The first couple of miles trend slightly downward, which is a bit disconcerting since the trail guide notes an elevation gain to the lake of 1400 feet. I’m thinking, “For every step I take down, I’m going to have to take several up.” But never mind—for now I’m strolling along like a gentleman on a boulevard in Paris.

Within a couple of miles, my stroll becomes more like an Rambo expedition; the trail is barely a trace, slicing through huckleberry thickets and cow parsnip that rises to my armpits. Huckleberry being one of the bear’s favorite snacks, I’m yelling, “Hey, Bear!” every few seconds at the top of my lungs, the recommended practice to warn any bears of my whereabouts so they can move away.

I feel pretty foolish when an unseen hiker, maybe 50 yards behind me on the trail, yells back, “What???” But it’s really good to know there’s other folk out here. In fact, a half hour later I run across another old fart schlepping through the woods alone. His name is George and he’s closing fast on 65 years, like me. Turns out we share pretty much the same pace and temperament, so we fall in together for the rest of the hike. I feel better giving the bear a choice of meals—even if it’s still only 50-50.

Speaking of age. You would be astonished at the number of tough, wiry old-timers, both men and women, I see out here rambling around the mountains. I met one man in Rocky Mountain Nation Park who was 80 and still handling the trails like a mountain goat. On this particular hike to Cobalt Lake, I run across a gentleman of 72 who’s still running marathons.

The bridge

But I have a narrative to finish, so let me continue…. After 10 minutes or so, George and I exit the jungle and are soon confronted with a swaying suspension bridge hanging tenuously above a turbulent stream. Only a few boards are missing, and obviously others have trod it before us, so by acclamation I go first. After venturing three steps I’m wobbling around like a drunk trying to pee overboard while standing in a rowboat. I freeze. Then, slowly, I discover that if I slide one foot ahead of the other, like a tightrope walker, I can move forward without rocking the bridge unduly. Thirty seconds later I’m on the other side, waving to George who, having leearned from my experience, sashays across without incident.

About a mile later—and I knew this was going to happen—the trail begins to rise steeply in a series of switchbacks.  This is the 1400 foot gain they were talking about. Parts of the trail here are composed of sedimentary rock, eroded by the ages into a staircase of 18-inch steps, each one more painful than the one before. We take a few steps. We rest. We step again. We rest.

This continues eternally.

Yet finally the trail broadens again and begins a moderate but smooth final ascent to Cobalt Lake, a small pristine body of water surrounded by towering, moss-covered mountains and a true glacier that slopes from the water’s edge upward for several hundred yards.

Cobalt Lake

Cobalt Lake

The glacier

I have learned something about glaciers while in the park. A glacier is a body of snow and ice that moves inexorably downhill by force of gravity. On the other hand a snowfield, which looks similar to a glacier, just sits there and doesn’t move. Most of the snow I see on the mountains in the park is snowfield, or snowpack as it’s sometimes called.

There are only about 26 glaciers left in Glacier National Park and some people estimate they’ll be gone by 2020. In 1850 there were over 150. I can’t help but toy with the idea that only 20,000 years ago receding glaciers thousands of feet thick filled these valleys and covered the mountains, creating the masterpiece of rugged beauty I’m surrounded by today. Where would we be if the Ice Age glaciers hadn’t receded, how would we be living? As human beings sometimes I think we lose perspective, forgetting that our world is in a constant flux, changing from what was to what will be. All our hysterical efforts cannot, nor should they, change that. Al Gore…how’s that speech coming along?

Cobalt Lake outlet

Well. We spend an hour or so at the lake, along with a number of other hikers who linger, come and go.

But reaching a destination is not really the point, is it? I don’t climb these trails just to snap a few pictures of a scenic spot that few ever get to see. Everywhere I turn in our national parks (the best idea socialism ever hatched, by the way) there’s a beautiful picture I can shoot without taking a step. Or I could buy a glossy coffee table book and see much better photos than mine without leaving the sofa. No. To have made the trek; to sweat, to pant, to fear the unknown that lies around the next bend in the trail, to feel exhaustion to the bone yet persevere—and to overcome it all—that’sthe point.

Along the trail

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