Montana 1971


All We Love Turns to . . .

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta at the end of my first ever backpacking trip through Glacier National Park. L/R me, Doug and an unknown hiker.I have read many books on American history. Yet it wasn’t until I read A History of the American People by Paul Johnson that I understood the true dynamic of American history—the need and desire to accumulate money. Johnson’s book focused on the speed that our culture overtook and subdued the continent. Change in our capitalist culture is an absolutely unstoppable force that drags us willingly and unwillingly along.

From Jamestown to California, from Key West to Fairbanks and everywhere in between, the United States secured its transcontinental Manifest Destiny with blazing speed and no remorse for the victims left behind. Once the boundaries were set, American priority turned to subduing the land. As a nation, we have never stopped or deviated from this course. In the United States, nothing is safe from change and growth.

Nevertheless, we humans tend to live in the moment. When I was 19, the world appeared static, change seems unlikely and time appeared to move slowly. Yet, if you stop to think about it, the gravity of change is not hard to see. For example, my mother was born in 1926, delivered at home by a midwife on a farm in southern Ohio. The farm had no running water, electricity or phone. The U.S. population was 121 million. By the time of her death 81 years later, the population was 303 million, men had walked on the Moon, and technology from nuclear power to the Internet had reshaped every facet of the world.  Given the panoramic vision a long life brings, one can only marvel at how fast the world is constantly changing. While one can debate the merits of change, it is indisputable that change brings an end to many things people cherish. This reminiscence covers a slice of my life when the effects of change was not an issue dogging my mind.

While the Montana of television and movie Westerns had disappeared long before my visit, it was still a special place in 1971. The State’s population was only a widely dispersed 500,000 people. Montana society was made up of ranchers, farmers, loggers and miners, living by eastern standards, mostly in small towns.

A Friend is a Friend is a . . .

September 1971, Bot-Zoo 201, Natural Science Building auditorium, back row. It was my first day of Fall classes at the University of Michigan. The lecture hall was packed, I was sitting next to a guy with tight curly hair, glasses slipping down his nose and a pencil behind his right ear. “Can I borrow some paper?” he asked. “Just back from Montana last night, didn’t have time to get a notebook.” So began my curious friendship with Doug McLoud.


“Yea, I was working out there on a ranch. My family is from Montana, I grew up there,” Doug said as he scribbled notes on the paper I gave him.

Small Horizons

Musicians are always asked “what are your musical influences?” It’s is a good question. If you ask yourself that question about your most important avocation or even your life, you might be surprised at your answer. The West and the mountains became the centerpiece of my life. What were the influences underlying my obsession with the West and mountains? Television, movies, the Boy Scouts and the National Geographic undoubtedly influenced me more than I care to admit.

Although at 4 years of age I wanted to be a railroad engineer, I soon turned my attention to becoming a cowboy. In the 1950s and 1960s, cowboys were the gold standard for adventure, freedom and manliness. They encompassed every trait you might need in life. They taught us about good and bad, bravery and cowardice. They lived a life unencumbered by a kid’s daily problems. Thanks to movies like the Magnificent Seven and television shows like Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel, every kid I grew up with in Michigan wanted at some point in their life to be a cowboy. After all, Mr. Dillion and Steve McQueen were bigger-than-life role models.

My years working on the railroad. I've been working on the railroad All the live-long day. I've been working on the railroad Just to pass the time away. Can't you hear the whistle blowing, Rise up so early in the morn; Can't you hear the captain shouting, "Dinah, blow your horn!"

My years working on the railroad.
I’ve been working on the railroad
All the live-long day;
I’ve been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away;
Can’t you hear the whistle blowing,
Rise up so early in the morn;
Can’t you hear the captain shouting,
“Dinah, blow your horn!”

I was a faithful member of the Boy Scouts from ages 11-15. I never quite figured out the marching part of Scouting but the camping component was what it was all about for me. I joined Troop 60 with a childhood friend and we in turn formed the No Name Patrol within Troop 60. Mr. Anderson, our Scout Master, was totally into camping. Troop 60 had ample camping gear and it was put to good use. The Troop participated in every Regional Camporee and often had camping weekends just for the Troop. Additionally, we spent one week every Summer at Camp Ben Johnson which, in the early 1960s, was a young boy’s fantasy camp. In addition to learning to shoot rifles and bow and arrows, we had an entire week away from our parents.

Camp Ben Johnson. L/R Me, Butch Zebalski

Camp Ben Johnson. Me (left) and Butch Zebalski (right)

Of course, camping in Michigan is nothing like camping in the West. Camporees usually were situated in a farmer’s field. Nevertheless, we learned the skills needed to camp in more remote territories. The No Name Patrol used these skills at our favorite haunt, a place we called Lost Paradise. There is very little public land in southern Michigan. Lost Paradise was a 50-acre hilly woodlot surrounded by cornfields. We spent many Summer days and nights trespassing and hanging out at our makeshift camp.


Although I had never seen a mountain, as a kid I read about climbing expeditions in my aunt’s National Geographics. The account of the 1963 American Everest Expedition was among my favorite reads. The local library had a good selection of climbing expedition books. I read them all.

Broad Horizons

As I grew older, open spaces and avoiding a routine life was what I most aspired to achieve. Working an hourly job seemed like a good thing to avoid. Route 66 was a television show I watched religiously. Buzz and Todd traveled the country in a Corvette working odd jobs when they needed money. I remember that two of the shows were filmed in Montana, a place a world away from Michigan in both time and space. I ached to escape the narrow horizons of my native state and travel the country like Buzz and Todd. Of course, owning a Corvette was an added enticement.

Montana was a nearly mythical land of mountains and cowboys blessed with open spaces. Life under the big sky was everything Michigan was not. So the guy sitting next to me in the lecture hall appeared to encapsulated all of my juvenile earthly desires, just because he was from Montana. Now, I thought, an opportunity was within reach.

As the year progressed, Doug and I became friends and I heard story after story about Montana. Doug was an idea man. Let’s start an intramural flag football or softball team he’d say, “I know lots of guys.” He asked me to play and said he would take care of everything. I arrived at this first scheduled game. Unknowingly, Doug had designated me the Captain. He had only managed to sign up a total of 5 players. At least he showed up. After we forfeited, Doug came up with a variety of reasons exculpating himself from blame. He promised we would have a full team for our next game 2 days later. True to his word, we had a team for the next game. However, Doug soon lost interest in softball and quit the team. He was always off to some other endeavor.

The next semester, all Doug could talk about was his plans for spending the Summer in Montana, hiking and backpacking. “You should come out and we’ll go backpacking in Glacier National Park.” Yes, I thought, I had to do that, but how? The Summer was for working. If I did not work, how could I afford the next school year? My Dad had already arranged my Summer job for a whopping $2.50 an hour. I knew I would have to come up with a solution and somehow get to Montana.

The solution was compromise. I returned home, worked for 10 weeks and then headed “way out West”—the home of the free and the land of the brave. As a typical middle-class American, I was far from resembling or understanding either of these traits. I was willing to push myself to become free and brave.

Planes, Train and a Long Walk

I sent Doug 2 letters. The first confirmed I was coming. The second told him the date I would arrive at the railroad station in Bozeman, Montana. I got a postcard a week before I left with his Grandmother’s address and phone number. My mom drove me to Kalamazoo where I boarded a dual-prop commercial flight to Chicago. At the airport, I caught a cab to Union Station. At Union Station, I boarded the train that would take me to Bozeman. All 3 of these modes of travel were new to me. Somehow I pulled it off and was safely on a train heading for the Big Sky State.


When I arrived in Bozeman, Doug was not there to meet me. After waiting for an hour, I called his grandmother in Harrison, Montana. She told me Doug had mentioned I might call. “Might call?” She told me that Doug had left Harrison a few days ago but he would be back. She invited me to stay at her place. She said it was only 50 miles. I thanked her and accepted the offer even though I wasn’t sure how to get to Harrison.

I walked to the Greyhound Bus Station. I found that I could get halfway to Harrison on a soon-to-depart bus. The bus took me to Three Forks, Montana. Starving, I ate dinner at a restaurant on the west side of this small town. I didn’t know it until I was eating my dinner but Three Forks was a somewhat unique town. The waitress proudly told me that the town was considered the birthplace of the Missouri River.

The city of Three Forks name was derived from its location near where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers join to form the Missouri River. “You know, don’t you, that the Missouri is the longest single river in the country,” the waitress added as she set my food down. A bit later, Doug and I would attend the Three Forks Rodeo. After the Rodeo, there was a street party on the main street. The party unfolded more like a dream. This may have been because I drank too much but, I swear, everybody from grandparents to 10-year olds were drunk and dancing to a band that played Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” every other song.

A Long but not so Lonely Road

My stomach full, I headed toward Harrison expecting to easily catch a ride hitchhiking. After all, it was only 25 miles. Thumb out, I soon reached the outskirts of town. There were 2 problems. First, there was no traffic. Second, the few Montanans who drove by seemed averse to even looking at, let alone picking up, hitchhikers. I found out the reason for this reluctance later. So I walked.

After a couple of miles, at a junction, I came upon 2 other hitchhikers. They were heading to Missoula. “We have been trying to get a ride for 3 hours,” one of them reported. It was dusk now. There was no way anyone would pick up 3 hitchhikers, so I said “good luck” and continued on my way. They picked up their packs and started walking with me. “Maybe rides will be easier to catch at the next junction,” one of them offered. We walked. They talked about hitchhiking all the way from Vermont. We walked. The subject turned to rattlesnakes. What did I know about rattlesnakes? I knew nothing other than in most Western movies someone had a run-in with a rattlesnake. I also knew I didn’t want to get bit by one. It was now pitch dark. We walked.

I had not filled up my 2-quart Boy Scout canteen. The topic changed to thirst. No one had water. We walked. After 10 miles, we reached a junction. I was now 10 miles or so north of Harrison. Trying to shake them, I said, “I’m going to crash here.” “You’re going to sleep here? Aren’t you worried about rattlesnakes?” “No,” I lied. I dropped down off of the road, tromped the grass down and pulled my sleeping bag out and laid down. “Good luck,” I said, thinking they would continue down the road. “You didn’t see a snake down there, did you?” They joined me in the barrow and got in their sleeping bags. “Maybe hitchhiking will be better tomorrow.” I awoke just as it was getting light. Thirst was now a huge issue. My 2 companions were soundly sleeping. I quietly packed, got up on the road and started walking. Ten miles to go. I thought without much confidence, “I can do that without water.” Fortunately, I was quickly picked up by a serviceman on leave and almost as quickly dropped off in Harrison.


There wasn’t much in Harrison. Harrison was a small unincorporated town. I doubt that there were even 200 people living there. The few businesses serviced the local ranchers and farmers. A school, a restaurant, a gas station and a bar were the popular gathering spots. The town’s highlight was its location at the foot of the Tobacco Root Mountains which were capped by a beautiful 10,000-foot peak called Hollowtop. I entered a restaurant and ordered water. The man behind the counter said, “You know we serve food here, don’tcha pardner?” After drinking the water, I ordered a Coca Cola and then another. I asked the proprietor where Mrs. McLoud lived. He pointed out the window to the house a half block away.

I knocked on the back door. When Mrs. McLoud opened the door, I introduced myself. She responded, “When you didn’t show last night, I figured you found work.” Her response encapsulated for me my romantic view of the West. I was an itinerant passing through looking for work. “Come in. Have you eaten?” Mrs McLoud invited me to stay until Doug returned, if he returned. Evidently he had met “a gal” and run off with her. Over the next 3 days, she showed me around the Harrison area including trips to Virginia City and Pony. She had a habit of driving in the middle of the road. Fortunately, we never met an oncoming vehicle on a blind turn.

The Wild West—Drinking and Fighting

Doug arrived one afternoon. He didn’t seem all that happy to see me. At first, he said he didn’t remember inviting me. I showed him the postcard he had sent me. Then he berated me for imposing on his Grandmother. Later that afternoon, I met some of his former school mates. They were a hard drinking lot. Although Doug had moved away 3 years earlier, they told me Doug was still a local celebrity. In his freshman year, he had hit a buzzer-beating half court shot to win a basketball game against the hated Norris team.

His grandmother’s neighbor hired us to paint his shed. I really was not interested in earning money but pitched in nevertheless. While we were painting, Doug’s buddies were baling hay. After work, we would get together and drink beer. I was out of my league drinking with these guys. They had all grown up on ranches and were modern versions of the television cowboys. Six-shooters and horses had given way to six-packs and pickups. When they were not telling me about grizzly bears, the conversations turned to women and fistfights. They loved to fight. I was glad I wasn’t from Norris.

Hippies and Cannibals

As the week went on, Doug seemed to go out of his way to get me to leave. Once the painting job was completed, I decided to leave. Doug told me that I should see Yellowstone. He told me to came back after visiting the Park and we could head for Glacier National Park. Mrs. McLoud drove me to Bozeman where I bought a bus ticket to West Yellowstone.

The small bus was nearly empty. I sat right behind the driver. He proceeded to tell why no one would pick up hitchhikers. Evidently, the year before, a local had picked up a “hippy” hitchhiker. Hippies were the bogeyman to many Montanans at that time. The hitchhiker proceeded to kill and eat the good Samaritan. The remainder of the trip, the driver told me one story after another, often featuring grizzly bears and unsuspecting tourist.

A Great Place To Visit If You Have A Car

Long before I arrived, West Yellowstone was a major gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The Madison River was a natural route for Native Americans, trappers, prospectors and adventurers. Believe it or not, tourists started visiting the Yellowstone country in the 1860s. The first tourist came in wagons or on horseback. When Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, the tourist trade began to flourish. The second wave of tourists arrived from Idaho and Montana on stagecoaches. The Park’s west entrance on the Madison River would eventually become the town of West Yellowstone.

At the beginning of the 1900s, the local settlers were providing hay for the stagecoach horses and cattle required for food to the stagecoach lines. It wasn’t until big business arrived that the tourist trade grew by leaps and bounds. The legendary railroad baron E.H. Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, visited the park in 1905. He immediately saw a business opportunity and ordered the construction of railroad tracks from Ashton, Idaho to the park’s entrance. The route was completed in early November 1907. The trains started hauling in tourists the next Summer and the town of West Yellowstone started to grow in response to the influx.

In 1971, the trains no longer ran–victims of the automobile. The town was a quiet collection of small motels, restaurants, gift shops and gas stations. Everything was geared toward servicing visitors with cars. While a busy place that Summer, it bore no resemblance to the West Yellowstone of today. There was no bumper-to-bumper traffic and you didn’t need to make a reservation months in advance to get a room.

Arriving in West Yellowstone, I decided to walk up to the Park’s entrance station and get a map. I was about 200 yards from the station when a Park Service pickup pulled up alongside me. The passenger door flew open. “You can’t hitchhike in the Park,” shouted the crusty-looking uniformed driver. I tried to explain I was just trying to get a map. He cut me off. “You can turn around now or get in and I’ll take you to see the judge.”

I was flabbergasted. My desire for the full Western experience didn’t include seeing the inside of a jail. I turned around and walked back to town. I found a cheap motel. I told the owner of my experience. He shook his head and mubbled “damn Government.” He suggested I buy a ticket for an open-air tour bus. I followed his advice. The next day, I got a full-day tour of Yellowstone for $10. I was dully impressed both by the Park and the mode of transportation. Interestingly, the yellow touring buses first used in the Park in the 1920s are still in use today.

The classic way to see yellowstone.

The classic way to see Yellowstone National Park.

Harrison, the Sequel

The following day, I was hitchhiking back to Harrison unsure if Doug would even be there. A couple of long-haired college students from Massachusetts in a VW van picked me up. As we drove, I told them about the Tobacco Root Mountains west of Harrison. They liked what they heard. I spent the next couple of days camping and hiking with them in the range.

When they needed to move on, I offered to buy them a beer in Harrison as a “thank you” for their hospitality. We drove down to Harrison and went into the local bar. I had drunk in the bar with Doug without a problem. There were a couple of cowboy types sitting in the back. The bartender recognized me. He quickly came walking around the bar. Shrugging his head and right shoulder toward the back table, he said to me “I don’t want no trouble. Seeing as your Doug’s buddy, you can stay but your long hair, hippy friends better leave before its too late.” My two friends didn’t need an explanation. They made tracks. I followed them.

I walked down to the McLoud house. Doug was sitting on the porch. This time he actually seemed happy to see me. “I was hoping you’d get back here soon,” he said, offering me his hand. He immediately started discussing a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. He said we should leave the next day. I was okay with that.

Glacier and Mountains and Bears

I had researched Glacier National Park when Doug first invited me to visit. I knew the Park encompasses over a million acres and included parts of 2 rugged and scenic subranges of the Rocky Mountains. The Park’s mountains, carved into ragged shapes by glaciers during the last Ice Age, were popular images on calendars and in coffee table books. In 1972, the remnants of the glaciers still graced the higher mountains. The disappearing glaciers left U-shaped valleys, cirques, arêtes and large lakes in deep valleys. The park includes over 700 lakes. Some are large. Lake McDonald is over 9 miles long. While the Park has thousands of plant species and hundreds of species of animals, the only one that stuck in my mind was the grizzly bear.

The Park was all I expected and then some.

The Park was all I expected and then some.

I had read many stories about grizzlies from Lewis and Clark’s encounters with the ferocious animals to warnings on Yellowstone National Park literature. Almost every Montanan I met intimated that, at some point, I would have an encounter with a grizzly which might or might not be the end of me.

The next day, Mrs. McLoud drove us to Missoula. From there, we hitchhiked to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. Evidently the threat of hitchhiking cannibals had not impacted those traveling between Missoula and Glacier as we managed to quickly get 3 rides in succession. The last ride dropped us off just a short distance from our destination.

Doug was averse to paying any type of fees. As a result, rather than paying the $1 entry fee, we snuck around the entrance station and walked through the forest to the nearest campground. We set up a rogue camp in a spot near, but out of sight of, an official campsite. Considering that Glacier was prime grizzly habitat, it probably was not a wise idea. Nevertheless we survived the night. We didn’t have a plan other than we were going to backpack. I guess we just figured the details of where and when would work out somehow.

In the morning, Doug returned from using the campground’s bathroom with good news. He met a couple of campers who would give us a ride to a trailhead where we could begin our backpacking trip. The campers were roughly our age. We broke our camp and crammed in to their car. As we drove and talked, I learned that people camped next to them were from my hometown and that one of the campers was a second cousin, Louisa, who grew up and, as far as I knew, still lived 2 blocks from my parents.

Our benefactors were heading to the Many Glacier area on the east side of the park. They knew a lot more about the Park than we did. As they drove, we studied their map. Doug decided we would hike from Many Glacier to Waterton Lake where we could catch a ferry that would take us to Canada. It sounded like a good and exciting plan. The Going-to-the-Sun Highway traverses spectacular terrain and there were a lot of glaciers, a few mountain goats and vast views along the route. We stopped briefly in East Glacier, where we bought some food and then continued on to Many Glacier. At the roads end, we parted from the guys who had given us the ride.

We started hiking toward Ptarmigan Pass. Our only map was a Park Service handout that sketched out the trails in the northern section of the Park. Although I had camped many times with the Boy Scouts, I had never backpacked. This was an entirely new experience. I was thrilled. This is what I envisioned when I dreamed about hiking in Montana. I soon found that the hiking I had done in the Tobacco Root Mountains had not prepared me for the task ahead.

It didn’t take long for me to bog down under the weight of my pack. There were a lot of day hikers and backpackers on the trail. They were all faster than I was. The steeper the trail pitched, the more I stopped. I was sweating profusely, out of breath and quickly drinking all of the water that I carried. Occasionally, I met up with Doug impatiently waiting for me. He would tell me to pick up the pace, turn and rush up the trail.

What About the Kitchen Sink?

Perhaps this is a good place to list out my backpacking kit. I had a Coleman backpack. I had a cotton sleeping bag that my Mom had bought for me when I joined the Boy Scouts. I had an 8′ X 10′ plastic sheet for a ground cloth and shelter. I had my official  Boy Scout equipment, including a 2-quart canteen, mess kit and flashlight. I had a folding army shovel. What was that for? I had a leather toiletries bag filled with everything you might take for a business trip. Food included cans of tuna, soup and stew, peanut butter, jelly and bread. My boots were treadless work boots purchased at J.C. Penney. My clothes included 2 pairs of cotton pants, a sweater, a couple of shirts, and several pairs of underwear and socks. My prized possession, and the only piece of actual backpacking clothing, was a Gerry Equipment nylon rain jacket. The things I did not have included sun tan lotion, bug spray and a sun hat.

Just Like Arriving in OZ—Technicolor

Ptarmigan Pass is breached by the Ptarmigan Tunnel. The tunnel is situated at an elevation of 7,200 feet. It was blasted through the mountain below the actual pass in 1930. When I finally reached the entrance, I was beyond exhausted. Doug was waiting. “I thought maybe you died,” was his only comment. We walked through the 250-foot long tunnel and into a new world. The view on the far side was spectacular. Elizabeth Lake was far below and wilderness stretched out in every direction.

The entrance to the Ptarmigan Tunnel.

The entrance to the Ptarmigan Tunnel.

The downhill wasn’t a chore for me. Arriving at Elizabeth Lake, we found most campers had tents and backpacking stoves. We built a fire in an abandoned fire ring and cooked our dinner. We talked for a while with a camper from Helena. He was on his honeymoon. His new bride was in their tent. She wouldn’t come out of the tent because of the mosquitoes. He said, “I should have known better.” It would be many years before I understood the poignancy of that comment.

Elizabeth Lake from the north side of the Ptarmigan Tunnel. On my first ever backpack I spent the first night at this lake.

Elizabeth Lake as viewed from the north side of the Ptarmigan Tunnel.

It was the first night of my life in a bonafide wilderness. I stayed awake most of the night. My insomnia was not related to my desire to soak in the entire experience of a starlit night. Nor was it caused by the mosquitoes that were draining my blood. I was kept awake by an expectation. I fully expected a grizzly bear to kill me. The year before, a grizzly had killed a woman at Elizabeth Lake. A fact every camper at the lake felt compelled to tell us.

After surviving the night and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, we were on the trail. Our goal for the day was Glenns Lake, a journey of at least 10 miles depending on where we set up camp. The walking this day was easier, with more downhill than uphill. A thunderstorm passed over us as we neared Glenns Lake. My first thunderstorm in the mountains. It was exhilarating.

The country was awe-inspiring but I was often too tired to fully appreciate the beauty. If there was any doubt in my mind before the trip started about my place in the mountains, the scenery, the remoteness and the energy of Glacier National Park was dissolving those doubts. The shoreline of one lake we passed was composed of small, oval-shaped, multi-colored pebbles. The water was clear and deep.

While eating lunch next to the trail, a solitary backpacker stopped to talk. He was wearing sandals but was otherwise better equipped than us. We learned that his food consisted of only nuts, bread and honey. Doug lectured him on the failings of his diet with little effect. “Dinty Moore Stew would serve you better,” he suggested. Doug changed tact and started to give him the Montanan diatribe about grizzly bears–the same lecture I had heard on numerous occasions during the trip. Finally, the sandaled hiker said, “God be with you,” and walked off.

It was another night with mosquitoes swarming around my ears and the fear of grizzly bears churning in my mind. Every noise emanating from the dark was surely a bear. Somehow I fell asleep. The next morning was warm and sunny. We started the long climb to 6,900-foot Stoney Indian Pass. The climb slowed my pace. Doug was soon way out in front of me. The sandaled hiker caught and passed me. He gave me a couple of honey drops and a blessing before leaving me behind.

The landscape was captivating and lessened the pain of hauling all my unneeded junk up the steep trail. Backpacking involves a certain amount of discomfort no matter how many times you do it or how many miles you have walked. First-time backpackers either get comfortable with the pain or they never do it a second time. My mind was constantly focusing on one thing or another. It was a constant mental conversation. “How far to the pass?” “My shoulders are killing me.” I’m sick of peanut butter and jelly.” “Maybe, I should just leave that stupid shovel behind a tree.” Miraculously, halfway up the trail my mind suddenly cleared. I stopped thinking about mosquitoes and bears, my sore shoulders and a slow pace. I just walked–enjoying the moment.

On the pass, I met up with Doug who was talking with 2 backpackers. These 2 hikers were also heading to Waterton Lake. They were decked out with top-of-the-line clothing and had Kelty backpacks. The trail descended from the pass to the Waterton River. We knew that there was a Park Service Snowshoe Patrol Cabin near the river at the end of the descent. The cabin was open to hikers. We planned to stay in the cabin that night, safe from the mosquitoes and bears. Doug mentioned the cabin to the two backpackers. They had a tent and he didn’t see them as competition for the cabin. They soon left the pass.

We spent time on the pass talking, eating and enjoying the view. As we descended off the pass, thunderheads began to grow above us. We hurried on. By the time we reached the cabin, the weather had completely turned for the worse. Distant thunder rumbled and it was quite dark. No doubt, a hard rain was going to fall. The cabin was built out of metal and placed on a concrete base. It was divided in half. Each side had a table, 2 chairs and 2 beds. The first side we approached had a door, but the door’s window was gone. We walked around to the second side and found the door intact.

Upon opening it, we found the 2 backpackers from the pass comfortably sitting at a table playing cards. Since they had a tent, we thought their taking of the mosquito secure side of the cabin a bit unfair. After all, they wouldn’t even know the cabin existed if Doug had not told them. “Sorry fellows, we beat you here,” one said. The other chuckled and said, “Tough luck.” The weather continued to deteriorate. As we walked around to the other side, I was dreading another night with the mosquitoes. My mind’s eye saw hoards of mosquitoes flying through the missing window. It didn’t take a genius to come up with a possible solution. I said in a loud voice and with a wink to Doug, “At least we don’t have to deal with the fleas.”

“Yea!” Doug said immediately catching on. “We will be out of the rain. I hate fleas.” It wasn’t long before our 2 neighbors were at our door. “What’s this about fleas?” “Well, the Ranger who told us about the cabin told us to make sure we switched the mattresses because there were fleas in the mattresses on your side,” I said. This fabrication didn’t make much sense. Why would the cabin with the good door be infected with fleas while the open air room was not. However, it didn’t take long. They took the bait and started to pack up. One came around and told us they were going to leave and camp near the river. We kept up the charade by dutifully switching the mattresses between the 2 rooms. A half-hour later, the storm swept down on the cabin. It stormed on and off all night. Our plastic sheets would not have held up to the storm’s onslaught.

Our final day took us north toward Waterton Lake. Waterton Lake is a large, glacially-carved mountain lake in Northern Glacier National Park and Southern Alberta, Canada. The lake is the main feature of Canada’s Waterton Lake National Park. The trail followed the Waterton River through the forest. As with many ventures, the end of a trip was anticlimactic. On one hand, I was elated. The backpacking trip was a watershed event in my life. I knew it was just the start of my journey. On the other hand, I was sad. Summer was over. I had to return to school and the flat, boring confines of Michigan.

We caught the ferry at south end of lake. It took us painlessly into Canada and the town of Waterton Park. Doug proposed hitchhiking back to Michigan through Canada. The thought of hitchhiking that far didn’t appeal to me. So we split up. I took a bus south to East Glacier, Montana. The next day I caught a train, appropriately named the Empire Builder, east. The train quickly left the mountains. Leaving the mountains, I felt a gnawing in my stomach and a desire for more adventures. Like the change rolling relentlessly over the United States, I would never be the same.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta at the end of my first ever backpacking trip through Glacier National Park. L/R me, Doug and an unknown hiker.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta at the end of my first-ever backpacking trip through Glacier National Park. Left to right: Me, Doug and an unknown hiker.

NEXT: Vignettes of the Southern Mountains 1972, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina