This time last year, I made the decision to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
I was sitting on the couch with my husband watching a documentary about Denali and Olympus National Parks. The cinematography was stunning, and the story of adventure in those National Parks was captivating. I felt the urge to pack up and experience life like I never had before.
“Man, I really need to go to Alaska. How can I get there? How can I make this happen?” I turned to Bill.
“You’re going to have to fly out there. That’s one hell of a long road trip,” he replied.
“Hmmm. I feel like that’s a lot of gear to fly out, and that’s expensive. Well, I need to knock off a National Park on the bucket list this year. Like Glacier. That’s been on my list for years. That’s drivable,” I thought out loud.
“So, go do it,” he said. “Text Jenny right now and see if she’ll go with you.”
And that’s how the plan to road trip, camp, and backpack in Glacier National Park this past summer started. While Glacier started as the only park on the plan, it expanded into a month-long trip though Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone as well. Because, why not? They were close enough along the way. It was also perfect timing with the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary.
It was also the beginning of my new life philosophy, Bucket List Life, a dedication to living my life to the fullest.
This trip took six months to plan with my backpacking partner. Glacier had a new reservation system for backpacking permits in 2016, a first come first serve online permitting application that was full of stress and anticipation, like trying to get your favorite concert tickets. You have to not only have a Plan A for a backpacking itinerary, but also a Plan B, C, and D. And then there’s Plan E – let the rangers plan it for you if you lost out on all of your other plans.
So from January to March Jenny and I studied the best trails and areas in Glacier, and compared them to what we could physically do with our max mileage limit of 10 mile stretches per day. We had plans to be there in July because of peak wildflower season, but not all backpacking loops would be open since some trails are still snow-closed until August. And then there were regulations for how long your could stay in a backpacking site, and tricks to either shuttle or hitchhike to get back to your car after a loop. Planning an executable itinerary was a task. I relied heavily on Jake’s content and videos on his website Hike 734 to figure out all of the itineraries. It made me appreciate the extensive detail that other outdoor writers put into their work to help travelers out. We had two different trips within Glacier, so I had to come up with 8 different backpacking trips in the park.
At the top of the to-do list was to hike Bowman Lake to Hole In The Wall. Hole In the Wall wasn’t open for camping at the time we’d be there, but it was the most beautiful part of the park that we wanted to explore. So we hoped to stay at Bowman and just hike an out and back from there. Aside from enjoying North Fork, we also had hoped to get some trail time in Two Medicine and Many Glacier.
Later I’d find out all of that prep and planning was all for naught. Or at least, sort of.
After submitting our itineraries in March, it took quite some time to hear about about an approval. We waited, and hoped, and spent a lot of that time getting in high mileage hikes with fully weighted 40 pound packs to train. I aimed for 10 mile days at 25 pounds for a month or so, and then amped it up to 8 miles at 40 pounds. Still to this day, I cannot get my pack under 40 pounds unless I get new ultralight gear. I bought new gear though, like new boots (and a lot of that in part to this post I wrote about blister prevention).
My full gear list included:
- Ankle high Asolo boots
- Keen sandals
- 3-4 days of clothes to rotate in a dry bag
- Light waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- A smaller day pack/Camelbak
- A large backpack
- Nylon rope
- Gear bag for the car
- Portable grill for road trip camping
- Trash bags
- An extra bag of 3 days of clothes for the road trip in another dry bag
- Hiking poles
- sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Sleeping pad
- Backpacking pillow
- Hammock and straps
- YETI Bottle for the road
- Matador fold up blanket
- Knee brace (because one of my knees can be a jerk)
- Wilderness First Aid Kit
- Quick access bag to meds (like inhalers)
- 10 Essentials bag (headlamp, firestarter, etc)
- Water Filter System
- Hygiene Products (toothpaste, toilet paper, lotion, soap, etc)
- Backpacking trowel
- Cooking pot and spork
- Quick-dry sponge and towel
- Foldable bucket
- A whole box of backpacking meals
- Backpacking stove and full canister
- Bear Spray – A MUST
- A .44 revolver
I used every single thing I packed, multiple times. With the exception of the bear spray and the revolver. However, I did need both – even the gun, and we’ll get to that part later in the story.
Becky wrote a FANTASTIC backpacking gear guide here on Fresh Air for readers to reference too. This is perfect for relatively short trips.
Jenny, who is also an awesome sponsor and advertiser on Fresh Air Fort Collins, is also a super organized person and whipped up spreadsheets for meal planning, gear sorting, driving schedules and times, trail mileage per day, fire restrictions, and everything we needed as a trip guide. It was immensely helpful, and a huge part of making sure the trip was a success. I tend to be a go-with-the-flow kind of person, and she is incredibly detail oriented. We balanced each other out perfectly with our combined strengths. I think these are both essential skill sets when planning an epic bucket list trip. You need to have all of the details laid out, but then be flexible enough when your plans go to hell in a handbasket. Because they will. But it’s the education in all of that planning that will save you from not knowing what to do when that happens.
We planned out the Glacier trails as much as we could, and decided to fly by the seat of our pants in Grand Teton and Yellowstone, allowing for flexibility if something should go wrong or driving time took longer. Our main priority was Glacier, and the other parks were just the adventure sauce on top.
We received our permit approvals, and would be heading to our top choice of Bowman Lake in North Fork for the first trip. Our second trip did not get approved, but I had checked the box for the ranger to make us an alternate itinerary. They were sending us to Atlantic Creek in Cut Bank. We would be spending three days on each trip for a total of 9 days in Glacier (including travel time to get to each location).
After six months of planning and training – it was the last week of June, and time to load up the pack for the first Bucket List Life Trip…