When Perspective Shifts, the Hidden Becomes Clear

This story relates to Alisa’s “Hidden” travel theme, but you have to read the narrative to make sense of the photos.

Josh and I spent our annual fall hiking trip doing something radically different: instead of backpacking into remote wilderness, we hauled a 1982 Coleman tent trailer to Glacier National Park, Montana, one of the most visited National Parks in the country, and spent a week hiking popular trails with (oddly) lots of people from Minnesota. We camped in a campground with flush toilets and potable water, surrounded by tents and RVs. Although I know this is what comes to mind when most people think of camping, it’s totally different from the camping we’ve been doing for 10 years, which involves carrying your bed, your food, and your house on your back and sleeping on the ground for numerous days in all sorts of weather. We felt like we were in a 4-star hotel!

Although it was good to walk some of the most popular trails in the Many Glacier area, Josh has an itch to explore the unknown. So one afternoon we scoped out a beautiful waterfall valley on the flanks of Mt. Wilbur, just above Red Rock Falls. We both wondered if there was a pool up there, since the waterfall was HUGE, even though the topo map didn’t show anything. But it sure looked like that cirque could hold a pool…

I wonder what's up there?

Swimming pool, maybe?

We made a plan to check it out the next day. In accordance with the 7 tips for backpacking and a happy marriage, Josh let Gwen pick the route, and I saw what appeared to be an easy bushwhack to access the meadows below the cliff bands.

Looking up from below, the route to the right of the waterfall looked a little cliffy, yes, but also kind of stair steppy, and we both like a bit of bouldering. On the other hand, the route to the left looked like a very steep meadow, with some even steeper cliffs to get around. We chose the right route. Note that’s “right” as in “opposite of left.” Not right as in correct. Our route looked something like this (purple rectangles are person-size, for scale):

Route up the waterfall

Route up the waterfall

Here’s a different perspective:

Um, are we nuts?

Funny, it didn’t look like this from below…

By the time we got to the upper meadow, the scree was only sparsely vegetated with bear grass, and the flat  Montana slate was like a thousand shifting plates underfoot. My knees were rubber, the slope kept getting steeper, and I was panicked at the thought of coming back down all of this. Not yet to the top, I was completely spent and at my psychological freakout point. I knew my own limitations, and I was pretty sure I had just exceeded them. I didn’t know how I would descend those same 3000 feet.

Although we still had 500 feet to climb to reach the cirque, I was so racked with worry about the return trip that I was only vaguely interested to notice these guys watching the last part of our ascent:

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep

When we finally reached the cirque, there was no swimming pool. All of that water was draining out of the melting snowfields! Although we had entertained the idea of popping over the ridge of the cirque and descending into the valley on the other side (which is Iceberg Lake), the last 400 ft. over that ridge was all scree, and very steep. And all I could think about was getting down.

Joshua gently suggested that perhaps we should descend via the other side of the waterfall; we could even see a faint goat trail switchbacking through that steep meadow, which didn’t look so impossible when viewed from above. The way we just came, on the other hand, looked insane.

From this angle, left seems an obvious choice...

From this angle, the meadow route seems a more obvious choice…

Animals really do know the best routes, and game trails crisscross all over Glacier. But we couldn’t see this path from below, we needed the perspective from above.

And isn’t that the truth? My friend Mike, who I met on staff at Glacier National Park 11 years ago, said that you could use mountains as a metaphor for just about anything. The whole climb up was a struggle, both physically and mentally, and with every step up, I anticipated and feared taking that same step back down. The closer I got to the goal, the more dread I felt. But once I pushed past the boundaries of my comfort zone, challenged myself to do something uncomfortable, and scrambled that last 500 feet, a whole new route materialized, and suddenly the thing I had feared seemed much more manageable. But I had to get to the top to see it.

When planning a route, Josh says not to look at your end goal, but instead pick a rock, a tree, a clump of tall grass just a short ways away, and figure out how to get THERE. Once you get there, pick something else and do it again. Break up the problem, which seems insurmountable as a whole, into smaller, more manageable problems. And don’t worry about the next one until you’ve finished the one you’re on.

If only I had the monk-like clarity to consistently apply this lesson to my life. This hiking trip was a sort of last- hurrah before our life changes in a major way: Josh is headed back to school in two weeks to train to be a physical therapy assistant. It’s an exciting change for him, but it comes with a lot of uncertainty for us, as we transition from DINKs to SINKs: Single Income, No Kids.

I’m anxious, of course, about how we’ll make ends meet, since we bought a house on the assumption of two incomes. But beyond that, I’m worried that when the 2-yr program is over, Josh won’t be able to find a job in Whatcom County. Everyone tells him it will be impossible; the area is just too flooded with PTAs from the local program.

So that’s my challenge: not to worry about the descent before we’re even at the top. Focus on one month at a time–rock to rock, or in this case, gas bill to gas bill. When we finally reach June 2015, there could be a gentle footpath leading through a grassy meadow. But we won’t know until we get there.

Faint goat trail switchbacking down the meadow.

Just following the path left by Mother Nature and her creatures.

Although we never found a swimming pool up on Wilbur, we did find this little gem tucked a bit off-trail at the bottom of the valley. “Refreshing” doesn’t begin to describe it.

The best way to end a hike on a sunny day.

The best way to end a hike on a sunny day.

Some other interpretations of the theme “Hidden”:

  1. Weekly Travel Theme: Hidden | Lillie-Put
  2. Hidden… | Welcome to Sherresartzone!
  3. Travel Theme: Hidden | Tvor Travel
  4. Weekly Travel Theme – Hidden | wordsvisual
  5. Travel Themes Distant and Hidden | Lucid Gypsy
  6. Travel Theme: Hidden | WoollyMuses
  7. Travel theme: Hidden | Things I See and Know
  8. Travel Theme: Hidden | The Nature of Things
  9. Travel Theme: Hidden | Danny’s Photographs
  10. Travel theme: Hidden | Confuzzledom
  11. TRAVEL THEME – HIDDEN | Dear Bliary

7 thoughts on “When Perspective Shifts, the Hidden Becomes Clear

    • Agreed! It’s a lesson I learn over again every time I go out in the woods. Sorry to read about your injury. My husband Joshua (alpinemystic.wordpress.com) has struggled with Iliotibial Band Syndrome for years. If he’s good to his knees, it’s Ok most of the time, but he has flareups and reinjuries every now and again. I know it’s frustrating!

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