Fatal error?

Mountain sunset happens earlier than in flat geography because of the mountain walls.

Perhaps the second scariest Glacier thing ever just happened. Surpassed only by the 2019, 12-foot close Grizzly Bear encounter.

Context: Knowing the flight home is in four days, searching for warmer hiking options and things i’ve never done that seem doable, a sunset Oberlin hike sounded perfect.

Knowing my fear of hiking on a closed climber’s trail at dusk, and that it would be even darker descending at sunset, and all alone, i somehow still felt equipped to do this.

Caught and passed two female, college-student summer Park employees i didn’t know were on the saddle. They didn’t know their way and i didn’t have time to slow down to escort. Assumed they knew what they were getting into.

Wished them well and said, “See you up there.”

At the summit, eventually, thought it odd they never surfaced to the top.

Planned to take the quicker return route, the one i’ve taken all summer, since learning of it last summer. This was my 15th Oberlin summit. Up until last year i always ascended and descended the exact same way. (The “new” 2019 way down will never be an ascent route – far too steep.)

Because i left later than expected, i decided to play it safer and go back the way i came. For two reasons, less vegetation for animal encounters and weirdly wondering if the women are alright.

So i hustle the couple hundred meters across the top to start the descent but get lost. Haven’t been down this way the last 8 trips. Muscle memory is gone and now i’m lost.

The clock is ticking.

i frantically retrace my route three times.

More panic.

i decide to do what i said was less safe, go the easier, faster way. So i start jogging back to the summit.

And then i said, “What if those two women are scared and lost?”

In a weird mixture of panic and logic, i returned the way that had me lost and decided to try one more time to find the way.

Miraculously – and i do mean miraculously, i heard the women over a smaller cliff and made eye contact with them.

This immediately gave all three of us a renewed hope.

We knew we were destined to hike down at night through Grizzly Bear country. But now, suddenly as a team, it feels less daunting. The clock no longer matters because we have a small unit.

As you would hope, we all had a head lantern. i led the way down, holding the lamp rather than wearing it.

Worth noting that patches of the trail do not resemble a trail. At all. And now it’s dark.

The 35-minute trip took an hour.

We make noise the whole way.

We hear each other’s stories.

One woman is a housekeeper at my Motel, but for the cabins, not the rooms. The other is a fourth generation Glacier National Park employee. Her grandfather is the Joe in Lake McDonald Lodge’s Jammer Joe’s Restaurant. Jammers are the iconic red tour busses.

As we make it to the parking lot, a harvest moon is rising from behind Going-to-the-Sun Mountain (knew it was coming but had forgotten the day). We hugged, got in our cars, and likely will never see each other again.

And so it goes.

Looking forward to an intentional night hike or two in 2021. With people. Before sunrise. To watch a summit sunrise, from Oberlin. And maybe Pollock, Piegan, Swiftcurrent, or Ahern.

And of course, not gonna rule out sunset from Pollock, Piegan, or Swiftcurrent.

Note: Lauren, West Glacier housekeeping and Kayla, Cedar Tree coffee station, and 4th gen GNP employee.

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By jeff noel

Retired Disney Institute Keynote Speaker and Prolific Blogger. Five daily, differently-themed personal blogs (about life's 5 big choices) on five interconnected sites.