By Johnie Gall
It was 6 a.m. when Brandon made the announcement.
“There’s fog everywhere. You can’t see a damn thing,” he said, defeated. “We’re not going to be able to hike today.”
That seemed rather obvious at this point. A new pair of leather hiking boots had rendered me barely able to walk—the dry mountain air had cracked and reopened my blisters so many times they’d become bloody, open wounds covered in a lattice of Band-Aids. Besides, the hoards of tourists at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass had already sprawled out across the entirety of the parking lot. Hiking among them sounded like torture, not fun.
I threw myself back on our van’s bed dramatically. Montana was supposed to be the way the writers of the great American novels had described it: uninhabited, pristine, infinite. And, for the most part, it had been—but this was summer in a place celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. It was crowded.
That’s the thing about visiting a National Park: it’s easy to feel entitled to a certain kind of experience there, especially if you’re an avid explorer confronted with a group of iPad photographers wear flip-flops on the trail. But the parks are meant to make the outdoors accessible to everyone, and no one has any more “right” to those places than someone else.
And there’s a pretty good solution, too. It’s called “putting in the work.”
Which is how I found myself carrying a backpack filled with my Oru kayak, paddle, PFD, rain gear, and enough food and water for a full day down the steep switchbacks of the Hidden Lake Trail. To find solitude, I’d have to earn it.
My legs burned and my back ached. The straps of my back left me with tender, bruised hips. My blisters broke open despite my tedious wrap-and-tape protection, bleeding through my socks. But as we wound our way along the trail, the crowds—and the fog— started to thin. By the time we got to the lake, we were practically alone, save for a few solo hikers and a mountain goat family.
We spent the day paddling around the lake, skinny dipping in the alpine lake and sunning ourselves on the rocks, dipping in and out of snow ledges and standing in the spray of cascading waterfalls that only a handful of Glacier guests have ever seen. We relished the feeling of being completely alone in one of the most frequented places in a National Park.
And, despite the brutal uphill return, I’d do it again. And did: we fished, paddled, and leaped off cliffs all over that park. That’s because “type II fun” has a special magic to it, one that helps you forget the pain just enough to give you a reason to keep putting in the work.
Because let’s just all admit it: What we’re doing is recreation. Battered by weather or blisters or hunger, adventure often feels noble and devastating and demanding and marked by trial, but at the end of the day, we do it because we love it, not because we have to. We do it for the fun of it—and that’s always worth it.