In the featured photo above, we’re looking east along the 49th parallel. One step to the left is Canada. One to the right is the United States.
That cut in the trees across the lake, called The Slash, is just over six meters wide and runs for 3,500 kilometers.
On Monday, Charlie’s shoulder was still a mess. That little trip into Lower Bertha on Saturday hadn’t helped a bit.
This was his second hike along the Lakeshore Trail, and this was his last practice run on it.
Next year, when he’d turn seventy, it’d be showtime for all seventeen hikes listed in the Hiking Map and Guide for the Waterton Lakes National Park.
I’ve come a long way, he thought, considering that I’d never really hiked until last year.
Last year had to be gentle, this year can be a tad more challenging, and then next year will be my biggy. The big 7-0.
And I’m definitely going to hike all of them alone, goldarnit. Unfortunately, that alone was becoming a problem.
But despite the little alone glitch, he thought, I just keep getting more and more excited with each new practice run. Apprehensive maybe, but excited. Very excited.
However, he often remembered the morning out on the patio last year when he told BJ about his plan. She hadn’t been quite as enthusiastic.
“You’re out of your mind, Charlie. No one ever hikes alone. Not ever.”
He’d told BJ all about the hikes, hoping that would help. There are seventeen of them, he’d said, and they range in distance from 0.6 to 21 kilometers. The hike with the most elevation gain is the Akamina Ridge at 975 meters, almost a kilometer. Straight up in places.
BJ was listening, but playing with her left earlobe. That was not a good sign.
The Akamina Ridge Trail, he continued, is 18.3 kilometers. The Lineham Ridge is similar at 17.2 with an elevation gain of 950 meters. And both ridges involve scrambling.
I’ve never scrambled before, BJ. And I still don’t know what it involves. It does sound a bit scary, I’ll admit, but if I can’t do it, or if it looks the least bit dangerous, I’ll just turn back.
Right, BJ thought. She couldn’t imagine him ever turning back from anything he’d set his mind to. She was still fiddling with her earlobe.
And they would come back to that particular discussion about his project a number of times, especially the alone part.
Anyhow, because of his shoulder, today’s practice run down to Goat Haunt had to be an easy, ultralight, 15.3 kilometer walk with just his bear spray, a fanny pack with his journal and a pen, and one pole in his right hand.
He bought his ticket for the boat ride back at the Waterton Lakes Cruise office. He also left his car in their parking lot. And the walk from there down to the Bertha Lake parking lot was really encouraging. Hardly any pain.
And just up from the Bertha parking lot, he found what he took to be another good sign, his secret patch of mountain lady’s-slippers still in full bloom.
And they’re even more beautiful than usual, he thought.
Despite his auspicious beginning, however, he was fully aware he was risking serious injury to his AC if he banged it up, though he remembered the trail as being mostly flat.
But his memory failed him. The trail was far from flat.
He also knew his favorite part of the hike was going to be the 49th parallel. His ritualistic high-point piss would not be on a high point today, but it would be very, very special.
No high-point piss could ever match pissing on the 49th parallel. Lots of high points, but only one 49th. Two countries at once. Just swing it back and forth across the border.
Then he thought of the little tailor whose belt said, “Seven at One Blow,” and he chuckled.
And when he got to the border, there was no one else around, so he was free to straddle it and hose it down in peace.
A sign just off the trail said it was only 7.2 kilometers to the Ranger Station where he’d get his passport stamped, “Port of Goat Haunt, MT, Glacier National Park,” and beside the official stamp a second one, a depiction of a big, burly goat.
The rest of the trail from the 49th down to the Ranger Station was mostly flat and quite picturesque.
Actually, Charlie had come to really dislike the Lakeshore Trail and the Crypt Lake Trail, though, because both hikes depended on catching a friggin boat back to the townsite.
But I’ll leave that particular tirade for the novel.
He noted in his journal that he got to the US Customs at 1:58. Was processed by 2:13. And the boat back would leave at 2:25. He saw having only twelve minutes to spare as cutting it a way too fine.
All that pressure because of the frigging boat. And the same with Crypt. Another friggin boat.
Charlie was really curious about the metal barge right next to the dock. In his twelve-minutes-to-spare, he asked one of the officers about it, but she said none of them knew anything, and they’d been told not to ask questions.
The barge would just show up unannounced, she said, with a half-dozen men and horses, and then they’d quietly saddle up and ride out into the trees toward Glacier. They weren’t very talkative.
Her only guess was that maybe some people might hike down from Waterton and keep going straight, instead of hanging a left for the short walk into the Ranger Station, because they were trying to enter the US illegally. Although, she said, it’s probably about something entirely different. She just didn’t know.
By 2:25, a storm was obviously coming in from the west, but the trip north still looked sunny.
It’s been a good day, Charlie decided. I’ve made the whole 15.3 kilometers down to Goat Haunt with no stress whatsoever on my AC. I made it in time to catch the boat back. And, of course, the highlight was my undisturbed, leisurely pause at the 49th.
I just wish I’d been able to find a rock I liked that was dead center on the border, or even a second-best by the hanging bridge.
This is the bridge is where he’d hoped to find a second-best.
Charlie’s declaration about it being a good day, however, was before the muscles on the insides of his thighs started to cramp as soon as he sat down for the boat ride back.
And before he remembered that BJ wouldn’t be home to help him check for ticks.
I had to hike the Lakeshore Trail with Charlie, as well as all his other hikes. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known what he’d done. Or more importantly, how he felt about what he’d done.
He did have a couple close calls that could have gone either way. And the irony is that those close calls didn’t happen on the dramatic hikes: the Akamina Ridge, the Lineham Ridge, the Carthew-Alderson.
They happened on two of the trails that were supposed to be safe, that is until he tried to do some things he shouldn’t have.
I could never have imagined what Charlie felt when he thought he might be about to die. That’s why I had to be up there with him.
And maybe our being together up there helped me come a wee bit closer to writing what Hemingway describes as true sentences about true experiences.
Made-up things always sound made up. Don’t they?
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