I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This week's instalment takes us to Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta.
The Canada-US border is pretty remarkable. For thousands of miles it's nothing more than an imaginary line through the wilderness, monitored but unfenced, the international boundary marked by a series of stone obelisks and little else.
In the summer of 2013, my friends Aaron and Ed and I decided to embark on a three-day backpacking trip from the town of Waterton, Alberta, to the Canada-US border, which here also marks the boundary between Waterton Lakes National Park, on the Alberta side, and Glacier National Park, on the Montana side.
This was one of the first real backpacking trips I'd done since summer camp as a kid; I borrowed my gear from Aaron, and before we left, I tried to brush up on the latest wilderness survival literature.
This is grizzly country, and wildlife safety is no joke. In one of Laurence Gonzales's survival books he tells the story of a woman who had her face eaten half off by a grizzly not far from where we were hiking. I liked my face and did not want it to be some bear's dinner.
Fortunately, Aaron had pretty extensive wilderness and survival training, and he kept us in line.
The hike from town to the border was about seven rocky kilometres along the western shore of Upper Waterton Lake, and it was an absolutely beautiful hike in perfect weather, our enjoyment damped only slightly by the group of women we encountered who had literally just seen a bear on the trail ahead of us, and who wanted us to walk with them to help scare it off.
We never saw that bear, or any other. But we sure thought about bears constantly.
By afternoon we'd made the border, here marked by a clearcut over the mountains and a sign on the trail welcoming hikers to Glacier Park. There's a customs and immigration station another seven miles down the trail, and people are asked to check in when they get there, but we weren't going that far. We set up camp on the Canadian side, got a fire going and cooked dinner.
The next day was for relaxation and enjoying the beautiful view across the lake. We found a little dock on the American side of the border, about fifty yards from our campsite, and we spent the day sunbathing on it, waving to the tourists on the boats that passed by, and periodically daring each other to try swimming in the bitterly cold glacial water.
I remember I'd brought Stephen Chbosky's THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER in my pack, choosing it because it was small and it wouldn't add much weight, and I read it on the dock that day in between catnaps.
In the evening, we tried out more of the freeze-dried backpacker dinners we'd brought; I can't remember what Ed and Aaron chose, but I remember they hated them. My beef stroganoff was delicious, though, and the chocolate cheesecake concoction we ate for dessert was pretty scrumptious as well.
We went to sleep with ears perked, listening for grizzlies, our knives and bear spray at the ready. Fortunately, no bears disturbed us.
The next day we enjoyed the morning, then packed up and hiked out, the weather cooperating and the miles passing easily. When we arrived back at the trailhead, we made tracks for the world-famous Weiners of Waterton for gourmet hot dogs, and we were joined in our meal by a family of deer who wandered, unfazed, through the middle of town.
Sated, we packed up the minivan and headed for home.
Waterton Lakes National Park doesn't get nearly the attention as Banff, Jasper, Yoho or Glacier, but man, is it special. Aaron and his wife, Mellissa, and I have a plan to go back sometime and explore more of the park, and I really can't wait until we make it happen.
We'll just have to brush up on our Not Getting Eaten skills again before we go.