Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

Backpacking in Belly River, Glacier National Park

Guest Blogger:  Clayton Springmeyer

Pictures by: Damian Estrada

Although I’ve lived in Montana for the entirety of my life, I didn’t start exploring Glacier National Park until I became a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. I’ll never forget that first hike. Each bend of the trail assaulted me with mind blowing mountains careening jaggedly upwards, gasp worthy, every one of them. Striations of billion year old sedimentary layers in the exposed sides of the mountains have ripples showing in the rock from the bottoms of ancient sea waves, existing now as indicators of time immemorial, slowly crumbling into red and green pebbles carried onward to either the Columbia, Saskatchewan, or Mississippi river drainage, out into the sea. The hydrology in the park fascinates me with its connectivity; the cascading snow melt from nearby ancient glaciers meander and merge into alpine creeks, which in turn merge into still larger alpine rivers, and then finally into still greater stampedes of water parading onward to the oceans of the world.

Geranium in the Belly River.

There is a certain joy to be found in rivers, swift or slow, that confronts the consciousness into a state of awareness of the present moment, awareness of the connectivity of action and reaction. A small suggestion made by a paddle upstream alters the course of the boat dramatically. Any sage of philosophy or river rat can tell you that you can’t step in the same river twice. While there are similarities in the process as a whole, the intricacies of the river are different every day, sometimes subtly, sometimes as dramatically as a fresh landslide blocking the way.

JD teaching along the trail.

I’m working as a river and backpacking guide for Montana Raft Co and Glacier Guides, Inc. just outside  West Glacier, Montana. This essentially means I’m getting to work my dream job, finally getting to explore the landscape  to the north that’s always been so full of mystery and the promise of adventure.

Hiking the Belly River trail.

I recently returned from a 3 day hitch in the Belly River area on the eastern side of the park, close to the Canadian boarder. Fresh bear prints marked the mud on our trail, and our expert guide on the trip, a bearded man from Illinois named JD who has guided in the wilderness of Alaska as well as Glacier National Park, was quick to identify grizzly bear fur that had been caught on the barbs of a bear-rub study. A walking encyclopedia of natural history, JD was a pleasure to walk alongside in the woods. The guests on our trip were from inner-city Chicago, a father and daughter on their yearly summer vacation together. They had never been backpacking before, nor had they ever been to Glacier National Park. Over the course of the three days, the joy dripped from their faces like candlewax. Sweeping valleys full of colorful wildflowers – look at that bear grass in full bloom! – edged by aspens quaking in the wind, back dropped by fir trees on alpine slopes that gave way to majestic peaks. It would be difficult, I imagine, to be unphased by such wild beauty coming straight from Chicago. I know that the trip made an impression on my mind in the same way a 300 pound bear leaves its print in fresh mud.

The fantastic view from Cosley Lake.

Here’s to a summer of adventure. Join us on a backpacking trip soon!
Happy trails,
Clay Springmeyer
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