After a couple days’ travel, which I could have made in one day had I not been so paranoid about finding a campsite Labor Day weekend, I reach Glacier National Park. The park is relatively small in the Canadian Rockies area and attracts much fewer tourists than the parks just miles to the west. I get a great campsite near a rushing river and set out on a couple of hikes. The Great Glacier trail takes me up along the edge of a mountain across from what once was a huge glacial peak. There is still a small glacier, but pictures from a century ago show the expanse that the glacier used to occupy. You can see the striations in the rocks showing the border of the former glacier.
At the base of the trail, signs chronicle the history of the rubble of Glacier Hotel that had its heyday in the early 1900’s and was demolished in 1927. The palatial Canadian Rockies train used to run right at the base of the glacier and stopped in front of the chalet inspired luxury hotel. Now all that’s left are the foundation stones and some rusty water heaters and bathtubs. The train route was rerouted in the 1910’s and the lack of direct traffic led to the hotel’s demise. I’m envious of the kind of luxury that existed back then: a scenic first-class train ride to a remote luxury hotel suite… Swiss guides to the summit of the glacier… it all seems so far removed from my own travel experience. But, even if it were available today, I’d be too cheap to go.
In the morning I try another hike called Balu Pass which travels along the valley between the mountains Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Notice a theme there? That’s right, my guidebook describes it as, “an excellent place to see bears.” Ok, I thought. I’m sure that’s just a rare occurrence, nothing to worry about. Then I get to a sign about a mile in announcing there are both Grisly and Black bears and that they love to hang out in the clearing before me and that I should consult the brochure on bear safety for tips. Great. Of course the brochure is down the hill at the visitor’s center. I remember vaguely reading something once about bears that confused me: if the bear is stalking you, fight back, but if you surprise the bear, play dead… although fighting back sometimes works… so if playing dead doesn’t work, after a couple minutes start to fight back. After a couple minutes of what?! Being torn to bits by a bear!? Fine. I keep going, but I’m constantly looking around, in back of me, up the hill, down by the stream. I know I should make noise so I scrape my boots on the path and start whistling and eventually start singing The Day the Music Died. I think I made it about another mile and then decided this just wasn’t going to work. I was absolutely paranoid and got freaked out when I saw a marmot on top of a rock. So I turned around.