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  • Writer's pictureIlana Newman

3 passes x 30 miles

30.34 miles, 6813 feet elevation gain, 7170 feet elevation loss, 13:33 hours

It was overcast and the forecast indicated rain as we drove up the Going to the Sun road on Wednesday morning at 6am. A few patches of sunlight illuminated the mountains with pinks and yellows, just the idea of a sunrise. I felt a pit in my stomach, mentally preparing myself to be hiking all day in the rain, wishing that I had brought my sweatpants to at the very least have something comforting and warm waiting in the car for my return.

Morning sun rising on Oberlin on the drive up the Going to the Sun Road

We started out at Sunrift Gorge at about 7:30 in the morning, hiking about 5.8 miles and 3,800 feet of elevation gain to reach Siyeh Pass at about 9:40. We hiked completely in the fog, unable to see more than about 200 feet in front of us. We were stoked to have not seen a single human the entire hike up, running into our first hikers once we made it to the pass. We did see a mama and baby deer down by Sunrift, just munchin on some plants. Spirits were high for the first pass of the day, and we stopped to eat Flathead cherries and pretzels at the top of the pass. Even at the top of the pass, we couldn't see anything, except the faint possibility of a lake, far below.

As we headed down to meet up with the Piegan pass trail, the clouds started to lift, and the scenery came into view for the first time. I could see the east face of Piegan mountain, that I had just summited the week before, and Mount Siyeh, one of the six 10,000 foot peaks in the park, towering beside us. We hiked down into Preston park, which is rumored to have some of the finest wildflowers in the park, so of course we spent a while looking at flowers and frolicking through the meadows.

At about 7.5 miles, we took the turnoff to Piegan pass, hiking in a wide cirque above Siyeh bend. Here we heard some heavy rustling noises coming from the scree field above us, but never actually saw anything moving. We made it to Piegan pass at about 11:30, having hiked 9.3 miles so far. By the time we made it to Piegan, the clouds had mostly lifted, leaving the vegetation dewey, but the sun high in the sky. We could see the east side of the Garden Wall, stretching from Pollack all the way down to Mount Gould, Bishop’s Cap standing out dramatically on the ridgeline.

Here we started a whopping 13 miles of downhill/flat hiking, my absolute favorite (sense the sarcasm here), hiking all the way from Piegan Pass, to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and then up the Swiftcurrent Valley. My feet were hurting pretty bad at this point, and we were barely even halfway through the hike. We hadn't stopped much so far, pausing for short breaks at each of the passes to eat a snack and stretch, but we decided to take a longer lunch/swim break at lower Grinnell lake, as we entered into Many Glacier. The lake was exactly what I needed to rest my feet and catch a break what had turned into a very sunny day.

this view of lake josephine was behind us on our way into swiftcurrent

After a nice long break, we headed into Swiftcurrent, where my tired, dirty, happy hiker body and mind was put into a strange dichotomy of clean and new as we walked into the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn to refill our water. We discovered that the gift store right next door had a plethora of candy and snacks, so we decided to get snickers and blackberry soft serve to fuel up for the 11 miles that we still had left. After another, unexpected short break, we headed up towards Swiftcurrent pass. I didnt take many photos during this part of the trail, mostly because I was tired and focusing on just moving forward, one step at a time.

After about four more miles of flat hiking, passing Red Rock Falls and a few small lakes, we arrived at the first uphill since Piegan pass. I was tired, but stoked to be switching muscle groups for awhile, so we started moving upwards slowly but surely. We had passed our first bear on the trail just outside of Swiftcurrent, a griz who paid us literally no attention, and there continued to be fresh scat on the trail so we were on alert, but never saw anything besides some swimming garter snakes.

nothing tastes better than water when you're exhausted

As we hiked up to Swiftcurrent pass, we witnessed one of the most incredible weather events I've ever seen in such a beautiful place. A storm passed over us, and we got rained on for a total of thirty seconds, and as it all passed, the most perfect rainbow lit up the valley below us. For a moment I forgot how tired I was and just fully appreciated the world we live in, and how special it is to be able to be in the mountains. All day we had watched as storm clouds circled the Logan Pass area, but never once did we get rained on until the very end of our day.

Just over the pass we headed down to Granite Park, a welcome sight as it meant only four more miles down to the Loop. We sat for a minute and ate snickers we had bought back in Swiftcurrent, but this only served to make my feet hurt more once I stood back up. Those last four miles were brutal on my aching feet, but we did get scared faster by some lightning that struck way too close for comfort, and another rainbow, over Oberlin. We ended up hitchhiking back to the car parked at Sunrift Gorge, getting a ride with some folks who told us to get in the back of their truck. It was an incredible ride up over Logan Pass as the sun set right in front of us.

It had turned into one of those perfect days in the mountains where your body is wrecked but your mind is refreshed. Pretty much nothing went wrong, and everything went exactly as it should have. Before this summer I had hiked maybe 12 miles in a day. After this trip I had proved to myself that I could hike more than double that. Always grateful for friends who push me to do things I am uncomfortable with, as pretty much all of the time it leads to the best adventures, and leaves me feeling stronger and more capable than before. All I can say is push yourself. Dont be afraid to try, because the worst that can happen is that you might have to try again.

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