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National Parks: Glacier

Rule #1 when planning a hike through this iconic park: Let your ambition match the scenery.

When I wake up at dawn the next morning, Mike’s already out. I take a path to the edge of Cosley Lake. A blanket of mist hangs over the lake, and columns of white curl into the air. The water, sky, and shadowy mountains are shades of orange or gray, and silent. The lake surface is so still, I imagine the water holding its breath, as if to keep from disturbing the reflected mountains.

It rained hard during the night, and the air feels fresh, like fall has arrived. We’ll need the cool weather. We’ve got 15 miles to cover before evening, including the trip’s biggest climb—1,700 feet to the top of Stoney Indian Pass.

We blast out of Cosley Lake as the last of the mist burns off the water, and hike easy lakeside miles, the sun-dappled understory ablaze with yellow and red. Trees grow old up here, and thick, primeval-looking moss makes the forest feel ancient. We’re hitting our stride, and it’s not a moment too soon. After one night of late-September chill, we sense the season might close on us if we don’t hurry. We curve around the southern flank of Stoney Indian Peak, where the Molokwanis River slides down tier after tier of scoured rock. Mike insists I take a few pictures of him where it looks like he’s clawing the ground, trying to avoid tumbling 40 feet into the river below. I oblige, but I’m starting to get skeptical. Can he be deliberately displaying all of hypomania’s symptoms that he told me about: the narcissism, the impulsive risk-taking? Is he behaving like this because he can’t help it—or because the medical literature says he can? When we’re tempted off-trail into a meadow with views of three distant waterfalls spilling off Shepard Glacier, I decide to ask him point-blank: Was it better before you got this diagnosis?

“No way,” he says. “This changed my life. Before, I didn’t know what was going on with me. But now I know I have a real, treatable disorder. It’s a mild case, as far as the bipolar spectrum goes, and I’m working with my doctor on a treatment. But for now it’s like being free from myself.”

I ask him if he worries about having a psychotic break—being carried by his hypomania past the point of being able to tell what’s what. He considers this, or seems to. “That reminds me,” he says, rummaging through his bag. He produces a little white pill: benzodiazepine. “If that happens, shove one of these down my throat.”

We climb quickly to the 6,900-foot top of Stoney Indian Pass. I reach it first, legs surging with lactic acid, eyes filled with more glacier-covered rock than we’ve seen so far. Here, it seems like every north-facing peak cradles a snow-white shadow below its summit, often with a waterfall dangling like a tail. Mike crests a minute later, camera in hand, drops his pack, and toes the edge of the 600-foot drop to Stoney Indian Lake on the far side of the pass. In the video he captures, his toes extend out over the void. It’s not a camera trick. I don’t say anything. But I can’t help wondering how I’ll know when to reach for the little white pill. What looks like a psychotic break to me might just be a moment of joy for Mike.

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