"You're using logic," Jim said, as the girls began methodically to unpack. "Why are you using logic?"
The day did bloom into a mountain beauty. We climbed, sometimes under high white clouds in a wide blue sky, sometimes in the speckled shade of the deep forest. Eventually the girls stabilized at T-shirts and ball caps, and we cheerfully reeled off the miles until we came to a waterfall, cleaved in two, plunging into a frothy black pool.
On a father-daughter backpacking trip in Montana's Glacier National Park, the author communed with nature, his child (left) and her friend.
Could a biologist please explain to me how two tiny beings, both of whom had been wracked all day by the tiniest waft of cool air, could look at a body of clearly freezing glacial runoff and declare, with one voice, "Let's go swimming!"?
In the time it took Jim to say "Don't look at me," the girls had dropped their packs, kicked off their shoes and charged into the freezing current. They never even flinched. Whereas I, once I'd stripped down to shorts, crept forward with a bad case of rigor mortis and a hideous deathhead grin. When Isabel -- that playful sprite! -- splashed me, it was like being splattered with acid, and my banshee shriek echoed off the cliff walls for a good five seconds. That's another way to keep the bears away.
Soon after -- a mere seven hours after we began our three-hour hike -- we topped a final ridge and looked down at a smaller, narrower lake within the bathtub walls of Lone Walker Mountain and other peaks. Upper Two Medicine, our campsite.
It was a lovely spot, deserted except for a chummy volunteer ranger taking measurements of the trail. Since the feds were around -- and because we didn't want the kids to turn up the next day as grizzly poop somewhere on the mountainside -- Jim and I followed all the rules. We immediately hung our food in a designated spot 50 yards from the campsite. (The theory being that if our Swiss Miss cocoa was going to attract bears, better to attract them far enough away from the tent to give us time to call Hollywood and sell the movie rights before they traced all the screaming to the evening's main course.) We set up the tents in a feng-shui-perfect spot near the lakeshore. And then we went exploring.
Forty yards away was the latrine, the standard wooden one-seater filled with the usual spider webs and the customary fruity ambiance. While nothing compared to the girls' room at school, it still required some deliberation. But nature, the interior kind, took its course and they both agreed to go in; Isabel insisted I go with her.
Outside, Jim had the kitchen set up -- also well away from the tent zone -- and with the lowering sun casting glittering red shadows on the lake, we rustled up freeze-dried bean burritos. I worked on my specialty camp dessert, an invention of my own called Cheesecake à la Zip-loc. All day long -- through the sweaty climbs up the mountain and the glacial dips in the waterfall pool -- we'd been talking about this fancy treat, which I've been perfecting for years. "Is there any more trail mix?" Dillon asked after one bite.
"Do much camping?" the volunteer ranger wondered politely, having accepted a proffered bowl.
Jim said it tasted like formaldehyde, which was patently untrue. Like he knows how formaldehyde tastes.