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A Walk in the Park

Who needs dessert anyway, when the evening is this sweet? (Grade-schoolers do, of course, but bear with me.) The mountain shadows slid across the water, over our tents, up the opposite cliffs. We did our chores in deepening shade, brushing pine needles out of hair, wheedling the girls toward a final potty break.

I made a great show of policing our tent for every last ant and moth and beetle, and we zipped up. Isabel drifted off after a few pages of "The Borrowers," her hand on my shoulder.

On a father-daughter backpacking trip in Montana's Glacier National Park, the author communed with nature, his child (left) and her friend. (Jim Sebastian)

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I turned off the flashlight and the stars winked on through the screen ceiling. I could hear Jim murmuring a chapter of "Lemony Snicket" to Dillon a few yards away, their weird Siamese puppet shadows dancing on the side of their glowing tent. I settled back and savored one of those precious moments that are the payoff for backpacking's inherent hassles. It only takes a few minutes on a bed of silky down under a glittering heaven to soothe the blisters and uncoil the tendons. Fatigue gives way to serenity, and in the moments before you let yourself be engulfed, your eye drifts across the sky and the whole great vastness of creation is suddenly as snug as a boudoir.

Looking dreamily down, I realized that the question of why a father-daughter wilderness trip is at once harder and better than any other kind could be answered by the touch of those little fingers on my skin. What load could be too heavy, what pace too slow, when the day ends with the caress of an angel?

With the last of my will, I surfed that exquisite curling edge between wakefulness and sleep, at one with the stars, drifting on a moment of gossamer perfection . . .

Ouch! Suddenly the caress of an angel was more like the clutch of a vulture.

"Daddy," came an urgent whisper. "I really, really, really have to go the bathroom.

"Will you come with me?"

Steve Hendrix will be online to discuss this story Monday at 2 p.m. during the Travel section's regular weekly chat on www.washingtonpost.com.

Details: Glacier National Park

GETTING THERE: Glacier National Park is in northwestern Montana. The closest airport is Kalispell, about 35 miles from Glacier's main entrance at Apgar Village (closest to Lake McDonald and the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road), and 87 miles from East Glacier (closest to the Glacier Park Lodge and the Two Medicine Lake area). Several carriers fly into Kalispell, including Delta, Alaska and Continental airlines. I found a one-stop Northwest Airlines flight from D.C. in mid-July for $471 round trip.

BACKPACKING: Wilderness camping in Glacier's million-plus acres is restricted to 65 primitive backcountry campgrounds. All are reachable by an extensive trail network, with a wide range of hiking difficulty. (Permits for off-trail campgrounds are approved on a case-by-case basis if you can demonstrate substantial wilderness experience.) Campsites are first come, first served, and all parties must register at one of the park ranger stations. Fees are $4 per adult per night and $2 for kids ages 9 to 16; no fee for 8 and under.

To improve your chances of getting the sites and itinerary you want, reservations are possible for trips starting June 15 through Oct. 31 for an additional $20. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the park's rules for "Leave No Trace" camping and the very important guidelines for camping in bear country. For more information, contact Glacier's backcountry office, 406-888-7859, or download a backcountry guide at www.nps.gov/glac/pdf/04bcguideweb.pdf.

INFO: Glacier National Park, 406-888-7800, www.nps.gov/glac.

-- Steve Hendrix

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