I have always associated backpacking with solitude and a chance to disconnect from the social pressures of our modern world. Growing up it was instilled in me that seeing less people is directly correlated witha better wilderness experience. My most recent backcountry trip challenged that idea and left me thinking a lot about community and connection on the trail.
Prior to this season working in Glacier's backcountry permit office, the majority of my overnight experiences happened in National Forest land where, let's face it, there are less rules. It allowed me to go days at time without seeing another soul on-trail, and certainly never camping by them when given the chance. So, needless to say I was unsure how to feel about the design of Glacier's backcountry sites, which share a common kitchen area. Part of me felt some entitlement to time alone if I was going to hike for several days…after all, isn't that the whole point?
I decided to go into my trip with an open-mind and a lot of gratitude for a job that allows me access to some of the most beautiful scenery there is. The first day as we hiked past what felt like thousands of visitors headed to Iceberg Lake, I started feeling overwhelmed. Had we just committed to 5 days of bearbells and selfie sticks? 'Maybe we should have gone to The Bob' my husband and I questioned nervously to each other.
That night we arrived into camp at Elizabeth Lake and headed to the food prep area to hang our food and make dinner. All the campers for the evening were there as well, eating dinner and socializing. There were two other groups in addition to my husband and I; a dad in his late 60's with his adult sons, playing cards and drinking whiskey as they joked with their dad that they would ditch him on the hike if he couldn't keep up. A husband and wife with their teenage kids on a guided trip with Glacier Guides were playing a game together all with the biggest smiles on their faces. We all chatted and learned a bit about each other, talking about our trips and wildlife we had seen so far. Everyone resulting in the same conclusion, that this was the trip of a lifetime with the people they love.
The entire next day on our hike to Stoney Indian I thought about this idea of solitude versus community. Then for the next 3 nights I experienced the same phenomenon: Sharing space with people from totally different backgrounds, yet connecting so easily through our love of Glacier and the natural world. There I was, in the middle of the woods with people who were different from me in so many ways, yet we have this opportunity to come together and let our differences take a back seat. And it occurred to me, isn't this what we should be doing all the time?