Off the Map Week 8: Worth a toenail

“My toenail’s probably going to fall off,” my mother predicted as she shortened the nail with a pair of clippers. The damage had been done in the course of a four-mile hike in Montana’s Glacier National Park - one with minimal elevation gain. The toe-stubbing downhill stretch had not seemed long enough to cause such an injury, but I suppose some toes stub more easily than others. I hated to think what today’s twelve-mile hike was going to do to her.

The hike I had chosen for my visiting family was the Highline/Loop Trail - a popular route that clung two-thirds of the way up a 6,000-foot slope and kept a level altitude before suddenly taking a four-mile plunge towards the valley floor. As one hiked from south to north, the unbroken views of glacier-scoured valleys and snow-speckled summits would constantly tap at one’s left shoulder, requesting a moment for well-deserved appreciation.

It was easy to become absorbed in the study of these primeval expanses, and I expected we were in far more danger of negligently falling off the steep edge of the path than of getting mauled by a grizzly bear, especially considering of the popularity of the trail. We were just three out of a long chain of pilgrims crossing the high country, except that most other travelers were far noisier. They chattered and shook bells as they walked so that they wouldn’t come across a bear unawares and startle it. With all this activity, I figured that any creature would need to be both deaf and blind to be surprised by our passage.

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