By Austin Bennett
Sometimes, you just have to go for it. That is what I thought as I stared up a section of trail in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, mountains famous for their stark cliffs and strenuous trails. It was the final summit I had planned to wrap up a two-month solo trip that had taken me across the American Southwest, through deserts, over mountains, down canyons, and finally to the crisp air of the Canadian mountains in summer.
I arrived in Glacier National Park of Canada with the hope to spend two days doing two separate daylong hikes, either of which would challenge even well-trodden outdoorsman. However, a series of scattered thunderstorms had kept me trapped below the tree line the day before for fear of lightning strikes on exposed mountain ridges. I decided instead to attempt both hikes in one day: A combined 12 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical elevation gain. Having already ascended and returned from the first trail, I now stood at the crossroads to the second trail—Abbott Ridge—steeling myself for what would be a brutal uphill climb. I had hiked this trail the previous summer, and knew exactly what was in store.
I set off through the evergreens of the temperate rainforest, the sun well past its zenith. I knew I would be returning from Abbott Ridge after nightfall and packed accordingly, including a headlamp and a Bluetooth speaker. The latter is not something I often bring to the outdoors, but this was established grizzly bear country. Last year, several trails in the park had been completely closed due to multiple daily grizzly sightings, and hiking after sunset alone in these mountains required certain precautions. The key to preventing a harmful run-in with a grizzly is to constantly make noise so you don’t startle them (and hopefully to scare them away before ever crossing paths). Based on experience, I know that bears can’t stand The Beatles—I’ve yet to see a bear in the wilderness while blaring “Love Me Do.”
I only passed one group on the trail, and they were descending well in time to be back at their camp before sunset. I pushed myself along at the fastest pace I could manage after what had already been a long day of hiking. Some switchbacks seemed to shoot straight up the mountain, disappearing around curves of the slope at foreboding 60 and 70-degree angles. As I broke out of the tree line and the main crest of Abbott Ridge came into sight, long shadows were already forming in the low places of the mountainside.
I was short on time, and hiking down at night was already a foregone conclusion. I began the final ascent of Abbott Ridge, a sheer cliff of solid quartzite only accessible by a narrow trail up the backside and along the ridge itself. In some stretches, a few feet of exposed rock are all that separate 400-foot drops on either side. As the sun began to dip below the ridges of the far mountains on the horizon, I managed to reach the highest point along the ridge and set up my camera for some hasty panoramas.
Ecstatic that I had completed both hikes in one day, I began the descent. However, as I entered back below the tree line, I began to feel uneasy. I started to think it would be just my luck to get mauled by a bear on the very last hike of my road trip. Singing along to The Beatles at the top of my lungs to generate as much noise as possible, I hiked through the darkness as the shadows shifted and stretched just past the glow of my headlamp. Colossal trees creaked in the wind, giving me jumps and starts. I half walked, half jogged down the trail just hoping not to see a bear. Finally, as Magical Mystery Tour came to a close with “All You Need Is Love,” I reached the end of the trail. The day had been rewarding, exhilarating, and nothing short of exhausting.
Austin Bennett is an adventure writer and photographer out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. You can follow his travels on Instagram at @spark1ez.