The don'ts of camping
The Many Glacier valley in Glacier National Park as seen from the trail leading to the Granite park Chalet.
Staff Writer | October 7, 2021 1:00 AM
Camping advice can be good. It can save you a lot of headache and heartache
But I’m not going to tell you what you should do in the great outdoors.
I’m going to tell you what not to do — as in, don’t do what I did on a recent solo camping trip to Glacier National Park.
Starting with ...
Don’t take your wife’s phone with you
I was about 200 miles into my drive to Glacier in Montana when I discovered I had my wife’s cellphone in my back pocket. And yes, I still had my phone, too. Somehow, I guess it comes with old age, I absentmindedly picked up her phone, which looks an awful lot like mine.
I spent the next hour calling people and trying to get someone to go to our house and tell my wife I had her phone so she wasn’t still searching for it.
I felt lousy about leaving my wife without a phone and thought she would be quite annoyed with me. A bad start on what should have been an epic trip.
Don’t then misplace your wife’s phone
A day later, I began to wonder what I had done with my wife’s phone. I was sure I had put it under a car mat for safekeeping, but no. In the middle of a morning rainfall, I took everything out of the car, and shook everything out. Nothing. I began stressing that not only had I taken my wife’s phone, I had now somehow lost it. It put a bit of a damper on my morning run to Iceberg Lake, my favorite in the world. When I returned to the campsite, I began checking with rangers about where a lost and found phone might end up. No sign of any misplaced cell phone. I felt worse. Later, driving home, when I got cell reception again, I called it. I heard it vibrate. Under the car mat. Where I put it. Don’t ask.
Don’t assume you’ll find a place to camp
I planned to stop about midway to Glacier and pitch a tent. Instead, in a hurry, I drove straight through the night to reach Glacier and figured I would camp at Apgar campground inside the west entrance. Only, the sign said the campground was full and since it was nearly midnight and pitch dark, I had no choice but to sleep in the car. Terrible idea. I slept for maybe an hour as I fidgeted in the front seat, extended back and down as far as it would go. On the good side, I was up by 5:30 a.m.
Don’t bring a child’s tent
I have a perfectly good, 9’ by 9’ tent. Did I bring it? No. Instead, I picked up a cool little 5’ x 6’ at a thrift store for a few bucks that is better suited for hobbits. I figured if I slept diagonally in it, I would fit. I did – barely. It was not comfortable. But the real problem was, it dumped rain the second night. I had a canopy over the tent, but every so often it would fill with water around the edges and cascade off in a waterfall. My head and feet were getting wet, so I retreated to the car. Not much better. An echo chamber from the pounding rain. This time, I slept for maybe 30 minutes. But again, I was up by 5:30!
Don’t camp near a creek if you’re paranoid
Shortly after I set up my campsite, my neighbor said a moose had wandered through, exactly when my tent now stood. My campsite at Many Glacier was near the creek. Normally, a great site. But every time I heard the brush move, I feared it was a moose coming to trample me or a grizzly bear coming to eat me. It was much like my irrational fears when we lived on Kauai when I went swimming at Hanalei Bay. I was convinced a shark was going to emerge from the deep — and one day, one did, about five minutes after I left the water. Exactly where I had been swimming off the famous Hanalei Pier. Ha. I was right all along.
Don’t use walking sticks if you’re there to run
I picked up a pair of those walking sticks at a rummage sale and decided to try them out. They’re great — if you’re walking. If you came to run the trails, like I did, not so great. They changed my mindset from an adventurous, leaping, soaring runner to a cautious, timid walker. I told my wife later, they made me feel like an old man with walking sticks. She just smiled and nodded. I knew what she wanted to say: "You are an old man with walking sticks."
Don’t hike for miles alone
Some six miles into a hike toward Granite Park Chalet, I came to realize I hadn’t seen another hiker for an hour or so. In fact, the higher and longer I followed the trail, the fewer people I saw. As I sat on a rock in a vast meadow, the sun long gone, miles from the campground and narrow trails on cliffs still to navigate, I realized if I fell, twisted an ankle, broke a leg, whatever, there would be no one around to help me. I could be stuck out there. I made it back but I had put myself in a bad situation. Still, being alone, in the mountains, was the best part of the trip.
Don’t worry so much
Two hours of sleep over two nights zapped my brain. I wasn’t thinking clearly and had let circumstances get to me. My carefree spirit had left. I let worry — about a phone, about a tent, about rain, about being visited by a grizzly at night, about being gone from home — taint what should have been a glorious trip.
It all started with accidentally taking my wife's phone. But then again, it’s really her fault. She left it where I could find it. She should have known better. When I got home, she said she figured quickly I must have taken her phone, and wasn't even mad about it.
Next time, I'll know better.