This summer, I had the opportunity to visit Glacier National Park for the first time. It was everything I expected it to be: majestic, wild, expansive, and unpredictable.
My exploration partner and I prepared with hiking shoes; hydration packs; layers to protect against the sun, cold and rain; bug spray and bear spray. We filled our days with drives, hikes, raft rides, and moments of silence looking at the incredible landscape.
I had a lot of time to think while exploring, and came home with a few takeaways from the trail, inspired by my adventures and Mark Miller’s book, The Heart of Leadership.
1. Ask Questions
When you’re going down a new path, there are several different approaches you can take. Some people just strike out on their own with no real sense of what lies ahead. For our trip to Glacier, which covers nearly one million square miles, we had to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions. Where do we stay? Which hikes are appropriate for our timeline and skill level? What do we do about the wildlife we encounter on the trail?
Before this trip, I’ve never had to purchase bear spray, let alone learn how to use it. A guide taught us how to spray towards the bear in a Z pattern so that a bear would be less likely to run around the spray. A ranger told us about a father who used bear spray like bug spray—essentially coating his five kids with red pepper oil. He obviously did not do his research, and the family ended up in the emergency room.
My takeaway: A commitment to lifelong learning will equip you for whatever lies ahead. Be open to insights, opinions and views. Learn new skills. Establish a network of counselors to call on for their advice.
2. Be Courageous
The Highline Trail is a 14.9-mile out-and-back trail that takes you from Logan's Pass, along the Garden Wall and up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook all before reaching the Granite Park Chalet. You’re bound to see a grizzly or black bear, grouses, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and marmots. The hike became famous thanks to a hand rail section near the trailhead. At times the trail is no more than three feet wide and winds high above the Going to the Sun Road. It is not for those who are uncomfortable with heights, and guess what? I am terrified of heights.
After much debating and researching about what to expect, I forced myself to walk this trail. As I took those first hundred steps, it seemed like the world was spinning. I clung to the rope that rangers had attached securely to the mountain. I plodded along, step by step, focusing on the wall and my feet—I did not dare look out for fear that I would fall headfirst into the rocks below.
Once past this scary part of the hike, I was rewarded with expansive views of mountains, evergreens, wildflowers and wildlife. The amount of time I spent with heights and steep drop offs that morning made me more comfortable for the hike back.
My takeaway: Practice being courageous. As you go through your day and something intimidates you, ask what you would lose by not doing it and what you might gain by doing it.
3. Think of Others First
On the last day of our adventure, we rafted down the North Fork of the Flathead River. Bordering the legendary wilderness of Glacier National Park, our paddle-powered trip offered a chance to connect to untamed Montana scenery from a whole new perspective.
Our guide, Kate, entertained us for hours with facts about the river, its history, hydrology, the birds, beasts and humans who call this park home. It was our first time rafting, so we paddled down an easy portion of the river with mostly Class II rapids—nothing stressful. Water levels were somewhat low in August, so Kate navigated our group of six rafters around many rocks. To her dismay, we “parked” (got stuck on rocks) five times during the trip. Each time, our group of six rafters had to work together to help Kate dislodge the raft. “Move to the front!” she would call. “Move to the back!” Each time, we would collectively move as she directed, but ultimately, she would have to get out and use her strength to get us off the rocks and moving back down the river.
On the last set of rapids, which were Class III, we were leaning in and paddling somewhat in unison when the raft leaned dramatically. Kate fell off the back of the raft and many thought they were going to follow her in. We helped each other stay on the raft and helped Kate back on. She said it was the first “guide swim” she had taken this summer season—and the dip would require her to buy a 30-pack of beer for her guide colleagues. “I could just not tell them that I took that swim, but what fun would that be?” she asked.My takeaway: Putting others first is not primarily about what you do—it is about how you think. It’s all about what’s in your heart. How can you best serve others and what does a win look like for them?