“Look at this trail, Joel,” I said to my 11-year-old son, pointing out a wide, smooth gradual downhill stretch leading away from Granite Park Chalet. “We’ll fly down this.”
I didn’t know it at the moment, but I wasn’t exaggerating.
Our family had enjoyed the 7.5-mile hike on the Highline Trail from Logan Pass to the chalet that day in 2008 halfway through our carefully planned trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park. We started in light rain that quickly became bright sunshine with spectacular views, mountain goats and beautiful flowers.
As our 13-year-old son zoomed ahead, our younger son, usually a reluctant hiker, had exclaimed, “It’s like a postcard picture at every turn!”
We arrived at the chalet and enjoyed snacks and conversation with other hikers and the staff. Just before we started down 4 miles to the Loop where our car was waiting, I snapped a few photos of my husband, Brian, and sons.
Then Joel and I started down.
A few seconds after my fateful comment, with the chalet still in view up the hillside, I started to slide on the loose dirt of the trail as I was walking too fast. I put my left foot down to stop my slide, but I put it down very wrong.
Joel remembers hearing the loud and sickening “crack” as two bones in my ankle broke, completely dislocating my foot.
I screamed for help and what seemed like dozens of other hikers immediately came at a run, some with bear spray drawn – thinking I was encountering a bear.
Shortly, a ranger arrived with a plastic stretcher and I was moved up to the big meadow behind the chalet, where the staff comforted me with blankets, pillows and Gatorade during the two hours before a medical helicopter arrived. Brian and the boys had already started out so they could meet me at the hospital in Kalispell.
The pain was not so bad that I couldn’t marvel at the next stage of my Glacier Park trip. The helicopter team let me sit up so I could see the views.
The lakes, waterfalls and peaks spread out below me like a perfect map. It was the only part of my park experience that made my hiking friends and relatives envious.
Almost everyone I met at the hospital knew the stretch of trail where I had broken my ankle.
Although I still wince at fouling up the family vacation, I’ve essentially made a full recovery with the help of many people from the moment of my accident through the medical procedures and rehabilitation. I’ve returned to Glacier with the family and had a fabulous hike to Hole in the Wall.
I also ran the Coeur d’Alene Marathon this year and qualified for the Boston Marathon – a trip I’m eager to try.
But I have no intention to fly around the course.