This spring, Jake Bramante sat in the back corner of a coffee shop, a jumble of topographic maps fanned out on the table before him, waiting for the trails to thaw.
A series of enlarged photographs hangs on display above Bramante’s public work station, and each frame depicts an iconic landmark in Glacier National Park - the Floral Park traverse on the ridgeline of Bearhat Mountain, Avalanche Lake surrounded by Little Matterhorn, Mount Edwards and Mount Brown looming above Hidden Lake.
It’s as if the park’s horns and ridges erupted from Bramante’s disarray of maps and presented themselves in sharp relief, revealing a vivid panorama of the expedition he is planning to embark on in a few short weeks.
This summer, the 33-year-old videographer hopes to become the first person to hike all of Glacier National Park’s 734 miles of established trails in a single season.
To Bramante’s knowledge – and according to the park officials he’s consulted – nobody has been recognized as having accomplished the feat, and to ensure success he planning the expedition meticulously.
An avid hiker, Bramante can rattle off the names and pinpoint the locations of every crag and goat’s-eye view portrayed in the photographs above him, hardly needing to glance back at the table to find them on the smooth contours of his maps.
Now he’s transferring his intimate familiarity with the maps to the trails they delineate.
And he’s hoping his planning will help him overcome one of the deepest and latest-lingering snowpacks in the park’s history.
The snow-free trails in the lower valley have kept him busy so far. He’s been blogging like crazy. But it’s still not clear August holds for him. The high country will be buried until late in the month.
But in the spring, he was doing his best to prepare from his reservoir of experience. He used a marker to make tiny amendments to an already labyrinthine network of trails.
“That’s a trail,” he said, pointing to a squiggle that denotes a section of single-track perhaps a fraction of a mile long.
As Bramante made additional marks, the fractions began to add up, and his meticulous attention to detail and concern with mileage seemed more understandable.
His physical abilities don’t concern him – young and fit, and barring injury, he’ll cover the distance fine – but in order to complete his project he must hike all of Glacier’s established trails, the precise quantity of which has changed through the years.
“The mileage differs from map to map,” he said. For example, a decades-old map at Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell shows nearly 1,000 miles of established trail.
“The park swallows things up pretty quick. It’s just kind of how nature rolls,” Bramante said.
An exact figure has also eluded many of today’s cartographers, but Bramante believes he’s found a solution. After consulting with Richard Menicke, a geographer and GIS coordinator at West Glacier, Bramante has added some 30 miles of trail to National Geographic’s current rendering, a map which depicts approximately 700 miles of trail.
“National Geographic says there are 700 miles of trail today, but I know for a fact that’s short,” Bramante said. “It doesn’t include some trails that are more administrative in nature. They might only be a mile or less and lead to a ranger station, but they count.”
“There are actually 734.88 miles of trail if you count the bike paths in Apgar Village,” he continued. “So I’ll hike those, too.”
Bramante expects the project will take around six months, a period during which he hopes to average about 13 miles a day, weather dependent, and will actually cover more than 1,000 miles, as many trails are designed as out-and-back trips.
He’ll hike most sections as day hikes while carrying a pack containing 10 pounds of computer and video equipment alone. That’s because Bramante has launched a blog and a website called Hike734.com, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts to chronicle his adventure.
He’s been video blogging and tweeting along the way, so the public can follow him on a “virtual journey.”
“I want people to be able to vicariously hike the park through Hike734,” he said. “I’m hoping to be a kind of virtual guide that way.”
Bramante also is broadcasting educational videos, including a guide to using bear spray, and maybe how best to see Glacier Park with children.
He’s partnered with the Glacier National Park Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps support park projects, and expects his project will help carry the momentum of Glacier’s successful centennial year into the busy 2011 season.
Bramante says he also hopes that Hike734 will gain its own momentum as a brand to support the park and educate the public. He has ideas for a coffee table book, a tourism DVD, speaking events and an interactive map.
“When I’m all done, I’ll have this really great knowledge of the park,” he said. “And at the end of this project, I want Hike734 to be a kind of brand to help people see and learn about Glacier.”
He’s amazingly optimistic, even if the snow gods have dealt him a tough hand.