The trail is narrow--often but the width of the pony's feet, a tiny path that leads on and on. It is always ahead, sometimes bold and wide, as when it leads the way through the forest; often narrow, as when it hugs the sides of the precipice; sometimes even hiding for a time in river bottom or swamp, or covered by the débris of last winter's avalanche. Sometimes it picks its precarious way over snow-fields which hang at dizzy heights, and again it flounders through mountain streams, where the tired horses must struggle for footing, and do not even dare to stoop and drink.
It is dusty; it is wet. It climbs; it falls; it is beautiful and terrible. But always it skirts the coast of adventure. Always it goes on, and always it calls to those that follow it. Tiny path that it is, worn by the feet of earth's wanderers, it is the thread which has knit together the solid places of the earth. The path of feet in the wilderness is the onward march of life itself.
City-dwellers know nothing of the trail. Poor followers of the pavements, what to them is this six-inch path of glory? Life for many of them is but a thing of avenues and streets, fixed and unmysterious, a matter of numbers and lights and post-boxes and people. They know whither their streets lead. There is no surprise about them, no sudden discovery of a river to be forded, no glimpse of deer in full flight or of an eagle poised over a stream. No heights, no depths. To know if it rains at night, they look down at shining pavements; they do not hold their faces to the sky.
Now, I am a near-city-dweller. For ten months in the year, I am particular about mail-delivery, and eat an evening dinner, and occasionally agitate the matter of having a telephone in every room in the house. I run the usual gamut of dinners, dances, and bridge, with the usual country-club setting as the spring goes on. And each May I order a number of flimsy frocks, in the conviction that I have done all the hard going I need to, and that this summer we shall go to the New England coast. And then--about the first of June there comes a day when I find myself going over the fishing-tackle unearthed by the spring house-cleaning and sorting out of inextricable confusion the family's supply of sweaters, old riding-breeches, puttees, rough shoes, trout-flies, quirts, ponchos, spurs, reels, and old felt hats. Some of the hats still have a few dejected flies fastened to the ribbon, melancholy hackles, sadly ruffled Royal Coachmen, and here and there the determined gayety of the Parmachene Belle.
I look at my worn and rubbed high-laced boots, at my riding-clothes, snagged with many briers and patched from many saddles, at my old brown velours hat, survival of many storms in many countries. It has been rained on in Flanders, slept on in France, and has carried many a refreshing draft to my lips in my "ain countree."
I put my fishing-rod together and give it a tentative flick across the bed, and--I am lost.
The family professes surprise, but it is acquiescent. And that night, or the next day, we wire that we will not take the house in Maine, and I discover that the family has never expected to go to Maine, but has been buying more trout-flies right along.
As a family, we are always buying trout-flies. We buy a great many. I do not know what becomes of them. To those whose lives are limited to the unexciting sport of buying golf-balls, which have endless names but no variety, I will explain that the trout do not eat the flies, but merely attempt to. So that one of the eternal mysteries is how our flies disappear. I have seen a junior Rinehart start out with a boat, a rod, six large cakes of chocolate, and four dollars' worth of flies, and return a few hours later with one fish, one Professor, one Doctor, and one Black Moth minus the hook. And the boat had not upset.
June, after the decision, becomes a time of subdued excitement. For fear we shall forget to pack them, things are set out early. Stringers hang from chandeliers, quirts from doorknobs. Shoe-polish and disgorgers and adhesive plaster litter the dressing-tables. Rows of boots line the walls. And, in the evenings, those of us who are at home pore over maps and lists.
This last year, our plans were ambitious. They took in two complete expeditions, each with our own pack-outfit. The first was to take ourselves, some eight packers, guides, and cooks, and enough horses to carry our outfit--thirty-one in all--through the western and practically unknown side of Glacier National Park, in northwestern Montana, to the Canadian border. If we survived that, we intended to go by rail to the Chelan country in northern Washington and there, again with a pack-train, cross the Cascades over totally unknown country to Puget Sound.
We did both, to the eternal credit of our guides and horses.
The family, luckily for those of us who have the Wanderlust, is four fifths masculine. I am the odd fifth--unlike the story of King George the Fifth and Queen Mary the other four fifths. It consists of the head of the family, to be known hereafter as the Head, the Big Boy, the Middle Boy, the Little Boy, and myself. As the Big Boy is very, very big, and the Little Boy is not really very little, being on the verge of long trousers, we make a comfortable traveling unit. And, because we were leaving the beaten path and going a-gypsying, with a new camp each night no one knew exactly where, the party gradually augmented.
First, we added an optimist named Bob. Then we added a "movie"-man, called Joe for short and because it was his name, and a "still" photographer, who was literally still most of the time. Some of these pictures are his. He did some beautiful work, but he really needed a mouth only to eat with.
(The "movie"-man is unpopular with the junior members of the family just now, because he hid his camera in the bushes and took the Little Boy in a state of goose flesh on the bank of Bowman Lake.)
But, of course, we have not got to Bowman Lake yet.
During the year before, I had ridden over the better-known trails of Glacier Park with Howard Eaton's riding party, and when I had crossed the Gunsight Pass, we had looked north and west to a great country of mountains capped with snow, with dense forests on the lower slopes and in the valleys.
"What is it?" I had asked the ranger who had accompanied us across the pass.
"It is the west side of Glacier Park," he explained. "It is not yet opened up for tourist travel. Once or twice in a year, a camping party goes up through this part of the park. That is all."
"What is it like?" I asked.
So, sitting there on my horse, I made up my mind that sometime I would go up the west side of Glacier Park to the Canadian border.
Roughly speaking, there are at least six hundred square miles of Glacier Park on the west side that are easily accessible, but that are practically unknown. Probably the area is more nearly a thousand square miles. And this does not include the fastnesses of the range itself. It comprehends only the slopes on the west side to the border-line of the Flathead River.
The reason for the isolation of the west side of Glacier Park is easily understood. The park is divided into two halves by the Rocky Mountain range, which traverses it from northwest to southeast. Over it there is no single wagon-road of any sort between the Canadian border and Helena, perhaps two hundred and fifty miles. A railroad crosses at the Marias Pass. But from that to the Canadian line, one hundred miles, travel from the east is cut off over the range, except by trail.
To reach the west side of Glacier Park at the present time, the tourist, having seen the wonders of the east side, must return to Glacier Park Station, take a train over the Marias Pass, and get out at Belton. Even then, he can only go by boat up to Lewis's Hotel on Lake McDonald, a trifling distance. There are no hotels beyond Lewis's, and no roads.
Naturally, this tremendous area is unknown and unvisited.
It is being planned, however, by the new Department of National Parks to build a road this coming year along Lake McDonald. Eventually, this much-needed highway will connect with the Canadian roads, and thus indirectly with Banff and Lake Louise. The opening-up of the west side of Glacier Park will make it perhaps the most unique of all our parks, as it is undoubtedly the most magnificent. The grandeur of the east side will be tempered by the more smiling and equally lovely western slopes. And when, between the east and the west sides, there is constructed the great motor-highway which will lead across the range, we shall have, perhaps, the most scenic motor-road in the United States--until, in the fullness of time, we build another road across Cascade Pass in Washington.