Posted by: kassandrahardy | January 27, 2011

Channeling Energy

Channel Islands National Park

Where do people who work in places that everyone else vacations in get away to? Well, to other national parks, of course! With a four day weekend encroaching, my new friend George and I decided that we had to get away from everyone else’s getaway. We thought about a trek to Switzerland – and then Joshua Tree, Vegas, Redwood…and then we looked at the expected weekend weather.

Ultimate Relaxation

Neither of us had even thought about visiting the islands that lie off the coast of Santa Barbara,  Channel Islands National Park. We weaved in and out with the contours of vineyards, lemon fields, and avocado farms – and finally dropped to the Pacific coast. Our faces, cheery to see the warming sun, melded with the fields of strawberries that, like our spirits at the time, grew robust with the nearness of the vast water.

Day 2 of our last minute trip began with a lazy morning on the beach. I’m generally not interested in sitting on sand, but this felt so right. Vitamin D was radiating through my body while the moving water kept my mind occupied. The frequent surge of waves hypnotized me to the state of repose. Ultimate relaxation – what most people seek on their vacation, but perhaps a behavior we should seek on a daily basis.

Transitioning to a new place causes stress – there ya have it. So, here’s my most recent top 5 ways that I am learning to escape stress:

1. Go on a last minute road trip with a new friend.

2. Try a new perfume (yep, perfume.)

3. Investigate Peace Corps opportunities.

4. Eat food that you normally don’t eat – for me, it’s been Cheerios…every morning.

5. Purchase a plane ticket to Europe for your next holiday from work.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | January 15, 2011

Here’s to now!

Yosemite Falls

My last eight nights on the ground were smooth with my transition of leaving Glacier and traveling to Yosemite. My 100th night was my third night in Yosemite on January 1st. Quite fitting really because I am starting 2011 with wrapping up my 100 nights and starting something new.

In looking back, I can vividly remember every night that I spent on the ground. I can imagine nearly all 100 zips of my sleeping bag. I can remember what bag I used on which night throughout the year. I learned quickly what would work and what I needed to invest in – a new sleeping pad, thin gortex gloves, and hats with brims.


Aside from gear, taking new risks, and learning about fresh ideas of what to explore – I most importantly learned that I have a lot of amazing and encouraging people in my life. The ongoing interest and support from my family and friends was the true inspiration behind finishing the 100 nights. Each comment and inquiry made me smile and fed me with fuel to sleep that next night on the cold ground. So with that, thanks for being a part of my life.

I plan to continue to capture my life experiences through this blog – so stay tuned and here’s to now!

Posted by: kassandrahardy | December 11, 2010

Winter Morning Stars

Nights 86-92

Cutbank Valley

Sal and I met Pat at the Two Med Grill for dinner. We were excited about spending time on the east side, as it had been weeks for both of us since we had seen the peaks from the east.

Looking Glass was closed – forcing us to cut through Browning on our way into Cutbank. We immediately set up camp, while the wind began to howl. Bright white starlight cut through feathery clouds high above us.

Cutbank Valley

The hike out to Morning Star Lake was windy. We kicked powdery snow on each step west. The snow deepened near the junction forcing us to trudge through the last two heavy miles to the lake. Our faces warmed as the cathedral walls rose above the lake. We set up camp and wandered around the buried campground. We opted for eating early and climbing into the tent before dark.

Sal can attest to me being cold on this trip. I am usually quite toasty in the backcountry. I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire good warm gear. This time, I had to move around, relayer, and break open a few hothands. Being cold was terribly annoying. I kept still in my zipped bag hoping that it would warm up to keep me comfortable.

Cutbank Valley

Cutbank Valley

Two morning stars were piercing through the falling the snow as spots of blue sky summoned us east. Walking through the fresh snow was like walking through white sand. We heated up quickly as every step forward took us a half step back. At the dry fork, we followed bear prints for the last two miles out. The tracks wandered up to every bear rub tree. Sally pointed out that the prints weren’t facing the right way to have had the bear actually rub on the tree; rather the prints were just close enough for the bear to sniff the tree.

Blue Skies to the East


I’ve spent quite a few nights in front country sites (Apgar and along the Flathead River) over the past few weeks. As you can imagine, at this point it’s a little less about the adventure and a little more about completing the project.

Icy Lake McDonald

Sal and I skied into Huckleberry Nature Trail and camped for the night on Wednesday. It was an unusually warm evening…35 or so degrees. Our packs were filled with only sleeping gear for a change (we hit the trail around 8 PM.) We crawled into the tent and slept for a while with the door open. The stars were out and it felt good to ski on fresh snow.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | November 18, 2010

That was a long camp!

Night 83-85, November 5-7

Bowman Lake and Apgar Picnic Area

Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park

Kim, Ellie Sage, and I left Whitefish around 7:30 pm for Bowman Lake. We had hoped to reach Polebridge for some baked goods, but alas we were too late and the big red structure stood dark and still like the trees that surround it.

We were the only campers in the campground, a rarity for Bowman Lake. We made camp and filled our bellies with some apple crisp that I had won at the capital federal campaign event early in the week. The tent was filled with down-filled blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags. Ellie Sage is four years old and gets a real kick out of camping.

We crawled into our cosy home ready to read our books. We read about fairies and fairy dresses for the purple moon ball. Hem, the seamstress fairy made 11 dresses for her fairy friends out of their favorite flowers. Her dress was made of scraps left over from all of her friend’s flowers. We read this book two times before it got stored in the mesh attic that hung above our heads. As soon as the purple moon set the second time, our eyes closed.

Ellie Sage!

Kim and I woke to a happy Ellie, who exclaimed, “Mom! That was a long camp!” It made us both laugh aloud and when we realized that we had slept for 10 hours, we agreed with Ellie…that was a long camp! We wandered to the Ranger Station and down to the lake shore. The mountains had fresh snow and the fall colors had finally faded for the year. In touching the icy water  my mind raced back to my 13th night of camping this past March. I closed my eyes and imagined the cold liquid turning solid. I could hear the eerie sounds of winter coming.


Posted by: kassandrahardy | November 11, 2010

Sowapophe-uvehe: the land that moves back and forth.

Nights 80-82, Oct 27-29

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

As I dropped south of Salida I entered the narrow alpine San Luis Valley, bordered by the Rio Grand National Forest on either side. The landscape is seeemingly undeveloped and deserted. The few weathered homes that line the road are landmarks for each small village that highway 17 passes through: Moffat, Hooper, and Mosca. These year-round residents live 8,000 feet above sea level and the mountains that dominate their view recently received a fresh dusting of snow.

The road broke east, away from our continent’s divide and toward the largest sand dunes in North America. These dunes pile up against the foot of the Sangre De Cristo range (Great Sand Dunes National Preserve) and are said to be the vitality of the valley. The park and preserve is an economic driver drawing over 300,000 visitors each year. The water is close to the surface in this part of the valley, using the sand as a natural aquifer. It helps with maintenance of water levels in the San Luis Lakes, just to the west of the sand dunes. I learned that the San Luis valley is second only to the state of Idaho in production of potatoes. I also learned that the barley grown here is the main supplier for Coors beer company.

Great Sand Dunes

The cold (15°!), crisp air woke me on my first morning in the park. As I began to stuff my bag in its sack, I was startled by quick movement across the quiet valley. With little trees in view, it was easy to watch the coyote from where I was standing. I didn’t even need my binocs. I watched him prance through the alpine floor, only to see him disappear as he laid his body in one fluid movement against the cold sand.


Ponderosa Pine Grove

Although this landscape changes like the weather, there are some significant features that have remained intact for thousands of years. The park protects a notable amount of archeological sites. This past summer, a fire blew through an area of arch sites – in which I had the chance to observe some field monitoring. One of the sites consists of ponderosa pine trees that American Indian tribes historically peeled for food or medicine. These living artifacts are the only grove of trees now on the National Register of Historic Places.

View from ridge above park housing.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | October 27, 2010

Answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had.

Nights 78-79, October 25-26, 2010

Tuesday morning in Moraine Park – Rocky Mountain NP, CO

Rocky Mountain NP


The dark eyes of a bull elk pierce through me as I trudge down the trail from Deer Mountain. His ladies maintain their focus on grazing. He’s guarding them. I assure him in a soft tone that I’ll be on my way.

The ridge line that divides our continent’s watersheds has a very distinct look this time of year, especially east of the divide. The mountains are nearly dissolved by the cloud cover. When I’m in the backcountry, it’s a ghostly sight. From the front country, this sight warms me. It’s the first notice of winter. My mind draws a jagged contour for the missing peaks and my eyes slowly lift to the clouds. And like my departure from Rocky, the top of the clouds dissipate into the clear blue sky above.

Longs Peak - Rocky Mountain NP

As I drop into town, faded blue jeans are tightly wrapped around legs, buckling at the knees, and tucked into high boots. Messy hair sits atop loose scarfs around everyone’s neck. Colorado is dressed for winter.

Tuesday evening in Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area – Salida, CO

I stole this line, but it’s relevant to me today: lately I have had answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had. Answers pertaining to what adventure means to me and how to motivate others to protect places that we all depend on. And likewise, questions that have been tugging at my mind for months – I may have known those answers, as well.

If I stay in Montana, the outcome of my life is fairly drawn out (as in known – not necessarily long.) If I move on to another place my future is more unwritten. I’m more comfortable (today) with the idea of leaving a place that I’ve really connected with. I know I’ll return to Glacier. I know that one day I will, again, directly help to keep that landscape intact.

The real answer for me today is that my being is a being that thrives on adventure. And, in my mind, an adventure is an activity that emits the feeling of being truly alive and in the moment. I have developed my ethos of wild land conservation through that feeling I get when I adventure in places like Glacier, Yosemite, and Canyonlands. Spending time in a place increases my understanding of a place. Increasing my knowledge of that place develops the sense of responsibility in caring for that place. Simply put, having a life in the outdoors soldifies my understanding of my role and my responsibility in helping to preserve these places. Here’s the hard and unanswered question: how do we ensure continued preservation in a fast changing, short attention, technology reliant, and urban society – 90% of which never think about – let alone spend time in a wild landscape? How do we relay that their wants and needs depend on the well-being of wild landscapes? How do we reach those audiences without waiting for a catastrophe to set in motion a society who admires and values wild landscapes?

Wednesday morning at Cafe Dawn – Salida, CO

Steep Switchbacks (future) Coffee Shop


And here it is – another answer. Here’s one way we can reach out to society to encourage wild land stewardship: infuse ideas into their everyday routines – surround them with it.

I’m sitting in a sunny spot in the middle of historic downtown Salida. Cafe Dawn is what I want to have someday. The structure is an old garage or gas station – retrofitted into a usable, soul filling space. Wooden chairs of all styles surround each wooden table. Even a row of old theater chairs help fill the space. Large paintings of the vista that borders the town hang from the walls, while two happy and healthy young faces greet you. Everything here looks worn in, yet the doors opened up a few years ago. Their logo is nearly identical to the logo for my coffee/wine shop (Steep Switchbacks) that I sketched out on the AT in ‘05. A single coffee mug sitting below a mountainscape. The only difference lies in their steam, which they portray as being synonymous with the streams flowing down from the mountains. My steam doubles as trails switchbacking up a peak.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | October 13, 2010

In losing our way, we discovered enlightenment.

Nights 76-77, October 9-11, 2010

Upper Dutch Basin (

Megan, Robin, and I casually collected griz hair as we strolled into unknown Glacier territory this past weekend. Dutch Creek is a place that most Glacierites will never experience. It’s off the beaten path, it’s a high griz corridor, the trail isn’t typically cleared until September – and it’s said to be a grunt. We climbed up the wall that we were told about, just south of the ‘falls’, as it was noted on our map. At the top we were told to look left for an opening with a cairn. From here we left the trail and followed a spine north until we hit an open basin, known as Upper Dutch Lakes. Arriving at dusk, we found a flat surface and set up our gear. Anxious to traverse the basin and climb Nirvana, a nearby untrailed pass, we went to sleep.


Upper Dutch Lakes Basin


Dense fog filled the basin by morning, giving us little motivation to get out of the tent. Our visibility sat around 200 feet. The morning seemed to last forever as we patiently waited for the moisture to lift. We gave in, giving up on Nirvana, and refocused our attention on exploring the basin. Thinking the basin was huge and perhaps easy to lose our way in we built cairns and flagged trees along our route. We hit the first lake within 100 yards of where we camped. We decided to walk north until we hit the wall of the basin and then walk due east along the wall. We followed a creek, hit a bog, and then opted to follow the inlet of the bog up to the second lake.



Le Lac!



Le Lac, le lac! Before we left our lunch spot, we set up another cairn and began to make our way around the lake. Within an hour we had circumnavigated the second lake – nearly missing our lunch spot. Wow, where are we? Was the first lake really just a pond and was the second lake really the first lake? Did we not make it to the second lake? We had indeed made it to both lakes as the basin was much smaller than we had envisioned.


Table for Three


As the fog began to lift, rain began to fall. We retreated back to camp and set up a tarp over an overhung rock. We fired up the stove for hot drinks and decided on an early dinner. A cold wind event moved in as we finally got cozy in the tent. Hard rain soon accompanyied the wind. Having a side wall of the tent to my right, each gust felt like the body of a person rolling up against me through the wall.

Again, the morning was uninviting. Rain kept us in the tent until 9:30. Rain turned to graupel – and then to snow. We quickly packed as our visibility increased. We could finally see the depth of the basin. The clouds rolled over the mountain walls as if they were a series of moving waterfalls. We began to walk down the same spine we had walked up on Saturday. For some reason, we decided to cross the creek and walk on the parallel spine. Our visibility was shot immediately. The snow began to pick up simultaneously with our crossing (perhaps this was a sign.) We climbed high to stay above standing and running water, shrubs, and cliffs.


View from Dutch Ridge - Looking onto Roger Peak


As we rounded a ridge, in which we had decided it was time to start our descent, we ran into cliffs. As we began to back track – we experienced a 12 minute moment of truth and clarity (a true nirvana.) The sky cleared just enough for us to see that we were not 100 feet above the creek that we had anticipated was below us. Instead, we were thousands of feet above ‘some valley.’Above the valley floor fell a massive amount of water. What waterfall is that? How did we miss that waterfall on our way in? We hadn’t missed the waterfall. That was the ‘falls’ that we had climbed up, but we were too close to it to see it on our way in. We had overshot our spine and we were on the south face of Dutch Ridge. Dutch Ridge parallels Roger Peak and our trail divides the two ridges 2800 feet below.

We had a map. We had a compass. We had all of the right tools. Reality hit and all arrogance, ego, and confidence vanished. We were serious now as we began to toss out the safest possible routes back to the trail. Backtracking up the way we dredged down seemed gnarly, long, and in the wrong direction. Going down seemed like the best out. We could see where the trail would be below us. We could see clearings and burned areas that would allow for easy navigation. Cliff after cliff we wandered back and forth across this unknown terrain. We opted to head east crossing the basin to reach the top of the waterfall (where we knew the trail was.)

After hours of navigating over downed trees, crossing cold creeks, and pushing our way through wet vegetation, these three dutch virgins had had enough. We hit the ‘falls’ and it began to hail. Our packs were an easy 10 pounds heavier, as the material was fondly collecting every bit of moisture that it could hold. Our walk out was long and adventurous, but we were quite content to be back on the trail.


Fresh snow on the Dutch Drainage


You can tell that you have traveled with true friends when everyone stays in good humor throughout and after the trip. At one point we remembered it was ironic to be on such an adventure on Columbus Day.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | October 9, 2010

Choose your companions well.

Nights 68-75.

September 10-15, 2010 Many Glacier Valley, Glacier National Park




I recently had the chance to spend some quality time with rotarians from Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia. Exchange students from all over the world accompanied the rotarians. Waterton Lakes and Glacier were designated as our nation’s first International Peace Park in 1932. This year, in conjunction with Glacier’s centennial, we honored the 78th year of an influential tradition called Hands Across the Border.

On Saturday, we walked to Grinnell Lake. We were hit by a wall of wind at the foot of Grinnell, forcing us to cut lunch short. Corners are everywhere on this trail. Blind spots, cliffs, boulders – boardwalks. Making noise is a priority (especially in high winds). Keeping your head up while walking is also imperative. We were slight of the hotel (and the rotary meeting) by 30 minutes, when a sow with two cubs joined us on the trail. I was impressed that everyone listened to me, even in the midst of the excitement. We backed up past the cliffs, rounded the corner – and briskly walked  to the last meadow where 60 of us sat high above the trail as they strolled past us. Bears use the same trails as humans.

September 19, 2010 Hey Moon – my friends just got hitched!


True Companions: Laura and Chad


Friends abound, I had the honor to be a part of a beautiful wedding this past September. Two colleagues (Laura Whildin and Chad Segars) were hitched in the park at Apgar Ampitheater. The sky cleared up, the sun came out – and Sally swooned us with her fiddle. Smiles, tears – and words of love were sweetly shared.

These two companions suit one another better than most. Not only do they complement one another in their personalities, but they both radiate an appreciation of wilderness, solitude, and respect.

September 25-26, 2010 Hole in the Wall


Boulder Pass Companions



Some of my most favorite people are more inspiring than any words that I could share:

October 2, 2010 Blackfoot Trib in the Lolo

Sally, Rachel, and I danced up a dust storm as the Mission Mountain Wood Band strummed their instruments on a farm in Missoula. Sal and I didn’t know the words, but our feet moved like they did.  The dust drove us to choose a new dance floor out from under the tent -where we could feel the crisp October air that is Montana on our bodies. From this vantage point we watched our fellow dancers smiling, lifting their faces ever so often toward the music men.

It was a night of dancing called the Best River Fest. We danced for the band, for the coming autumn, and for the preservation of the Clark Fork.

With rivers on our mind, we planned to camp near a confluence of the Blackfoot and one of its many tributaries. We opted for a BLM campground, rather than splitting from an unknown Forest Service road in the dark. The creek was a fisherman’s paradise.

Posted by: kassandrahardy | September 16, 2010

Don’t waste your time in Jasper: Bag or Bail?

Nights 64-67: September 3-6, 2010

Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta, Canada

Toe of Athabasca Glacier - Columbia Icefield

Even as I stretched my kinked back after nearly seven hours in the car, my body aching and stiff as we rounded the dark corner to our first campground, I couldn’t help but feel extremely aflutter to be breathing wild canadian air.

As soon as the sun lit the sky, we sacked our bags, rolled up the tent, and continued our drive north. At first sight of Athabasca, my eyes were as wide as the rivers of ice in front of us. More impressive, we had the whole toe to ourselves. We had barely brushed the surface of the basin when we decided to bail and return to the melt stream. The ice was glassy, fractured, and slippery – enough to make you think more than twice about taking one more step. Furthermore, in almost all directions, rock debris served for camouflage ontop of the archaic water.

Hidden Ice

Our stomachs told us that we had our share of the icefield and that the townsite of Jasper had to be in our near future. Coco’s was the preferred breakfast venue by a local resident- in which we soon agreed that it was a fine suggestion.

Jasper National Park (Canada) is three times the size of Glacier National Park (MT) and Banff National Park (Canada) is twice the size of Glacier. The landscape is bigger, the valleys are wider, and the ice fills in every nook and cranny. This landscape made it easy to imagine Glacier hosting this much ice in the past few centuries. I kept thinking, all I have to do is travel north by the enth degree and it is like traveling back in time to hundreds of years ago in Glacier Park.

Edith Covell Glacier below Angel and Ghost Glaciers

We made an honest attempt at experiencing the quality over the quantity of Jasper. It was a tough feat, as you can imagine, we wanted to bag everything in sight. We hiked along the Skyline Trail in the hail above Maligne Lake. We caught a ‘warden’ program focused on the historic use of the land, including the traditional cooking of bannock. We spent a whole day climbing the southern arm of Athabasca Peak (Parker Ridge.) And we saw a GRIZ six feet from the car.

Parker Ridge

Berry Season

Our last night in the north country was spent a mere two miles northeast of Banff at Two Jack Lake. We arrived in our fifth snow storm of our short trip, set up camp – only to crawl into the tent and crash. We woke to a tremendous sun rise over pristine powdered peaks followed by a spontaneous walk around the lake. Although unplanned, once we set out – we had planned to circumnavigate the lake. We hit a ‘dam’ and bailed back to camp.

Two Jack, Banff

My hope in our race was restored a bit when we returned to the campground. The lake shore had a seemingly unbiased magnetic force. Although people slept in tents, in campers, in extravagant RVs – by morning, they were  all looking for the same connection with this land.

Recommendation: Don’t waste your time in Canada. Educate yourself and get the backcountry road guide before you head north. The landscape is HUGE, there is so much to see and do – and  you will want to savor it all.

So, we bailed on a lot up there. But, as we drove back south, my mind had already planned three trips in this landscape for my near future.

Moraine Lake

Posted by: kassandrahardy | August 31, 2010

Icy Renewal

August 31, 2010

Nights 62 and 63 – Rising Sun and Lake Ellen Wilson.


I wandered the St. Mary valley in search of renewal this weekend. My eyes needed to be greeted by happier eyes and my soul needed something fresh. Did you ever notice how a place has the ability to lift you up, yet, simultaneously make you feel significantly insignificant. Glacier does this to most who cross her path – and to most, this is extraordinarily comforting.

I camped at Rising Sun under a star lit night sky. I cooked good food on my stove and drank dark coffee, clenching my mug for heat. It’s been cool here lately. On my way to work today, it was a mere 41 degrees. Days are getting shorter and the soupy clouds are rolling in.

On Saturday I walked to the lovely Lake Ellen Wilson. Gunsight lake was placid, the walls were crooked as usual, and ice fields were severely exposed.

Blackfoot Glacier Basin

Gunsight Lake

I frog hopped a few groups on my way to the pass. The sky was turning shades of blue, as the wind began to hollow. ‘Those’ story telling clouds were above me and I knew it would be an unforgiving night in Glacier’s wilderness. As I sat in the hiker shelter on top of the pass, I drank hot tea that I had stowed in my thermos that morning. I imagined wintery rains – blustery winds and the possibility of snow. Ironically, these thoughts warmed my heart.

From the Ellen Wilson Rock

Lake Ellen Wilson - August 29 snow storm

I woke to snow on the tent. I decided an early climb out of this alpine lake would suit me well.

As I switchbacked into the basin below Sperry Glacier, I met someone on the trail. Dashing in and out of the wet soil, logs, and rocks – he finally caught my eye and gave me a stare I won’t soon forget. I stood as still as could be, hoping he wouldn’t lose my trust. I barely smiled and he darted behind a tree. My eyes were greeted by his kind pupils again, and again. To my surprise he followed me down the next three switchbacks mimicking my stride as if it were choreographed. I turned again to greet my companion and he had disappeared. I waited, hoping he might reappear – hoping it was just another step in the hide and seek routine, but he was gone.

I laughed at his playfulness and I, too, began dancing on the trail. My head tilted to the sky, my face caught a dozen intermittent refreshing flakes of snow.

My Trail Companion

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