“The tent pole bag is over there” I gesture toward the side of the tent in the frosty, predawn darkness.
Patrick gives me a blank look, then reaches down and undoes the girth-hitched bag from the tent. Not another word is spoken. The sky begins to lighten and headlamps flicker on and off, up and down in the distance. We pack in silence.
A couple of hundred feet away Gabo sits and watches the sky in the east turn gray as he boils water and then makes cheesy fried hashbrowns. The gray turns brighter and I sit and watch the purple, orange, yellow lights slowly change.
In the kitchen we discuss pagan rituals as we watch the sky changing and the sun rising on this morning of the autumnal equinox. Gabo passes the mate around. We discuss archeo-astronomy and celestial events. The sun breaks over the horizon and we finish our breakfast.
Ten years ago I filed across these flats with T.J. and Kevin, winding up my first course as an instructor. Things were different then. We were walking out to a world vastly changed from the one we had left. I was scared. I remember descending to Trail Lake via the New Glacier Trail. An elk bugled near Williamson Corrals, as if to say goodbye and let us know that nothing had really changed.
We wander out into the golden willows frosty and glittering in the early morning sunlight. Our thoughts much like our packs are light. We are heading out today. Gabo on to a river section with this crew; me on to a climbing basecamp and Patrick off to Salt Lake, moving out and moving on. The mud on Burro Flat is crunchy small stalagmites of icy mud crunch and dissolve under my boot, the sound and feel as reminiscent of autumn as is the pungent aroma of the fallen willow leaves. We make our way across the flats and up to Arrow Pass. My first time here this year in June, I navigated across the flats to the pass in a white out, students using a true north compass bearing in the back, yelling directions of left and right to those in the front to keep us on track. This morning the sky is crystal clear.
We veer right and take the Old Glacier Trail high up on to the side of Circle Mountain. Somewhere below us an elk bugles, once again, bidding me farewell and so long.