A friend dropped me off at the start of the trail, Waterton Canyon, around 7am on her way to work. I’d never been to Waterton Canyon, but today it felt like a parade route. Several other bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed hikers were assembling along the canyon’s dirt road, as excited to start their adventure as I was. I chatted with several as I hiked by, but didn’t linger with any group for too long.

It wasn’t just hikers in the canyon. I rounded a bend on the dirt road and came upon a herd of bighorn sheep! Several had small horns, and they were totally unperturbed by my presence. Soon enough, some bikers and a few other hikers came up and a crowd started to form, but the sheep just kept on grazing along the road. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for Day 1, about 10 minutes later I came around a corner and who was there? A black bear! He saw me and sulked into the river valley pretty quick, aware that he shouldn’t be caught around here. My only bear sighting the whole trip and it happens less than 2 hours into the hike, on one of the busiest sections of trail. What’s that about?

Soon enough, I came to the end of the canyon, where there was a little rest area from which to view the dam. From there, it was single-track trail with serious switchbacks. Some hikers clearly had too much for comfort, and this section was proving them out. One person’s pack was so full it was almost bigger than they were and they were going at a crawl. Another hiker I found sitting by the trail and ready to give up; while I paused and tried to offer encouragement, I’m not sure how much it helped. Maybe those little tweaks I made to my gear really were important.

I got to my target destination for day one at about 3pm. It was a river, so I found a large boulder to sit on and prepare my mac & cheese (the white shells). By the time I finished it was only 4pm, so I had to make a choice. Do I set up camp here for the night, or keep hiking? If I kept hiking, I would have to camp at a dry site (no water nearby), and I would be entering an exposed burn zone, meaning high temperatures and lots of sun. If I stayed here, I would have plenty of water, but nothing to do for the next 5 hours until dark. Plus I’d heard that bears were visiting this area at night, and based on this morning’s experience I was inclined to believe it! So I put my pack back on and kept hiking at a leisurely pace. 

When dusk finally rolled around, I looked for an existing campsite to set up camp and found none. The databook didn’t say there was anything close by either. So I made an awkward arrangement of my tent on a sloped, pine-needle covered hill and settled in. 

One day on the trail and my preparations were already showing mixed results. My meticulous hiking plan was out the window, since I went 3 miles over. That meant overshooting tomorrow’s planned destination, too. I would have to reassess and try planning one day at a time. On the other hand, my pared down gear proved key; I saw hikers with heavier packs struggling, so I thought feeling good at the end of Day 1 was a good sign. I’d played it safe eating today, but was glad I had brought chocolate for a snack before bed. Getting out on the trail was proving a much more exciting adventure than I had planned!

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