Snow had dusted the top third of the mountains ringing the Flathead Valley the day Jake Bramante hiked out of Lincoln Lake. About 50 people, including friends, family and media, were on hand to watch him march through a white ribbon strung between two trekking poles across the trailhead on Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The eight-mile hike down from the lake at 4,598 feet, where he had spent the night with a friend, marked the end of a 734-mile quest to hike all of the Park's trails in one season. It's not known if anyone else has ever accomplished that feat.
Bramante was slated to reach the trailhead at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, and as the minute hand swept past the appointed time, friends of the 34-year-old Montana native speculated whether he was hiding just out of sight or planning to be "fashionably late." Then, amid cheers and the clicks of a dozen cameras, Bramante and his friend appeared on the trail.
"I've been out doing a little walking," he announced, before turning his own camera on the trail sign. "I have a little work left to do," he explained.
It wasn't Bramante's goal to just hike the Park's lengthy trail system but to record it and use the project as a way to promote the Glacier National Park Fund. The videographer recorded every mile of his journey since he began May 12 for a video library he hopes to create for the Park Fund.
It snowed on Bramante and his friend at Lincoln Lake. Wet and cold, they left about 11 a.m. and actually did some trail running with their overnight backpacks to reach the trailhead on time.
"It's good to be done," he said. "Now I can hike when I want to."
Bramante figures he actually hiked about 1,200 miles in order to cover the 734 miles of Park trails. But since he forgot to turn off his GPS unit several times, he accidentally logged some "car time." Followers could track his progress on his online blog site.
Carrying a 30-pound overnight pack along with the 15 pounds of camera gear he lugged up and down the Park's high passes cost Bramante some pounds of his own. Eating enough calories sometimes proved to be difficult, he said, particularly on hot days when all he wanted was to drink water.
"I've never been this fit before," he said, saying he wants to transition into running and biking. Next year, he hopes to return to mountain climbing.
Logistics for the undertaking posed problems, such as arranging rides to trailheads scattered around the Park.
"With 70-some trips, it was getting hard to get anymore favors from friends," he said.
Besides the emotional toll of facing day after day of waking up in a tent, hefting a pack and heading down another trail, often times by himself, Bramante wore out three pairs of shoes and got shin splints while descending the Numa Lookout trail.
"Thankfully I could hike right through them," he said, crediting friends who are physical therapists and helped diagnose the problem.
Bramante said he saw bears on several occasions, including a sow with cubs from a quarter mile away, but the "coolest experience" he had was a run-in with three black wolves.
"They ran in front of me on the trail, then one looped around behind me," he explained. "It was pack behavior, a flanking maneuver."
He said he focused on video-recording them until they moved off into the brush, howled and then disappeared.
Bramante wasn't completely alone on his trips. A stuffed toy named Hike 734 Billy accompanied him the whole way, although Billy once fell out of Bramante's pack near Dawson Pass and was recovered by a friend "skipping along in the wind" on the side of Flinsch Peak. The toy goats are the Park Fund's official mascot.
Bramante says he's only three-quarters of the way through with his project. He'll spend the winter editing his recordings and updating his blog site. He also plans to present a show about his travels at the O'Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish sometime in March.
For more information, visit online at www.hike734.com.