GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — After a couple final switchbacks, Jake Bramante emerged from the woods at the Lincoln Lake trailhead on Oct. 15 to find a crowd of almost 50 cheering people.
“Where you been, Jake?” a voice in the crowd asked.
“Oh, I’ve just been out walking,” he said, smiling.
With his arrival at the trailhead, Bramante became the first known person to hike all 734 miles of established trails in Glacier National Park in one season.
“It’s surreal and it’s a relief,” he said of accomplishing the historic feat. “There’s a certain burden that comes with a project like this.”
The 34-year-old Kalispell resident estimates he spent about 90 days hiking since setting out on May 12. All told, he said he covered almost 1,200 miles. His longest single day was 25.6 miles. When later asked what his favorite hikes were, he said it was impossible to answer – put simply, he replied “all of them.”
An avid outdoorsman who grew up in Libby, Bramante came up with the idea after wondering if anyone had walked every official trail or even could in a single season. He found it hadn’t been done but possibly could be accomplished. He prepared meticulously, contacting park officials and geological surveyors and researching every map available.
“I thought he bit off more than he could chew, especially with how spring started. I was concerned,” his father Frank, who lives in Bigfork with Bramante’s mother Katie, said.
“We read so many bear issues in the paper and we were really worried that something would happen. We’re just grateful that he made it through and proud of him for sticking with it.”
Bramante tackled the 734 miles through single- and multi-day hikes, sometimes with company, sometimes without. He wore a tracking beacon that showed his friends and family back home on their computers where he was at all times. He always carried bear spray, which he never had to use. But he did encounter bears — including a sow and her cubs — and also came up on a pack of three wolves, several moose, elk and other wildlife. He ended up pushing through a cold, wet spring, shin splints, aches and pains and even moments of mental fatigue that caused him to question the endeavor.
In fact, near the halfway point, Bramante said he found himself hoping to get injured or have an outside force stop the journey short.
“It’s easy when you get in the middle of a big project like this to start listening to your doubts and fears,” he said.
“I just felt like I had such a mountain in front of me and I just wanted it to stop,” he added. “Then you get around the 500-mile mark and you realize you’re so invested and you’re so close, now you’re afraid you’re going to get hurt and you don’t want anything to happen.”
Bramante persevered. Both the proof and reward are the idyllic images he captured of the wilderness inside the mountain walls of Glacier.
Bramante, who gave up “a desk job in the corporate world” and took up filmmaking years ago, vigorously documented every hike this summer using 15 pounds worth of camera gear. The website where he has been posting individual trail entries and video footage, www.hike734.com, acts as a pseudo documentary guidebook for Glacier Park, with maps, pictures, videos and first-hand knowledge all gathered in one place.
“There’s a lot of trails in Glacier that often get overlooked because people just don’t know about them or they’re pretty remote,” he said.
“That’s one of the things I’m pretty excited about, sharing those.”
Now that the legwork is completed, Bramante is focused on editing the countless hours of film, which he will continue posting on his website.
On his final day, Bramante shared stories and answered questions surrounded by a crowd anxious to hear everything. He also took the chance to embrace and thank the friends and family who helped him every step of the way.
“I definitely had God’s protection on me this entire trip and lots of people praying for me, which was fantastic,” he said. “I needed it.”
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