“I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’
“Get out of the door, light out and look all around”
– The Grateful Dead, “Truckin”
Mike Foote plans to step off his front porch Wednesday morning and do just that.
From his home in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley, he and two friends will walk into the Rattlesnake Wilderness and not stop until they get to Banff, Alberta – some 500 miles north.
“We’ll go through the Missions, the Swan Range, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Great Bear Wilderness, Glacier National Park, into Canada and up the Canadian Rockies,” Foote explained. “This is our backyard. We want to spend a lot of time in it.”
About three weeks, give or take. Accomplished long-distance runners Foote and Mike Wolfe, and photographer Steven Gnam, have put together what they call a “high-mountain traverse” of the Crown of the Continent.
Some days, they may run 40 miles. Other days, they will spend linking ridgelines and covering a mere 20 miles over 15 hours.
The Crown of the Continent refers to the Rocky Mountains roughly from the southern tip of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex near Ovando north to Banff National Park in Alberta. It covers about 18 million acres, 60 percent of which is public land.
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Sheena Pate, Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council coordinator, said the idea of geotourism attracts visitors seeking places with natural attractions and heritage where they can have light impact or even help contribute to future conservation.
“They want to experience the place as it is,” Pate said. “You can have a Disneyland any place in the world, but you cannot replicate what we have here, with our wildlife refuges and international peace parks and incredible landscapes. We’re not cookie-cutter by any means.”
The team is traveling ultra-light with support. That means some days they’ll be met by a van carrying food and sleeping bags. Other days, they’ll each pack about 15 pounds of food, bivy sacks and cold-weather gear.
“We hope to spend as much time in the high-mountain ridgelines and high alpine as possible,” Foote said. “We’re bound to encounter snow that could force us down into valleys or to take a rest day. We’re not trying to set any records, but it’s a pretty ambitious route and timeline.”
Armchair adventurers can follow their progress a number of ways. The Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council will track their location on its website, crownofthecontinent.net, as will natgeotourism.com.
Travel Alberta, Kootenay Rockies Tourism, Glacier Country Tourism and the Montana Office of Tourism will also post updates. And they can be charted by following the hashtag #crowntraverse on social media.
“We know lots of people are not going to go into the depths of the Crown and run for three weeks straight,” Pate said. “But it’s a unique opportunity to show a different perspective of the Crown. We’re helping them with social media to share their story.”
Wolfe and Foote regularly set up ultra-distance races, such as the recently completed Rut Mountain Runs at Big Sky Resort. Gnam has packed his cameras across much of the Rockies for clients like the National Parks Conservation Association and National Geographic. All three will be posting photos, videos and commentary on their experience as they run.
“All of us have deep respect for the area,” Foote said. “We’ve all spent time on different parts of the Crown, but none of us has seen the entire thing. It’s different than anything we’ve ever done. It’s running, so the physical toll it’s going to take on us is very different from typical backpacking. It’s about 50 percent faster.”