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Jake Bramante

Jake Bramante, seen here at Grinnell Glacier Overlook, became the first known person to hike all of Glacier National Park's 734 miles of established trails in a single season.

On Saturday afternoon, his backpacking gear still soggy from a wet night of camping at Lincoln Lake, Jake Bramante became the first known person to hike all of Glacier National Park's 734 miles of established trails in a single season.

After dispatching the final eight-mile section of trail, the 34-year-old Kalispell resident emerged from the wilderness to the cheers and applause of friends, family members, Glacier Park employees and total strangers, many of whom followed his exceptionally well-documented adventures online at Hike734.com, the interactive blog and website he launched before commencing the ambitious project.

The cheering crowd had assembled at the Lincoln Lake trailhead to usher in the historic moment, and Bramante was careful to film it all.

In the days since Bramante concluded Hike734 - the walking portion, at least - he says the most resonant emotion has been "relief."

"At about 300 miles, I began to develop a pretty good sense of what lay ahead, and I started to feel overwhelmed," he said. "There was a part of me that hoped something would occur that forced me to quit, some external factor like a fire or an injury, something out of my control. But then at around the 500-mile mark I realized I was so invested in this project that I couldn't bear to think of anything getting in my way."

To Bramante's knowledge - and according to the park officials and aficionados he consulted - nobody has ever been recognized as having accomplished the feat, and certainly not in recent history.

But because Bramante obsessively documented his journeys through photographs and videos that he posted to Hike734.com, anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps will have a virtual trail map to accompany them.

And that, in many respects, was the point - for the public to learn more about the park and "to be able to vicariously hike the park through Hike734," Bramante said.

A former network analyst born and raised in Montana, Bramante is technologically savvy, but wanted to put his talents to use outside the corporate world. So, he quit his job and started a video-production company.

He's also an avid hiker, runner and skier, and has had a lifelong passion for Glacier National Park. When he conceived of the idea for Hike734, work was put on hiatus.

He began planning the expedition meticulously early this year, mapping the routes and calculating distances, with hopes to complete the project by Sept. 30 when the weather often turns in the high country.

But late-spring snowpack stymied his ambitious early-season plans and forced him to adjust his schedule. Although he began May 12, the first two months of the project were relatively unproductive.

By Aug. 18, about three months after embarking on the project, he had hiked 300 miles; he then hiked an additional 400 miles in his final two-month push.

Despite the slow start, Bramante finished just 15 days later than he'd anticipated.

Although he has yet to crunch the numbers, he figures he averaged more than 15 miles a day during the six-month project and actually covered more than 1,000 miles, as many trails are designed as out-and-back trips.

He hiked most sections as day hikes while carrying a pack containing 15 pounds of computer and video equipment and around 30 pounds of other gear.

His longest backpacking trip was eight days, during which he covered well over 100 miles. His longest single day was 25 1/2 miles.

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Although he had no "unpleasant" wildlife encounters other than a bluff charge by a grouse, Bramante saw a range of animals. He came upon three separate grizzly bears within 100 yards and spied untold black bears, mountain goats and moose. He saw a suite of birds and, on one magical day, a pack of three wolves that flanked and studied him before moving on.

"Interacting with the wolves was the most pleasant behavioral experience I had with animals because it was so complex," he said. "It wasn't aggressive behavior. There was no snarling, but they were definitely curious about me. They played me a little bit, flanking me and creeping up behind me, but their pack behavior was fascinating. They were figuring out what they wanted to do with me, but I didn't feel threatened."

In addition to his website, Bramante used social media like Facebook and Twitter to chronicle his adventure. He broadcast educational videos along the way, like an instructional video guide on how to use bear spray, and a primer on the obscure food-storage habits of the hoary marmot.

Bramante partnered with and received support from the Glacier National Park Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps support park projects, but has mostly been living off his savings.

The Glacier National Park Fund is also organizing speaking events and a presentation at the O'Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish, the date of which is yet to be announced.

Bramante says he also hopes Hike734 will continue gaining popularity as a brand to support the park and educate the public. He has ideas for a coffee table book, a tourism DVD, speaking events and an interactive map.

"I'm hoping to be a kind of virtual guide that way," he said.

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

 

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