I only hiked for one day this past week. I was set to go on one for my first day off, but the weather forecast declared thunderstorms. The air was also smoky, limiting views. Joe and I decided to call off our original plans and head into town with Dan and watch Mad Max.
I had to hit the trail for my second day off. I was about to go at it alone until I finally came across someone who wanted to join when I was invited by some co-workers to spend the afternoon at a pool-bar in Whitefish. I then informed my friend Josh I wanted to hike instead. We were eating lunch in the employee dining room (which doesn’t dish the most savory of meals), and he quickly abandoned his original plan to liquor-up poolside, deciding to join me for a day on the trail. “I’m in Glacier for a reason,” he said. “I go to Vegas for pool-bars.”
We did not leave Lake McDonald Lodge until half past one. Our hour-and-thirty long drive over to the park’s east-side was nothing short of divine, as we traversed the Going to the Sun Road in its entirety, eventually making way to Many Glacier Lodge. Two glaciers graced our view on our drive in. One was the aptly named Salamander Glacier, and Gem the other.
At a quarter past three, the hike was on. The immediate incline wasn’t much of a challenge, but I was surprised by Josh’s desire to maintain a quick pace. Not that Josh struggled, but his physical condition “is not what it used to be.” The trail flattened and carried us four miles along the right side of a valley consisting of the dazzling views for which the park’s east-side is known. I was having fun figuring out my new camera and enjoying conversation with Josh.
Walking through a beautiful alpine meadow spotted with an array of wildflowers, our anticipation to reach Iceberg Lake only grew, as its cradling u-shaped valley of sheer jagged cliffs made the horizon.
Our arrival was not a disappointment. Iceberg Lake does, in fact, contain a significant amount of floating chunks. This is due to its surrounding cliffs, which allow sparse sunlight to hit the water. The covering ice sheet only fractures and breaks apart, rather than melt away.
We sat at the shore and ate, talking with other hikers. This was when I learned that Josh is a former D-1 outfielder. Now his effort during our trek’s beginning made sense – he has the heart of an athlete who pushes himself.
It was fifteen-to-six, and we were about to head back when I saw a trail to our left heading up to a ridge. I told Josh I needed to climb it and I would be back in fifteen minutes. The mountainside, however, turned out much taller and steeper than I had originally surveyed. I soon found myself, after jogging to the trail’s base, scrambling upward on all fours in order to maintain from sliding back down the slope. I was getting my ass handed to me, and I wasn’t even halfway up by the time I told Josh I’d be back. The mountainside’s height seemed to grow every time I tilted my head back for a glimpse of the top, and my stomach dropped at first sight of the steepness for my route down. The views from the top were worth the haul, though. From afar, the lake’s rich blue contrasted beautifully with the clashing greens of the meadows and trees falling away from its shore within the widening valley.
Josh wasn’t as enthusiastic about the vista point, for I had taken quite a bit longer to return than I said I would. We were two hours from my car, where we would still be at least another hour’s drive away from the lodge. It was a quarter to seven, and we both had work the next morning.
My tardiness didn’t keep us from stopping in a steakhouse on our way back. The place served mammoth-sized cuts straight off the ranch in its backyard. I enjoyed a couple of beers, and Josh took full advantage of the fact he wasn’t driving home. On our way back, he said, “This has been my best day in Glacier, yet.” I still don’t know if those were genuinely spoken words, or if it was the pale ale talking, but it was one hell of a day – a long one at that. We didn’t get back in until near midnight, and I had to work at seven the next morning.