For my day off this past week, Joe and I hiked to Grinell Glacier, which is twelve miles round trip, accumulating 1,600 ft. of elevation along the way.
With the eastern half of the Going to The Sun Rd still closed due to the fire, we had to exit and loop around the southeastern end of the park in order to reach the trailhead, as I did last week when I drove to the Dawson-Pitamakan. This time, instead of stopping at Two Medicine, we stayed northbound on the Looking Glass Highway and re-entered at Many Glacier. All in all, it was a two-and-a-half-hour’s commute for a day’s hike, which leaves from the backdoor of Many Glacier Lodge we were eager to start upon reaching the trailhead.
The lodge grabbed our attention, as it was my first time walking indoors and stepping out onto its back-balcony, which, running the entire length of the main structure, overlooks a dramatic landscape of mountains. The pointed Grinell Peak is most immediate, rising from the shore across the way. Larger mountains flank it from behind on both sides, and massive valleys wind there way through, tucking away glaciers, such as Grinell, and lakes, such as Iceberg. Meanwhile the Garden Wall provides a jagged backdrop, at times towering above all that falls between. This year, the lodge is celebrating its Centennial (100th year in service), and its quaintness, along with the surrounding scenery, puts you in a fairytale.
The air was very smoky from the fire, limiting vision and fogging photos. It immediately affected Joe’s lungs and mine as we started ascending towards the glacier. We still maintained a quick pace, even while having to pass others as we went. The trail’s easy access and postcard-ready views bring heavy traffic during the high season, which we are now amid.
Walking up the right side of a valley, the bowl holding Grinell Glacier and Lake was straight ahead, though to high to see over its lip, which spills a waterfall into an aqua colored lake below. Jewel and Salamander Glaciers drape the cliff side above it, both looking much bigger now than from afar, which was encouraging, though they are still rapidly receding.
Big Horn Sheep graced our presence about halfway there, and due to the prevalence of people in the area, they are abnormally tame and didn’t run off. The bull was especially impressive, his broad build leading into a rack of spiraling horns, along with glaring dark eyes set above his snot-ridden snout that pervaded an intensity you respect with distance. A charge and buck from him could redefine your existence, if any is left at all.
The trail intermittently cuts its way through stone, at one point forming steps splashed by a waterfall from above. There are several places you step over smooth, rippling rock surfaces, which were once under water however many hundreds of millions of years ago, when an inland sea covered the span of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and a chunk of Canada existed.
We started to close in on our destination, but first had get up steep switchbacks closing the route. Due to the thronging crowds at this part, we ascended slowly until the person or group ahead of us stepped aside. Most annoying are the people who indeed see you behind them, but don’t get out your way and keep drudging along until you say something.
We arrived in less than two hours. Joe and I had made the occasion into a workout, if you couldn’t already tell, and I was drenched in sweat, ready to hop in for a dip; however, the floating chunks of ice made the water less desirable. Instead, we sat on the slanted rock-face that forms the shoreline. Plenty of people were scattered about, perhaps fifty or so, decreasing intimacy with the natural surroundings. Other than to party, when do you ever hike in order to spend time with a bunch of random people? I still enjoyed my lunch, though, and the views were stunning. You can’t expect fewer people, anyway, when pursuing such a gorgeous, yet accessible trail. Also, it was nice to see joy emanate from sets of eyes other than my own, those here to spend their precious vacation time, rather than working here for an entire summer, as I am. Yes, my current job is a vacation.
We snapped a few photos of the lake and glacier and got out of there. We passed by people whom we passed before still making their way up. Even through the smoke, our views of the valley and its lakes walking back down were stunning. We came across the same male big horn sheep we saw on our way up, this time in the middle of the trail. Once we got near, he would trot farther along the path, only to start back up again. This process lasted for a while. Finally he hopped off the trail and paused to stare at us as we passed, posing for great photos while he was at it.
Our way back down went faster than up, and we made it back to Many Glacier Lodge at 6:15. We left a half hour later, stopping along our way to grab a bite to eat. We didn’t get back to Lake McDonald until half past nine, just in time for the start of the employee talent show, which was enjoyable to kick back and watch over a few beers. I had work the following morning, so I didn’t get to rowdy over it all.
Thanks for reading. This week, I’ll do a another day hike. Stay tuned