Sunday, November 24, 2013

Glacier National Park: Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel

Glacier NP – 8/18/13 – Iceberg Lake & Ptarmigan Tunnel – 15.3 Miles

Okay, I’ll confess it out loud:  I didn’t realize there would be, like, actual icebergs in Iceberg Lake.  I have seen icebergs floating in Glacier Bay, Alaska, from the cushy comfort of a cruise ship deck, margarita in hand, but I just didn’t make the mental connection with Glacier National Park.  Ah well…

Day 2 of our Glacier NP agenda began again in the Many Glacier section, hiking to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel (so if there are icebergs in the lake are there ptarmigans in the tunnel??)  The trail begins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn complex, an assortment of buildings including a motel, cabins, a restaurant and a gift shop with refreshments (very important.)  Marta accompanied us again for the first leg, telling us it was a gentle, easy hike.  Well, the overall trail gains only about 1,000 feet in 4.5 miles, but our group set a brisk trot pace at the beginning going up stone steps to connect with the main trail.  The masculine half of our crew quickly pulled ahead while the rest of us walked and gawked at the wide open scenery smorgasboard. 

The cirque that encompasses Iceberg Lake with Mount Grinnell on the far left – we’ll see that from a different angle later in the week

Monkey flower (Jeff’s photo)

Iceberg Creek (Jeff’s photo)

First glimpse of Iceberg Lake

Second look - icebergs!

Third look (Jeff’s photo)

Fourth look (Jeff’s photo)

We took an extended break at the lake’s edge (after all, isn’t that why we came?) amongst humans and creatures.  Here’s Cathy and a curious squirrel

Cathy, Dolores and me at Iceberg Lake

Marta put her toes in the lake and decided to stay awhile before going back to her home.  She was kind enough to lend me her bear spray canister for the week (with a quick lesson on how not to hurt myself).  Then the rest of our crew continued on our Y-shaped hike.  Next stop:  Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Which meant backtracking halfway down Iceberg Lake Trail and taking a left.  The brief downhill was forgotten as the uphill towards Ptarmigan Lake literally took my breath away.  Without Marta to set a leisurely pace and conversation, the others were soon out of sight and I felt pulled to hurry after them.  I felt a sense of protection from the bear spray on my belt and was no longer concerned about hiking alone, but I still wanted to stick with the group.  Jeff was behind me for a bit, claimed he was taking care of his knees.  At the lake we caught up with everyone – they had stopped for lunch – but they immediately started up the trail so I didn’t stop to eat.  

Mount Henkel

Slogging my way up to Ptarmigan Lake (Jeff’s photo)

On Ptarmigan Trail

Ptarmigan Lake at the bottom of a barren cirque - no icebergs, but still awesome looking at the Ptarmigan Wall.  From this great website, “the Ptarmigan Wall, towering more than 1700 feet above you at this point, is an arête, or a thin ridge of rock separating two valleys that have been carved by glaciers. In this case, the Ptarmigan Wall separates the Many Glacier valley from the Belly River valley.”

Big horn sheep mamas and young’uns were hanging around the trail between the lake and the tunnel, ignoring us.

On the switchback trail up to the tunnel, looking back at the lake (Jeff’s photo).  This is one of my favorite photos of the entire Glacier trip.  The trail looks narrow and intimidating and was quite steep but actually intense great fun.  Loved.  It.

So what is Ptarmigan Tunnel?  Well, a ptarmigan is a bird commonly seen in Glacier NP.  The tunnel is not a natural tunnel but was blasted through the Ptarmigan Wall in 1931, facilitating a nice day’s ride on horseback from Many Glacier to the Belly River area. 

A nice description of hiking to PT with fantastic photos and maps is here. 

Eastern entrance to the tunnel

You gotta go through it (Jeff’s photo)

The other door (break on thru to the other side)

Elizabeth Lake in the Belly River valley

We were about two-thirds of the way through our hike now and it’s all downhill in reverse (except for the uphills).  Again I was bringing up the rear and I spent the five miles back to the trailhead having a conversation with myself about what I wanted out of this trip.  Everyone has a natural hiking pace and I wanted to enjoy mine rather than chasing everyone else.  Well…no one was asking me to!  Now I had an invisible force field of bear spray so I could hike on my own and it was up to me to enjoy this incredible opportunity.  One thing to pay better attention to was making sure I ate.  It’s hard to have fun when your energy is depleted. 

Back at the Swiftcurrent gift shop and snack shop we hung out on the porch (alas, no big view like yesterday) and rewarded ourselves with ice cream and beverages.  That night we had a great meal at Two Sisters Café, the best restaurant “near Babb, Montana.”  We made room for rainbow trout, bison steak, huckleberry pie.  It’s true.

“When preparing to climb a mountain – pack a light heart.”  ~Dan May


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Glacier National Park: Cracker Lake

Glacier NP – 8/17/13 – Cracker Lake – 13.2 Miles

Up and at ‘em for our first hike in Glacier NP, anticipation building and very excited!  Free range cows were a fun bonus on our drive to the Many Glacier area of the park. 

The Cracker Lake trail begins at the parking lot of Many Glacier Hotel, a stunning scene hugging the edge of Swift- current Lake with Mount Grinnell rising up on the far shore.  It felt a little surreal to be looking at this postcard.  Heck, the next eight days felt like walking through a postcard. 

Marta was at the head of the line as we hiked to Cracker Lake, part of an ongoing conversation filled with questions, catching up, history of the area, flora and fauna.   She educated us on late summer berries, a bear buffet, and how to tell if thimbleberries are ripe.    We sampled as we walked gently but steadily uphill, all staying together except for Jeff hanging back from time to time for photos. 

Thimble- berries:  yum!



Yogurt covered raisins?  Don’t know what plant this is but these are not berries

Walking past Lake Sherburne on the back side of Many Glacier Hotel

I noticed that Marta carried a canister of bear spray on her pack belt.  Yes, she sometimes hikes alone and has seen some bears but never had to use her bear spray.  When I began my Smokies hiking project back in 2008, I had anxiety about safety hiking alone and asked Marta how she overcame that when she thru-hiked the AT.  She gave me one word:  repetition.  You practice and get used to it. 

Found this when I stepped off the trail for a potty break:   Pinedrops, about three feet tall

Pinedrops detail

Our first look at snow.  Do you see the black “cave” hole at the base where the snow is melting?

Looked as though the clouds were “boiling up” like steam from behind Allen Mountain.

Marta on the trail (Allen Mountain)

Nodding onion

Don’t know the name of this one, but it was abundant along the trail

Our first glimpse of the cirque, the steep bowl- shaped hollow created by glaciers at the upper end of the valley.  Mount Siyeh is the peak at the upper left and Siyeh Glacier is the snow field in shadow on the left.  Cracker Lake lies out of sight (for now) at the foot of the cirque.

Cracker Lake, looking like opaque, almost milky turquoise glass, due to the glacial silt suspended in the water.  Exquisite, no?

Close-up of Siyeh Glacier

Obligatory group shot

We walked around the western edge of the lake and up onto a rock where we took turns posing for this daring-looking scrapbook photo

There are campsites along the edge of the lake (see the tiny tent at the bottom?)  Campers must cook their meals and store food at a separate site about a hundred yards away from the tent sites.

We spent a leisurely lunch hour by the lakeshore, basking in the sunshine and marvel- ing at how lucky we felt to be there.  Our expecta- tions were already exceeded on Day 1!  Jeff, Marta and Cathy soaked their feet in the water – looked pretty cold to me. 

Time to head back (Jeff’s photo)

On the return hike, more flowers:  Indian paintbrush

Blanket flower


Crossing Allen Creek

The hike back went quickly, but perhaps not fast enough for Ken when he got stung inside his lower lip.  I didn’t realize it until we arrived back at the parking area and saw that his lip was swelled up and looked pretty painful.  At the Many Glacier Hotel he applied a bag of ice to it and a cold beer helped as well.  We all sat on the front deck looking out over Swiftcurrent Lake and enjoyed a cool beverage to celebrate our first day in Glacier National Park.  We didn’t even know that tomorrow was going to be even more incredible. 

Back to camp at St. Mary’s and wonderful hot showers.  Our friend Brandon joined us for the rest of the week.  We had a huge meal at Johnson’s Family Style Restaurant, including huckleberry ice cream pie. (We had some form of huckleberry something every single day).  We played a little poker, which I wasn’t good at before and my skills did not improve.  The sky was still bright at 9:00 p.m. when I crawled into my sleeping bag with my book, Blood Lure, by Nevada Barr.  (She writes whodunnits set in national parks and this one featured Glacier NP.)

Full moon (Jeff’s photo)
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”   ~Rachel Carson