Monday, December 16, 2013

Glacier National Park: Grinnell Glacier

Glacier NP – 8/19/13 – Grinnell Glacier – 11.7 Miles

Day 1 at Glacier National Park was great.  Day 2 was greater.  Day 3 was…well, let’s say there’s an upward trend.

By now we all agreed that Glacier NP was the best of all national parks.  I haven’t been to as many places as my companions, but the Grand Tetons was my measuring stick (a pretty impressive place) and by the second day Glacier had surpassed the grade.

Today's destination:  Grinnell Glacier, named after George Bird Grinnell, an American conservationist and advocate for the creation of the park.  Our hike started from the Swiftcurrent Picnic Area in Many Glacier with a short level walk past Swiftcurrent Lake and onto the North Shore Josephine Lake Trail.  When I took this photo I was focused on the dock and the beautiful water and didn’t realize that Angel Wing and Mount Gould were right there in front of me, a focal point for the day. 

More prominent, Angel Wing with Mount Gould right behind it, Lower Grinnell Lake below, Grinnell Waterfalls flowing into the lake.  Salamander Glacier is the horizontal slash of white in the upper right.

The group’s pace was a bit calmer and I settled into the rhythm of the hike, making sure to stop and look around, ahead, behind, up and down, at the surreal scenery.  Behind me Jeff deadpanned, “Man, this park sucks.”  Made me laugh out loud.

Mount Gould in the upper left, Angel Wing in the center, zoomed in and massive (Jeff’s photo).  I was a little stunned when he said next, “I’m going to summit Angel Wing today.” 

The trail climbed above the tree line into alpine meadows and the world opened up.  I struggled for words to describe what I was seeing.  Then it struck me, the perfect response to this wonderful place:  the Doxology!  And I began to hum and then to sing (quietly to myself) as I walked:  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  I felt very emotional, humbled, reverent, privileged and grateful to be in such a magnificent place. 

Not bear grass - pasque flowers gone to seed
Jeff taking photos

The long haul seemed to be over at a resting spot with comfortable rock seating and pit latrines, but there was another .4 miles to the trail's end at Upper Grinnell Lake. Our gang was all together as we made the last push up a surprisingly arduous trail of steep steps.  The reward:  our first look at the glaciers – Salamander Glacier in the middle right, Gem Glacier on the upper left and a small portion of Grinnell Glacier in the center. 

Walking along the moraine to the edge of Grinnell Lake (Jeff’s photo)

Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake, tiny people on the left shore (Jeff’s photo)

Brandon at the water’s edge on the “stone beach”, which is solid slick slanted rock the color of sand, and Grinnell Glacier

We settled on the “beach” to eat lunch, trying to chew with our mouths closed but gaping at this wondrous ampitheater.  Ken took a few minutes for some yoga stretches.

Cathy, Ken and I practicing the resting pigeon pose – just another day in Glacier National Park (!!)

After lunch the guys headed off to climb Angel Wing, shown here from the side view looking much more manageable than the sheer cliff face.  They left their daypacks with Cathy and Dolores and me, which then presented us with the quandary of what we were going to do for the hour or more they would be gone.  We couldn’t leave the packs unattended because of the hungry critters scavenging around.  Dolores said she would stay with the packs and chill while Cathy and I explored a bit, and then I would stand sentinel later while she wandered around.  So Cathy and I walked in the direction the guys had taken to get a closer look at Grinnell Glacier.

Cathy and I wandered across the slabs of rock toward the glacier, knowing that somewhere the lake was draining to form Grinnell Creek and the waterfalls that tumbled down to Lower Grinnell Lake and beyond.  What we didn’t expect was how dramatic the headwaters would be.  The rushing water was loud and our voices were muted but our wide-open eyes and O-shaped mouths communicated well – WOW.  But where did the guys cross?

(Jeff’s photo)  Ken and Brandon crossing the headwaters on Grinnell Creek on their way to summit Angel Wing

Salamander Glacier melt flowing into Salamander Falls flowing into Upper Grinnell Lake flowing into Grinnell Creek – nature is always perfect.

Jeff zoomed in on Cathy and me at the headwaters of the creek

We made our way back to Dolores.  I settled in and Cathy took Dolores to show her our discovery.  For a time there was no one else around, and I leaned back and contemplated life as I watched the water flow down Salamander Falls.  As I sat, the sound of the waterfall amplified, became fuller, and I tried to imprint the memory so it would last me a lifetime.  Such peace.

Cathy and Dolores returned but the guys were taking a long time and we were beginning to regret agreeing to stay with their packs.  A chill wind was picking up.  Other hikers were passing through.  We examined the rocks…so many variations and striations…I should have taken a geology course.  Once you start looking it’s hard to stop, as each one is more interesting than the one before.  

Dolores brought binoculars, and gazing along the ridgeline above Salamander Glacier she said, “There are people up there!”  Sure enough, in the low point of this photo there were teeny tiny figures (Jeff’s photo).  Jeff told us later that this is one side of the feature known as the Garden Wall and tomorrow we will be hiking on the other side of it to that same notch where we will then look down on Grinnell Glacier.  (Insert shiver of anticipation here.)

After two hours the guys appeared with tales of walking over snow fields and seeing bighorn sheep and the spectacular view from the summit of Angel Wing.  Our hike back was a bit faster but still interesting.  Even though we were covering the same ground, everything seemed new.  At one point a waterfall spills over the trail, a bit unnerving as we crossed the narrow, slippery wet rock face. (Jeff's photo)

A dignified bighorn sheep

The view on the hike back:  Lower Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, Lake Sherburne

We didn’t retrace our steps entirely.  When we reached the edge of Lake Josephine, we turned right and walked on boardwalk around the marshy southern edge to the eastern shore.  At a picnic area we stopped to watch this mama moose, very much at ease with an audience.  Maybe she’s a regular here.

The inevitable last mile was a walk through the forest near the water’s edge.  At the end of the lake we crossed back over on a bridge of land to the western shore, connecting back with our original route, and turned right again towards Swiftcurrent Picnic Area.  This was the view of Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake.  I swear I heard the Munchkins of Oz singing, “You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night,” as Dorothy and her friends first saw the Emerald City!

Dinner each night was an event and tonight’s was as over-the-top as the hike had been at Babb Bar Cattle Barn Supper Club, a steak house with décor was big as the name, pillars of giant logs, saddles hung on the walls, and the steaks as big as seat cushions.  (Cathy and I split one and still couldn’t finish it.)  With giant beers we toasted our great good fortune at being on such an awesome adventure.  Surely if we brought our non-hiking friends here they would be converted to the hiking life?  And guess what:  we get to do it again tomorrow.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ~Jack Kerouac

1 comment:

Linda W. said...

Amazing hike! Yes, Glacier is one of my most favorite national parks too.