Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Glacier National Park: Avalanche Lake & Trail of the Cedars

Glacier NP – 8/21/13 – Avalanche Lake & Trail of Cedars – 6 Miles

When Jeff sent me his itinerary for our Glacier NP trip, I looked it over and raised an eyebrow at the Sperry Glacier hike he included.  I said, “This may be my town day,” and he replied, “I thought it would be.”  Mid-way through the week, the longest, hardest, most ambitious hike:  it wasn’t hard for me to say no.  I was ready for a day off, to wander around and relax and do the easy stuff. 

I waved goodbye to the intrepid hikers and took a photo in case I needed to describe them to SAR workers (just kidding).   Then I headed for Avalanche Lake, a popular gentle hike nearby.  The hike begins at the Trail of the Cedars, a handicapped-accessible loop, and follows this for about half a mile to the main trail.

Avalanche Creek Trail winds upward alongside Avalanche Creek, which flows from Avalanche Lake, which is fed by waterfalls flowing from a hanging cirque valley formed by Sperry Glacier.  (The glacier can’t be seen from the lakeshore.)  Thundering cascades are around every bend in the trail before it finally turns away from the creek.  I was early enough that only a few hikers were in front of me and I was alone most of the time.  The trees, including western hemlocks, were huge and made a dense canopy with very little undergrowth.  Gargantuan fallen trunks and tree stumps made me feel like a small child lost in the forest of a Grimm’s fairy tale who would surely come to a bad end. 

I misunderstood the mileage; the hike was shorter than I expected.  The nearest edge of the lake is only about 2 miles.  The hikers ahead of me hung around this area while I continued on around the western shore, now absorbing spiderwebs with every step. 

At the far end was a sweet spot for a snack, looking back at Heaven’s Peak (which we saw from a different point along the Highline Trail yesterday).  Soon a couple arrived, we chatted and took photos for each other, and then they turned back.  I had nowhere else I needed to be, so I hung around for another half hour enjoying the peace.

Avalanche Lake – the prominent peak is Little Matterhorn

Waterfalls flowing into Avalanche Creek Valley and the lake

On my return hike, the crowds had arrived in full force, families, grandmas, sulking teenagers and careening pre-schoolers.  Great timing!  At the junction I turned right to complete the eastern side of the Trail of the Cedars.  A mystery:  only a couple of people on this lovely interpretive boardwalk which is a very impressive feature of Glacier NP.  The boardwalk winds through magnificent giant cedars, some more than 500 years old.  The interpretive signage includes lovely haikus.  Read more about the Trail of the Cedars here.

Along the Trail of the Cedars

I made a carload of people very happy when I vacated my parking spot at the trailhead.  I turned back onto the GTTS Road southbound and checked out a couple of the pull-offs alongside Avalanche Creek, which is now bigger and more impressive as it approaches Lake McDonald.  At one overlook I chatted with a man riding a fully loaded touring bike on a cross-country trek from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Seattle, Washington.  He was very excited to have a clear dry day on the GTTS Road through Glacier. 

I cruised down to Apgar Village and walked to the edge of Lake McDonald to watch the standup paddleboarders.  I collected a few stones from the shore, very colorful when wet, but upon drying they all turned the same light gray.  I wandered briefly through a couple of souvenir shops and indulged in some ice cream.  Next I bought a cheap Styrofoam cooler and filled it with ice and beer and sodas to be ready for my hiker friends when they returned from their long day. 

I drove back up the GTTS Road to Lake McDonald Lodge and wandered through its common areas, the lobby and the wide porches (very “western National Park” style décor – imagine that) and perused the restaurant menu.  The rear doors opened onto the beach of the lake, where I perched on a rock and watched more families splashing and posing for group photos and building rock cairns for posterity.  Nice to enjoy without having to pay for it.

The triumphant return of the uber-hikers and the smiles of surprise at the cool beverages awaiting them.  I’m glad they had a great day – I did too.

“I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it.  I want to have lived the width of it as well.”  ~Diane Ackerman

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