Saturday, September 16, 2006

Iceberg Lake

A week ago Friday I hiked to Iceberg Lake in Glacier Park with my hiking group.

Roundtrip: 9.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1200 ft
Region of park: Many Glacier
Link to interactive Glacier map: click here

It was an early start to the day for me as the meeting time was 7 am. I was awake and out of bed before the alarm clock went off and ready in plenty of time for Joyce and Edley to arrive.

6:45 am - no one. 6:46 - no one. 6:47 - no one. They are always on time. I called and found they weren't coming on the hike today. Yikes! Joyce hadn't mentioned this when I spoke with her the previous night about the hike.

I had to rush to the meeting place in Columbia Falls and only had minutes to do it. I wished the speed limit was higher. I arrived a few minutes after 7 am and everyone was still there. Whew!

The group today was:
  • Arnie 
  • Bill
  • Edwina
  • Bridget, Edwina's neighbor
  • Barbara, Bridget's friend from Seattle
  • me
Bridget and Barbara met us at the trailhead in Many Glacier.

The drive over Logan Pass was cloud free. The mountains were lit by the morning sun. This is a sight I don't remember ever seeing before. "Yawn! Who gets up this early?!"

At Logan Pass the men's bathroom was closed for cleaning so us guys walked above the visitor's center to look at the mountains in the morning light and talk about the Dragon's Tail trail and other routes not on official maps while waiting for the cleaning to finish.

Here is an aerial photo of Iceberg Lake. The trail enters the photo just above the lower right corner, above the stream. The trail goes NW across Ptarmigan Falls to almost the top center of the photo before turning west, SW, then south to Iceberg Lake.

While you can't see any icebergs in the photo, trust me, this is Iceberg Lake.

The first 2.8 miles of the trail was the same trail we hiked on to Ptarmigan Tunnel a few weeks ago. No matter, the Many Glacier views may be the best views in the entire park and I enjoyed seeing these mountains and valleys again. In the sunlight we could even see a bump glinting in the morning sun that is the lookout on top of Swiftcurrent mountain at the far end of the main valley. Yes, those wires on the lookout are needed. The one time I hiked to the lookout it was very windy. As I leaned into the strong wind I saw a spider crossing the trail. It also moved slowly, keeping most of its legs on the ground.

I got into a bit of hot water when I mentioned someone (not part of the group) who was getting elderly. "What do you consider elderly?!"

"Umm.. people in their 70s."

Opps, wrong answer. I forgot all my hiking partners are in their 70s, with Arnie being 81. They are such strong hikers I forget their age and think of them being closer to my age. My hiking friends consider elderly as being 85 or greater.

Three men and three women were on this hike. Who do you think the hunters were? The women all hunt and none of the men. Having hunters on a hike is a good thing as they are the people who spot the animals. Edwina found all the mountain goats and bighorn sheep and was first to spot the bears.

At one point in our hike Edwina wondered if the shape in the valley below was a bear. We determined that it was a "rock bear". A young Japanese couple came up as we joked about the rock bear and in broken English wanted to know where the bear was. I explained rock bears are the kind that don't move.

Where the Iceberg and Ptarmigan trails split, we saw an actual ptarmigan cross the trail to go to the Ptarmigan trail. While Barbara took a photo of the ptarmigan the Japanese couple caught up to us again. Now they were unsure of us "Crazy Americans" so I had to point out the ptarmigan to them as it made its way into the brush on the side of the trail.

Shortly after the two trails split the Iceberg Lake trail exited the trees and traversed the southern side of the Ptarmigan Walls mountains. It is a gradual incline as the trail goes west then curves to the south and into the high cirque.

The lake is surrounded by very high mountains on all sides except the north side. On the west side there was a "notch" between two mountains. Snow was still in parts of the notch. If one was very adventurous - and a little crazy - they could climb over the notch. The "notch" can be seen in the photo where the snow goes up on the right side.

On the SE side there was a lone mountain goat high above on the steep rock mountain side. It stayed in one place with its head down. What possibly could it find to eat up there? Who knows!

Not many people were at the lake - but there were more than on my other Glacier hikes. A family from Great Falls said when they were here during the summer there were 200 people at the lake. That would be over crowded. I guess the couple dozen people today wasn't that bad after all.

There were a few very small icebergs floating in the lake. One looked like a swan. The lake should be called 'icicle lake' or 'ice cube lake as none of the floating ice was very large.

Arnie and I were first of our group to reach the lake and we found a few "comfortable" rocks along the shore on which to sit and have our lunches. After a bit the rest of our group arrived with a few other people and a female ranger.

The ranger told us about two black bear yearlings back below the trail. Arnie and I missed seeing them. The yearlings were on their own as their mother kicked them out this spring. They were thin during the summer but now are gaining weight as they realized mama wasn't going to help them anymore and they now had to look for food on their own. The Park rangers kept an eye on them this summer preferring not to haze them away from the area so as not to stress them further.

Barbara had a bad blister on one foot. Bill and Edwina had extra bandages and some Advil for her. Bill joked his name, William, means "protector of woman". Guess so.

The women took off their shoes and soaked their feet in the shallow edge of the lake where it wasn't so cold. After I finished my lunch I took off my shoes and waded into the lake until the water was above my knees. The group warned me not to fall in. The rocks were not slippery. It was cold and my legs and feet were numb after a few minutes.

After I came out of the lake a teenage boy and two girls from a nearby family dove in. With shrieks and loud gasps they quickly came back out.

As we hiked back Barbara told about her 5 week African safari. Bridget and her brother own homes in Mexico. Hurricane John damaged Bridget's home and destroyed her brother's home. I meet such an interesting variety of people on my hikes.

It was warm now and Bridget set a fast pace to get back to shade. We were passing a number of people on the trail.

Later we passed a couple where the man was fiddling with his pants. Bridget joked and told him not to take his pants off till we all passed as no one wanted to see him naked. As I passed I could hear him say something in a foreign language and he sounded annoyed. I'm not sure if he understood Bridget's humor.

Towards the end of the hike we could see clouds forming and getting bluer over the mountain range to the north. Fortunately the clouds stayed in the Belly River region on the other side of the mountains and never threatened us.

As we were driving out of the Park cars lined the road in one spot with people pointing. A sure sign of something. It was black bears, a mom and two cubs.

A short drive later and more cars and pointing. We stopped to find a female grizzly and her two cubs. She was large. Her head and neck were brown with a dark brown stripe near her front legs up and over her back. Behind the stripe her back was close to white. He rear half was a very light brown. One cub was dark brown and the other almost white. They meandered along the mountain side. Looking for berries.

Then it was off to the Park Cafe in St. Mary for blackberry pie. Today there were seats available as it was after Labor Day and not as many people in the Park.

We stopped at the St. Mary Glacier Park visitor center to check the trail status around St. Mary Lake. Bill wants to hike around the lake. The trail is closed due to the Red Eagle fire. The fire burned down to the lake in some spots and they closed it for the year so trees do not fall on anyone.

It rained lightly as we drove over Logan Pass. In front of us was one of Glacier's red tour buses with an open top. The people sitting inside were holding stuff over their heads to keep the rain off. The rain was short lived.

Back down in the valley more cars on the side of road with people leaning out of windows to take photos. We saw tree branches whipping about. We then saw a medium sized black bear in a tree eating chokecherries. After we stopped the bear climbed out of the tree and left. Edwina got a photo.

That made seven bears that we saw in one day, and two more bears that we didn't see. A good day for bear viewing.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Piegan Pass to Many Glacier

Last Friday our group hiked over Piegan Pass, down into the Many Glacier Valley and over to the Many Glacier Hotel at the northeast end of Swiftcurrent Lake.

There were 6 hikers and three drivers. We needed two drivers for two vehicles, as the beginning and end of our route were many miles across a mountain divide. The drivers were Bill's and Arnie's wives.

The map shows the driving route from Siyeh Bend to Many Glacier.

The six hikers were:
  • Bill
  • Joyce
  • Edley
  • Arnie
  • Edwina 
  • me
Sue Ann is kayacking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Earlier she had called Bill to let him know that at that moment she was on the lake as she knew Jackson Hole is one of Bill's favorite areas.

Here is a link to an interactive map showing our route. Move your cursor over the red 26 and 36 on the map to see photos of Piegan Pass and the Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier hotel area.

A couple more maps:

Joyce and Edley picked me up for the 8 am meeting in Columbia Falls. Edwina had been there since 7 am as she had the meeting time wrong.

It was a cold morning and I had frost on the lawn and hayfield. I left my garden covered.

At we drove up Going-to-the-Sun road to cross Logan Pass there were clouds. A few miles before the pass we drove through the clouds and could look down on their sunlit tops as they filled the valley. The east side of the pass was clear.

We started our hike at the Siyeh (Sigh' - ee) bend.

The low shrubs and flowers along the stream were white with frost until the trail turned into the tall pine trees. Everyone but Edley wore a coat. He said the cold didn't bother him. On top of that he was only wearing a short sleeve shirt. Brrrr!!

I wore my splint on my sore wrist and had my hand in my coat pocket as I hiked. It helped.

Only Arnie and Edwina brought bear spray and they hiked in the back. I was in the front and said maybe they should lead. "No thanks", they said, "bears prefer young people as they are more tender and juicy to eat than the old tough people." Thanks...

Bill and Arnie got adventurous and bushwhacked a shortcut. You wouldn't think Bill was in his 70s and Arnie is 81. They later speculated about hiking/bushwhacking from Siyeh bend straight up to the pass on a future hike. The rest of us stayed on the trail.

The trail split and another part went to Siyeh Pass. A sign warned of recent bear sightings on the Siyeh Pass trail. Glad were not going there.

We met a young back country ranger coming down from the pass. We chatted with him about the trail, bear sitings, his job, and where he was from.

Closer to the pass we spotted two bighorn sheep. The first one was a good distance below and we initially debated if it was a rock - until it moved. The second sheep was sitting and chewing and had massive and impressive curled horns. I imagine these bighorn sheep were the cause of the animal tracks on the steep snowfields against Pollock Mountain.

Here is a view back to Siyeh Bend.

On the right of the stream is where Bill and Arnie would like to bushwhack and look for what they believe is an old abandoned trail to the pass from the bend.

Here is a view of Piegan Pass. To reach Piegan Pass we climbed 1750 ft in 4.5 miles.

This 360 degree view shows the entire route from Siyeh Bend to the pass:

The mountains still had fresh snow from the previous couple days. I went over to some of the snow against the Pollock Mountain. Yup, fresh wet snow. The mountains and views were extremely gorgeous. I really wished I had a camera!

We ate our lunch at the pass with magnificent views of the backside of the Garden Wall, Piegan Mountain, Mt Gould, and Siyeh Mountain. The following photo is the view from the pass down into Many Glacier valley.

To the west, at the base of the Garden Wall, from this distance the scree / gravel that lay below the vertical drop looked like fine sand. A small turquoise lake was at base of the scree / gravel.

At times a cool breeze blew as we sat on rocks and ate our lunch. Brrrr. But the views were worth the chill.

The route to the Many Glacier Hotel descended 2640 ft over 8.3 miles. When going down into the Many Glacier Valley, for about a half mile to a mile, snow was on the trail. The trail was on the north side of the pass. Light snow, but wet and slippery. I seen that some permanent snowfields had large cracks where the field slipped slightly.

Arnie has climbed a number of mountains: Siyeh, Gould, Angel Wing. No technical climbing. He climbed Siyeh twice. His last climb of Siyeh was 15 years ago when he was 65.

We came across a few instances of purple bear scat on the trail. Fortunately, not fresh. The color was from the huckleberries. There were still huckleberries and thimbleberries to be picked.

We would pause ever so often to pick some berries the bears had left. The thimbleberries were past season as they were either very ripe and would fall apart when picked, else dry. We also saw many signs were the bears had torn the dirt and rocks along the trail in search of something.

We hiked past Morning Eagle Falls. Along the way we had seen the stream that fed the falls; then the trail went down for views from across then below the falls. Very nice.

After 6 miles we reached Lake Josephine. One could take a boat across this short lake to a narrow piece of land, then another boat across Swiftcurrent Lake to the Many Glacier hotel. Edwina, Bill, and Joyce waited for the boat. Arnie, Edley, and I hiked the 2.2 miles along the lakes to the Many Glacier hotel.

The photo is of Lake Josephine looking up the valley that has the Grinnell glacier. The glacier in the photo is not the Grinnell glacier.

There were more people now on the trail. We had seen a few people on the trail from Siyeh Bend to Piegan Pass who were only hiking to the pass. We had seen no one on between the pass and the lake.

We got to the lodge 13 miles and 6 hours later. We were tired. Arnie said his body sure knew it had been somewhere that day.

In the photo of Swiftcurrent Lake, to the right behind the mountain is the valley with the Grinnell glacier. To the left behind the mountain is where we had hiked from the pass.

The ladies were waiting at the hotel. They said they had a good time and the time passed quickly. I checked out the hotel before sitting down on one of the couches around the large fireplace - which was burning logs.

We all went outside to meet the boat. The boat was full but did not have our hikers. A person getting off the boat said people were left for the next boat as this one was full. While waiting for the next boat Edley, Bill's wife, and I sat down outside on a picnic table to wait. We ended up chatting with a couple from near NYC who had rafted the Snake river in Idaho before visiting Glacier.

An hour later the next boat brought our hikers. It turns out ticket holders (round trip) had priority. That is why our hikers weren't on the prior boat. When we had left them at Lake Josephine only a half dozen people were waiting for the boat. Then people started to continually arrive, followed by a large park ranger led group. The boat holds 49 people and the boat they arrived on had 48 passengers. They barely fit on the boat.

Here is a view of the hotel.

As we drove out of park we saw cars and people on the side of the road looking down towards a lake. A man was walking to the lake. We stopped and asked people watching what they were looking at. A grizzly bear was along the lake, although now was hidden from view by trees. It was after 6 pm and I joked it was dinner time for the bear. The man started to walk back up to the road as we left. No bear snack tonight.

The Park Cafe in St. Mary was full when we arrived. The outdoor seating was closed. It was a long wait so we went to another cafe. No pie at this place. Hamburgers and salad. Also ice cream.

I didn't get home until almost 9:30 pm . It was dark and I was tired. But the day's hike was well worth it.