Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Glacier Journeys -- Part 2

You would think after seven days and 60 miles of hiking, we would have enough. But we decided on a day hike from the Many Glacier Campground to Grinnell Glacier to see a glacier up close.

We were on the trail by 7 am – this part of the park has a high concentration of visitors and we wanted to beat the rush. Many stay at the Swiftcurrent Hotel, a Swiss chalet-style lodge built early in the 20th century by the railroads. It sits on the edge of the lake with the enormity of the glacial landscape in front of it. Hikers can take a shuttle boat to bypass a couple of miles, but it only diminishes the horizontal miles, not the uphill miles. We opted for the full mileage, about 13 miles roundtrip with 1,700 feet elevation gain. With an early start we could get ahead of the first shuttle boat.

The top photo of the day shows the view from the trail as it approaches the hanging cirque where Grinnell Glacier is nestled. The feature was named after George Bird Grinnell, who was one of the leaders who helped achieve national park status for the area. The glacier itself is not visible, but the silver thread of water emanating from the glacier can be seen on the rocky slope. We were the second to reach the top, after a group of very fit French-Canadians passed us on the way up.

The second photo is of the glacier itself. What exists today is more like a lake with ice floes. It is very different from pictures we saw in the lodge from a century ago when glacial ice filled the entire basin where the lake is today. On the right of the photo is glacial till left as a moraine from the receding ice. If we return in a decade we can expect to see no ice at all. Who can deny that global warming is happening?

We proceeded down, passing the multitudes of day hikers. Many were inexperienced, without hat or water, who would breathlessly ask us how far the glacier was. We passed a ranger-led group of about 30, all bunched up, barely a foot apart, as they moved like a Slinky up the slope. Apparently these groups bring their own medic, since one participant tripped and skinned her arm and leg. We were going to offer a bandage from our minimalist first-aid kit, but they were well taken care of by a guy in camouflage pants and a Marine t-shirt. He was stoic and all business, dispensing care from a kit with more supplies than we carry in our ski patrol vests.

We were glad for our early start, which allowed us to see the landscape in the morning light in relative solitude. The views were nearly as beautiful as anything we saw on our loop hike – this would be on our list of must-do hikes if you ever visit Glacier National Park.

Posted using wi-fi access from Columbia Falls Public Library, Montana.

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