Sunday, March 06, 2016

Day 29: St. Mary’s via Iceberg Lake

The smoke was still there a-plenty, although the wind wasn’t blowing and breakfast was had with lousy visions but little campfire flavor.  We left and headed over to Swiftcurrent Lodge for our ranger-led hike to Iceberg Lake.

Our ranger was a mid-20 something female who majored in business and promptly moved to Montana because she felt nature was more fulfilling.  Now she works at an REI in Missoula while trying to deal with the Montana winters and works in Glacier National Park in the summertime.  Our hike was to take us up into a little nook in a canyon containing Wilbur Creek.  At the top of the creek was Iceberg Lake, a body of water surrounded on three sides by massive walls of rock thus allowing for ice to remain in the lake well into July.  I was hoping to see ice. 

The first 3/4 mile was a strong climb up a narrow trail that eventually flatted out to a nice gradual climb up to Iceberg Lake.  Along the way our ranger educated us about local glaciers (we saw Swiftcurrent from the trail), the different forests on the east and west side of the Continental divide, and bears.  It was the bears that people were most interested in because our large party (had to be about twenty) were fairly concerned about running into a grizzly.  The ranger was fantastic, discussing the ins-and-outs of bear encounters.  Interesting fact; bear bells are no longer recommended.  Basically if you are going to hike in bear country, you better be talking every couple minutes and talking loud.  We got the in’s and out’s of bear spray, bear tracking, and most importantly, the reminder that most of the time if you are acting in a bear safe manner you’ll be fine. 

We stopped at Ptarmigan Falls for a short break and then continued our journey towards the lake.  Eventually we broke out of the forest and started walking through alpine meadows.  I think I’ve found my favorite type of terrain.  The meadows are full of different types of wildflowers and the occasional trees seem to create a perfect match to the granite rock and green lushness on the ground.  Mix in the jagged peaks, the multitude of waterfalls, and the plethora of animal life and it feels like your in the greatest wilderness that could have been invented by a Creator.  Iceberg Lake was fantastic.  Set in a bowl and covered partially by, well, icebergs, the lake was a brilliant blue hue contrasted with the white snow surrounding its banks on the far side.  While there were probably thirty or so people there, the tones were hushed as an almost reverent feeling overcame all of us.  Even kids seemed to appreciate the vision before them.

As the afternoon waned we had a choice; wait by the lake for over an hour more for the ranger to head back or get a group together start the journey early.  We paired up with Jack and Greta, an older couple from Belgium and began our way down the trail.  We discussed everything from the European Union to teaching in the United States to families to the hope that grizzly bears stayed out of our way.  We were loud and I lead the way with the regular “waayyyyyyyyyyyyyohhhhhhh” every couple of minutes and any time we neared a blind curve.  We avoided bears ok but ran into this baddy:

SUmmer 2015 2085 That’s a grouse that was very bold in an effort to find her chicks.  She found them eventually and it was actually really cool.  But damn those talons…..

Once we got back to the Swiftcurrent Lodge we sat and enjoyed a couple of cold brews and talked about our road trips and (in the case of our new companions) trips around the world.  It was a fabulous day that started with a beautiful climb and ended with excellent company.  Jack and Gretel are actually staying at the Many Glacier Hotel and we are going to meet them tomorrow for our climb up to Grinnell Glacier.  

Trails hiked:  Iceberg Lake

Miles hiked: 10

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