Grinnell Glacier — East Glacier Hikes, Part II

I consider the hike to Grinnell Glacier to be the pinnacle of my Glacier National Park vacation, and the only part on which I have actually done research.   I have been looking forward to this day for months.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there were 150 glaciers when the park opened in 1910, and now there are only 25 remaining.  Scientists expect by 2030, there will be none, at the current rate.   So I really want the chance to hike up to the foot of the glacier, stand and contemplate the evolution of our species.   ;-)   The hike to Grinnell Glacier will give me a look at two glaciers up close – Grinnell and Salamander.

Aboard "Chief Two Guns" headed across Swiftcurrent Lake.

Aboard “Chief Two Guns” headed across Swiftcurrent Lake.


Grinnell Glacier is named for George Bird Grinnell, a conservationist, explorer, and founder of the National Audubon Society.   He spent many years exploring the park and was a major contributor toward the establishing of the park.  He was befriended by the Blackfeet tribe, and led an initiative to save the buffalo, among many other species.

Ride across Lake Josephine on "Morning Eagle."

Ride across Lake Josephine on “Morning Eagle.”

And Salamander Glacier was named for…..well….it looks more like a Dachshund to me.

View of Salamander Glacier, looks more like a Dachshund to me.

View of Salamander Glacier, looks more like a Dachshund to me.

The Grinnell Glacier hike can either be done all on foot (eleven miles round trip) or it is possible to shave off four miles with the two-boat tour.   One must pass both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine along the way, so by taking the boat ride, it cuts four miles off the hike, making it 7.5 miles with a 1,600 ft elevation gain.

The boat tour crosses Swiftcurrent Lake on “Chief Two Guns”  with a ¼ mile trail over a mound of land that separates the two lakes.  Then board a second boat, “Morning Eagle” to continue on across Lake Josephine where the dock is located at the Grinnell Glacier trail head.   Not that I have any objection to hiking the entire eleven miles, of course!!   ;-)  But I enjoy a boat ride as much as I do a hike.   So I have booked this in advance, to insure my seat on the two-boat tour.

View of Lake Josephine boat dock, and bridge which is part of the boardwalk trail.  Note early morning fog on the lake.

View of Lake Josephine boat dock, and bridge which is part of the boardwalk trail. Note early morning fog on the lake.


The tour schedule includes an early morning “express run” to the Grinnell Glacier trail head, which also features a guided hike with a ranger to the glacier.  Not typically being the “guided hike” sort, I sign up for this anyway.  One, because of the “Bear Fear Factor” where every sign seems to jump out at me warning,  “Don’t hike alone!”  Not that I would be alone on this hike, mind you.  Quite the contrary!   But I could not have known this back when I booked the boat tour.  The second reason was I really wanted the interpretive narration from the ranger in hopes of learning more about the glaciers.IMG_0701IMG_0796

View of three lakes;  Lower Grinnell, Lake Josephine, and Lake Sherberne Reservoir.

View of three lakes; Lower Grinnell, Lake Josephine, and Lake Sherberne Reservoir.

The hike starts out along an extensive length of boardwalk over a marshy area, before it begins the steep climb.  Our National Park Service guide, Rick, is a geology buff, so he tells us up front this hike will have a heavy geology theme.   We review the three different kinds of rock; sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous, which brings back mind-numbing lectures from my school days.  This would no doubt lull us all to sleep if only we could catch our breath long enough after the lung-busting climb up the switchbacks.  Geology is not really my “thing” but I feign a whole lot of interest because I enjoy the rest stops.  ;-) IMG_0812

First glimpse of Lower Grinnell Lake.

First glimpse of Lower Grinnell Lake.

IMG_0686There are a ridiculous number of hikers on this guided hike, and I often think of breaking from the pack.  It’s a bit like a game of “whiplash” where the fast hikers race ahead, then wait for the slower ones to catch up, while those of us in the mid section collapse and expand like an accordion to hurry up and wait to hear the ranger talks.   Just about the time I decide I am going to break ranks and continue on my own, Rick tells us all that he has a foot ailment, and will not be able to make the entire hike.  So he will finish the narration midway up, and we will be free to complete the hike on our own, at our own pace.  YEAH!   My cake, and eat it too!IMG_0816

After the first third of the trail which is mostly climbing, the trail levels out a bit, but becomes quite narrow, most of it carved into the side of the mountain, or positioned on outcroppings.  There are a few small waterfalls to cross, and views of the stunning turquoise Grinnell Lake come into view.  At the furthest stretch of the narrow trail, it is possible to see three lakes in the distance, Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Lake SherberneReservoir (Swiftcurrent is around the corner out of view.)

Three Lake View

Three Lake View

Finally when Rick reaches his limit, he gives the talk we have all been waiting for…the melting of the glaciers.  Back when Grinnell first explored the glacier in the late 1800’s, the glacier, then a combination of both Grinnell and Salamander,  was reported to be a thousand feet high and several miles across.  Now, an estimated 90% of the ice that Grinnell first saw is gone.  It has created its own melt water lake from the massive thawing.   Once it is gone, there is concern for a sustainable water source at this elevation.  Whether or not you believe Global Climate Change is induced by man, or merely by the natural warming and cooling cycles of our planet, there is no doubt it is having an impact on the park’s ecosystem.

Closing in on Grinnell Glacier

Closing in on Grinnell Glacier


Before Rick turns us all loose, he tells us of a nice picnic area up ahead with benches and pit toilets.  “It’s a good stop to have a rest and regroup for the hardest part of the hike yet.  The final quarter mile to Upper Grinnell Lake is steep and rocky, but persevere.  Trust me, the views are worth it!”

Although I have done research on access to the hike via the boat tours and the trail itself, I have no idea what lies ahead at the end of the trail.  After making the final quarter of a mile climb up through the scree, I crest a large berm to get my first glimpse of Upper Grinnell Lake.   I let out what sounds like a combination of a gasp and a sob, as I had no idea I would be encountering an iceberg filled lake!   I am mesmerized!

Upper Grinnell Lake in its frozen glory.

Upper Grinnell Lake in its frozen glory.

I ask another hiker wearing the Canadian flag as a hat to take my phoot.  I am busy directing, "The light may be better from that directio..."  Too late.

I ask another hiker wearing the Canadian flag as a hat to take my photo. I am busy directing, “The light may be better from that directio…” Too late.

I sit on a rock for a good hour, just staring into the shimmering ice-blue lake with the frozen chunks of ice floating, so still and beautifully sculpted by the elements.    I was so fortunate to visit Antarctica back in 2006.   Of all the indescribable things that I witnessed there, it was the ice formations that struck me as the most impressive, so this sight of the ice-filled Upper Grinnell Lake is a little flashback.

I have been hearing and reading a lot of debate lately as to whether our National Parks are really “worth it.”  The massive crowds, the entrance fees, the restrictive rules, the smoke-filled campgrounds, the stamp collectors, the bucket-listers, of which I am one.   As I sit here on this rock pondering the majesty of this place, I for one am extremely grateful for the NPS.  In fact, it is the only way I can justify the ridiculous amount of income tax that comes from my paycheck every two weeks.   I like to fool myself into imagining that my portion is going toward preservation of our National Parks.   Yes, there are a lot of people around.   Yes, I have to sidestep and yield to the occasional group of hikers along the trail.  But the payoff is so worth it!!  Call it a theme park if you like, but I will peacefully coexist among the “unwashed masses” to enjoy the beauty and splendor of such a “Magic Kingdom” place as this.   Can you imagine what Upper Grinnell Lake would look like if there were no NPS protecting it?   I would be staring down at the ice-blue lake from a 20 story hotel with a glass elevator overlooking fake icebergs floating in the poolside cocktails below.  I am taking the stand (on an iceburg, no less!) “Support our National Parks!!”IMG_0766

Note wildlife sighting on large rock..(smaller than a bread box, so it does not count.)

Note wildlife sighting on large rock..(smaller than a bread box, so it does not count.)

I make my way back down the mountain solo, stopping often for photos.  Rick has told us lower Grinnell Lake looks best in late afternoon sunlight, and he is right.  The western sun really makes the turquoise color pop.IMG_0807

As I near the switchbacks, I come upon a group of people with telephoto lenses pointed up the mountain.   Sheep on shelves!   Three big horn sheep, all lying on their own rock shelf above.  I try zooming in with my point and shoot camera, but it can’t really figure out where to focus, as they are well camouflaged.  I just don’t have the right equipment to do them justice.   But still, I am counting them!  All three, bigger than a breadbox for sure!

Blurry Bighorn Sheep on Vertical Shelves

Blurry Bighorn Sheep on Vertical Shelves

I fly back down the switchbacks to the shore of Lake Josephine, where a crowd waits for the next boat departure.  My ranger-led hike gives me a guaranteed spot on the boat, so I sit on the dock and relax, watching the golden setting sun cast shimmering glints across the lake.   “Morning Eagle” approaches to take me back on the final leg of my hike, home to the Many Glacier campground on such a perfect September day!IMG_0839

Wildlife bigger than a breadbox – 3.  One Goat, 3 Sheep, Glacier NP Total 4

Redrock Falls to Bullhead Lake — East Glacier Hikes, Part 1

It’s now “Day Four” of my Glacier National Park vacation, and the only “bigger than a breadbox” wildlife sightings I have seen amount to one lousy goat.  Sure, there have been marmots, chipmunks, squirrels. But nothing worth getting excited about. Now that I am on the more remote east side, I think my chances will improve.   In fact, my anticipation is bordering on angst, as I have heard the likelihood of encountering bears on the trail is much greater in this section of the park.

Today, I am hiking to Redrock Falls, but it is only a 4 mile RT hike, so I will extend a bit further to Upper Bullhead Lake, making it a little over 7 miles in length.  You may recall from this photo in my previous post, there have been recent bear sightings at Bullhead Lake, so I pack my bear spray canister on my hip, and do a couple of “Quick Draw” trial runs to be sure it is readily accessible.IMG_0591

This trail is a great option because the trail-head is only about 50 feet from my Many Glacier campsite, so no commute is required to the trail-head.    The downside is the location makes for one of the more popular hikes in the area. But due to my over-indulgent splurge at the Many Glacier Lodge breakfast buffet, I am getting a late start. So there are no crowds.   I set a turnaround time to be sure I make it back to the campground in plenty of time before dark.

Fishercap Lake.  Blackfeet called George Grinnell "Fishercap."

Fishercap Lake. Blackfeet called George Grinnell “Fishercap.”



The first stop along the trail is Fishercap Lake, named for the Blackfoot Indian name given to George Grinnell, early conservationist and advocate of the park.   A moose is known to frequent the water’s edge, so I am hopeful that my timing for wildlife will have improved.    I arrive at the lake’s edge, and a woman tells me she has been coming down to the lake every day during her stay to watch the moose.  But today, he is no where to be found.

As I am returning to the main trail, I encounter three beautiful deer.  (Though “bigger than a breadbox,” I do not count them as “wildlife” considering they hang out along most major highways.)   I stand and watch them graze, as they seem to be impervious to my presence.  But then, I hear a thrashing noise behind me, coming on fast.  The deer race off in a blur, bolting down to the shore of the lake and beyond.   The thrashing noise alarms me, and adrenalin shoots through my veins as I whirl around to see what is approaching behind me.   Two Asian tourists with telephoto lenses, chasing after the deer.  I am not the only one desperate to see wildlife, it would appear.

Yellow Lupine?

Yellow Lupine?


The trail comes to Redrock Lake before I reach the falls.  I can hear them long before I see them.  Soon, the trail splits, and I arrive at the edge of the cascades rushing through sculpted boulders carved in red rock known as the “Grinnell Layer,” colored a vivid red by iron oxide.   There are a handful of hikers at the falls, all asking the same question, “Seen any bears?”

Redrock Falls

Redrock Falls



I leave the falls and keep walking toward Upper Bullhead Lake.  The trail is very scenic, flanked on both sides by mountains, and dotted with wildflowers.   The trail is level, so the walking is easy.  I could go on like this forever, but “half time” is approaching.   I am already at the point where I need to turn around, but I can see the lake overlook up ahead, so I decide to continue on for another few minutes.IMG_0610


"Load Limit -- One hiker at a time"

“Load Limit — One hiker at a time”

As I am standing on the rock overlooking Upper Bullhead Lake, a hiker approaches from Swiftcurrent Pass up ahead.  “Which way you headed?” he asks.  “Back to Many Glacier Campground.”   “Oh, just wanted to let you know there is a grizzly up ahead.”  “REALLY??  How far?,” I ask.   “He is way up on the switchbacks.  You’ll need to go another 20 minutes just to be able to make him out.”   I look at my watch.  Another twenty minutes would put me back at camp after sunset. I consider it for a second, but then deem it too risky.  Possibly even more so than seeing the bear…

Bullhead Lake

Bullhead Lake



I turn and head back for the 3.5 mile walk back to camp, where I don’t see another living soul….or creature bigger than a breadbox, for that matter.

Wildlife sightings bigger than a breadbox = 0, Total = 1 Goat

The Mini-Glaciers of Many Glacier

I really want to visit Many Glacier campground during the second half of my week-long vacation in Glacier National Park.   It is considered to be the “heart” of Glacier, and also the only way for an RV of my size (over 21 ft long, 8 ft wide) to be able to camp in the interior of the park, as the Winnie is not allowed on the only road that crosses the interior, the Going to the Sun Road. Continue reading

Hidden Lake — West Glacier Hikes, Part II

My third day in Glacier National Park and still no wildlife sightings bigger than a bread box.   I awake to sun peeping through the clouds in Apgar Campground with the promise of another beautiful day.  I have decided to take the shuttle back up to the top of Logan Pass, the Continental Divide.  I am feeling ambitious today,  so I plan to do two hikes from Logan Pass because I can’t decide which one sounds more appealing; the wildflowers of Hidden Lake, or the vistas of the Highline. So I pack a lunch and plan on both. Continue reading

Avalanche Lake — West Glacier Hikes, Part 1

All comforts aside at the Pine Near RV Park, the thing that really kept me anchored in Winthrop for three days was my insane job.  I had scheduled 10 days off on vacation to visit Glacier National Park.  I always say you don’t really take a vacation from my corporate job…you just shove a week’s worth of work to either side.  Once clients realize you are leaving, they start piling on the “one last thing before you go” list.

It was also a much longer drive from North Cascades to Glacier National Park than I had anticipated.  It was a gorgeous drive along the Jocko and Flathead Rivers, following the expansive Flathead Lake just outside of Kallispell, with its 160 miles of shoreline. Continue reading

The Bear Facts about Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Over 700 miles of trails lead through some of the most spectacular and wild country in the Rockies.

But this is also bear country. There are an estimated 1,000 bears in Glacier National Park – around 600 black bears, and less than 400 of the endangered grizzlies. Continue reading

Going to the Sun in the Sun!

What do you do when you arrive in Glacier National Park on a sunny day?   You drop everything and head straight for the “Going-to-the-Sun” Road!   Weather is fickle here in the park, and if you should get a sunny day, take every advantage!

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50 mile stretch of two-lane that runs east to west, right through the heart of Glacier National Park.  In fact, the Going To The Sun Road is the only way you can access the park by automobile.  And not just any automobile.  Continue reading

Winthrop, WA – Such a Lovely Place

I originally planned to bypass Winthrop, in spite of the fact that some people had said “Don’t miss it!” I am not much for Western reenactments like Tombstone or Rawhide. When the men wearing spurs and bandanas tied around their necks come out with dueling pistols at high noon, I am outta there. But I got a late start leaving Newhalem due to a particularly busy day at work. Jim, Gayle, and Debbie had already gone before me, and reported back on a nice RV Park and a good brew pub, so how could I pass? Continue reading

High on Maple Pass

Though I am enjoying the beautiful “enchanted forest” of Newhalem Creek Campground, I am feeling the urge to “get high.” I know there are some incredible mountains around, but it seems as if most of them are hidden. Newhalem is only 500 ft in elevation, so any type of vista is tough to find through the thicket of trees.

It’s now the weekend, which means I have all day to hike. I am more of an endurance hiker than a speed hiker, so I like to do “big hikes” and take my time. Continue reading

North Cascases National Park — Its Electrifying!

In trying to make everything fit in before my planned September week-long vacation in Glacier National Park, I have to do a little mid-week travel, something I rarely do. But since I work Central Time Zone hours while on Pacific time, I am able to squeeze out a couple of extra hours of daylight. North Cascades National Park is an easy 76 mile drive from Anacortes, so I make a run for it mid-week, with the hopes of exploring the least crowded of our National Parks over the weekend. Continue reading