Glacier, MT

Situated on the northern border of Montana, I camped two nights just outside Glacier. A beautiful orange Montana sunrise greeted me over the dark outline of the mountains to start off one of the best hikes I have ever been on.


It was cold in the morning, so I crawled out of my tent in several layers that I peeled off over the drive into the park. I parked at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead. Bear spray, knife, jacket, and one hiking pole.

Swiftcurrent Lake, with a lodge across the water.

I rounded three incredible and crystalline emerald lakes, /Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine and Grinnell Lake. I climbed higher and higher, past the black bear warning signs, but with my jingling keys clipped to my belt again.

The openings in the trees revealed the sweeping, precisely cut valley next to the trail. Bright green foliage coated the clean gray crags, pine trees blanketing the swath of the hills around the lakes.

The snow still rested there in the high crevices, stubbornly holding on from winter. The clear blue pool beneath the open sky and that carefully crafted scene was the most beautiful, breathtaking sight I have ever witnessed.

The shadows of the clouds moved silently over that water, unstoppable and eternal in their momentum, just like a river. Unknown yet to me, the trickling waterfall just visible on the far ridge that fed those lakes was where I was headed next.

The rocks in the waterfalls were chunks of smooth red and green sculpted like play-dough, or maybe fish tank rocks. I passed some mountain goats just relaxing on the sheer cliffside, looking rather bored as they blinked at the hikers below.

Passing bright yellow and purple bursts of daffodils and bell-shaped plumes, I made it to the glacier (5.1 miles up).

The water was utterly, painfully pristine. I climbed down to the smooth pale rock of the shore and sat beneath the expanse.

The sun came out halfway through another panorama I took, resulting in this beauty. The water!

Aqua-blue, and as clear as the bright quartz that I collected as a kid. In fact, it almost looked as if the entire lake was still frozen, one large sheet of transparent ice. But the real glaciers floated on the water, laid static in a huge sheet at the base of the bowl of surrounding cliffs. Even mostly melted over time, the glacier was impressive. A sapphire sky over aquamarine water, with white floating peacefully in both.

A closer shot of the cracking glacier.

I approached the glacier using a less developed side trail and came upon strange standing pools of shockingly maroon water, as if the glacier itself was bleeding. The rocks were stained, others in the area dry but still bright red. A strange phenomenon with a natural cause: red algae blooms. As I learned later, it’s called “watermelon snow,” which makes it sound a great deal less sinister than it appeared to me up there.

Further up, the glacier stretched on in a wavy white sheet, although its snow melt surely generated the waterfall leading all the way back down to Lake Josephine.

Looking at this picture, I kind of just want to stick my face in that water.

On the way back down, I found a couple different groups that had spotted black bears. A little nervous, they said that the bears had been spotted way down the mountain at the lakes, so I continued. But then, again, another warning that someone had seen three bears, right up and off the trail. This was surprisingly something I hadn’t counted on, more than one bear to deal with. Very wary, I stuck with yet another wonderful ranger lady for most of the way back down. She had been giving a tour up the mountain, and was happy to lead on. Brave angels, these rangers, I swear.

I hurried back to the trailhead again, feeling the downhill in my shins quite sharply. Very tired, I took one last gulp of the mountain air, and headed back to my camp at St. Mary.

Late afternoon

One more day without a real bear encounter, with a new Glacier geological marker keychain for good luck.

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