Glacier Minion

Grinnell Glacier / Grinnell Lake

Yes, we strapped Dave to the roof rack. He was stoked.

In 2013 we returned to Glacier National Park. We did not repeat the trip to the Chalet. Instead, we went to look at Grinnell Glacier from the other side, hiking up from Swiftcurrent Lake in the Many Glacier region.

Well, unfortunately this was the year my hiking mileage took a serious hit from other family sporting events. And this took a serious toll on my “fun” factor on this hike.

I was totally unprepared for the hike, physically and mentally. I did not know how long it was, or how high in elevation we would gain. Hey, I was on vacation. It’s not like I had to be anywhere. I did make it to the end of the official trail. Some of the more-in-shape members of our party decided to crack on to view the glacier up close. I stayed in the shade and rested.

This hike also gave me my first real injury. About 2 miles left on the way back, I slipped on some shale and twisted my ankle badly. I wrecked the ligaments on the outside of my shin, and the entire injury took over a year to heal. My ankle swelled up and made it very difficult to walk for a couple of weeks.

The Hike

The trail starts at the Swiftcurrent Lodge. Or at least in the parking lot. South of the Lodge is the trailhead, and it quickly wraps around the shoreline, passing some outbuildings and boathouse. The first bit of the trail is well traveled and maintained. A short up-and-over trail connects the two lakes the trail follows. It is possible to take a boat ride instead of walking for part of the trail, but I rode the boats. Not impressive.

Once past the lake, the trail begins it’s upward journey to the Grinnell Glacier. And it’s pretty much all uphill. The trail doesn’t have very steep sections, it’s just a steady climb. There are a few waterfalls visible from the trail, and the trail cuts over one glorious fall and pools. When it’s hot, this spot is the place to be.

The trail conditions are very pleasant, since it’s a popular trail. Hiking in the National Parks makes one spoiled, I found. There are spots of dry dirt and shale, so conditions might be unsteady at places. Hence my sprained ankle. Amazingly, a group of hikers behind us helped me. One of them lent me his trekking poles to help keep the load off my ankle, since I had to hoof it 2-2.5 miles or so back to the car. Those saved my bacon. And I still have them. To give back to the owner, or to loan to someone in need.

So back to the hike. It’s an all-day slog. At least it was for me. It’s 10 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 1840′. It’s also through mostly open mountainside. Very little shade available until you make the top. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and hydrate. And make sure you re-apply sunscreen later in the hike. Oh- and don’t forget your ears! Burnt ears are horrible.

In addition to the aforementioned dirt trail, there are also sections that hug rock and cliff faces, but they’re pretty easy to navigate through. If you’re not afraid of heights, there’s no problem. The paths cut into the rock are very flat and easy to walk on. And unlike most alpine hikes I do, I was able to see the trail almost the entire hike. Since it’s very open, hikers on the trail are visible, and I could see where the trail was ahead. And also where the trail disappeared around a bend. The trail goes in and out, following the curve of the mountains. It can be monotonous, like you’re playing a real-life game of Halo- the same path, over and over and over. But then you look out and around.

The views from the hike are awesome. It’s above Lake Josephine and Grinnell Lake. Towards the glacier and the East side of the Garden Wall, there is a fantastic waterfall- aptly named Grinnell Waterfall. It’s past the end point of the trail, so extra effort is required to get to it. I do not know if there’s a trail to follow to the bottom, either. And it’s amazing to think that where I stood, all this water goes to the Mississippi River. If I hopped over the Garden Wall, all the water would go to the Pacific via the Columbia River. It’s the wonder of nature.

On our hike, we saw little wildlife. Mainly birds and marmots. However, it is not uncommon to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats. The Many Glacier area also is a bear haven, so be prepared.

Gear

I had my Osprey Talon 22, carrying enough water up as we planned to fill up at one of the waterfalls. I think I drank 3L, and including filling up from the waterfall. I probably could have used 4L. I wore my Salomon hikers, which made my feet really hot. Depending upon the season and weather, waterproof shoes aren’t necessary.

I did not bring trekking poles (none of us did), which will be useful coming down. It’s not a bad trail anywhere, and that’s the problem. A false sense of security develops. Then you look away, and all of a sudden you’re on the ground getting your ankle duct-taped.

I didn’t bring my camera, which was a mistake on my part. Other than some snacks, I carried the basic first aid kit and my rain jacket, just in case. Being a 10 mile hike, bringing a solid lunch is a great idea. I could have done with some proper food instead of trail food.

 

Hike synopsis: http://www.hikinginglacier.com/grinnell-glacier.htm

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