Iceberg Lake

The spectacular Iceberg Lake day hike in Glacier National Park should be on your must do list while in the Many Glacier region.

Trailhead

The beginning of the Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Trails can be found by following the Many Glacier Road to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and cabins. There is a road on the west end of the restaurant and camp store building, which leads to limited parking and the trailhead. If you’re not there early, it is probably better to leave your car in the main parking lot in front and walk back to the trailhead. It’s not far.

The restaurant, camp store, and gift shop, along with many of the small, simple cabins in the back, are part of the Swiftcurrent Auto Camp Historic District. In the early 1930s, the Great Northern Railway (GNR) subsidiary, Glacier Park Hotel Company, began building the facility in response to the new automobile tourist. This mobile visitor with limited funds started replacing the wealthy clientele courted by the GNR from 1910 to 1930.2 



Notes for a Heavily Used Area

Iceberg Lake is a very popular hike. So, a few words about trail etiquette are in order. Generally, hikers going uphill have the right of way. That being said, if I’m alone going uphill and encounter a group coming down, it makes sense that I yield to the group. It’s a lot easier for me to move to the side than it is for the entire group to do the same. 

We all hike at different speeds. Know that it’s considered rude to crowd folks in front of you. Use your favorite friendly greeting so that the people ahead know that you’re there. They should step aside and let you pass. If not, a polite request should do the trick. 

There is a pit toilet about 2.6 miles from the trailhead just before the footpath crosses Ptarmigan Creek. If that doesn’t work out, the potty zone is at least 200 feet from the trail and any water. Using an average adult pace distance of 2.5 feet, then 80 paces should put one at about the correct distance from the path or surface water. One should dig a small cat hole to bury paper or solid waste.

I should also note that the Ptarmigan Trail and the Iceberg Lake Trail go through prime grizzly bear habitat. During July and August, berries are ripening. Both black and grizzly bears come to take advantage of this food source, and you will pass through their cafeteria. Be wise and let them know where you are by making noise. Keep your bear spray where you can access it quickly, and know how to use it. The park maintains a webpage with closures and postings for trails and backcountry campgrounds. It’s wise to check this information before heading out. 

A Little Geology

The stories behind the chiseled, multilayered mountains make the trip even more spectacular. Trying to comprehend the time that has passed from the early stages of sediment eroding from a lifeless Earth surface to what we see today stretches the imagination. And, this only goes back one-third of the way to Earth’s beginning.1 

During the Great Ice Age, that began around two-million years ago and ended around 12,000- years ago, enormous glaciers filled the valleys and ground away at the mountains like a gigantic rasp.3 Aretes, knife-edged ridges, resulted when ice rivers worked on two opposing sides of a mountain. Straight ahead to the northwest are the pinnacles of the glacial arete named the Ptarmigan Wall.  When ice scoured rock on three sides, a horn remained. The glacial horn Mount Wilbur (9,231 feet) rises to the southwest.

The ice sculptor also exposed colorful layers of rock deposited over a billion years ago in the ancient Belt Sea. Then, seawater lapped a shoreline 50 miles west of Glacier National Park. Sediment deposited in shallow water reacted with oxygen resulting in reddish colors. That deposited into deeper water with minimal oxygen ended up being green. The beige and tan colors result from the remains of coral forming organisms.1 

Red argillite of the Grinnell Formation makes up the base of Mount Wilbur. Just above the Grinnell Formation is the younger buff-colored limestone of the Siyeh Formation which caps both Mount Wilbur and Mount Henkel. If you look carefully at the east face of Mount Wilbur, about halfway between the base of the cliffs and the summit, there is a light gray band about 60 feet high. That is within the Siyeh Formation. This band extends through the Ptarmigan Wall above Iceberg Lake. That gray rock is rich with fossilized algae, which formed a reef hundreds of millions of years ago in the Belt Sea.1 

 

Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Peak Guarding the Iceberg Lake Cirque, Glacier National Park
Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Peak Tower More than 3,000 Feet Above Iceberg Lake

The dark band toward the top of Mount Wilbur and the Ptarmigan Wall is a diorite sill. This band of igneous rock is approximately 100 feet thick and formed when magma was forced between the layers of sedimentary rock in the Siyeh Formation. The 1,000 to 2,000 degree Fahrenheit magma changed the resident limestone into marble. Notice the lighter-colored stone immediately above and below the dark gray sill. That’s the marble.1

The Hike

The first quarter of a mile is steep. But don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm. The slope of the path decreases to about 6% as it passes along the southwest slopes of Mount Henkel (8,770 feet). During May and June, the large, showy yellow flowers of arrowleaf balsamroot provide an excellent early season contrast to the slopes on which they grow. This open section of the trail offers quintessential Glacier National Park scenery.

The footpath enters a forest about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Farther down the trail, where the path uses a bridge to cross Ptarmigan Creek, is a perfect place to rest and grab a snack. Shortly after this is the junction to Iceberg Lake. Take the left fork. Going to the right will lead to Ptarmigan Tunnel. At three miles, the footpath emerges from the trees, and the glacial cirque holding Iceberg Lake comes into view.

 

Swiftcurrent Mountain, Glacier National Park
Swiftcurrent Mountain to the Southwest of the Ptarmigan Trail

After you cross the footbridge over Iceberg Creek, you’ll enter a beautiful alpine meadow painted with a multitude of colors during July and August. Purple subalpine fleabane, white Sitka valerian, pink mountain heather, and light blue penstemon contribute to the show. It’s a sure bet that you’ll also see Columbian ground squirrels. 

 

Iceberg Lake Cirque, Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake Cirque

Iceberg Peak, to the west, and Mount Wilbur, to the southeast, rising more than 3,000 feet above the lake. Scan the rock faces for mountain goats. Golden eagles, with wingspans of six to eight feet, also hunt this area.

 

Expect a frozen lake, if you arrive in June. Icebergs should be plentiful in July and mostly gone by the middle of August. For me, no matter the month, sitting on the shoreline and taking it all in is rejuvenating. 

 

“… we saw a mass of ice as large as a house part from the glacier, splash down into the deep lake …” James Willard Shultz, September 1, 19154

 

Iceberg Lake in July, Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake in July

After the Hike

If you have never visited the historic Many Glacier Hotel, I recommend that this be the time to do so. The sprawling hotel, modeled after Swiss alpine chalets, was constructed by the Great Northern Railway during the years 1914 and 1915. Then, only the wealthy could afford to enjoy it. Now you can relax there with your hiking partners and enjoy refreshments while being wowed by the surrounding peaks with names like Mount Gould, Angel Wing, and the spectacular Grinnell Point that dominates the view across Swiftcurrent Lake.

Iceberg Lake Hike Summary

Total Distance9.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain1,637 feet
Total Elevation Loss489 feet
Difficulty12.0, strenuous*
(Score calculated using the Petzoldt equation for energy-rated miles.)
Total Walking Time4 hours 39 minutes (at 2.5 miles-per-hour and allowance for elevation gain)
* For Comparison: Red Rock Lake: 4.3, easy; Grinnell Lake: 8.2, moderate

Before You Go . . .

If you’ve found this post useful, I invite you to check out my book Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Road: A Traveler’s Guide. Within this MultiTouch iBook are descriptions of hikes originating along the road corridor from West Glacier to Saint Mary. Interactive maps and photo galleries are included. You’ll also find points of interest highlighted, history, and other recreational opportunities. Thanks for visiting.

End Notes

  1. Dyson, James L. The Geologic Story of Glacier National Park, Bulletin No. 3. N.p.: Glacier Natural History Association, 1957. Accessed August 31, 2018.  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/glac/3/index.htm
    1. National Register of Historic Places. “Swiftcurrent Auto Camp Historic District.” Accessed August 30, 2018. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=9e575759-c2a0-4079-8d43-99638b12c14a.
      1. Ray, Louis L. The Great Ice Age. N.p.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1992. Accessed August 30, 2018.  https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/ice_age/ice_age.pdf.
        1. Schultz, James W. Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916. Accessed August 30, 2018. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43399/43399-h/43399-h.htm.

        Grinnell Lake

        No matter how often I hike in the Many Glacier region, I’m always filled with awe. The grandeur of the glacially carved mountains is both exhilarating and humbling. Once on the trail, the sights, sounds, and smells that command my attention result in restorative therapy second to none. Grinnell Lake and Hidden Falls offer such an opportunity. 


        Trailhead(s)

        Once inside the park, the Many Glacier Road skirts the north side of Lake Sherburne, a man-made reservoir that began with the completion of Sherburne Dam in 1921. The Swiftcurrent Oil, Land and Power Company drilled for oil near the dam’s site in 1904. J.J. Sherburne was an officer of the company.1

        During the first decade of the 1900s, oil drilling operations were commonplace on the land now hidden by the water. Another of those hoping for a handsome profit was Mike Cassidy. He drilled from 1905 to 1909, but his only reward was a little natural gas which he used to heat and light his home.¹ Cassidy Curve is about 1.3 miles from the Glacier National Park border.

        The Many Glacier Entrance Station is about halfway along the lake. Start watching for the Many Glacier Hotel sign about four miles past the entrance station. Travel about half a mile farther beyond the turn for the hotel and look for the Many Glacier Picnic Area and Grinnell Glacier Trailhead signs. This is where the hike described below begins.  

        Another option is to start at the trailhead near the Many Glacier Hotel. The trail from there will wind its way through the densely forested southeast sides of Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. The route nearest the lake is preferable. Horses use the upper path, making for a mucky fetid route. I learned this from experience.

        A third option is to buy passage on two different launches that transport folks across two lakes. The 45-foot, 49 passenger launch, Chief Two Guns, carries passengers across Swiftcurrent Lake. From the dock at the head of Swiftcurrent Lake, it is a short walk to the pier at Lake Josephine’s foot. The 45-foot, 49 passenger Morning Eagle, built during 1945, delivers passengers to the head of Lake Josephine. From the head of Lake Josephine, it’s 2.2 miles with only 60 feet of elevation gain to Grinnell Lake. 


        The Hike

        The Many Glacier region is grizzly bear habitat. Be sure to carry bear spray where it is quickly accessible and know how to use it. Never hike alone and be sure to make plenty of noise. Surprising a bear can make a great day into a terrible day quickly.

        It’s 3.6 miles and a modest 491 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead at the Many Glacier Picnic area to Grinnell Lake. The trail and trail junctions are well marked with signs noting destinations and distances.

        Beargrass Along Lake Josephine, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
        Beargrass Along Lake Josephine: (clockwise) Ridge of Allen Mountain, Mount Gould, Angel Wing, Ridge of Grinnell Point

        The Grinnell Glacier Trail will guide you along the north shore of Lake Josephine. Views to the south across the lake toward 9,376-foot Allen Mountain provide many photo opportunities. If you visit this area from June to July, the Beargrass bloom can be spectacular.

        In shaded, moist areas along the trail, watch for bead lilies. The single white blossom is on display from June to July. Later, a single glossy blue-colored berry sits proudly at the top of a stem. It might look tempting, especially to children, but the beautiful fruit is foul-tasting and mildly toxic.

        Stay on the Grinnell Glacier Trail for 2.1 miles. There you will see a path to the left which leads to the Grinnell Lake Trail. If you miss the turn, you will end up at Grinnell Glacier. (Note there is another trail junction at about 1.6 miles from the Many Glacier Picnic area. I prefer the route using the intersection at 2.1 miles. However, both paths will end up at the same location.)

        After leaving the Grinnell Glacier Trail, walk about 0.3 miles to the next junction. Keep an eye out for the Grinnell Lake sign. Veer right, and in 1.1 miles, the lake will come into view. There is a short spur trail to Hidden Falls just before the lake.

        Grinnell Lake

        This 130 acres of turquoise beauty is at the center of an exhilarating panorama. Angel Wing is to the south. To the west at the headwall, Grinnell Falls crashes 960 vertical feet carrying meltwater from Grinnell Glacier.³ Mount Grinnell rises 3,800 feet above the lake to the north.  

        Grinnell Lake with Grinnell Falls, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
        Grinnell Lake with Grinnell Falls

        Grinnell is a name attached to many features, and rightfully so. They are the namesake of George Bird Grinnell, who was a man of many accomplishments. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1880. Grinnell served as a naturalist on one of General Custer expeditions but declined a similar offer before the hapless foray in 1876.²

        Grinnell on His Glacier
        Grinnell on His Glacier – Courtesy of National Park Service

        Grinnell was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt and also prominent in the early conservation movement. He started the first Audubon Society and was a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club. Importantly, he was influential in establishing Glacier National Park.²

        The Return Trip

        Use the same route or mix it up and take the Lake Josephine South Shore footpath. Or catch a boat for the return trip. Find more information at the Glacier Park Boat Company website.

        Grinnell Lake Hike Summary

        Total Distance7.2 miles
        Total Elevation Gain491 feet
        Total Elevation Loss468 feet
        Total Walking Time 3 hours (at 2.5 miles-per-hour and allowance for elevation)
        Difficulty8.2, moderate*
        (Score calculated using the Petzoldt equation for energy-rated miles.)
        * for comparison: Red Rock Falls: 4.3, easy; Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint: 14.6, strenuous

        Thanks for Visiting

        If you’ve found this post useful, I invite you to check out my book Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Road: A Traveler’s Guide. Within this MultiTouch iBook are descriptions of hikes originating along the road corridor from West Glacier to Saint Mary. Interactive maps and photo galleries are included. You’ll also find points of interest highlighted, history, and other recreational opportunities.

        End Notes

        1. Robinson, Donald. Through the Years. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier NaturalHistory Association, 1973.
        2. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. “George Bird Grinnell.” Accessed June 28, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bird_Grinnell.
        3. World Waterfall Database. “Grinnell Falls.” Accessed June 28, 2018. https://www.worldwaterfalldatabase.com/waterfall/Grinnell-Falls-482.

        Ptarmigan Tunnel, Red Gap Pass Loop

        This is an outstanding backpacking trip that begins and ends in Many Glacier. It includes a side trip to the head of Elizabeth Lake and a short hike to Helen Lake.

        Elizabeth Lake from the Ptarmigan Trail, Glacier National Park
        Elizabeth Lake from the Ptarmigan Trail

        The total trip from trailhead to trailhead, including the side trip, is 35.2 miles. If you decide to start at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot, add another couple of miles for the walk back to your vehicle from the Red Gap Pass Trailhead located along the Many Glacier Road.

        The trek described below starts at the Iceberg Lake/Ptarmigan Trailhead close to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. You will notice that the Inn is pretty humble compared to the grand 191 room, 760 foot long, Many Glacier Hotel. This beautiful hotel, built between 1914 and 1915, was the brainchild of the Great Northern Railway president Louis Hill and was designed and built to lure wealthy American tourists away from Europe to the ‘Alps’ of America.2 Of course, his railroad provided the transportation.

        The Many Glacier Hotel is located along the eastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. George Bird Grinnell named the lake and creek in the mid-1880’s. He derived the name from the Blackfeet moniker which meant ‘Swift Flowing River’. Interestingly, the name was changed to Lake McDermott to honor a lumberman in the late 1890’s. The name was officially changed back to Swiftcurrent in 1928.5

        In contrast, the main building of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (general store on the east end) was built in 1935 and was situated in the forest. The addition of the restaurant and lobby on the west end was completed in 1941. These were built to meet the demands of the relatively new auto tourist. This new tourist was not dependent upon the railroad, had limited funds, and was, therefore, more interested in lodging and meals that were easier on the pocketbook. The wealthy clientele seeking European style and comfort, during the period of 1910-1930, was replaced by this new mobile tourist.


        Iceberg Lake/Ptarmigan Trailhead to Ptarmigan Tunnel (5.3 miles)

        The trail doesn’t waste any time testing your legs. This is just a teaser, however. The 5.3-mile climb up to the Ptarmigan Tunnel includes 2,300 feet of elevation gain with most of that gain in the last couple of miles. Be sure to make noise, keep your bear spray handy, and know how to use it. This trail passes through some prime grizzly bear habitat. It’s not uncommon for the trail to be closed because of bears.

        As you travel northwest along the trail, the Ptarmigan Wall with its many pinnacles rises in front of you. This sharp mountain ridge, known as an arete, was carved by the glaciers of the Pleistocene Epoch. This time lasted from about 2.5 million years ago to around 11,700 years ago. To the east of the trail is Mount Henkel (8,770 feet). To the west is Mount Wilbur (9,321 feet) which nestles Iceberg Lake in a glacial cirque between itself and the Ptarmigan Wall. At about 2.7 miles, the Ptarmigan Trail splits off to the north. You will end up at Iceberg Lake should you continue straight on.

        Ptarmigan Lake, Glacier National Park
        Ptarmigan Lake

        Ptarmigan Lake is a nice place to stop before the final climb to the tunnel. There is also an inviting spot below the lake on Ptarmigan Creek to filter water and replenish your supply. Depending on the time of year, it could be awhile for the next opportunity.

        After a few switchbacks, you top out at an elevation of 7,200 feet and the Ptarmigan Tunnel – a National Historic Place. The 250-foot tunnel was built by men of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the summer of 1930. Two groups worked with jackhammers and dynamite and approached each other from both sides of the Ptarmigan Wall. Both the north and south entrances are shielded by heavy metal doors which were installed in 1975. They are typically opened around mid-July, depending on the snow, and closed October 1. Before entering the tunnel, take in the views to the south. To your left is Crow Feet Mountain (8,914 feet) and to your right is part of the Ptarmigan Wall. In the distance are Mount Wilbur (9,321 feet), Mount Grinnell (8,851 feet), and Mount Gould (9,553 feet).

        North Door of Ptarmigan Tunnel, Glacier National Park
        Ptarmigan Tunnel on the North Side of the Ptarmigan Wall

        Imagine traveling back in time as you enter the tunnel. This engineering marvel was drilled through the red rock of the Grinnell Formation. This formation can be over 3,000 feet thick and is seen in many parts of the park. The Grinnell rock and most all of the other layers of rock in the park were formed from sediment that was deposited into the ancient Belt Sea during the period of time from 1.5 billion to 800 million years ago.6

        The Belt Sea was located in what is now eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana. There is also geological evidence that Siberia and Australia may also have contributed sediment when they were connected to the precursor to North America.3

        Starting about 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs like Allosaurus and Stegosaurus roamed, and ending about 60 million years ago, when dinosaurs were ancient history, unimaginable tectonic forces pushed an enormous slab of rock several miles thick and several hundred miles wide 50 miles eastward and up over the top of much younger rock. The Lewis Overthrust Belt on the eastern edge of the park is the eastern terminus of that gargantuan slab of rock of which the Grinnell Formation is part.4

        The Grinnell Formation gives us a wonderful snapshot of the distant past. Although not particularly evident in the tunnel, other exposures of this formation display preserved water ripple marks, mud cracks, and fossilized stromatolites. Stromatolites are mounds created by lime-secreting cyanobacteria which were widespread and abundant on our planet as far back as 3.5 billion years ago.4

        Ripple marks in red rock of Grinnell Formation
        Ripple Marks in Red Rock of the Grinnell Formation

        Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic and played a critical role in the production of oxygen that changed the Earth’s atmosphere. There is no fossil evidence of any kind of land organism, including plants, found in this red rock or any other rock in the park that was deposited between 1.5 billion to 800 million years ago. Consequently, the surface rock of the ancient supercontinent had nothing to protect it from the weathering and erosion which produced the sediment, that would become the mountains of Glacier National Park.


        Ptarmigan Tunnel to Head of Elizabeth Lake (6.4 miles)

        Mount Merritt and Old Sun Glacier, Glacier National Park
        Mount Merritt and Old Sun Glacier

        When we emerged from the north end of the tunnel, a world class panorama was there to greet us. Mount Merritt, a hulk of a mountain at 10,004 feet in elevation, could be seen to the northwest. A little to the northeast of Mount Merritt was Natoas Peak (9,475 feet). Looking downward 2,300 feet, we saw the beautiful Elizabeth Lake adorning the glacier-carved, u-shaped valley of the Belly River. The Ptarmigan Trail that we were on continued northward and downward along the west side of Crowfeet Mountain’s northern ridge. After crossing Redgap Creek, the trail merged with the Redgap Pass Trail at about 2.8 miles from the tunnel.

        Elizabeth Lake, Glacier National Park
        Elizabeth Lake

        That trail to the southeast would eventually take us back to Many Glacier. We continued northwest for another two miles where we arrived at the foot of Elizabeth Lake, a backcountry campground, and the junction of three trails – the Helen Lake Trail, the Belly River Trail, and the Redgap Pass Trail. Great place for a photo op. We continued on the Helen Lake Trail for 1.6 miles to the head of Elizabeth Lake and the backcountry campground located there.

        The campground was our home base for a full day and two nights. Part of the time we used to explore Helen Lake and part of the time we used to enjoy the fishing at Elizabeth Lake. And, the fishing made me feel like a little kid again. It was exciting. I still have these mental movies of standing on the gravel bar where the Belly River flows into the lake. The clouds were low, the morning mist was rising from the lake surface, two trumpeter swans were swimming nearby, and my fly was drifting along the feeding lane. Just as the water erupted and I felt the strike, the clouds let some sunshine through. The rainbow trout in its aerial acrobatics was throwing water that looked like diamonds in the sunlight. It makes me smile just to think about it again.

        Arctic Grayling
        Arctic Grayling Courtesy of Andrew Gilham USFWS

        For two evenings and one morning, we caught and released rainbow trout and the iridescent arctic grayling in numbers and sizes that would lead one to question my truthfulness.


        Head of Elizabeth Lake to Helen Lake (5.4 miles round trip)

        Helen Lake, Glacier National Park
        Helen Lake

        Several sources indicated that there were no fish in Helen Lake. So, we left the rods behind. The scenery is well worth the hike though. Helen Lake (5,085 feet) is at the head of the Belly River and is situated in a glacial cirque surrounded by Ipasha Peak (9,572 feet) to the northwest and Ahern Peak (8,749 feet) to the southwest. Between Ipasha Peak and Ahern Peak is Ahern Glacier. Meltwater from the glacier plummets about 1,600 feet creating some pretty spectacular waterfalls. Further to the south was Ahern Pass which has connections to the infamous Joe Cosley. It is said that in 1929, the 59-year-old Cosley snowshoed across Ahern Pass in order to beat the authorities back to his cache of poached beaver pelts in the Belly River Valley. He did beat the law and then disappeared into Alberta.2 The pinnacles above Ahern Pass and southeast of the lake are part of the Ptarmigan Wall.

        There is a nice backcountry campground built within a stunted subalpine fir stand not far from the lake. A nice surprise was that the beargrass was in full bloom in the surrounding meadows. I imagine that the night sky would be amazing from Helen Lake.


        Head of Elizabeth Lake to Poia Lake (11.7 miles)

        As much as I hated to leave, it was time. We backtracked 1.6 miles along Elizabeth Lake to the junction with the Redgap Pass Trail. From there we climbed 2,647 feet in 4.4 miles to reach Redgap Pass (7,539 feet). The pass is well above timberline and appropriately named.

        Red Gap Pass, Glacier National Park
        Red Gap Pass

        The red rock is of the same formation that we saw in the Ptarmigan Tunnel. To the northeast is the russet colored Seward Mountain (8,917 feet) which was named for President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state.5 Seward reaches down to the pass with its southwest ridge. To the south is Kennedy Lake which lays in a glacial cirque on the north side of Mount Henkel and the east side of Crowfeet Mountain (8,914 feet). There is no developed trail to Kennedy Lake. To the southeast is Apikuni Mountain (9,068 feet). Apikuni (formerly Appekunny) is the name the Blackfeet Chief Running Crane gave to the trader, explorer, and author George Willard Schultz who was also a friend of George Bird Grinnell. The name Apikuni describes a hide that was badly tanned.5 I wonder if Schultz had a skin problem or a bad buffalo robe?

        The trail left Redgap Pass and began its 5.7 mile and 1,754-foot descent to Poia Lake. After a series of switchbacks and about 2.5 miles, 1,500 feet of the elevation loss was in the books. The trail eventually parallels Kennedy Creek most of the way to Poia Lake and loses the remaining 254 feet of elevation in the final 3.2 miles. Enjoy a different perspective of the country just traveled through. To the southwest is the now massive Apikuni Mountain, to the west is the multilayered Crowfeet Mountain with the red ridge extending east to Redgap Pass. The extensive Yellow Mountain rises to the north.

        Poia Lake, Glacier National Park
        Poia Lake

        After camp was set up and our last trail dinner was consumed, we climbed around to the east of the lake above the outlet and some nice waterfalls. From there, views of the sunset were spectacular.

        This seems like an opportune time to introduce the Blackfeet legend of Poia.

        The Blackfeet maiden Feather-Woman fell in love with the bright and beautiful morning star that she viewed in the heavens. Morning Star, a god, sensed her love, came to earth and took her away to the Sky Country. The hole through which they entered the Sky Country was plugged with a Great Turnip. Feather-Woman was forbidden to remove this turnip

        Feather-Woman and Morning Star were married and had a son that they named Star-Boy. Life was good until she decided to dig the Great Turnip. Through the hole, she could see her people and became homesick. Morning Star returned the shamed Feather-Woman to her people with her son. Knowing that she had brought unhappiness into the world, she died of a broken heart. The orphaned Star-Boy lived with his earthly grandparents and suffered through years of ridicule because of a scar that he had on his face. Poia (Scarface) is the nickname given to him by those who delivered the torment. In desperation, he decided to turn to a medicine woman for help. She told him that the only way to rid himself of the scar was to have his grandfather the Sun do it. So, he set out on an epic journey to where the Sun lived. His grandfather removed the scar and sent Star-Boy (Poia) back to his people with much knowledge including how to perform the Sun Dance (Okan) which was designed to honor his grandfather the Sun.1

         


        Poia Lake to Redgap Pass Trailhead (6.4 miles)

        These backpacking treks end all too soon. On this fourth and final day in the backcountry, we had a short hike in front of us. Most of the hike out is in the forest with limited views. However, the views that we did get were a pleasure. A bull moose feeding alongside the trail was a nice diversion for a short time.

        We had been in the backcountry for three nights and almost four days and had not even seen a bear and very little sign. That came to an end. We exited at the trailhead and had only walked a short distance on the Many Glacier Road when my hiking partner yelled “Tom. . . left”. I looked left and saw nothing from my vantage point. Then about 30 to 40 feet away from behind some shrubs, a grizzly bear sow stood up. I saw at least one cub and possibly two. She hissed at me, which I thought was weird. Teeth clacking I have heard, but never hissing. I slowly increased the distance between us.

        Red Bus Driver Glacier National Park
        Quick Thinking Red Bus Driver

        A Red Bus driver was in front of what now had become a line of cars stopped to see the bears. He pulled the bus in between us and the sow and yelled for us to pile in – which we were more than happy to do. The bear ran behind the bus not long after the door was shut. Our generous rescuer delivered us to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot where we had begun.


        End Notes

        1. First People. “The Story of Poia – A Blackfoot Legend.” Accessed June 28, 2018. http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheStoryofPoia-Blackfoot.html.
        2. Guthrie, C.W. Glacier National Park: The First 100 Years. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2008.
        3. Halpin, Jacqueline, Torsten Jensen, Peter McGoldrick, Sebastien Meffre, and Ron Berry. “Authigenic monazite and detrital zircon dating from the Proterozoic Rocky Cape Group, Tasmania: Links to the Belt-Purcell Supergroup, North America.”Precambrian Research. Accessed June 28, 2018. https://bit.ly/2yOCZef.
        4. Raup, Omer, Robert Earhart, James Whipple, and Paul Carrara. Geology Along Going-to-the-Sun Road. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, 1983.
        5. Robinson, Donald. Through the Years. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1973.
        6. Tapanila, Lori, and Paul Link. “Mesoproterozoic Belt Supergroup.” Idaho State University. Accessed June 28, 2018. http://geology.isu.edu/Digital_Geology_Idaho/Module2/mod2.htm.

        Cracker Lake

        Tucked away in a glacial valley near the eastern border of Glacier National Park is a turquoise gem curiously called Cracker Lake. To be sure, the name has a story behind it. This and the spectacular scenery make for a unique adventure.

        Cracker Lake and Mount Siyeh, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
        Cracker Lake and Mount Siyeh

        A Brief History

        From the continental divide to the plains, Glacier National Park was once part of the Blackfeet Reservation created by the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Ten-thousand Indians from several plains tribes gathered at the conference. Somehow word of the gathering arrived too late for the Blackfeet delegates to attend. The treaty set the Musselshell River, Missouri River, Yellowstone River, and the Rocky Mountain Range as the boundaries for the reservation.1

        By executive order in 1873, President Ulysses Grant changed the boundaries, reducing the Blackfeet land. Grant received a lot of criticism over this action. Consequently, he restored their land in 1875. However, this was short-lived. By executive order in 1880, President Rutherford Hayes retook the property.1

        President Benjamin Harrison signed the proclamation admitting Montana to the union on November 8, 1889. During the years 1890 to 1893, word spread like wildfire that there were abundant deposits of copper in the mountains. However, it was illegal to do any prospecting or mining on the land east of the continental divide because it was part of the Blackfeet Reservation.3

        The Great Northern Railway arrived in East Glacier (Midvale) in 1891. The stage was set for miners and supplies to pour into the region.

        Because of the pressure Congress received from the mining powers, President Cleveland appointed William C. Pollock, George Bird Grinnell, and Walter M. Clements to negotiate the purchase of that portion of the Blackfeet Reservation east of the continental divide to the prairies and from Canada south about 60 miles. They were successful. In 1896, the United States Congress ratified the purchase of the “Ceded Strip” for 1.5 million dollars.3

        In 1897, L.S. Emmons and Hank Norris followed a mineral lead near the head of Canyon Creek. They stopped for lunch on the shore of Blue Lake. According to the famous story, they left their crackers and cheese at their lunch spot. After that, Emmons and Norris referred to the ore-bearing vein that they were following as “the lead where we left our crackers.” This eventually morphed into the cracker lead. Ultimately, Blue Lake inherited the name and became known as Cracker Lake.3

        In 1898, the “Ceded Strip” opened for mining. The Cracker Mine at the head of Cracker Lake opened in the same year. Folks who hoped to profit from the mining operations built the town of Altyn near the mouth of Canyon Creek. This onetime robust little settlement got its name from Dave Altyn, one of the mine’s financial backers. At its peak, Altyn boasted a post office, saloons and dance halls, a store, a hotel, tent-houses, and cabins.2 The Bureau of Reclamation built Lake Sherburne Dam during the years 1914-1921. Now the reservoir hides this history.

        Old Mining Town of Altyn
        Old Mining Town of Altyn 1888 – 1902,
        Courtesy of Glacier National Park

         

        The mining frenzy was short-lived. As mining experts had predicted, profitability was a pipe dream. Essentially, the bonanza ended by 1903. The Cracker Mine land exchanged hands several times over the years. Finally, the Glacier Natural History Association purchased the mine’s tax deed in September 1953 for $123.96. The Association transferred the land to the federal government in October of that year for the same amount of money.3

        Trailhead

        About four miles past the entrance station for Many Glacier, a road leads to the historic Many Glacier Hotel. Follow this road to the parking area east of the hotel. At the south end of the parking lot, the trail for Cracker Lake begins.



        The Hike

        Know that this is prime grizzly bear habitat. In the past, park officials have also posted this trail for mountain lions. Make it a point to check the Glacier National Park Trail Status Reports before heading out. The vegetation can get thick, and there are plenty of blind curves. Make noise, hike in a group, carry bear spray where it is easily accessible. Be sure you have practiced taking the canister out of its holster and removing the safety clip.

        Grizzly Bear
        Grizzly Bear Courtesy of Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

        Hikers and the Swan Mountain Outfitters’ horses share the first couple of miles of trail. It can be a muddy mess or a dusty, rutted trail with the recognizable fetor of equine deposits. After about 1.3 miles, the horses split off onto the Cracker Flats Horse Loop. This loop rejoins the trail at about 1.5 miles. The footpath improves substantially after this junction.

        The trail crosses a footbridge over Allen Creek at 1.6 miles and then climbs a ridge between Allen Creek to the west and Canyon Creek to the east. From the ridge, the path descends into the Canyon Creek valley. Most of this section is in the trees. But there are glimpses of Allen Mountain to the southwest and Wynn Mountain to the east. At five miles from the trailhead, the headwall will appear to the south.

        20130710_GNP_MG_bridgeCanyon Ck300x225
        Canyon Creek Bridge

        When the lake comes into view, one can’t help but pause. Cracker Lake’s milky-turquoise water, the ten-thousand-foot Mount Siyeh with its sheer north face rising over 4,000 feet from the head of Cracker Lake, and Allen Mountain to the west makes for a great photo op. Keep an eye out for mountain goats and hoary marmots.

        Toward the lake’s head, the trail passes above a backcountry campground with only 3 campsites and no trees. Privacy, there is not—outstanding views without a doubt. The historic Cracker Mine site is about 0.3-miles beyond the spur trail to the campsites.

        Cracker Lake Backcountry Campground, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
        Cracker Lake Backcountry Campground

        Cracker Mine

        Park personnel collapsed the entrance to the 1,300-foot mine tunnel. Still, it’s obvious where the mine was located. The rusted remains of equipment lie scattered about near the lakeshore. Atlas Engine Works of Indianapolis, Indiana, made at least one piece. It boggles the mind how that enormous chunk of iron got from there to here.

        Charles Nielson of East Glacier got a contract to haul the mine’s 16,000-pound concentrator from Fort Browning to the mine site. Fort Browning was a trading post on the Milk River outside the town of Dodson in eastern Montana. That is a 250 to 300-mile trip to reach the mouth of Canyon Creek. Mr. Nielson used a large freight wagon and twelve stout mules on a journey with few roads. To haul the equipment up Canyon Creek, he used a block and tackle. For this monumental task, Nielson received $25 per day. The job took 29 days.3

        The Return

        Many Glacier Hotel Past and Present, Glacier National Park
        Many Glacier Hotel Past and Present

        Many Glacier Hotel is a superb place to finish the day. The Great Northern Railway completed the construction on July 4, 1915. Spectacular panoramas to the west include Swiftcurrent Lake, the iconic Grinnell Point, and Mount Wilbur. Recent rehabilitation work has ensured that we can enjoy this National Historic Landmark for years to come.

        Good company, a cool beverage, stories and quintessential Glacier. Life is good!

        Cracker Lake Hike Summary

        Total Distance13.0 miles
        Total Elevation Gain1,873 feet
        Total Elevation Loss835 feet
        Difficulty16.7, strenuous*
        (Score calculated using the Petzoldt equation for energy-rated miles.)
        Walking Time 6 hours 8 minutes (at 2.5 miles-per-hour and allowance for elevation gain)
        *for comparison: Red Rock Lake: 4.3, easy; Grinnell Lake: 8.2, moderate

        Before You Go . . .

        If you’ve found this post useful, I invite you to check out my book Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Road: A Traveler’s Guide. Within this MultiTouch iBook are descriptions of hikes originating along the road corridor from West Glacier to Saint Mary. Interactive maps and photo galleries are included. You’ll also find points of interest highlighted, history, and other recreational opportunities. Thanks for visiting.

        Notes

        1. “Blackfeet Reservation Timeline, Blackfeet Tribe.” Montana Office of Public Instruction. Last modified , 2017. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://opi.mt.gov/Portals/182/Page%20Files/Indian%20Education/Social%20Studies/K-12%20Resources/BlackfeetTimeline.pdf.
        2. Guthrie, C.W. The First 100 Years. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2008.
        3. Robinson, Donald H. Through the Years: in Glacier National Park. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1973.