It was time to leave St. Mary and move on. We had enjoyed terrific hiking in the area. Still I do think the hotel there was way overpriced. It poses a difficult problem. There really are very few places to stay on the east side of the park where the great scenery and the best hiking is. Since Sandy doesn't like to camp that really limits the options.
The drive to Many Glacier was only about half an hour. On the way we stopped along the road several times to get spectacular views and photos of the peaks in the area. I recognized the classic view of Mt. Gould from my first trip here in the late seventies. We drove to the end of the road and parked at the Swiftcurrent Lodge, which was also the trailhead. My original suggestion was to hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel, a classic hike in the area. But Sandy was intrigued by the hike to Iceberg Lake. The guidebook had a nice picture and the idea of sitting by a lake filled with floating ice on a hot summer day seemed pretty cool (pretty cool - ha ha). Also in it's favor was that it was shorter and had less elevation gain. It was still about ten miles round trip with over 1200 feet of elevation gain so it was a respectable hike. It would certainly be a good workout.
The trail started with a steep climb for the first fifteen minutes. No gentle warmup here. We were hot and sweaty and breathing hard right off the mark. But then we emerged onto an open ridge. The grade let up, there was a cool breeze and we had beautiful views of the peaks up the Swiftcurrent Valley. That made the next section pleasant. It didn't last. Before long we were back in the forest. Today was probably the warmest day of the trip, so even though it was still early it was hot going uphill through the woods. And today the bugs were annoying. As long as we kept moving they weren't that bad, but any stop to rest or take a picture or get a drink of water was very quick. We needed to get moving again before the flies and mosquitoes zeroed in on us. This was the first time on the trip that bugs had really been any kind of a problem. We did pass some pretty streams but this part of the hike was mostly just a grind. Eventually we broke out of the forest again and were above treeline, which was better.
The Iceberg Lake trail was similar to the Piegan Pass trail the day before. In each hike we climbed up from the road and out of the main valley, up into a side valley to the north. After climbing through the woods for a couple of miles we came out onto a long, ascending traverse to the north and west. The day before it had climbed to Piegan Pass. Today it circled below the impressive Ptarmigan Wall and dead ended in a huge cirque to the west. The center of the cirque looked like an obvious place for a high mountain lake and that was where we expected to find Iceberg Lake. Once we were on the traverse we were getting a breeze again. It had been quite windy all week. That was good from our standpoint given the fact that it had been unusually warm even high in the mountains. But it was still hot and the bugs still made it tough to stop for any length of time, even above the treeline. I wasn't sure why since the valley was almost identical to the one the day before. Same facing. Same elevation. Same weather pattern. I was hoping that the cirque and lake would be a good spot to stop and rest.
The traverse today was even longer than the day before. Eventually we climbed the last rise into the cirque and reached Iceberg Lake. It lived up to it's name. At least half of the lake must have been frozen over. We sat on the shore along with about a hundred other people. This is a very popular hike. But we didn't care about the people. Sitting next to the lake was like standing in front of the refridgerator with the door open on a hot summer day. There was a very cool breeze coming off the ice floating in the lake. It was a welcome relief. Some people took off their boots and waded out into the water but no one stayed for more than a minute. The water temperature was obviously thirty two degrees. People would grab ice from the lake and hold it while they posed for pictures. We were content to sit on a rock, have a snack, and enjoy the view of the huge cliffs surrounding the cirque. People with binoculars spotted a mountain goat on a steep slope on the other side of the lake but all we could see was a white spec. We weren't too impressed since we had been five feet away from mountain goats two days before at Hidden Lake overlook.
Eventually it was time to head back down. I was pretty slow starting out again, taking lots of pictures. There were flower fields near the lake, the outlet stream and another small pond that provided good foregrounds for the huge cliffs of the cirque. About a half mile from the lake some hikers were stopped looking below the trail. There was a moose in a meadow below, probably a hundred yards away. That was about the right distance to see such a large animal while hiking as far as we were concerned. Although bears get a lot of attention moose can be quite aggressive towards hikers.
The traverse back was long and even going down hill it took a long time. Then we were in the forest. Now it was really hot and we were back in bugland so we had to keep moving. Although there were a few pretty spots such as stream crossings, mostly this was a put-your-head-down-and-hike section of the trail. Finally we broke out into the clear area again and knew that we were near the start. Just like on other days, people were still just starting up at two in the afternoon - the hottest time of the day. It didn't look like fun. We were glad to get back to the trailhead.
We bought ice cold drinks at the Swiftcurrent Lodge store and headed for the Many Glacier Hotel. Although it was only about a mile drive to our hotel, there was a big traffic jam at one point. That is always an indication to look into the brush. Sure enough, there were two moose about a hundred feet from the road. Although it was a much closer view, seeing the one moose on the trail while hiking seemed a lot cooler.
We checked into the hotel and faced a logistics challenge with our luggage. We dropped off one load at the main entrance with Sandy while I drove around to the parking lot. It was far away and behind a big hill. I hauled another load of stuff back, up and over the hill. Then we carried our bags up to our room - on the third floor. There was an elevator but it was very tiny and way at the end of a long hallway. It was just easier to use the stairs.
The room was small but not bad for such an old hotel. We had plenty of power outlets for charging our various electronic devices. Sandy had a coffee maker which made her happy. There was even a small balcony outside the room. It faced away from the lake because we had a cheaper room. But that also meant it was in the shade during the afternoon, so we could actually sit outside on our balcony and enjoy the view of the mountains. I don't think anyone was doing that in the hot sun on the expensive lakeview side of the hotel.
I did have to make two more trips to the car to get everything that we needed. Climbing up all the steps to go over the hill, carrying the stuff back, and then hauling it up to the third floor was not fun. Fortunately since it was only for one night we didn't need everything from the car. Although our hike today hadn't been longer or harder than others that we had done the heat had really taken a lot out of me. I was pretty wiped out by the time I got done playing sherpa with our luggage.
After cleaning up we drove back to the Swiftcurrent Lodge. Back among the cabins they had a public laundry so the first thing we did was start two loads of clothes. On the way to the laundry we walked right by a deer. She was only about ten feet away. This doe was nibbling on plants between the cabins. I passed her another time when I came back to move clothes. She watched me carefully but didn't spook when I walked by her about five feet away. The deer in Glacier are definitely not afraid of people.
Besides the laundry they had an Italian restaurant at the lodge. All the neccessities! We were there at five sharp when they opened and were the first people in the place. Hey, we were hungry after our hike. We had salads and then split a pizza. I also just about drove the waiter nuts by needing a coke refill every three minutes. It had been a hot hike and I was thirsty. But he was actually a nice guy and very friendly. His name was Daniel and he came from California. Sandy said that with his blonde hair and the way he spoke she had spotted him as a California surfer dude right away. He asked us about our hikes and talked about some that he had done.
When we had finished dinner we still had to fold all of our laundry. Then we headed back to our hotel. We had a beer in the lounge where we could look out the window and admire the view of the lake. There were quite a few people standing at the window, some with binoculars, and when we went to look we saw that there were lots of cars stopped along the road about a quarter of a mile from the hotel. When someone pointed it out to us carefully, we could just make out a moving spot on the slope high above the road. People with binoculars said that the spot was a grizzly bear. All we could see was a speck but at that distance it had to be something big. One guy in particular was carrying on loudly and at length about grizzly bears. We didn't pay much attention to him at the time but it turns out that we would run into him again.
The bear was visible for a long time, gradually working his way down the slope towards the road. When we finished our drinks we even went out to the car and drove over to where he was heading. Unfortunately when we got there he had just disappeared into the woods and the cars stopped along the road were starting to leave. We had missed our chance to see a big bear close up but would have other chances later in the trip.
Later that evening I went to the hotel gift shop. I have a friend at work who has a hat from Glacier National Park. Not wanting to be outdone, I needed to get one for myself (I have to keep up Michael!). While I was paying for the hat I glanced at the clerk's nametag. Besides their name, the hotel employee nametags said what state or foreign country they were from. His said that he was from Singapore. I commented on it and asked him what part of Singapore he was from. He answered "Singapore small country. No parts." That made me laugh. I am definitely going to have to remember that line for my friends in Singapore. I explained to him that I had lived there and we had a good conversation. He shared some of his experiences of living in the US and I shared some of mine from living in Singapore.
It had been a fantastic and very full day. Next day we would be moving on to Canada and Waterton Lakes National Park, the other half of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.