Upper Grinnell Lake Hike, Glacier National Park, Montana

     The alarm woke us up at 6am, we had a boat to catch and couldn’t be late. After a quick breakfast we were on our way for Many Glacier, 20 miles away. At the small town of Babb we went left and west into the heart of the park toward Swiftcurrent Lake. Along the way we followed the outlet creek for Sherburne Lake which looks like it would make a kick ass class 2 run in an inflatable kayak, I couldn’t help but pick my lines as I drove the windy road, testing the shoulder a few times as I rubber necked along. We really had to pay attention for cattle which were all over the place, including the middle of the road. Eventually we reached the Many Glacier hotel and parking lot for today’s hike with 20 minutes to spare before our boat departed.

     The view across Swiftcurrent Lake is staggering, it’s hard to imagine a more impressive lake, absolutely gorgeous. The massive peaks, anchored in the middle by Mount Grinnell create a stunning panorama of rugged peaks adorned with hanging glacial ice, a setting so impressive one can never truly imagine until seeing it with his own eyes.  We boarded the full vintage vessel “Chief Two Guns” for the express ride across Swiftcurrent Lake where we then exited and walked a short paved trail over a hill down to spectacular Lake Josephine. We then boarded another old boat “Morning Eagle,” for another lake crossing. Once across the lake we shouldered our packs and picked up the trail around the west end of the lake.

     We passed through an open forest over boardwalks that offered panoramic views to the east end of Lake Josephine before crossing the inlet stream over a sturdy bridge to a signed junction for the Grinnell Glacier trail heading left and up. The trail started out steep and remained that way for some time, the morning was already getting warm so I was thankful for the early start. We passed a few people and quickly noticed we had gained some elevation when looking back down on Lake Josephine and its inlet stream that we had just recently crossed. After passing several switchbacks the grade began to ease a little as we traversed the south side of Mount Grinnell.  It was a cloudless sky which made for excellent views but it also meant we weren’t going to catch a break from the sun. As we continued up we began losing the trees which allowed magnificent views of Lower Grinnell Lake far below. I could not imagine a more perfect alpine setting, but at every turn I was proven wrong. Angel Wing Mountain and Mount Gould stood tall above the turquoise waters of Grinnell Lake being fed glacial melt water from a thousand foot waterfall at its inlet raining down from the cirque above. The Garden Wall, so impressive, lay just beyond our boot tips, or so it seemed. We still had work to do to reach Upper Grinnell Lake which was nestled in a hanging valley somewhere up above, it begged for discovery!

     Thousands of boots have come before me, but none of that mattered. I felt like the first one to lay eyes on this unimaginable land and have a gift to see it like no one else, I am giddy with excitement! Up ahead a hiker warned. Was it a bear? We venture forward in anticipation and before long could see a couple of pointy black horns atop the white fuzzy head of a young mountain goat.  Robin and I froze, how lucky are we, what a treat. We stepped uphill off trail to allow the young Billy to pass but he stopped, just as curious as were, we are now in a stare down. I did my best to not make eye contact for I didn’t want him to feel threatened. Eventually he passed and after saying goodbye we went our separate ways. We continued on, and up, and at one point passed below a waterfall that fell directly onto the trail, which for me offered a bit of relief as I soaked my head in its cool waters. The day was hot, but I felt better after cooling off and was thankful for a bit of a breeze every now and again. Beyond the falls the tread wore thin as we were forced close to the edge of a cliff in an exposed area where one slip would mean a horrific fall, safely beyond the cliff we reached a sign in a stand of trees. We paused a moment before making for the final push into the upper basin. Now high into the cirque the view back down was spectacular as we could make out Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, Sherburne Lake and beyond as the landscape fell away below us. We paused at a switchback for water, and how could you not with views like this, we were experiencing something special, so why the rush. Back on our feet we quickly finished the climb, and before long found ourselves at the high point of the trip looking down into the steel blue glacial melt water that was Upper Grinnell Lake. We worked our way down to the shore and found a nice spot on an ice polished rock to take a break.

     We dropped the packs and unlaced the boots so we could soak our tired feet. The ice cold water felt wonderful, but I must admit, it was a short soak. Upper Grinnell Lake is a real gem, the entire setting is inspiring. The lake is small and backed by a giant curtain of rock that makes up the Garden Wall which is home to Grinnell Glacier and a sliver of ice high on its western wall called the Salamander. You can’t help but tip your head back to take it all in, very humbling. Glacier ice still covered much of the lake, even in an unseasonably warm summer leaving the water so cold it was punishing to submerge my hands and cup the water to wash my face. We took a good long break as we sat and ate our lunch, the trail out was all downhill, so the hard work was over. We found the lake shore an easy place to linger, god had done a magnificent job on these mountains so why not enjoy it. It is in places like this that I feel truly alive, down to the primal instinct, it is bigger than me and much more than I will ever understand, and is even more difficult to put into words. I am at home, I am free, I am at peace in these wild places. My soul knows that I need to be here and among the lofty peaks and pristine lakes, I feel its embrace. Eventually it was time to go, we packed up slowly and eventually regained the trail going down hill.

     The hike out was nice, and never took on the monotony of most trails, one of the benefits of hiking above treeline. Along the way out while revisiting a view at a switchback Robin got my attention about a bear just off the trail. I quickly spotted the golden sow grizzly with cub about 30 yards away. She stopped to look at us about the same time her cub stood up on his back legs to gain a better view, it was time to go, no time to get a picture as we hurried down the trail with bear mace in hand. How exciting! What an experience, one that I will never forget, the natural world never ceases to amaze me. Before long we found ourselves back at Lake Josephine where we made our way back across the inlet and eventually to the boat dock. We dropped the packs, took in the views and enjoyed our wait, which wasn’t very long before boarding the “Morning Eagle.” Eventually we found ourselves back at the Many Glacier Lodge where we cooled off with a cold beer while visiting with a nice couple on vacation from Arkansas.  What a great hike, one that I will never forget. We covered 8.4 miles total with 1700 feet of elevation gained, and hands down one of the most amazing hikes I have ever done. For more pictures click the link. Upper Grinnell Lake Hike

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