Cracker Lake Shows Glacial Till on Cloudy Day; Not Usual Milky Aqua
Not accustomed to the high humidity, the dampness was noticeable on our way through the cool morning walk with perfect reflections of the mountains in Lake Sherburne. Even though it was cool we heated up on the trail, and Anita might have very well discovered her trail name, Steamy, as her glasses continually fogged despite her best efforts to keep them clear.
The least desirable section of the Cracker Lake trail is the potential to walk behind the horses since they tend to muck up the path in certain sections. Our early departure meant we were well ahead of them, so we enjoyed a decent trail only dodging puddles here and there from a recent, and much needed, rainstorm. On the switchbacks climbing the bulk of the 1400 Ft. in elevation gain, we played leap frog taking turns in the lead allowing people to rest, if needed, as well as to give everyone a chance to talk. Crossing the rock slide a couple of miles into the hike, Anita spotted a Boreal toad with its distinct white stripe down its back, which was quite a find since they are a species of concern in Montana. That was our most impressive wildlife sighting of the day.
One feature we noticed as we walked along the creek was the cloudiness of the water. We weren’t sure if it was silt from the recent rainstorm, but Cathy noted it had not been that color in previous visits. Crossing the bridge at Canyon Creek was a challenge only because the trail leading to the bridge was sketchy. One path went up and around an enormous boulder, and the better way (at least on the walk in) appeared to be picking our way on rocks through the creek. After successfully maneuvering this obstacle, we gained more elevation through thick vegetation where many of us called out to let bears know we were passing.
Soon the subalpine vistas opened and we enjoyed the beautiful views of Cracker and Siyeh Mountains making up the wall behind, as well as the spectacular scenery of the valley behind us. The initial view into Cracker was gorgeous with perfect reflections of the mountains and snow in the water. The color wasn’t what we expected since the milky hue of the stream obviously originated at the lake, which was also more of a cloudy color and not the vibrant blue/green of Cracker Lake’s reputation. We suspect the difference was due to the melting of nearby snow fields because when Josy and I (Amy) hiked to the other side of the lake to explore the mining ruins, the inlet was the same milky color as the stream. Normally, the rock flour reflects the sunlight giving the water the surreal appearance, but there was obviously hit the saturation point with the recent run off to allow the blue-green light waves to be reflected from it.
When we reached the lake, our goal (after a stop at the somewhat catty-wonker outhouse) was to lunch upon the rocky outcropping. After a bite, Josy and I hiked to check out the remains of the brief mining escapade of the late 1897 where copper was supposedly discovered on the south end of the lake. This creating a flurry of activity as prospectors carved a “road” along Canyon Creek hauling in the enormous steam boiler and tens of tons of gear required to set up the operation with a saw mill and equipment to process the ore. Josy noted the extreme heaviness of just the small door on the boiler, so it’s mind-boggling to consider the effort required to bring back everything. The poor horses and mules! There’s also a 1300 ft. deep mine dug into the hillside, although we couldn’t find it. Talking to others who’ve been back there, it sounds like it was beneath the snowfield a couple of hundred yards behind the iron ruins.
One question that arose during the hike is how Cracker Lake got its name. According to the legend, supposedly the prospectors who found the copper deposit left a tin of crackers in some rocks at lunch, but could not find them upon their return. This led to calling it, “The Lake where they left the crackers,” and subsequently Cracker Lake.
It’s difficult to envision a mining operation at the end of this pristine lake, but we have to remember the early visions for the potential of this area weren’t focused on recreation. Before the park was established, optimum use of the natural resources was the primary goal, whether through mining, logging, hunting, or agricultural. And during this period of 1898 to 1902 when the mine at Cracker Lake was a reality, the small town of Atlyn, replete with a post office as well as several saloons, was thriving during its brief existence. Named for David Greenwood Atlyn, one of the backers of the mine and namesake to Atlyn Peak, the remaining buildings are now under the waters of Lake Sherburne when the valley filled in 1921 after the construction of the dam.
Once we regathered at the big rock, we left at 1:15 at a brisk walk in an attempt to stay ahead of the 2 horses at the lake. We had a few slips at Canyon Creek on other side of the bridge, and 3 of us squeezed up and over the large rock on the bank. We went back and forth following or passing the horses for a short time, until near the end when we let them go by for the remainder of the walk. The trail was undoubtedly in rougher from the horse traffic on the way back, but it was good to see mud at the end of July.
We arrived back at the parking lot a quarter before 5 p.m. and made a beeline to the hotel for a potty break and bite to eat -- as well as some delicious huckleberry margaritas for a couple of the ladies -- before heading back to Great Falls. We made it home by 9 after a wonderful day on the trail!
Who went: Josy, Susan, Kuntz,Sara, Anita, Amy