Challenging Hike Gives Way to Views, Moose, Milky Aqua Lake
Any time you have a 13-miler near the beginning of hiking season, you are pushing the limits. As we age, it takes longer to get in shape as the weather warms, so this hike did challenge a few of us; but it was so worth the extra effort.
The day started early at 5:15, and after our traditional stop for a stretch and a bite in Browning, we arrived in Many Glacier to meet Madelon at 8:25. It did take us clear until 9:05 a.m. to take care of business and gear up, but then nine of the GiG hit the trail.
The first part of the hike is on the trail-ride loop, so we were following the morning horse tour, and two other horsemen passed us on the trail. This section, then, is not too pleasant unless you like the smell of road apples and the swarm of biting horse flies.
Still, we enjoyed the views of Sherburne Lake and Mount Altyn. At the three-mile mark, we thankfully left the horse loop and started our ascent to the top of a narrow ridge, formed by a creek on either side: Canyon and Allen creeks. After crossing both streams and climbing out of the creek bottoms, the trail comes out into the open, revealing the Cracker Lake cirque, flanked by Mount Siyeh, Cataract Mountain and Mount Allen.
The other gorgeous sites were the many and varied wildflowers, from lupine-full fields on the drive in to the beard-tongue penstemon, many-flowered stickseed, yellow, waxy buttercups, and blue explorer's gentian; the flowers put on quite a show, different in each zone.
As the sun was hot, we were grateful for the streams that crossed our path, providing a place to cool down. And the first four miles are in the shade, another lucky break on a warm day.
None of the sights, however, can prepare one for the first glimpse of Cracker Lake, with its milky aqua color, unlike other glacier-fed lakes in the park that exhibit more of a deep turquoise hue.
The lake provided another treat: a bull moose lying down cooling his feet in the water on the opposite shore. He was oblivious to the hikers passing by and those of us who were lucky enough to spot him to stop and take photos. Some of us took our lunch break at the near-end of the lake while some continued on to the campground site and a large rock, perfect for enjoying a bite and viewing the head of the lake. From the rock, one can see the old mine tailings and equipment left behind from the days before this area was a national park.
After a half-hour break, we started back down the trail for the long 6.5 miles back. About half-way, Madelon decided to move more quickly and hitched up with a young couple, so she could get on the road to Eureka. The rest of us slowly made our way and ended our hike just before 6 p.m. and enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel lounge along with a cool drink.
Then it was home; ironically, we followed a horse trailer, so all day, we were trailing equine. After a stretch break in Browning, we arrived home at just after 10 p.m. Who went: Cathy, Roni, Gail, Susan, Sara, Bonnie, Katie, Catherine, Madelon