Dangers Lurk as Gals Head to Izaak Walton on Icy Roads, Climb Trains
The GiG’s adventure to Essex and Glacier began and ended with dangerous situations, from icy roads to climbing over and under trains.
It all started on Saturday morning with a hairy drive. The roads, thankfully, were good until Browning, but that’s when the fun began. With cold and mixed precipitation predicted all weekends, we caught the worst of the driving between the Two-Medicine Bridge in East Glacier until Marias Pass, about 40 miles. A big thanks to our drivers Kathy M and Bonnie J. In Browning, the temps read three degrees. At Marias Pass on the west side of the mountains, it was 26.
At this point, the snow and black-ice-covered roads turned to slush. But since the ice was gone, we stuck to our original plan to drive into West Glacier for the day for a hike along McDonald Creek. The weather held with a few hints of blue sky and absolutely no wind as we crossed two bridges and marveled at the ice formations along the river on our 4.5-mile hike.
We stopped for pictures at McDonald Creek Falls and Sacred Dancing Waters as we got a good look at why so many people have slipped off the rocks to their deaths in this beautiful spot, some never to be found as their bodies got deposited into the very deep Lake McDonald. Read more in the book Death in Glacier National Park: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness.
Then we took off our yaktrax and headed back to Essex for an early supper and check in at the Izaak Walton Inn, an old historic railroad lodge built in 1939 as a bunkhouse for railyard workers. Read more here. After dinner, a few hit the hot tub, and then five of the gals headed out for a moonlit (and headlamp-lit) walk along the Starlit Trail, which snakes around the cabins and cabooses across the railroad overpass.
The next morning it was up for a yummy breakfast at the lodge restaurant and then, despite the rain, we hit the trails. We were in two separate groups with one following the Pileated Trail, while others taking the entire outside loop of Essex Creek to Towering Pines to Pileated, going to the bridge and waterfall. We had “hikers” lunches, so we ate in the downstairs lounge and enjoyed a respite from the wet. Normally, we would have been eating on the trail, but with the rain, no one wanted to stay out for all day.
Then after lunch, Gail and Sue took another snowshoe hike, some stayed at the lodge, but Kathy, Katie, Roni and Deb tried out skiing, Roni and Deb for the first time. We followed the Essex Creek Road, gaining about 600 feet and connected with the Towering Pines to view the bridge and waterfall, for some a second time. The newbies couldn’t believe how quickly we covered ground on skis as compared to snowshoes.
After this damp day, with slushy snow and rain, we had to dry out our clothes and take warm showers. Dinner at the Izaak Walton was very good again, with several praising the bacon-wrapped filet mignon, the golden beet salad and the beef bourguignon. And as an added bonus, the toy train that runs around the restaurant on a high ledge has been fixed, so the waiter kindly turned it on so we could enjoy it for awhile, even though it is a bit noisy.
Then Cathy and Kathy organized a game night, with Bonnie providing the game: Apples to Apples. Lots of laughs highlighted this game of cards, but no one lost quarters tonight except to the jukebox that mostly had songs that no one had heard of.
The next day we had to say goodbye to the Izaak Walton after a Katie, Roni, Deb, Bonnie and Maria took one last ski. We made a donation to the Glacier Conservancy and headed to Marias Pass for a short two-mile hike to Three Bear Lake. We knew we were on the east side of the mountains again as the temperature dropped a bit and the wind was howling. Although the hike is short, we had to break trail the whole way as only skiers had been on the trail. At the lake, we saw our first pussy willows of the year. They were just starting to bud. Then when we returned, we found a train blocking our way. It was waiting for another train to pass but had its engine off. We figured the other train was going to be awhile since it was stopped completely. So we threw caution to the wind, threw our snowshoes and poles under the train and climbed over or under being careful that another train wasn’t coming on the other tracks. Whew! We all made it, but we encountered the other train coming as we left, which was a bit scary.
With our dangerous parts of the trip behind us, we then ended our trip in East Glacier for a bite to eat at the Two-Med Grill. We saw Laurie and talked to her about her PCT trip and what she has planned for this summer. When we left, Bonnie’s car decided to travel though Choteau to enjoy the views of the Rocky Mountain Front and possibly see the snow geese at Freezeout Lake. We saw a few geese in the ponds, but the lake was still frozen over.
We arrived home around four. What a trip!