Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Montana Must-See

Hikers seem to spread out the higher you get on the trail.  Coming from sea level, my family gets a little quieter as well.  Every switchback in this area of Montana holds a new wildflower, breathtaking vista or potential wildlife hazard.  When we can catch our breath, we sing camp songs or chants hoping that the park ranger’s promise that parties of four or more never encounter bears because they make too much noise is true.  

The air is dry at that altitude.  A more lush forest floor gives way to alpine flora, tall spiky spruce and friendly fir trees.  It is not hard to remember to stay hydrated when a water break is also a great chance to catch your breath.  Rounding a ridge high up the mountain, we spot a waterfall about 30 feet up a creek bed and so we stop for a break and enjoy chipmunks stealing bits of hikers’ picnics.  

As much as I want to groan, “How much farther?”  I know that won’t help at all.  Distractions like the herd of mountain goats so migrating across the ridge above help me forget about my tired legs and burning lungs.  Every guidebook and ranger we consulted  promised the payoff is worth it but this is June and the last 1/4 mile of the trail is covered with a foot of unmelted snow turning the trail into a slushy mess.  The children think it is great, pelting each other with snowballs and running down the slope.  Every time I go downhill, all I can think is that I have to climb back out.

Finally, we cross a small snowmelt creek, round a patch of trees and see the bluest lake I have ever seen.  Iceberg Lake sits in the bowl of a glacier high above the rest of Glacier National Park.  The thrill of the summit overtakes everyone.  Hikers jog the last hundred yards.  Foolish teenagers try to surf the broken sheets of ice that remain from the winter.  We sit down, break out our picnic, liberate our feet from our hiking boots and  enjoy the day sinking our toes into water so cold it will give you an ice cream headache.

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