It’s a classic Glacier National Park hike. Mid-day in July or August you’ll find people circling the parking lot for an hour or more looking for a place to park as traffic backs up on the narrow, winding, two-lane Going to the Sun Road as a result. On this late June day, just three days after the road opened for the season, we arrived just before 9 am (owing to unforeseen and long construction delays) to hike from Logan Pass to Hidden Lake. There is plenty of hustle and bustle and also plenty of parking. It’s reminiscent of the iconic photographs of the crowds on Mount Everest. Rob is immediately put off by the crowded scene. He likes his nature experiences solitary – or in the company of his dog. Strangers? Not so much. I admit that the crowd is a bit off-putting, but I am determined to hike to Hidden Lake.
Leaving the parking lot and visitor’s center chaos, we start along a wide, wooden boardwalk. Soon, the terrain is completely snow-packed. There are tall stakes along the trail marking the way. Where the trail begins to rise ahead of us, people are slipping and sliding in every direction. This snow has been here all winter and now, under the heat of the spring sun, it melts and compacts during each day and freezes again each night, making a particularly slick surface. Fortunately, it is still soft enough that most of my steps drive through the crust into softer, wet snow that holds my foot in place. But just when I think I have the hang of it and work up to a normal pace, I slip and have to slow back down. My walking a stick is all that kept me upright on this trek.
Following the masses and more intent on the ground before me than my surroundings, we climbed up a steep, bare, narrow, rocky ridge. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, “How am I ever going to make it back down this?!?” As the ridgeline spread out in front of us, narrower and higher, we decided to turn back. Only then did we realized that this ridge was not part of the trail.
The trail snuck around the leading edge of this ridge (to the left in the picture) and continued on relatively flat ground. Rob skitched down the bare rocky side slope on his feet, squatting and using his hands to sort of control his quickening slide over rocks and small boulders letting gravity and momentum carry him to the bottom. A risky move, but he was no worse off for it. I took the same side route down, but at an angle to the incline slowly placing each foot carefully and securely before lifting the other.
Word back on the main trail (Oh, I see the trail marker now!) was that the overlook wasn’t very far and it was easygoing from here. The density of people on the trail seemed somehow to have thinned out. So we decided to continue on.
Through some trees, the boardwalk reappeared. We lingered at a brook flowing into a shallow lake surrounded mostly snow-covered tundra. There’s a path that sort of heads toward a distant peak whose slope is adorned with snaking ski tracks cut into the snow. Who hikes through waist-deep snow to ski on dangerous, forbidden areas? Not me, that’s for sure.
Columbia ground squirrels (ironically native to western Montana) are active all around – wary but close by and out in the open.
It feels good to sit on the sun-baked rocks that line the path which has become a rivulet of melting snow. The scenery is humbling – mountain tops go on in every direction. The views take my breath away. I feel tiny and closer to my heart.
The overlook is a few hundred flat, wet yards further. Its platform is thick with people taking pictures, taking selfies, taking in the view. Blue ice floats on the arched lake below us at the foot of towering, rocky, sharp, craggy, snowy mountains that reach into the sky.
The path down to the lakeshore (my original destination) isn’t even a consideration now. Unmarked, untrodden and steeply downhill, even the locals abandoned the thought.
We lingered and found our solitude in the crowd enough to enjoy the wilderness views. Overheard on the hike back, “I can’t believe they’re letting us hike this trail. You’d think it’d be closed.” Sometimes you have to take responsibility for your own safety. There was a lot of sledding without sleds and childlike wonder amongst the visitors young and old – many with southern accents. Totally worth it!
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