Cracker Lake in Many Glacier makes a powerful visual impact but patience is a virtue.
The early morning start begins from the trail-head adjacent to the Many Glacier Hotel upper parking lot in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. This hike will be 13 miles (21 KM) return plus an impromptu exploratory allowance and about 1,600 ft. (488 M) of gross elevation to deliver us to Cracker Lake and the long-abandoned Cracker Lake Mine.
The front end of the trail is justifiably designated as a heavy-traffic horse trail. For the first 2 miles (3.2 KM), the hike proceeds on muddy trail amid the overwhelming aroma of fresh horse crap which renders the sweet smell of the forest barely detectable.
Horses and people sharing trail is not a good idea, particularly following wet weather. Near the beginning of the hike, the trail curls around and past Governor's Pond, barely visible in the trees. The trail continues past an excellent viewpoint over Cracker Flats with Altyn Peak in the background. Cracker Flats is covered by the water of Lake Sherburne in the Spring, but later in the season the lake's water volume is substantially diminished and the bottom of the lake provides the interesting view to familiar mountains on the far side.
Cracker Flats is the west end lake bottom of 6 mile long (9.6 KM) Lake Sherburne, created by the construction of a dam in 1919. In the spring and early summer runoff, Cracker Flats is flooded when the lake is full.
The flats, prior to the creation of the lake, were the site of the mining town of Altyn, complete with saloon, to service Cracker Lake Mine being developed at the far end of Cracker Lake in the late 1800s. All that remains of the old town-site are a few foundations and one unmarked grave site which appear when water levels on the south side of Lake Sherburne are low.
The Swiftcurrent Valley became the object of intense speculation when mineral deposits and oil seeps were discovered. Excitement quickly fizzled when ore and oil deposits were determined to be commercially uneconomical and the town of Altyn's heyday ended in 1903. The trail tracks the lower slope of Allen Mountain between Allen Creek and Canyon Creek predominantly through forest with occasional views of surrounding mountains. As elevation is gradually gained, occasionally on well-graded switchbacks, the imposing head-wall of 10,014 ft (3,052 M) Mount Siyeh looms ahead and progressively gains escalating prominence. The growing vision is only a hint of wonders soon to unfold.
The final approach into the cirque is wedged between rocky outcroppings of large mountains on either side.
Cracker Lake is hidden until we top the final ridge. The first view of the lake is so overwhelming, it has the potential to stop hikers in their tracks. The incredible vision of this emerald jewel bursting into view is powerful and spectacular. The long access is definitely worth the breathtaking impact of the moment. Siyeh Wall, with the much diminished Siyeh Glacier hanging below the summit, serves as a dramatic background to Cracker Lake.
Along trail-side, time is taken for rest and photographs of the surrounding beauty prior to continuing down and along the south-east shore to the slag heap below the mine. A short, steep scramble over loose and colorful rock is required to access the single mine shaft abandoned more than a hundred years earlier. Entrance into the mine shaft is strictly prohibited. Rock helmets, powerful lamps and permission are required for cursory exploration.
The next stop is further along at the end of Cracker Lake where a never-used, hundred-ton ore concentrator is rusting quietly away within a jumbled pile of collapsed wooden beams. The site of the old ore concentrator is a unique and historical location to enjoy lunch in the sun while wafted by cool breeze generated from the diminished glaciers above. Wandering around this incredibly beautiful location is an enduring prerequisite before heading back to the car for a late afternoon finish. There is a reluctance to leave this beautiful place.
Following three days of aggressive hiking, tomorrow will become a much-needed relaxation day for the planned and designated accommodation relocation from Swiftcurrent Motor Inn at Many Glacier to the second of three staging locations at the Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins along the infamous Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.