The Great Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park, British Columbia, is a short, easy hike of 4.8 KM (3.0 miles) one-way with an elevation gain of 330 metres (1,083 ft). On this day, I am trying to save my strength for Saturday’s upcoming marathon mission.
Following the 5 KM (3.13 mile) drive from my accommodation at Glacier Park Lodge
Update: October 2012 – Glacier Park Lodge at Rogers Pass is permanently closed.
to parking at the Illecillewaet (pronounced illy-silly-what) Campground, I begin hiking at 9:30 AM and take the traditional trail across the Illecillewaet River Bridge at Meeting of the Waters, where Asulkan Brook flows into the Illecillewaet River. It is a very beautiful place of roaring, milky-blue glacial water.
Then I make an immediate left turn onto the Asulkan Valley Trail heading south. It is an incredibly spectacular trail bordered with moss and fern through old and new growth forest. The humidity is high and the musty-sweet, forest aroma, combined with the sound of nearby roaring water are constant companions.
Soon I take another left onto the Great Glacier Trail. I find an old wooden duct across the trail. It looks like it has been held together by wire resembling a large slinky. I am sure it is a feature of the original trail development more than 120 years earlier.
A wooden bridge over Asulkan Brook takes me east into more rustic but still good trail. As I leave the dense forest into more open ground, I wind my way through a massive rock fall.
A series of switchbacks takes me to the top of the ridge with amazing views across the valley to cloud-enshrouded Mount Sir Donald and the Vaux Glacier tucked against the mountain’s flank. For awhile I track the powerful Illecillewaet River. Waterfalls surround me. On the other side of the Asulkan Valley, to the east, I can see traces of the Mount Sir Donald and Perley Rock trails.
As I approach the end of the trail there is a huge, rusty band of rock to my left and a scree moraine to my right. Soon after, the trail ends abruptly in the middle of nowhere at the rusty rock band and running water from the long-ago receded ‘Great Glacier’. On the return it appears an off-trail scramble up the scree slope and along the top of the moraine might provide an approach up to the glacier but it is not an easy route and the Glacier Crest Trail, which branches off the Asulkan Valley trail a bit further along, is probably a better option.
In the 1880s, what is known today as the Illecillewaet Glacier was called the Great Glacier. Guests at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Glacier House could take a relatively short hike to the toe of the Great Glacier. In current times, the glacier has receded more than one and a half kilometres over and above the bedrock and very little of it is visible over the rock shelf above.
It is an alternatively overcast and sunny day. The vistas are powerful even though low ceilings are clipping the peaks of tall mountains. On the return hike by the same route, a family of four is hiking towards me. A poignant moment occurs. The parents are temporarily stopped to rearrange gear and help their young son. Their little girl, I guess 3-years-old, is proudly hiking towards me in her little pink running shoes and shorts. Close to my position she stumbles on the rocky trail and falls onto her hands and knees. She looks up, directly at me with a quivering lower lip. I have only a second to decide what to do. So I look her straight in the eye, quickly clap my hands and say, ’Good job’. Our eyes are locked. The lower lip stops quivering and her unblinking eyes widen. I say, ‘That was an excellent fall. It is one of the best falls I have ever seen’. The little girl stands up, looks at her hands, and brushes off a bit of dirt. She looks up at me and breaks out into a huge smile before an attack of shy takes her back to smile at me from behind her father’s leg. My heart is warmed. I wonder if I have made a difference. I exchange some intelligence about the trail with her cordial parents then continue down the trail. The encounter made my day.
Water volume in the rivers has increased substantially on the return trip as the warm day increases glacial melt. The flow is a striking milky, blue-jade. I hike off the Asulkan Valley Trail through Glacier House ruins and walk back to the parking lot on a short section of the long-ago, abandoned, original rail route known now as the 1885 Rails Trail. On the short return drive to Glacier Park Lodge, I plan to soak in the outdoor hot tub but a thunderstorm begins just as I return to my room. Instead I get tidied up and enjoy Jack Daniels and Coke in the lounge, combined with good conversation, before dinner in the dining room. The food is quite good.