Early morning departure from Calgary has me driving south on Hwy 2 through rolling, luminescent, prairie wheat fields under a sunny sky, thinly veiled with broad, intricately laced and nearly transparent cirrus cloud. There are spectacular views of the brilliantly snow-draped Rocky Mountains, 44 miles (70 KM) to the west, as I pass High River, drive through Nanton, Claresholm and historic Fort Macleod before a breakfast stop at the Remington Carriage Museum’s Hub Restaurant in Cardston, Alberta.
Cardston is a town settled by Mormon pioneers in 1887. It is the site of the distinctive Cardston Alberta Temple, the first Mormon Temple established outside the United States. The town is 25 miles (40 KM) north of the Carway/Port of Piegan border crossing. As I approach the Canadian/US border, the sacred 9,080 ft. (2,768 m) Chief Mountain is making a dramatic, sunlit presentation framed by white, billowing cloud and a foreground of rolling ranch land rendered golden by the early morning sun.
The border crossing is swift and cordial. It is a short trip to Babb on the Blackfeet Reservation where I make the right turn on Glacier Route Three into the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. At the park entrance I purchase an annual Glacier National Park pass since I will be exiting and re-entering the park many times. The paved, and occasionally sketchy, road winds its way between the north shore of Lake Sherburne and magnificent mountains on my right.
At the end of the 12 mile (19 KM) road, just past spectacular Appikuni Mountain and Altyn Peak, is Swiftcurrent Inn where I will be staying for the next six days. It is 12:30 PM. Check-in time is 4 PM and my room is not ready yet.
To fill in the time, I will drop into the nearby Ranger Station to get instructions for hiking into the old mining town of Altyn. I was unable to find the location of Altyn in 2009. In the early 1900’s, it was briefly the town site for servicing the Cracker Mine. If you share my interest for old mining sites and wish to learn more, you can reference my Cracker Lake hiking post. The Rangers are of no help on this issue and suggest I find an old wrangler at the stables. The horse outfitters are located above Many Glacier Hotel. My old geezer comes in the form of an attractive, 20-something, young woman wrangler who knows precisely where Altyn is located. She takes the time to provide detailed instructions and explains there is nothing left there but a small meadow and a large hole in the ground. For a good part of the year, during spring runoff and summer, the location is under the water of a swollen Sherburne Lake.
I drive back a short way past the entrance to Many Glacier Hotel to photograph a picturesque valley from the road with south-side Mountains in the background on the other side of Lake Sherburne, then I wander about to enjoy the awesome scenery. A very light drizzle has started under overcast skies. About 50 M off the north side of the road, I find a circle of rocks filled with gravel adjacent to an ancient, weathered tree at the base of Altyn Peak.
Three days later, I learn from Richard, the circle of rocks is a memorial to the deceased citizens of Altyn. There are no grave sites or markers. The small mining town had a very brief but fascinating history. It is 2 PM. It was not my intent to hike on this day but circumstances provide the opportunity to walk the 2.6 mile (4.2 KM) circuit around nearby Swiftcurrent Lake.
The trailhead begins at the historic Many Glacier Hotel, built during the First World War with grand features and a Swiss motif. Almost immediately, on the flat trail around the lake, I encounter a family group of five. An older couple with three younger adults are pausing to don their Gortex rain gear. Each of them is dressed for a multiple day mission with fully loaded packs, leather hiking boots, hiking poles, bear bells and bear spray. That is five canisters of pepper spray and five sets of incredibly irritating, useless, bear bells. Although they seem like an ordinary family, I have this eerie feeling that at least one of them may be packing heat. I feel a bit inadequate dressed in civilian clothing, carrying an umbrella and a Kleenex. I detour on a short path to the lakeshore for photos and to allow the bear bells to get a good lead. When I return to the main trail, I find the family has taken the next short path to the lakeshore for their photos. I immediately pick up the pace and rapidly forge my way ahead. In the unlikely event there are bears nearby, I will be able to shoo them away from the potential, full-scale psychotic onslaught now travelling behind me. Save the bears!
Just past the Parks personnel residence and boat storage shed is a bridge crossing the stream which links Swiftcurrent Lake to tiny, shallow Stump Lake and the larger Josephine Lake in the mountain-surrounded chain of lakes through Grinnell Valley. At the far end of the valley is the spectacular Grinnell Falls and Grinnell Glacier.
At the far end of Swiftcurrent Lake is the boat dock for the passenger shuttle from Many Glacier Hotel along the length of the lake for those who prefer water travel. When I arrive at the dock, an isolated area of sun breaks through at the other end of the lake and a faint rainbow forms over the lake and the Many Glacier Hotel. It is a spectacular image and I have the Canon working hard for the few brief seconds of the rainbow’s existence before the sun retires again behind heavy cloud cover. It is a heart-soaring moment.
There are nice views of the Many Glacier Hotel along the forested west shore.
As I walk past the public boat launch at the other end of the lake, there is a moose bottom-feeding just off the shore line. I work my way close for photos and leave as a crowd assembles around me. The moose is focussed on feeding and seems ambivalent to the people who are gathering.
I finish my walk in a full rain. At 4:30 PM I check into the Swiftcurrent Inn and order my hiker’s lunch for pickup at breakfast the next morning. My room assignment is # 52 in motel unit 4 which is close to the main building containing reception, gift shop and the Italian Gardens Ristorante. The accommodation is fundamental with two double beds, a small bathroom and running water, both hot and cold. I can hear the heartbeat of the person next door. The room is about the size of a large fart. It is like staying in a quaint and comfortable summer cottage. There is no phone, no radio, no television, no WiFi, just electricity for room lights and a tiny digital alarm clock. Dinner is excellent. The food is consistently good and very reasonably priced.
Glacier National Park in north-central Montana is an entirely different experience than the Canadian counterpart at Rogers Pass in south-central British Columbia. The commonality is magnificent mountains, wilderness and wildlife. The east side of the US Glacier National Park is actually closer to Calgary than Glacier National Park at Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada.
Tomorrow I plan to hike the entire length of Grinnell Valley and beyond.