Following a hearty,early morning breakfast in the dining room at Swift Current Inn, I pick up my enormous hiker’s lunch and pack up for the day’s hike through the length of the Grinnell Valley. It is a short and quick drive to the trailhead near the Many Glacier Hotel. The day is heavily overcast and the forest is damp from overnight rain. I hike along the south shore of Swiftcurrent Lake on the same path taken yesterday, then continue past tiny Stump Lake where I have glimpses through dense forest of a moose bottom-feeding.
The trail veers towards the shoreline where Stump Lake meets Lake Josephine and there are outstanding mirror images across still waters to the end of the Grinnell Valley. The glaciers above Upper Grinnell Lake and spectacular Grinnell Falls beckon me to continue. It is an apparition which captures the imagination.
I walk along the rocky shoreline of Lake Josephine until I encounter a steep rock fall which blocks easy passage, so I return to the trail and hike along the south side of Lake Josephine. I encounter a guided group of about 20 people and it takes me a few extra minutes to work my way through the crowd. It also results in my reluctantly passing the option to take the short side hike into Hidden Falls in favour of gaining distance from the group. The very good but wet trail is a substantial distance from the lake through forest and views of Lake Josephine are quite limited until I reach the shuttle boat dock near the far end of the lake. The docking location hosts a large log shelter where waiting boat passengers can stay dry during inclement weather.
A good portion of the trail between Lake Josephine and Lower Grinnell Lake is on raised plank bridges above water runoff from surrounding mountains. It is nature’s hydroponics. Crystal-clear water blankets the ground until this short section of trail delivers me to the small beach at Lower Grinnell Lake for fabulous views of the impressive Grinnell Falls. When Mel and I hiked Grinnell Glaciers the previous year, we looked down on this incredibly beautiful glacier-fed lake and it appeared as a tiny, alpine, aquamarine gem. From water level the jade colour is not as apparent. I am making very good time, and options are available, so I decide to continue to the Piegan Pass Trail above Lower Grinnell Lake.
The middle part of this day’s hiking will be posted as ‘Morning Eagle Falls’ to divide the words and pictures into more reasonably sized segments.
I return via the Piegan Pass Trail high on the mountainside above the same lakes I have explored inward bound at shoreline. One of my objectives is to perform reconnaissance of the route to the Josephine Mine, located across Lake Josephine on the side of Grinnell Peak at about my current altitude. Dense forest and limited views prevent me from achieving this objective.
My intent to return to the Many Glacier Hotel via the Piegan Pass Trail is thwarted when I encounter the final 2 miles (3.2 KM) shared by hikers and horse traffic. The horses have destroyed the trail for hikers in this summer’s wet weather. After about half a kilometre (0.3 miles), I turn back when forward progress becomes impractical and steep off-trail is not a reasonable option. I return to the connector which will drop me back down to the lakeside trail. Unfortunately, this steep descent is also shared with horses. By the time I descend the short distance and arrive at decent trail an hour later, miraculously without injury sustained in the steep, muddy and slippery mess, I am not a happy camper. The policy of sharing trails must be reconsidered. Back on the lakeside trail, I hike east until I find a game trail which leads into the shoreline of Lake Josephine. On the beach, a light rain begins, so I take out my umbrella and continue hiking on the rocky shoreline towards Many Glacier Hotel. A half kilometre later, after picking my way through a substantial amount of deadfall along the shoreline, I encounter a rock fall. I take leave of my common sense and decide to scramble the traverse. The rocks are wet and slippery from the rain but I soldier on with two hiking poles in my left hand and the wobbling umbrella in my right. I am religiously maintaining the rule of three points satble, one point moving. About 5 metres into the horizontal scramble above the lake’s surface, both of my boots lose hold at the same time my left hand is in motion.
I fall into Lake Josephine.
I will not exaggerate here. On the way down, I manage to grab a stable hold with my right hand so it is only the left side of my body which gets submerged in the glacial-fed water of Lake Josephine. In spite of the water being slightly warmer than I expect, I am highly motivated to get back up onto the slippery wet rocks.
Partially through the recovery, I hear a loud, booming voice.
‘Are you OK?’
I pause ….. and look up. I think it must be God speaking to me. Then I hear the faint putter of the boat’s motor and I look behind me to find the Lake Josephine shuttle boat heading my direction. The skipper is hailing me over the loudspeaker. The boat is full of people and leaning to one side. It seats 50. Many of them have cameras pasted to their faces. Flashes are firing. Well, isn’t this just lovely?
Unquestionably, any semblance of my personal pride and dignity has evaporated, however, I see no sense in sullying my entire nation so in the best southern drawl I can muster up, I holler back,
‘Ah’m fine but ah’m shore lookin’ fahward ta gittin’ bach to Ark-in-saw’.
Then I scramble up and over the rock fall and force myself into the relative sanctity of the damp, dense forest.
I offer my profound apology to the fine people of Arkansas. I have visited your wonderful State and I have absolutely nothing bad to say about it. Please, you must understand; I was under a lot of pressure. In hindsight I should have picked a Central American country and spoken in Spanish.
To get back to the trail, I need to bushwhack a half kilometre of dense forest through wet, chest-high underbrush which conceals large boulders and deadfall. It is tough sledding but I am not returning to the lakeshore. Back at the trail, I am completely soaked. It starts to rain hard. I reach into the lower pocket of my hiking pants to retrieve my umbrella and discover it is gone. It must have snagged on something during the bushwhack. There is no chance it will ever be found. Well, isn’t this just lovely?
I put on my broad-brimmed hat, pick up the pace to maintain warmth and complete the day’s hike at 4:00 PM having endured about all the humiliation I can tolerate. If you happen to be surfing the Internet one day and you come across a photo of some idiot wearing a maroon jacket and performing half a baptismal event in Lake Josephine, the odds are very high that would be me. Maybe I am on YouTube.
It is a short drive from the Many Glacier Hotel to the welcome warmth of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins.
The Swiftcurrent Inn had humble beginnings in 1911 when the Great Northern Railway established a small, wilderness Teepee Camp at the site of an ancient Indian hunting ground. Guests were initially shuttled by horseback, and later by stagecoach, from the East Glacier railroad station. The Blackfeet Indians called Grinnell Valley the ‘Land of the Walled-in Lakes’.