Blue waters gleaming like a tropical paradise. A warm, sunny day with just a hint of a breeze. Two campers who hadn’t had a proper shower in about 96 hours and several dozen miles of hiking in the interim.

You put this all together and it makes sense why Elizabeth wanted to hike down to Grinnell Lake.

If you’ll recall from the previous Glacier post, Grinnell Lake is a brilliant blue alpine lake seated at the upper part of the ancient valley left behind by the Ice Age glaciers. These days, it sits just one waterfall away from its proglacial brother, Upper Grinnell Lake, and the amount of glacial flour that gets into it is enough to render the waters an incredible shade of turquoise.

There’s a little beach that can be publicly accessed by following a trail closer to the valley floor. To get there, Elizabeth and I had to backtrack from the Grinnell Lake Overlook back down to the head of Lake Josephine, from which a connector trail runs to the south shore where you can catch a footpath to the lakeshore. A few shots from this junction:

little downhill to the bottom of the valley. From there, a short, three-plank-wide boardwalk led briefly along the banks of Grinnell Creek, then over a footbridge across the creek, then back to flat footpath on the other side. I don’t have any pictures of this setup since I took a shot for my Youtube while we were walking across the bridge, but it was a surprisingly nice little affair for what sort of felt like an out-of-the-way portion of the park. From here, the terrain changed quite a bit. While Elizabeth and I had been hiking on the south slope of Mount Grinnell before, with a lush mixed-grass environment and lots of blooming flowers, the floor of the valley was all large-growth pine – lodgepoles and giant cedars and the like. The understory was shady and cool compared to the warm sunny day we’d been hiking in before.

It really didn’t seem like this should be true from the view we’d had above it, but just from the trail junction it was another full mile and a half out to Grinnell Lake. Now, you need to put this in the context of our Glacier trip. We’d hiked Avalanche Lake on the 13th (6 miles), the Notch Trail on the 14th (4 miles), Piegan Pass (9 miles) and Virginia Falls (3 miles) on the 15th, and the Bears Hump (2 miles straight up) on the 16th. For a couple of out-of-shape city slickers like us, this was beginning to pile up a bit, and this was going to take us up and over 10 miles here on the 17th. I was fine with it since this was our last major planned hike in Glacier, but Elizabeth started to get a bit cranky. That sounds like I’m being harsh to her, but I’m not – anyone would be cranky if they were pushing their physical endurance.

Just as it seemed like tensions might be about to boil over, we were treated to a real surprise from a national park that had already thrown us so many. There was a trail junction here along the banks of a rushing creek creek, with a sign pointing one way to Hidden Falls, a sign another way pointing to Grinnell Lake, and, most surprising to me, what looked like a pretty non-sketchy pit toilet setup. For how far back we were, this whole modernity surprised me. So did Hidden Falls, which I’d never heard of in this park before (it reminded me of the Hidden Falls in Grand Teton that Elizabeth and I got our engagement photos in front of). Maybe in another world, or even a few days ago, or even now if we knew how close the waterfall was, we would have stopped and checked out Hidden Falls. But without any of that knowledge, we did not do so. Instead, my attention was drawn to the bridge across this rushing creek – it was a suspension bridge! And not only that, it was a suspension bridge that looked like it swayed a lot. There was a small line of people on both sides of the bridge waiting for their turn, since it was a single-occupancy affair. Elizabeth went first, though she was rather apprehensive. And with good reason – this thing was swaying a whole hell of a lot right above a swift-flowing creek, and there were missing boards at the bottom. She took it slow and steady and only stumbled a few times. I didn’t take any pictures since I focused on video again, but here’s a screenshot of Elizabeth crossing from the video:

Like a champ.

In my turn across the bridge, I exaggerated a few stumbles to mock the presumed scariness – at which point I actually stumbled and pitched into the none-too-weighty support cables. That chastened me.

The creek was flowing from left to right in the above picture – or southeast to northwest. I assumed this was just a loop in the creek between Grinnell and Josephine Lakes, but the creek continued to flow westward alongside us. It was very confusing – and it was only when I saw the crystal-blue waters of Grinnell Lake ahead of me that I realized this wasn’t the outflow of the lake, it was actually Cataract Creek, which drains the valley to the north of Piegan Pass.

And with that, we were at Grinnell Lake. It was just as gorgeous up close as it was far away. The water shone like it was the Caribbean in the midday sun. The “beach” was actually a sandbar made up of glacial pebbles that allowed you to wade out in the ankle-deep inflow of Cataract Creek to another spit that just barely stayed above water. And from there, that spit extended partially submerged a few dozen more yards out to a sharp dropoff. Elizabeth was already dressed for the occasion – just take off her bandana, strip down to her sports bra, and plan to wade in in her hiking compressions. For me, it was a bit tougher. I took my swimsuit out of her bag and wandered inconspicuously off the trail and into the woods a way, then quickly changed out of my shorts and into my swimsuit. Then, quickly chucking my clothes into her Camelbak before any wandering hikers caught me, I hustled back to the lakeshore. Elizabeth was already wading out into the shallows to get a closer-up view, away from the several dozen people milling around on the rocks of the lakeshore. I stepped into the water after her.

It was cold. The St. Mary River the night before had been a hot tub compared to this. Hell, the shallows at the edge of Avalanche Lake had been cold, but not this cold. A bunch of little piggies stood in the water up to their shins, shivering despite the warm day. Thanks to my Superior Midwestern Upbringing (Great Lakes pun intended), I knew that my legs would go numb within a few minutes. In the meantime, it was time to take hoist that camera and start documenting this incredible place.

You could walk out to the edge of that spit (which, if you can tell by some of the eraser smudges in the lake above it, was not empty of humans) and stand right at the edge of that deep, brilliant blue water. You could stare at those waterfalls, audibly thundering in the distance, from which the waters from Grinnell Glacier plummeted.

I found myself sitting there and wondering if I would ever get sick of seeing things that were more beautiful than I’d ever seen before. Maybe it would happen if you had longer in Glacier, but here on July 17 it was still so incredible.

Elizabeth was dreadfully in earnest about jumping in the water, so I packed up the camera and left it on the safety of the beach (it was a little tough to do this given the number of little piggies around). I got back out to join Elizabeth just in time to find that she’d befriended an 8-year-old who wanted to jump in the lake as well. I counted them off, and they dove off the ankle-deep spit into the deep, cold blue. I’d estimate that Elizabeth was underwater for about one half of a second before she came up, spluttering and screaming about how cold the water was. And unlike Lake McDonald, she did not immediately amend her opinion to say that the water wasn’t actually that cold. No, there was nothing that could keep Elizabeth from getting back out of that water as fast as possible. A grizzly bear couldn’t have stopped her.

Then it was my turn. I have a sort of reputation for panache in and around cold that needs to be maintained, particularly when my dive into a lake is being filmed for production into a YouTube video in the near future. With that in mind, I saluted the camera and went in with my dignity and panache intact.

And yeah: it was cold. So much so that I briefly paddled in the water, disoriented, before realizing I’d only jumped in far enough for it to be knee-deep. My flimsy Wal-Mart water shoes were literally falling apart underwater as I scrambled back onto the rock bar. But if anyone asks? It was no big deal.

It was windy out there on the exposed lake, so I didn’t stay wet for long, but it was quite a chilly drying process. It was as good a place as any to take some time off of the weary legs, though:

Elizabeth and I relaxed back at the beach for a little while. I’m not one who worries too much about overcrowding in national parks (in spite of my little piggy jokes, I enjoy talking to people a lot in parks, and they have every bit as much of a right to be there as me). But this was a little crowded even for me, so we retreated back from the edge of the water a little bit to give me a chance to take my wet swimsuit off and get back into shorts for the hike back to the car.

I don’t know if I felt cleaner on the walk back toward Many Glacier, but I did feel refreshed. A break had done wonders for Elizabeth’s mood as well. We took the bridge back over Cataract Creek, with me going first this time so I could document Elizabeth’s face along it. She did a great job of maintaining balance while the camera was on, to my mild disappointment.

Where we’d followed the Grinnell Glacier trail around the north and west side of Lake Josephine going out, on the return hike Elizabeth and I took a spur of the Piegan Pass trail that followed the southern and eastern shores. It was rather crowded with people – everyone from Continental Divide Trail thru hikers to an interpretive ranger leading old people on a nature walk around the lake. We made good time around the lake to a spot near the foot of it, where there was just a spectacular view of the upper part of the valley.

For reference, after everything we saw in Glacier over the course of the week, this has been the background picture on Elizabeth’s work laptop for almost 2 years now. Gives some perspective on how sometimes the best views just require you to stop for a minute and turn around.

Now we were coming around the corner of Lake Josephine, which meant we were coincidentally coming around the corner of Grinnell Point. Since we were parked at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead, we had to cross the creek in between the two lakes and get back on the north side of Swiftcurrent. There was a nice little bridge to get across:

And then we saw the boat dock at Swiftcurrent Lake, and then it was back on the flat nature trail back that we’d taken out.

It was almost 4:00 by the time Elizabeth and I reached the car back on the Many Glacier Road, a little over 6 hours and 10 miles after the start of our last strenuous hike. We were beat, sweaty once more, and in excellent spirits. Those only improved when I drove up to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn on Elizabeth’s request and she managed to talk the camp store into letting us access the showers. For the first time in four days, I sat under real, hot water and let it soak my aching muscles.

That was one particular need taken care of. The other – food – required a trip over to the Many Glacier Hotel.

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