It was 7:00 p.m. mountain time on Tuesday, July 12. We’d been up since 5:00 mountain time flying halfway across the United States, hunting down groceries and a cooler, and then driving halfway across the state of Montana to the doorstep of Glacier National Park. One would be forgiven for thinking Elizabeth and I were going to follow the itinerary we’d set before traveling up here and settle into our cabins for the night. That would set us up for an early morning the next day, traveling around the southern rim of Glacier to see the Lake McDonald area. Heck, we could probably even check out the sunset from Chief Mountain and then be back in bed at a responsible time.
But if you know Elizabeth and myself, it would not be a surprise at all to see us on a dirty road along the shore of Lake Sherburne, bound for Many Glacier. The sun wouldn’t be down til 9:30. That was plenty of time to go try and find a dang moose. In fact, this worked out perfectly if you thought about it. Many Glacier is one of the bigger areas within the park, and has several “can’t-miss” attractions and hikes. The one day we had planned there would end up being extraordinarily busy if we tried to get to everything. So why not take one of the possible things to do and just do it now, while our cabin was right outside of Many Glacier? Plus… I had done my best to avoid clicking on Google Maps and memorizing every square inch of the park, but Many Glacier is impossible to miss. And it’s insane to look at. The distant blue peaks of this afternoon were cool, but the rolling ridges that kind of obscured the mountains as we got closer left me hungry for more.
Well… when we passed that Glacier sign and entered the park, the hunger was fed immediately. Behind Lake Sherburne on the Many Glacier road were capital-M Mountains. Big, intense-looking jagged peaks. I could see one straight ahead that looked remarkably triangular. I could even see some of the vaunted red rock of the mountains in the park. Was this heaven?
Heaven it may have been, but we still had to navigate heaven. I barely had time to marvel at the abrupt transition from Great Plains to Greatest Mountains in the Continental US, because Elizabeth needed help finding our parking spot. This is where a little bit of technology and a little bit of creativity came in handy. Glacier actually has an app with an offline map you can download. Elizabeth, being that genius she always is, had downloaded that offline map. I, being that map-oriented guy I am, only needed a second to spot Fishercap Lake in the Many Glacier area, and direct Elizabeth to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
As the map indicates, Fishercap Lake is really only a stroll down a path away from the parking at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. AllTrails says it’s a round-trip of 0.7 miles, which tracks with the vibe in my head that it was about a five to ten minute walk one way. I was sort of nervous that there wouldn’t be parking at the end of the long road, but I should have just relaxed and taken it all in, because there was parking aplenty. We got out just in time to see a park ranger with a scope a few parking spots away from us, showing a crowd of tourists that a small group of mountain goats was hanging out near the peak of a mountain nearby. Now, maybe those poor squares couldn’t see anything, but I was no mere tourist. I was armed with Sam’s 150-600 mm lens, hereafter referred to as The Big Dog. If there were mountain goats there, this thing could find them. Or maybe not. Because it turned out, after sweeping the prominent ridge a few times, that I couldn’t find them.
Elizabeth and I also took the opportunity in the parking lot to have our first tense moment ™ of the trip, when the scissors got temporarily misplaced and there was briefly no way to open the bear spray. We got it sorted out eventually, though, and Elizabeth gave the all-clear to take the trail out to Fishercap Lake.
Even though it was a short walk, the stroll out there was a reminder that Elizabeth and I were back in heaven. There was the foreboding triangle-shaped peak you see in all the pictures! Mountains on all sides! We crossed a swift, roaring stream on a bridge and I couldn’t contain my excitement at the rocks. When you’ve heard about the rocks as many times as I had, and you still aren’t prepared for how colorful the rocks in the streambed are, that’s a sign that you have a colorful streambed on your hands.
Elizabeth hadn’t fully internalized how close Fishercap Lake was to the trailhead, because she seemed surprised when I pulled off of the trail a minute or two later and declared we had arrived at our destination. But we had, as signs subsequently showed. Fishercap Lake was just downhill to our left, and you could sort of beat your own path through the woods to get there. A surprising number of people were already set up along the shores of the lake – some in lawn chairs, some with little kids in tow, and a photographer or two sprinkled in for leavening. After wandering a little bit along the northern lakeshore, Elizabeth and I found a nice spot to hang out right on the water.
This is probably where I should explain Fishercap Lake as a concept. As you can see on the map, there are two valleys with chains of lakes that extend westward from the Many Glacier Hotel. The southern chain will be the subject of a story down the road, on July 17. This is a tale of the last lake at the end of the chain on the northern side. Fishercap Lake is small and shallow; shallow enough that it could be waded by any person who had the tolerance for the cold. Any person, or, alternatively, any moose. Because the lake is a well-known hangout of moose that love to stand in the water during the twilight hours and graze from the plant life along the shores. A quick google search of Fishercap Lake will turn up dozens of images of moose from professional photographers that descend on the location in hordes. If you’ll recall from our Grand Teton/Yellowstone trip from 2021, I’d had a goal of seeing 6 different animals – bison, pronghorn, elk, bear, wolf, and moose. I’d gone 5 for 6, missing only on the last one on the list. So a lake that sounded like it was literally swimming with moose made for a great unplanned stop. I set up my tripod along the lakeshore, got the camera ready, and settled in to do some landscape filming while I waited for our inevitable moose.
I bet every evening at Glacier National Park is beautiful. Especially every evening in the Swiftcurrent Valley. But this one, with the sun finally back behind the mountains along the continental divide, made itself extra special. Right across from us was a long, rocky outcropping of a mountain. It was heavily striated with the stripes angling down from left to right. In the front, it tapered off like a cruise ship slicing through water, while the top of it was a narrow, flat grade. This was Grinnell Point. I’d call it many things on the trip – Triangle Mountain, Cruise Ship Mountain, etc – but the point is that this is the mountain you see prominently from the Many Glacier Hotel, squeezed to a narrow peak by the two glacial valleys surrounding it. And with the sun setting on the northwestern horizon, it was frontlit in the evening light beautifully. My first pictures from the Canon of the Glacier National Park 2022 trip:
It was modestly surprising how many patches of snow hung on here deep into the month of July. It wasn’t just the glaciers – anywhere a patch of snow could hide from the sun, it shone against the mountainside.
The shadows continued to crawl up the flank of Grinnell Point as Elizabeth and I surveyed our awe-inspiring environ. Off to the left, alpenglow as the sun shone off of the mountains. In the foreground, a beautiful scene of thousands of northern lodgepoles. A marshy area at the terminus of the lake to our left. And further up the valley to the right, more imposing peaks that all terminated in a pointy one with a snow feature at its base. Swiftcurrent Glacier – our first glacier of the trip.
The view couldn’t get any better, right? Wrong. Soon Grinnell Point was reflected in the water below us.
Simply stunning. Words – and these images – do not do it justice. The water was so placid, frigid with distinctive rust-red rocks at the bottom. Sure, there were a lot of people here, but they all mistook me for an expert photographer because I had the tripod and the Big Dog. And honestly, people are always nice in national parks. There’s a reason I say a national park is one of the few places it’s okay to talk to strangers. Unfortunately, none of the very nice strangers who happened to be at the same spot as us had heard of any leads on where the moose were at. I had to keep reminding myself to be patient – hell, it was still an hour until sunset. Maybe the moose were just being a little slow in getting down to the promised land today. Yeah, that made sense, right?
There was movement on the far bank of the lake. I stiffened to attention, threw off the landscape lens on the camera, and attached the Big Dog as fast as I could. Even before it was fully in place, though, it was clear that the big mammal over there grazing on some delicious green-looking branches was not a moose. It was merely a white-tailed deer. I hardly had time to get one shot off before it disappeared.
Minutes slid by without any other sign of wildlife. It would be incorrect to say Elizabeth or me were “despairing” of finding a moose. It was simply that we considered it unlikely, and I was happy to head back to the cabin or check out the end of the sunset from back by the Many Glacier Hotel. Elizabeth is such a saint that she insisted we stay there longer than I would have solo. And right as we were getting ready to leave, I thought I saw something all the way at the western end of the lake. A quick scan with the Big Dog confirmed that no, it was just Nolan being jumpy with the camera. The moose had decided not to show up on this evening. It was disappointing, but on Day 1 of a major trip like this you don’t let disappointments get to you. You’re still living in the moment.
As I was packing up my camera stuff to go, Elizabeth stiffened. “What’s that noise?” she asked. I paused. There was a grunting nearby. It sounded distinctly human, like some guy who was struggling down the trail, so I didn’t make anything of it. Except when I casually looked up to see the guy, I didn’t see a guy. Instead, I saw a big hulking shape no more than 20 meters away, walking right at us. Holy shit. MOOSE.
Trying not to panic and startle the moose, I signaled to Elizabeth to move east along the lakeshore to get out of its way. She heeded the advice with admirable alacrity. Meanwhile, I tried to quietly (and calmly) get the attention of the family who was blithely going about their business on the lakeshore a few dozen yards away. “Moose coming right this way!” I hissed as I scooted out of the way of the grunting sounds. Then, with Elizabeth giving a startled yip of protest, I doubled back now that I was no longer in the moose’s direct path to the lake and tried to get a picture of it. You can be the judge of where I was mentally based on this attempt to get a shot through the trees.
The moose just kept walking down toward the lake, ignoring the hubbub that all the humans had caused. All it had apparently wanted was a clear path into the water. Now I could slide back toward the shoreline, since it clearly didn’t care about me. The moose stood a couple dozen meters out from the shore, peacefully drinking some water. Look at this:
I mean, come on. Never in a million years could you have expected something like that to happen.
After a minute or so of peaceful sipping, the moose continued on its odyssey across the lake. All the while, it continued that grunting that had first alerted us to its presence. Elizabeth thought that the grunting was a sign that the moose was hurt; I was inclined to believe that the moose was grunting because it was a moose. I tried my hand at a few longer-range shots of the moose. One managed to get a great shot of the moose’s butt, and the other was out of focus. About what you would expected for an amateur photographer in his first time using a lens when he’s adjusting to a very sudden change in the circumstances.
Still, it was a “pinch me” moment to end up so close to such a majestic piece of nature. The moose didn’t seem to agree. It walked all the way to the opposite lakeshore and remained there for a few minutes, occasionally dunking itself fully underwater in what I must assume is a moose version of a bath. Then it started chewing on the shoots and branches on the other lakeshore, and eventually disappeared into the woods whence it came from.
In awe, Elizabeth and I walked back down to the placid shore of Fishercap Lake to retrieve our stuff that had been hastily left there in the rush to not get trampled by a Very Large Mammal. We were giddy, as you could imagine. On Elizabeth’s Camelbak, there was a dusty mark that was unmistakable – a hoof print. In some ways it was sobering that we let such a massive and loud animal close to within a few dozen meters before even realizing it was there, but I’m not usually one for introspection about stuff like that. I’d rather focus on how dope the moment was and try and see if I got any good shots..
Incredibly, after this saga there was still a splash of golden-orange late illuminating the top of Grinnell Point. A “playing with house money” kind of excursion this certainly was. I suggested to Elizabeth that maybe we should head back to the Many Glacier Hotel and enjoy the rest of the sunset from the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. No way it could match the insanity of the moose sighting at Fishercap Lake, but the views from there weren’t anything to sneeze at.