Down at the bottom of the two valleys I mentioned in the last post, at the head of the Many Glacier Valley, a large lake sits at the foot of Grinnell Point. This is one of *the* iconic photos from Glacier National Park – the big mountain that somehow looks exactly like a rocky Dorito soaring into the sky above a blue lake, with more crazy mountains flanking it in the background? That’s the view from the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. Sunlight was fading away from Elizabeth and my incredible July 12, but there was still an orange glow lighting up northwest-facing peaks as we drove the Many Glacier Road back in the direction of the AirBnB. A few minutes down the road, a little spur route takes you to the Many Glacier Hotel along the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. Elizabeth and I looked at each other, and then pulled on in to the parking lot. No way we were going to pass up this incredible twilight view. The road looped up a hill into the hotel parking lot, which meant that we had to walk a minute or so to get down to the lakeshore. No worries. Surprisingly, despite the fact that it was mid-July, the shoreline was pretty quiet. We didn’t have the lakeside to ourselves, but we didn’t have to jockey for position either. Everyone was speaking in the hushed tones that you do when the scene in front of you is so serene, so incredible, that you subconsciously refuse to disturb the peace. Elizabeth and I found a spot to set up along a little stone wall overlooking the lake. She set up her phone in a timelapse. I set up my GoPro in a timelapse. And then I got my camera busy. Now, disclaimer: this was my first trip doing hardcore photography wherein I set my own exposure lengths. My the end of the trip, I would be doing something called “bracketing” – where you basically slide up the scale of possible exposure times and assume that one of them will be right – without knowing the name for what I was doing. But this was night one of the trip, and yeah, I underexposed things pretty badly. The lighting was also difficult. With that said, the scene? Still absolutely beautiful. But the picture doesn’t do it justice.
And fortunately, my iPhone exists to help with the underexposed camera shots.
The strip of alpenglow coming off of the peak in the distance like a golden spear? Chef’s kiss. Mount Grinnell’s famous silhouette? Seriously awe-inspiring. And that wasn’t the only direction that the views were insane. This shot isn’t good enough to bother trying to edit, so my apologies for how dark it is, but you can get a sense of the kind of color a sunset in Glacier brings you.
Elizabeth and I were already giving each other sidelong glances when I mentioned that there might be a new favorite national park in my future. In terms of views I’d seen before, this one maybe wasn’t equal to Delta Lake in the Tetons, but there aren’t too many more that I can think of that exceed it. It was 360 degrees of epic. And to be spending that kind of moment with my best friend in the world? Priceless.
That’s how you know how little any of this was planned – I was still wearing glasses!
The mountains weren’t the only scenery in the area. If there’s a Swiftcurrent Glacier that feeds a Swiftcurrent Lake, it stands to reason that the water that pours from Fishercap Lake into Swiftcurrent Lake has to end up somewhere. And indeed, right behind us, the roaring of high volumes of water over rocks harked the presence of Swiftcurrent Falls. At first I assumed this must be dammed, since the falls were just so conveniently located. But no – that’s just how Glacier works. A beautiful waterfall just appears at the end of a beautiful lake, because it is a beautiful place. The end.
Elizabeth did not love me picking around the rocks just above the waterfall. She has this persistent fear that one day I’m gonna just walk off of the edge of whatever I’m on, and she may honestly have a point. So I stepped off the of the ledge that overlooked the waterfall and joined her back on level land to enjoy the rest of the sunset. The alpenglow faded away from the Many Glacier Valley, putting a wrap on July 12. I felt sort of like I’d witnessed a masterclass from nature itself, selling us on the potential of its beauty. How was it possible that we had a full week in this paradise? What could Elizabeth and I find if we actually were trying, as opposed to just flying by the seat of our pants?
Speaking of flying by the seat of our pants… Elizabeth drove back to the cabin instead of the other way around. That let me admire the scenery as the Many Glacier Valley opened up from the true alpine scenery into a more basic valley. It turned out that the sun setting in a narrow valley surrounded by massive peaks didn’t mean that the sun had set everywhere in Montana. It was just drifting toward incredible colors in the sky by the time Elizabeth reached the far side of Lake Sherburne. She pulled off by the dam just beyond the park boundary and I stood there, once again drinking in the sunset over the Many Glacier Valley.
You may be wondering how long this all took, considering the fact that it had been completely dark-looking down at Swiftcurrent Lake prior to this. To be honest, not that long at all. The initial sunset pictures at Fishercap Lake occurred at 8:30, we saw the moose at 8:40, got to Swiftcurrent Lake by 9:15, and pulled off at Lake Sherburne at 9:50. It had indeed been a magical 90 minutes, buoyed by the early summer length of days with a long, long twilight. Elizabeth and I agreed that it had been an A+ spur-of-the-moment decision to come explore a small section of the park with our evening. If it was but an appetizer (and it was), then it was the best damn appetizer out there. Already I wondered if any other national park had a chance to be ranked as my favorite after the coming week (spoiler: no other park had a chance).
The sky was finally fading from brilliant blue to a pale, milky twilight when Elizabeth took the RAV4 down the Many Glacier Road the other way. The food truck set up out there had closed down entirely for the night, a decision I found eminently sensible in bear country. Just outside of Babb, the road bent left on a bluff overlooking Swiftcurrent Creek far below. It gave a view of the rolling ridge on the other side of the little valley that the St. Mary River carves, above which a completely full moon was rising. I gasped. And I asked Elizabeth to make one final stop for obvious reasons.
Today in “very low bars cleared that were still epic because I hadn’t ever planned on clearing them” – taking my best-ever picture of the moon. Now that was a way to cap a magical day.
Flying over snow-capped mountains, epic smoothies, a scenic drive, a pretty cabin, and gorgeous evening scenery with a moose – yeah, July 12 went down as one of the best days of my life. Part of that was due to the “Day 1 of a trip” thing where everything is awesome. And part of it was due to the unplanned nature of the fun. So much spontaneous stuff happened that it had nothing to measure up to, which was good, because little could measure up to it. We were veritably buzzing with happiness by the time we got back to our cabin. To my pleasure, the cabin had just enough service to fire off some pictures of the back of my camera to my family and the social medias. Then we got ready for bed, brushed our teeth in the communal bathroom, and retreated into the cabin after I took one last chance to marvel at how light it still was outside at 10:39 p.m:
Our cabin was small and un-air-conditioned. It was fine, though – all you had to do was open the window and a nice, cool breeze filtered through. Elizabeth’s gentle snoring soon filled the tiny room. I stayed up for a few minutes in bed, listening to the snoring intermingled with the peaceful roar of Kennedy Creek outside. Then I, too, drifted off, ending the Perfect Day.